Not an empty seat in the house

M Balamuralikrishna straddled the contemporary with the traditional in an unmatchable jugalbandi

Carnatic vocalist, playback singer and composer Mangalamapalli Balamuralikrishna (86) who died on Tuesday, was a regular feature at Mumbai’s Shanmukhanand Hall in Sion.

“When he performed here, we would always have a packed house,” says a Shanmukhanand loyalist. An old timer remembered patrons from the city’s South Indian concentration Matunga and Chembur areas packing the hall, the smell of jasmine from the gajras all pervasive, the rustle of silk saris and the hushed tones of an audience excited and overwhelmed at the opportunity to hear the legend.

Dr (PhD) V Shankar, president, Sri Shanmukhanand Fine Arts & Sangeet Sabha says the legendary musician used to perform at the Shanmukhanand almost once every two years, especially in the 1970s and 80s, though he did come in the 1990s and after that too. Shankar explains, “Age did not affect the quality of his rendition, but it was evident that he was moving away from his role as performer to teacher, preparing to pass the baton metaphorically at least, to the next generation. While performing, he would explain about the composition, its creation, age never withered him and time never stilled him.” Kids would ask him, ‘What is Carnatic music? And he would say: it is not about a region or a place, anything that is pleasing to the ear is Carnatic music.’

Shankar claimed that Balamuralikrishna was compelling because he was contemporary “and yet, he was a purist. Besides his music, I will miss his discipline, the crisp attire as he got ready for a performance, some accessories and most importantly his emphasis on discipline. He was dressed crisply, never casual.”

For Shankar, performers like Balamuralikrishna leave behind, “such a reservoir that by the time we even begin to understand the nuances of his legacy, it will be time for the next and next. Artistes like him don’t die, they leave behind that which is imperishable.”

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