That nice middle ground
The different dimensions of Kanyakumari the teacher emerge as the sishyas chat with Geetha Venkataramanan
Generous, humble and dedicated are some of the adjectives students of A. Kanyakumari use to describe their guru. She shares her knowledge and money with the same generosity, they say in unison. “There have been occasions when she has handed over the remuneration cover to me to be disbursed among accompanists,” says Embar Kannan.
“Absolutely detached,” say long-time associates Prasanna and Kannan. “She is not possessive about her disciples, they are free to do what they wish with their talent. She is the first to encourage and applaud when we do something new,” they say.
Respect for co-artists is mentioned as another endearing quality. “During class and rehearsals I feel I’m way behind but on stage we are at par. We sit together, there is no second fiddle,” says Kannan, an observation echoed by Prasanna. “It is a two-way energy flow with neither domineering,” he supplies. A happy fallout is that they emulate their guru in all these aspects.
The disciples assembled eagerly to watch their teacher present a paper at the Music Academy conference and happily posed for a picture with her after the session. A few seniors shared the cherished impressions of their guru. “At 16, I sat with her on stage to perform – a rare generosity,” observes Embar Kannan of Kanyakumari, his guru for three decades. She teaches without reservations and every performance is a lesson for me,” he adds.
After completing initial lessons with Subbanna Bhagavatar and Vittal Ramamurthi, Kannan came under the tutelage of Kanyakumari and considers it a blessing. “It was a whole new world. As a teenager, I applied for all the competitions including the Music Academy where the standard was high. She helped me face the challenge and I won prizes which boosted my confidence,” he reminisces.
Kanyakumari took him along to concerts outside Chennai to prestigious platforms in Mumbai and Delhi. With exposure came more opportunities and there was no looking back. “She would never stand in my way, whatever my forays were. If I had a solid eightyear association with maestro Ilaiyaraja, it was because of her cosmopolitan outlook, the vision to include everything.
It was this open mindedness that let Kanyakumari watch with pride as her pupils engage in western collaborations. “About her ensembles much has been written. Behind all those efforts is the singleminded goal to showcase the instrument. It is the violin that she holds aloft, every time she gets an award or accolade,” says Kannan, who cannot stop talking about his guru’s dedication. “If she is in