How one's life changes! Four years ago, I'd not have imagined leaving Mumbai. Three and a half years back, I'd not have dreamt that I would become addicted to Carnatic music. Three years ago, I'd not have thought I'd write a book on music and my wife would publish it. And six months back, I'd not have thought there'd be an invitation for us from the President of India.
But that is exactly what happened. On 20th September 2005, I received the first good news that I'm getting posted as Member (Technical), RCT at Chennai. On the same day, the second good news was conveyed by J.Srinivas that my request for an audience with the President had been granted and was likely to be on 28th September 2005. He also said that a confirmation would be received from the President's Secretariat.
I didn't tell anybody except my wife as I thought I'd rather wait for the confirmation. But it never came. As i had to arrange the reservations, rest house etc., I was anxious. Then I rang up the Mrs. Rashika Choube in the President's Secretariat who confirmed the appointment. She also said that normally no letters are issued and that the appointment is confirmed on phone by Friday of the previous week. She said I could go ahead and plan my journey.
So we started on our historic journey on 26th September. It was historic on another count. I was travelling on the Chennai - Delhi route by train after my probation in 1971. And my wife was travelling for the first time on this route. See I am not the only one in my family who is not very fond of Delhi. In the meanwhile Rashtrapati Bhawan sources confirmed our appointment at 14.00 hours on 28th.
To cut a long story short, we were at the entrance to the Rashtrapati Bhawan at 13.15 hours. After a minimal security drill, we were in the main reception. There were two touch-screens in which one could have a virtual tour of the Rashtrapati Bhawan. After a brief wait, we passed through security again. This time my camera and phone were taken by the security and the laptop and my wife's handbag were subjected to bomb detection test. There was none and we went to the second reception hall. This was a beautiful one facing the garden (I do not know whether it is Mughal garden). Liveried attendant materaialised from nowhere with snacks and fresh lime juice. We were in no mood for tea which was also on offer. After 20 minutes, we were escorted via a beautiful red-carpeted long corridor to the ADC's room. On either side of the verandah were nice objects of art. After about 10 minutes in ADC's room, we were ushered into the sanctum sanctorum at 2.20 P.M. Surprisingly the President's room was the least impressive in size) of the four rooms that we saw. Or perhaps we felt so due to the larger-than-life image of the occupant of the room.
After greeting him, he asked questions about my book. He also engaged my wife in conversation by asking about her native place and other personal details. We explained the purpose of the book which is to spread the beauty of Carnatic music. We said that we are trying to inculcate an appreciation for Carnatic music among the readers. Then he graciously agreed to view the CD-ROM which is distributed with the book. I hd taken permission for the laptop and showed a glimpse of the CD. He wondered about how the Trinity of Carnatic music (Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastry) came to live at the same time. I told him (rather presumptuosly because I'm sure he knows it) that even in Europe Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were contemporaies at the same time as the Trinity of Carnatic music. In any case, they were known as Trinity long after their death. Incidentally the discussions were in English as well as Tamil. As the meeting was about to end, we realised an important item of work was yet to be done. We had been told that we should request the President for photograph. So we asked him whether we could be photographed with him. He called the photographer and even directed him from where he should take the snaps.
As we were ready to leave, he told us to discuss with Carnatic music teachers to ascertain the problems in learning Carnatic music and how to solve them. He advised us that while appreciation is important learning is more important. So he said that we should take that as our future mission.
It was a memorable twenty minutes of our lives. We were struck by the simplicity of the man. I'd written in my book '... in almost every concert, I have found some part of the performance which cannot describe what happens except that the audience becomes irrelevant at that point. The musician sings for himself/herself or for God so to speak, and we, the audience, become just voyeurs of some sort enjoying the music. It is these few minutes of divine experience that motivates me to attend kutcheris (concerts) again and again. You savour these experiences for a long time.' Well that was what we felt in the 20 minutes with the first citizen of the country.
The trip had its other high points as well. We were able to visit my batchmate, Sneh Bijlani at Agra, we visited Mathura and Gokul and finally we also visited the Taj after 25 years. The visit to Gokul takes our tally of Divyadesams to 101 with only Ayodhya, Naimisaranyam, Nandprayag, devaprayag and Muktinath yet to be visited. We were overwhelmed by the hospitality of Gautam (Senior Divisional Accounts Officer, Agra) and his team.
My wife with Mrs. Sneh Bijlani in her house at Radha Nagar, Agra
My wife and I in front of the Taj
FA & CAO, Southern Railway
25th October 2005