Monday, October 31, 2011

On Mission Music

Director-cum-chief mentor of Indo Asian News Service, KPK Kutty is on a mission to teach Carnatic music to school children of rural Kerala

While many of his contemporaries became media advisors to Prime Ministers or secured other plum positions in Delhi, veteran journalist K P K Kutty has chosen to lead a hermit’s life in his ancestral village of Kavasseri in Palakkad district of Kerala. 

The 78-year-old journalist, while continuing to mentor the editorial staff of Indo Asian News Service (IANS), devotes most of his time as a music teacher to 350 school children in over a dozen village temples in a radius of 25 km around Kavasseri. He wakes up at 4 in the morning, performs pooja and off he goes to various temples to teach music to children in the age group of 5-10 years. He has fixed each day of the week for visits to different temples. 

Dussehra is a special day for Kutty and the children as it is on this auspicious day that mothers and grandmothers bring their children to the main village temple to be initiated into literacy and music by the priests. Clad in Dhoti and Angavastram, with sandalwood paste smeared on his temple, Kutty blesses the children and makes them recite the complete octave –Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa. 

Kutty Sir, as he is endearingly called by the children and their parents in the area, left Delhi six years ago to settle down in his ancestral village to carry on the legacy of his father Kavasseri Vaidyanathaiyer  Parasurama Sastrigal, the chief priest of the village temple and a renowned music teacher. 

Ironically, it was his father who had advised his teenage son Kutty to give up music and learn English instead. Kutty went ahead with his English study but did not leave his Veena, a musical instrument his blind elder sister inspired him to play.  

Born in a family of musicians,  Kutty started playing the Veena at the age of six. He was inspired by his blind elder sister Parvathi Ammal, who had been taken to Thiruvananthapuram by Kutty's father  to learn Veena under the tutelage of Travancore Palace aasthaana vainika Mannapra Anantharama Bhagavathar.

After his matriculation in 1949, Kutty worked for nine years as a member of the non-combatant accounts staff in the Indian Air Force (IAF). During the period, with considerable free time at hand, he made considerable advance in his music study, devoting a lot of energy and time to surveying the contribution of Kerala composers such as Irayimman Thampi, his daughter Kutty Kunju Thankachi, Mahakavi K C Kesava Pillai, Kuttamathu and Thulaseevanam, besides Swati Thirunal. He had already acquainted himself with the Carnatic music trinity during his school days in Kavasseri.

Life in the air force station in Delhi was quite rewarding for him. The working hours being only from 7.30 am to 1.30 pm, he had ample time to not only practice veena but also pursue his higher education. Studying privately, he did MA in English literature in 1958.  

His interest and knowledge in Carnatic music was already known to friends in Tamilian and Malayalee circles in Delhi.  His first vocal concert in front of a discerning audience took place in Sarojini Nagar in 1956. Among the audience was a violinist, Gayatri Sastri, who spoke to him soon after the concert. On learning that Kutty was a Veena player, she offered him an unused Veena  lying in her home. Kutty insisted he wouldn't want it gratis. She then asked for just Rs. 20 and Kutty paid her Rs.30 in a liberal deal. Kutty has been playing the same Veena past 55 years. 

While pursuing his passion for music, Kutty was also fond of writing short articles, a hobby which changed the course of his life and made him leave an accountant’s job to become a journalist. One such piece that he wrote was on the metamorphosis of a girl student of Kavasseri who he ran into on a Delhi road in 1958 while still in the IAF. The one-time shy, orthodox village girl, his senior by about four years, was attired in modern city clothes, wearing goggles and riding a cycle. Kutty interviewed her and wrote a piece which he sent to D.R.Mankekar, then  editor-in-chief of The Indian Express. Though the piece was not published, the editor offered him the job of a trainee subeditor.

After working with The Indian Express till April 1961, Kutty joined the United News of India (UNI) and became a chief subeditor in just two years. He served UNI for 32 years and retired in 1993 after he had headed the news agency as chief editor and general manager for more than five years.

The first 40 years of Kutty's Delhi stay was marked by journalistic assignments to more than 40 countries. Even while he worked as a journalist in a national news agency, accompanying Prime Ministers on their foreign visits, Kutty kept live contact with his village folks, visiting them once a year on his annual leave. On such annual visits, Kutty would spend time with the village children, teaching them the rudimentary of classical Carnatic music.

After his retirement from UNI, Kutty joined Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), a news agency set up in 1994 as director and chief mentor, a position he holds even today. “Essentially, I monitor the news feeds and features issued by IANS every night and carry out the necessary changes and pass on instructions to the editorial staff. This does not take more than two hours,” says Kutty who, though a director of the company, takes Rs. 20,000 as a monthly honorarium, “Just enough to take care of my daily needs and transport cost to visit the temples around Kavasseri.” 

Between 1960 and 1995 Kutty participated in scores of music programmes and held concerts in Delhi. He used to have regular interactive sessions with eminent classical music singers on compositions of Kerala vaggeyakaras. 

A 200-minute cultural programme titled "A Day in Kerala", conceived by  Omchery's Delhi Experimental Theatre and featuring more than 200 singers and theatre artistes, including Mrs. Leela Omchery and  Kutty's wife Rajalakshmi, captured the imagination of Delhiites, especially Malayalees who account for about 1.4 million in Delhi's population of  18 million.

In 2005, Kutty survived cancer, a variety known as non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). “It was Veena which helped me recover from the trauma that I went through because of chemotherapy which had caused the loss of my hair. I used to remain confined to my home to avoid embarrassment due to loss of hair. I utilized the time to play Veena,” he recalls. Today, Kutty’s hair is like a lion’s mane, a distinctive feature by which he is known along with his walrus moustaches.

A music concert by Kutty in  Kavasseri's Parakkattu Sree Bhagavathi temple in August 2006 along with his US-based cousin, K. Balasubramaniam, led to his being pressured by friends in the Ottupura agraharam to return to the village since there has been no music teacher there after his father's death in 1966. 

Kutty began his latest music lessons in Kavasseri on November 15, 2006, with 54 children attending the inaugural class at the Parakkattu Sree Bhagawathi temple.

Kutty used to teach a dozen-odd children music whenever he used to come to the village on two months' leave while in the IAF. Today  Kutty's students number around 350 spread over a dozen villages covering an area of  over 250 sq km. 

Besides music, Kutty also had a tryst with the film industry. Film producer Joy Thomas'   1987 Malayalam feature film "New Delhi" saw Kutty playing  the role of  chief editor of a newspaper  with hero Mammootty working under him as a reporter. The film, which was a hit, was then made in Hindi, Kannada and Telugu, with Kutty doing the same role in all the three versions.

However, Kutty was not enamored by the glitz and power of both the tinsel world and the national capital and has chosen to lead a hermit’s life in his ancestral village, spreading love and music among school children.


1 comment:

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