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Margazhi Musings: Abhishek Raghuram in a zone of his own

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Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
The author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court

He is exploring the Raaga. He does it all the time. But every day is a new day. It may be one or another Raaga. Be it Thodi, Kalyani, Kamboji, Sankarabaranam, whichever. Yet, he opens new doors, windows, vistas, crevices, others may not have the key to. And he claims that even he knows not, he has the keys, until he sets upon his surreal journey. Or that there were such dazzling artifacts to discover and lay your hands, sorry throat on. “He is all of 34 years. And sings like a 340 year old”, a friend messaged. He sounds so ‘experienced’. He is a Columbus, a Vasco Da Gama. He has  that  consummate skill, bent of mind and braveness of heart and mind, to go, where others fear to tread or did not even know existed. Today was no different.29th Dec, 2019, at 18.45 hrs. It was Karakarapriya.

Abhishek Raghuram was in a zone of his own. He was squatting alright. In the middle, with his accompanists. Yet, every now and then, he would levitate well above. To  be in his own self made terrain, with a smiling visage, from above, just to show who was in  charge.

Today, he was not only levitating, during the raga Alapana, he went pearl diving to the very depths of the Bay of Bengal. Lesser mortals may have struggled with Abhishek in this mood. Vittal Ramamurthy on the fiddle,  is made of sterner stuff. He literally tied himself to Raghuram and his exquisite  bowing chased him all the time, toe for toe, padam for padam, phrase for phrase, swaram for swaram and even in the pregnant silences. Not letting Abhishek escape. Some ability this. Vittal Ramamurthy made it  an awesome twosome, as if the violin  was singing or as if Abhishek was fiddling. What a fascinating concert within a concert. No wonder, Carnatic music has its devoted  fans and mad, mad ones at that. Such performances literally turn you insane, for more of the same. But they spoil you too, by exposing the lesser gifted.

Abhishek today was on regally splendour auto mode. He tried his level best to let go the accompanists and make it a solo. Vittal Ramamurthy was having none of it. And that enhanced the concert to higher heights only Abhishek was capable of. The result was that the Manodharmic  faculty of Carnatic music- unique and innovative- was on display, at its resplendent best. The Music Academy platform does it  to the best in the business, to rise, rise and rise, and that is why the Academy leads the rest. Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards always claimed Lords ‘does things for him that other venues  can only dream of’. When Abhishek eased into Sangita Gnanamu- Tyagaraj’s musical masterpiece in Dhanyasi, the Vaggeyakara must have been dancing in the aisles of Vaikuntam. For, there was no space,  for him too at the Academy today.

To me, Abhishek today literally replicated Gundappa Vishwanath’s 97 n.o. at Chepauk, against Lloyd’s marauding West Indians of 1974. Who can forget it? No helmet. All alone, as others were being consumed and subsumed by Anderson Montgomery Roberts, the Rolls Royce speedster. Little of height, Vishy that day, was literally levitating to meet the searing bouncers and deep diving to keep the yorkers from crushing his toes. Gundappa was at his Manodharmic  best, using the speed and angles to carve out a performance, which typically rested, without a century, to lend it the deserving evocative romance. It was a class act and chance less at that. India won the test. Abhishek today won the Test today, lock, stock and barrel, every which way. Let us be clear. When he is alone and in such a trance, he competes with himself and it is tough to beat him. He did it. That made the day for the rasika and the Season. A couple of grammarians gossiped he missed a beat or two. Who cares?  Bless the Lord for such sublimation, in the tumultuous times, we live in.

Abhishek was not even born in 1974, mind you. He has a long, long way to go. Mind boggling to even imagine the heights, he may reach or the depths he may conquer. This man is a genius. Music is in his DNA as he comes with a matchless pedigree from maternal, paternal, internal, external, nocturnal, even diurnal and eternal connects. It is rumoured that his cries as a new born was a raagamaligai in itself. Who knows? He appears to have not wasted a nanosecond in his mother’s womb. Malcolm Gladwell talks of 10,000 hours of devoted discipline, behind every genius, in his Outliers and it would seem that Abhishek accomplished those hours,  in his mother’s womb itself.

Thiruvarur Bhskthavatsalam and Sree Sundarkumar on the Mridangam and Kanjira, had the best seats in the hall. But they were not letting go the opportunity to join in the musical feast. To let you in on a secret, the Canteen was full of orders  for ‘parcels’ alone. Who was footloose and foolish to miss the concert? Beside any other attribute, this one facet- my friend said- meant that the concert was a colossal success, as Canteen was too hot to beat on any day, even best days. He was not joking, for sure.

You may be born with  a gift in the throat. You may grow in a musical environment. But as John McEnroe, the left handed tennis great  said, “No matter you may say that the racquet seems to be an extension of my arm. It did not and does not come, if you don’t sacrifice your time, to train it that way. What you see on Court, is a few hours of high voltage stroking. But let the children know, it does not come easy, unless you choose to spend time to teach your arm to behave, as it does.Above all, unceasing love and unremitting passion. But, training is everything.” Classic  John McEnroe revelation.

So it is with Abhishek Raghuram, the well informed say. He had many a teacher and continues to be taught. And he himself is a teacher to many an aspirant. What is teaching, if not training. And he spends hours on end to teach himself too and what we see and hear on stage, is the result of hard work (asura sadhanai), discipline, dedication, determination to excel and not to waste the oodles of talent,  the good lord has picked him, among the millions of us, to be bestowed with. And it showed in his celebrated Papanasam Sivan jewel- Srinivasa Tava Charanam. Amazing control, modulation, levitation, deep dive and even his “Aha, Aha” to the accompanists were in mellifluous sync. He was throwing up the phrases and literally toying with them, as they were kept afloat. Never let them fall as he formed colourful patterns and those on the Dias may have well got hold of some, as the concert wound down. Abhishek rich, famous, chivalrous was philanthropic enough to let us all carry the memories of the concert. A concert for the gods not Rasikas alone.

Nani Palkhivala is celebrating his centenary on 16th Jan, 2020. To play on Justice HR Khanna’s tribute to Nani, on his oratorical skills in the Kesavanand Bharathi case, before 13 Judges, in the hallowed First Court of the Supreme Court, “The height of lyrical eloquence which Abhishek rose today, has seldom been equalled and never surpassed even at the Academy”. No hyperbole this. It is a deserving tribute to a class performer born to be one.

(Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan-Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)

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Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
The author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court
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