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Irrepressible, irresistible MLV
By T.M. Anantharaman
BANGALORE, June 2: Not without reason M.L.Vasanthakumari is held in high esteem by lovers of Carnatic music. For MLV typified what most musicians would aspire to be: an extraordinary singer with an exceptionally sweet and vibrant voice, which could scale octaves with ease. And, to cap it all, MLV displayed rich imagination and the spirit of adventure in her music. Often, she would dare to tread untested modes in music by venturing to explore rare ragas and compositions of old masters with great enthusiasm and expertise.

MLV was indeed a singer who held you in thrall with whatever she sang – be it traditional Carnatic classical music or film songs or never-before-heard new kritis or compositions of masters, including Purandaradasa or Annamacharya, Goplakrishna Bharati or Ambujam Krishna or others from the Hindu pantheon of saints and singer-composers.

Breath-taking beauty
MLV belonged to the school which believed that you always attempt to give off your best while giving a concert by aiming always for high aesthetics in expression. I still recall what an extraordinary impact she had on me when I first heard her sing the Tamil film song in raga Maund when I was a teenager. Since then, I have heard her “Arumo aaval aarumuganai neril kanamal aarumo” umpteen times, and every time I hear this song, I am amazed at the breath-taking beauty and flourish which she is able to impart for the song, making it an all-time memorable one in the list of most music lovers. Every time you hear the ragamalika song ``Chinnamchiru kililiye kannamma selva kalanjiyame” sung by MLV, you automatically start humming the tune even though you did not know the full lyrics of the song. That is the power of good quality music which makes you hum along and MLV had this power in abundance. The legendary “flute Mali” is said to have liked it so much that he used to play the ditty on the flute in many of his concerts.

Wonderful singer
Over the years, I have heard this wonderful singer in many concerts, including in our own chamber music group called Rasikapriya which we had floated in year 1972 at Chembur in Bombay. Before I narrate an anecdote relating to MLV’s concert for Rasikapriya, I would like to acknowledge the immense pleasure she has given to music lovers all over with her singing, be it a traditional Bhairavi raga Viriboni varnam in a stupendously neat, clean, bhava-soaked manner with great fluency and élan and in the double-quick tempo when concluding it with a flourish; or her exposition of a rare Thyagaraja kriti in the raga Manoranjani “Atukada ra dani palka”, or raga Takka “Raka shashivadana inta paraka” (Thyagaraja kriti) or Kalyanvasantham “Kannulu takani parakanthana manasatulo Rama”. Or, take the beautiful Sahana kriti “Vanadanamu Raghunandana Sethu bandana bakthachandana”; or the Chandrajyoti kriti “Bhaagayanayya nee maya lentho”; or in raga Veeravasantham Ninne emani pogaduthura Ramanine”; or in Hindolam raga kriti “Manusolini”, or in raga Andholika the kriti “Raga suda rasa”, or in Darbari kanda raga kriti “ Sri kanta ena jayikum dayamado thanthey” (Purandara dasar); or in Sindhubhairavi raga the kriti “Venkatachala nilayam vaikunta pura vasam” (Purandara dasa);”or the exquisite Purandaradasa kriti “Neeney anadabandu karunya sindho” in raga Nadanamkriya.

Original in approach
Before I revert to my anecdote of MLV vis-à-vis-Rasikapriya, I must put down my thoughts on MLVs great raga-singing ability. Whether she took up traditional ragas such as Thodi, Kalyani, Mohanam, Varali, Bilahari and Karaharapriya, Kamboji; or in vakra ragas such as Natakurunji and Chalanattai’ or rare ragas such as Chandrajyoti, Sunadavinodhini and Ganamurthy, she would take her time to develop them bit-by-bit as it were and then weave a pattern that will depict a richness for its conception as also exemplary originality in execution. The overall effect after you hear her sing a raga elaborately is it leaves you completely amazed at her “baani” (style) that is exceptionally original in approach.

Often she leaves you spellbound. I am not even mentioning her delectable ragamalika compositions or Devi kritis, which she renders with great flair and devotion. She often used to begin her rendering of Devi kritis by dwelling on the qualities of that particular Devi through a lovely Sloka before getting into grips with the song proper. MLV as a musician was unique and irrepressible when she was singing. She had a legion of disciples but none can match her for her extraordinary gifts in depicting rare ragas or compositions and singing light ebullient pieces, including some wonderful thillanas. She was, indeed, a rare breed who had enormous appetite to explore and reveal newer facets to her musical ideas often with breath-taking vision and expertise in swara singing. No, we will never get another MLV.

Nervous before a concert
It is surprising that such an artiste had her moments of doubts before a concert. When she was with us chatting on the eve of her concert for Rasikapriya back in 1973 or so, she was in a good mood but seemed a trifle tensed up. Even while she was talking to us, I saw her open a small bag and take out five or six multi-coloured tablets and she began popping it up. As we in Rasikarpiya raised our eyebrows in wonder, her daughter Srividya, who was with her at the time, explained that: ``Amma is always a little nervous before her concerts.” When we said Rasikapriya was a small chamber music group and so she shouldn’t worry, Srividya said it didn’t matter whether the sabha was small or big and for Amma every concert posed a challenge. ``Well, well well,’’ is all I could mutter on getting to know that even an established stalwart like MLV could have jitters before a concert. Luckily for us, everything went off well and she gave an exuberant account of her usual self and the Carnatic music rasikas of Rasikapriya were clean bowled. Long live the melodies of MLV. It is our sincere wish. Nearly forty years on, we still cherish our meeting with the great musician, the irrepressible and irresistible MLV.

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