A conscientious teacher – and other stories

– V.A.K. Ranga Rao

In the mid-sixties I was very much involved with records (78s and later SPs, EPs and LPs), buying, hearing and, writing about them in Telugu and English. Andhrapatrika weekly in Telugu carried Saragamala (named by my guru Malladi Ramakrishna Sastri) – the first regular column in Telugu to review various aspects of gramophone records-including identifying the labels and giving record numbers.

Movieland weekly in English carried a similar column plus a studio round-up and reviews of Telugu films. This got me in touch with various people from all departments of the film industry, mostly Telugu, but with a sprinkling of notables from Kannada and Malayalam too. Curiously, it was much less with Tamil. Naturally music-directors, lyric-writers and choreographers predominated.

When I praised them I got smug thanks but when I criticised them, I got an earful. I learnt more from that reaction, what to overlook, when to emphasise and at what to throw the stick. Arudra dinned into my head that praise should be precise and criticism, air-tight. Thanks to that, my bullets could not and cannot ricochet. Saraswathi Stores located in Mount Road just opposite LIC head office—the first multi-storeyed building in the city—was my haunt. This organisation distributed all records made by the Gramophone Co. of India Ltd. There I met H.M. Mahesh, a Kannadiga in charge of the Kannada section. I liked his dedication and he admired my feel for music. He quit later and started his own The Master Recording Co. marketing music under the Sangeetha label. His hard work resulted in an enormous repertoire not only in Kannada but in other languages too. He would come to me whenever he had a dance-related music in hand. Through him I met Sulochana Pattabhiraman, who was instrumental in bringing out two cassettes of tillanas sung by a group of young women trained by her. I think Priya Sisters were a part of this group then. I heard the group’s effort and found it flawless. Generally I don’t like group singing of classical music as many voices singing together lack clarity. But this lot was so fine-tuned by Sulochana that my apprehension vanished into thin air. I was surprised as she did not have a smooth voice. I wondered how she could train others to sing so clean and clear when her own voice was such an uncooperative one. Dedication creates rainbows out of clouds, no doubt… read more