Violinist R.K. Venkatarama Sastry was a venerable presence in M.S. Subbulakshmi’s house in the years he accompanied her on the violin. Always meticulously dressed in panchakacham, bordered angavastram, and the kind of nondescript shirt that conservative men wore in that age, he had his forehead generously streaked with sacred ash and a kumkum dot. His small spare tuft was the only thing that sometimes dared to be unruly. Everything else about him spoke of simplicity, relentless discipline and control. He could daunt you with his silence. When he played the violin you knew he belonged to an immaculate tradition. Not for him adventures and risks. He kept it straight and pure. MS had tremendous respect for his austerity and dignified bearing.

R.K. SHRIRAMKUMARWhen R.K. Shriramkumar entered the MS circuit he was really a stripling. He had his grandfather’s simplicity and suddha pathantara. He was (and remains) scrupulously orthodox without making a song and dance about it. He performed his pooja and ritual with complete conviction, wore his vibhooti with utter faith, and had the same adoring veneration for Tyagaraja and other great uttama vaggeyakaras. In the years to come he would develop a taste for the best in sangeeta and sahitya, and disdain what he called “alka” (tinsel) sangeetam. I watched his benchmark rising higher and higher—for himself, as well as his choices in music.

MS was predisposed to like him as the grandson of Venkatarama Sastry, and grew to love him for his vinayam, modesty, and yes, she applauded his conservatism. The music he played when I first heard him was neat, not grand. He never took risks, how could he when he was accompanying a legendary senior? But he was quick to grasp what had to be done, and did it quietly, even unobtrusively… read moreread more