As seen through the eyes of  Mr. Mohan Nadkarni

Obsessions of an 'odd man' out

He is primarily engaged in manufacturing a variety of textile chemicals. Yet, he is amazingly versatile in his range of interests. A linguist, he knows languages as diverse as German and Indonesian besides English and Bengali. To him goes the credit of being the first Indian to have translated the Panchatantra into German. His other literary outputs include German and English translations of the Hitopadesh.

What is more his involvement in a rather unlikely field - music -is total. In the course of his studies on raag and taal he came upon a bewildering variety of rare and complex melodies and equally difficult and intricate rhythms. Having grasped them, he   enlisted the services of a team of bright, young vocalists. instrumentalists and percussionists and had their performances recorded for the commercial market. All this in five years!

This is G L Chandiramani for you. He has produced as many as 13 cassettes ("13 has been my lucky number") and marketed them under his banner. Lithe and agile, Chandiramani is soft-spoken and disarmingly candid. During the course of our first meeting he said taal was initially his "weakest point"; his desire to overcome it led him to pursuing taal shastra as a major interest while he continued his involvement in varying spheres of human endeavour.

What led him to involve himself in so many diverse pursuits almost all at the same time? A compulsive urge for knowledge and more knowledge and its propagation among people, he says. mark, for instance, his deep concern for the proper development of children. "It is time we familiarise our children with our glorious past in a simple and fascinating form that will catch their imagination." The thought behind his exertions to bring out language versions of Sanskrit classics like Panchatantra and the Hitopadesh, among others.

At 64, Chandiramani plans to bring out unabridged English and German versions of the Hitopadesh and selected tales in Indonesian. Stories from the Hitopadesh are being recorded in English for commercial release together with their printed versions. "so that children can read and listen  at the same time."

He is also working on getting his 13 music cassettes into Western notations, He has given shape to a novel presentation in percussion music: tabla bols have been set up in such a way that two acknowledged percussionists are featured to express and converse through their instruments in English! Last but not the least, he is currently evolving a phonetic script for the Sindhi language.

The story of Chandiramani's life and career might well provide  material for a fascinating biography. Judging by the extent of his involvement in such a variety of interests besides his chosen profession, one would be tempted to dub him a 'workaholic'. True to type, he dislikes the use of such a "cliche" in his case saying he is a lazy man. "I devote only four hours to my main business and leave the rest to my partner. I give only three hours to my musical interests and an hour for compulsory reading."

He calls himself "singularly lucky" in that many a competent mentor came his way, almost fortuitously, guiding him in the right direction. The late professor S B Hudlikar, the eminent German, Sanskrit and Marathi scholar, instilled in him love for study and research in languages. Bulo C Ranithe, the popular composer and film music director, taught him the subtleties of composing and other aspects of music-making even while giving practical lessons in theory. It was, however, the veteran Pt Krishnarao Chonkar - the octogenarian singing thespian of the Marathi stage - who initiated him into the mysteries of taal shastra.

Govind Lilaram Chandiramani's childhood was spent in Lahore, where his immediate neighbours were music-loving Bengalis. Any serious contact with music was practically lost after he moved to Bombay for advanced college studies. His contact with Bengali music was soon renewed when he met J K Banerjee, popularly known as Kakaji in the music world, and studied Tagore's music from him for a number of years.

On one occasion he was so fascinated by a song set to an odd rhythmic cycle of nine matras, that he decided to learn the entire taal shastra on a systematic basis. One Shirsekar, then a staff artiste with AIR Bombay, was his first percussion teacher who introduced him to various familiar taals. He also took time off to learn Hindustani music from Mahadev Mishra, a local vocalist and teacher.

Fortuitous, too, was a tour to Indonesia, where he discovered there were versions' of Mahabharata and Ramayana in Indonesian dating back to a thousand years. This led him to learn Indonesian and Balinese.

Chandiramani's entry into the domain of film and light music was accidental. Bulo C Rani gave him the benefit of his rich experience to score the music for a variety of compositions which came to be sung and recorded by popular singers like Nirmala Devi. Kavita Krishnamurthy and Usha Amonkar.

But his musical quest can be said to have culminated with his meeting
Pt Chonkar. Indeed it was a revelation to learn that Panditji was steeped as much in taal vidya as in raag vidya with scores of rare melodies and rhythms stored in his memory despite his advanced age.

Quite curiously, Chandiramani's business partner, Praful Mehta, introduced him to the veteran. "That was also the time when I was getting guidance  simultaneously from Kakaji, Bulo C Rani and Krishnaraoji," he recalls.

Chandiramani's studentship with Krishnaraoji - continued even today -  became an obsession. Not only has he assimilated, some most intricate and rarely heard taals, but under his mentor's guidance he has also employed them to classical, vocal and instrumental music.

He introduced a variety of innovations, all rooted in the indigenous idiom, to make the repertoire exciting, interesting and enlightening. The 13 cassettes are a shining testimony to Panditji's erudition in taal shastra, as they are to his protege's calibre.

Chandiramani makes special mention of top-notch vocalist Shruti Sadolikar-Katkar's uncanny command over sur and taal while speaking of the series success. Indeed what strikes one most is its novelty as a concept and its presentation. The melodies make for highly pleasurable listening. To the average listener it probably signifies simple entertainment. But they will, in all probability, evoke academic interest in the cognoscenti.

Even a seasoned listener is apt to get a little baffled by unfamiliar ragas like Bhilalu, Kamal-Ranjanil. Rukamanhar, Pushpachandrika and Rajeshwari to name a few. So is the case with rhythmic cycles like lufa, Champak-savari, Pancham Savari and Firdost. One cannot help feeling that the rhythmical aspect is highlighted at the expense of the musical!

The crying need today is not a revival of rare ragas and taals, but the preservation and popularisation of those familiar and in vogue. Can't the revival of forgotten melodies and rhythms come much later? Besides, will general music-lovers for whom music is more important than rhythm, welcome these innovations? If not, what is this arduous exercise for?

I suspect Chandiramani has poured a good deal of money, apparently down the drain, in the course of this unending quest in popularising the kind of music he has released. He pleads with transparent sincerity that he has never had any commercial interest in its pursuit. His approach, he repeats, is acquisition of more and more knowledge: "Whatever I'm doing is its own reward", he says, with disarming finality.