Sarma Mama, the polymath

Seetharama Sarma
The year was 1989, the city Paris. The French were celebrating the bicentenary of the revolution. I had accompanied Sarma Mama (as I called him) to France and we lived in a serviced apartment in the suburb of Chatelet for two months. Sarma Mama performed along with nagaswara vidwan Mambalam Siva and dancer Shantala Shivalingappa in an opera choreographed by the world renowned opera director Maurice Béjart. This was my first journey abroad and, unfortunately within weeks of reaching Paris, I developed chickenpox. It was Sarma Mama who helped me recuperate, taking care of the healing wounds. Our relationship was not that of a guru and sishya; he was a father to me.

In the late 1970s, my mother was looking to revive her music lessons. She was a graduate in music and a student of Thediyur Narayanaswamy (a student of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer). My uncle T.T. Vasu introduced Sarma Mama to her. Vasu Chitya was an amateur singer whom Sarma Mama taught. In fact they rendered the Durgashtakam together on All India Radio. Sarma Mama began coming home to teach my mother and when I was six years old, he decided that I must also have music classes. My first ever musical utterance was only because he saw music in me.

The relationship between our families was much deeper than that of a music teacher and a student’s parents. He became a very dear friend of my parents and, in the ensuing decades, Sarma Mama was at our home every evening discussing everything under the sun with my father. We were one family… read more