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Music, memories and humour at Balachander book launch
PAWANPREET KAUR  12th Feb 2012

(L to R) Kapish Mehra, MD of Rupa Publications, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Vikram Sampath PHOTO: Abhishek Shukla

t was an evening of high-strung humour as one maverick took to the stage to speak about another. On the occasion of the release of Vikram Sampath's new book Voice of the Veena: S. Balachander, a biography, Parliamentarian Mani Shankar Aiyar regaled the audience with anecdotes about the veena maestro and talked at length about Balachander's immense contribution to the field of Carnatic music and Tamil cinema.

Standing in for Shashi Tharoor, Aiyar recounted childhood memories about his uncle who was considered the enfant terrible of Carnatic music, known as much as art as for the completely uninhibited use of his tongue. "Balachander picked up a quarrel with as much passion as he picked up the veena. He was in equal measures a genius and a crackpot," Aiyar told a packed house at the India International Centre in the capital this week.

Always ready for a joke at his own expense, Aiyar talked at length about his shared Aiyar-Iyyengar ancestry with Balachander, the most prominent legacy of which, he felt, was "the crooked nose". Lauding Sampath for his book, he said, "Vikram has been a very fair biographer. In writing about both his virtues and vices, the author has saved the book from becoming a hagiography." Aiyar read from an equally entertaining but poignant article written by H.Y. Sharada Prasad written shortly after Balachander's death, in which the writer recounts the many idiosyncrasies of the veena virtuoso.

The launch was also attended by noted danseuse Pratibha Prahlad and secretary, ministry of culture Jawahar Sircar. Prahlad, who had the fortune of meeting the maverick musician, called Balachander "a superlative performer" and emphasised his immense dedication to his art, which made him a first among equals. Speaking about the many moments of angst that pervade an artist's life, she said, "artists are delicate, they need to be handled with great care".

Sircar lauded Sampath's efforts to bring to public realm the life and times of the maestro, emphasising the need to find such linkages to our heritage. Concluding the session, Sampath called Balachander a tragic hero and said he was among the rare breed of musicians who understood his responsibility as an artist and stood up for things that no one else would stand up for.

"When mediocrity can be self-obsessed, why not a genius? What's sad is that an entire generation was in such a haste to forget this man. This is an attempt to celebrate this much maligned, yet gifted musician and maverick," he said. The book has been published by Raintree, an imprint of Rupa Publications.

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