कस्य बिभ्यति देवाश्च जातरोषस्य संयुगे ।।1.1.4।।
आङोनास्त्रियाम् इति सूत्रम् | अत्र प्रश्नद्वयमासीत् |
Within the span of a single week, I lost two dear friends (and/or mentors) in Coimbatore. One was S.Vaidyanathakrishnan (mama, 81) and the other was Raja Iyengar (Raja Anna, 94).
Mama was an advocate by training. He was the president of the Tyaga Brahma Aradhana Committee in Coimbatore. His devotion to the Sangitamummurti and to Tyagaraja in particular was unique. The first time I met mama was when I was in middle school. At a speech of his after a concert, he was talking about Marugelara and expounding on the beauty of the word, tinnagA. It was a speech that moved me beyond words. I decided right then that this was the kind of person I wanted to emulate. Since then, I have spent countless hours at his home, listening to him as he expounded on the many things I was reading and learning and answering the innumerable questions I had. Not once was I made to feel like a newbie.I was treated with genuineness, generosity and his ever-present eagerness to share his knowledge.Every word of his is etched in my mind as if it were today and more than two decades have passed. It was again through him that I attended the Muttusvami Dikshitar Jayanti at Tiruvarur where a group from Coimbatore conducted the Navavarana puja. This soon led to Samskrtam. He introduced me to C.H.Raghuttaman, my first Samskrtam teacher and I studied Laghukaumudi from him. There were days when we both had classes together with Raghuttamachar Sir. Every Saturday afternoon was spent in the company of these two wise men and I found their thirst for knowledge, principles and life goals truly inspiring. Many were his journeys – Tyagaraja, Rama, Shrivaishnavism and Periyavachan Pillai, Kshetras, Bhagavadgita, Kamban, Cilappatikaram, Ambal, Syamasastri, Dikshitar, Adi Sankaracharya, Kanchi Paramacharya, SubrahmanyaBhujangam, his own seniors in law and what he learnt from them. He kindly took me along on these journeys for several hours and showed me glimpses of the little nuggets of wisdom he had gathered. When he went to Italy, he spoke to me about St.Augustine and the gnostics. In anything he saw, he was the proverbial swan applying nirakshiranyaya taking only the best and discarding the rest. When I met him this August 2016, he shared an article on legal luminaries that he was writing and threw light on the judgements given by justices T.Muthuswami Iyer, Patanjali Sastri, Rajamannar and many others. For the first time, we talked at length of something other than music, Tamiz and Samskrta and spoke of Indian Independence, British History. Today, I feel like have lost a huge part of myself and am grieving the loss of a friend, philosopher and guide. He was my father’s friend but ended up being mine as well – for friendship is about shared memories, time spent, shared values and conversations that enrich you as a human being and has nothing with age. Mama will always remain with me in spirit – in his thirst for knowledge, in the values he stood for, in the kind of life he led, having inspired many people through his words, thoughts and actions.
While mama was a charismatic person who took the world by storm through his brilliance , people skills and speech, the learned Raja Anna was the polar opposite. He was what we could call a lamp lit inside a pot with very very few people knowing who he really was and what all he knew. Again, mama was one of the few people who understood Raja Anna and the depth of his learning and love for Tamiz and it was he who gave me his address and telephone number.
Raja Anna’s garb was simple an old white veshTi and a cloth bag. He worked as an Income Tax officer, highly principled and honest and and hardly cared for social mores and status and lived in his own world. He learnt Tamiz from Teivacikamanikkavuntar in Coimbatore, studied Tolkappiam and other texts from him and mastered the art of copying palm leaf manuscripts. He would take a sack of manuscripts, sit at his desk after work and would laboriously copy them onto sheets of paper. I met him in 2014 , again thanks to mama’s introduction. And how much we spoke! What was originally a visit for two hours, ended up over 12-14 hours spreading over two days and he simply would not let me go as he had more information to share. He spoke of his early days of learning Tamil, of how TeivacikamanikkavuNtar would walk for miles together in the hot sun and how he fainted outside a lady’s home in his search for manuscripts. He talked of the history of olai suvadi in KongunAtu, of early publishers such as SaravaNapperumaL Iyer and the many tales of intrigue and pettiness that happened in early Tamil publication history. He was in particular caustic towards Ph.ds in Tamil and felt that they were simply selling Tamil and did not care for it. His eyes had tears as he spoke of TeivaCikamanikkavuNTar and UVeSa. He recounted the literature of KonguNatu – such as TakkaiRamayanam, the Pazhaiya urai to Kalladam, Pancamarabu and the urai of Perunkathai. As a Srivaishnava, his learning of the Divyaprabandhams were exemplary. He had given talks in All India Radio Coimbatore on Tiruppavai during several Margazhi seasons. Mama had asked me to talk to him about Periyavachan Pillai and so I did. He showed me several books and wanted me to come back so I could learn from him. He spoke of Kamban and explained some verses from the Kambaramayanam. I asked him to give a small pravachanam on the Kambaramayanam and recorded it. He wanted me to come back to learn to copy palm leaf manuscripts, to study more Tamiz from him. He also made me promise that I would write to him and said he may not be able to reply back. And I did. In an age of email and text messages, I wrote a couple of long hand-written letters to him in 2014 and 2015. Unfortunately, I ran out of time to make good of the promise I made to him when I visited India in 2016.