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By Vikram Sampath ( Click Here to Buy avaibale with CD)
Of all the stars in the Carnatic music firmament from the 1930s through the 1980s, there was one star that glimmered a bit more, that outshone the brilliance of the rest. The irrepressible genius, S Balachander, stormed into the prim Madras music scene with a panache, eccentricity, charisma and verve that no contemporary of his could match.
Born in 1927 in Madras, Balachander was a child prodigy and self-taught musician with no formal training or gurus in music. At the age of 5 he began performing, first on the percussion instrument, the kanjira and started accompanying his elder brother S. Rajam who was a vocalist. Experimenting with several instruments, he taught himself the art of playing a host of them like the Tabla, Mridangam, Harmonium, Dilruba, Shehnai and even mastered the Sitar himself, playing Carnatic music on it. He was in fact the first artist to play Carnatic music on the sitar and gave full-fledged concerts and Radio shows of the same. By then Balachander had also starred in several films as a child artist and was a genius chess player who defeated many stalwart players from across the world.
Slowly his attention was caught by one of the most ancient instruments of India, the pristine and majestic Veena. He lost interest in all the other instruments and became wedded to the Veena making it an indispensable part of his personality. In just about 2 years he taught himself the art of playing the Veena and emerged as one of the most respected vainikas (Veena player) of the times.
The maestro began his music career at a time when stalwart vocalists ruled the roost and instrumentalists played second fiddle to them. But being an independent-minded and self-taught artiste, Balachander carved a unique niche for himself as a veena soloist, breaking free from the conventional stranglehold of past masters. He boldly changed the grammar of instrumental music, contemporized the veena and created a legacy known as the Balachander bani, or style.
But for all his accomplishments, Balachander's iconoclastic and brash ways earned him the ire of the Carnatic music fraternity. He was quick to pick quarrels with fellow musicians in his lifelong quest for perfection and truth. He was the perennial sentinel of classicism and fought courageously for what he considered a just cause.
So, was Balachander a beloved genius or a much-maligned maverick? The book attempts to recreate the towering personality that he was, a lot of this researched from his elaborate personal diaries, extensive interviews with his surviving contemporaries and family members.
While his death in 1990 created a void in the Carnatic realm, Balachander's memory lives on in the minds of the connoisseurs and music lovers.
As the maestro would have smugly said: "Veena is Balachander, Balachander is Veena."
Vikram Sampath is a young historian writer , it is his third book . Click here to read special article on him and know more about him and his previous work .