Despite years of research, no matter how significant the facts and details gleaned is, no biography is really complete. What remains essential then is how the life story is told. If one could rephrase a popular quote, people read biographies today not for ideas alone, it is read for the art of storytelling.
Chittaswarangal, Krishnamoorthy’s biography of Neyyattinkara Vasudevan, does not simply sing paeans to this noted Carnatic vocalist but rather takes a detailed look at his life, career, and Carnatic music in the State during Vasudevan’s lifetime. And Krishnamoorthy does this in a style that comfortably blends biography with simple storytelling. The biography has an introduction by M.T. Vasudevan Nair.
This biography is not a hagiography, but an illumination of the man behind the music. It also sheds light on the lives and careers of his contemporaries.
“Vasudevan passed away in 2008. A year later Sreevalsan J. Menon, Vasudevan’s disciple, asked me if I could think of writing a biography. That’s how I began working on it. It took me nearly six years to complete it,” says Krishnamoorthy, who has penned Sogasuga Mrundagathalamu, a biography on mridangam wizard Palakkad Mani Iyer. The first print of this work has been sold out.
“Unlike the Mani Iyer biography, which was more like a novel than a chronological record of events, where I attempted to blend dates and anecdotes into the flow and mood of the subject, the one on Vasudevan is almost in chronological order. It is a portrait of Vasudevan painted through in shades and through many people who were involved in his life and career.”
Krishnamoorthy has collated the material culled from various sources including extensive interviews with members of Vasudevan’s family, his friends, colleagues, gurus and musical contemporaries.
“Some of those who spoke to me are no more. The recordings with Mavelikkara Velukutty Nair, T.V. Ramani, T.V. Vasan and Mavelikara S.R. Raju are invaluable information on Vasudevan and on Kerala’s Carnatic music in general.”
The biography also has a parallel track. It traces the life and times of another noted musician, Neyyattinkara Mohanachandran. “Vasudevan shared a special relationship with Mohanachandran. They grew up together, had mutual respect for each other and shared their thoughts on music. Both of them regularly performed at the Krishna Swami Temple festival in their home town. After Mohanachandran’s death in 2005 Vasudevan did not sing there.”
The book is studded with many such incidents beginning from Vasudevan’s birth at Athazhamangalam, near Neyyattinkara in 1940, his early struggle, working his way to become a musician widely recognised in India and abroad.
Krishnamoorthy dwells on Vasudevan’s days as a student at Swati Thirunal Music Academy, Thiruvananthapuram, his college mates like K.J. Yesudas and M.G. Radhakrishnan, his stint as assistant professor at RLV College of Music and Fine Arts, Tripunithura and as staff artiste at All India Radio. There is also mention of Vasudevan’s association with music director G. Devarajan and his foray into films as a singer in films such as Enipadikkal, Swati Thirunal, Chitram, Vachanam and Mazha. “Vasudevan’s father was a woodcutter and a very good nagaswaram player. In fact, nagaswaram was a family legacy. For some years, Vasudevan had helped his father in cutting wood and chopping it into pieces. He once said that he felt there was music, as the axe cut through the timber. Vasudevan’s heart was always in music.”
Krishnamoorthy’s first novel was Kedaram, which was an admirer’s travel through a concert by M. D. Ramanathan.
Chittaswaram will be released by Shaji N. Karun and Thiruvizha Jayasankar at a function at Tripunithura on September 3 at 5 p.m.