Saturday, September 24, 2011

The music of cricket

25 Aug 2003 18:40:30

The music of cricket
V Ramnarayan

The late MLV, we are told, in the year she got the Sangita Kalanidhi, spent the whole day at Chepauk and then in the evening set off for her concert at the Academy. This set us thinking and we requested good friend V Ramnarayan, no mean cricketer and a music buff, to pen his thoughts. - Editor,

As the train was entering the Western ghats, my heart was filled with happy recollections of how well my first season in first class cricket had gone for me and the exalted company in which I was now moving. My teammates were getting ready for dinner, putting away the card packs after a long session of rummy and ridiculous games invented on the spot by the man sitting next to me, the former Nawab of Pataudi, and by far India's most charismatic cricket captain. I was reading a much
reread old PG Wodehouse favourite and whistling a Lata Mangeshkar song from the film Mughal-e-Azam, hardly aware I was doing it. "Do you know what raag that is?" my neighbour asked in a schoolmasterly tone that obviously did not expect an answer.

I happened to know the answer to that one and promptly replied: "Kedar." Tiger, for that is how Mansur Ali Khan was known to everyone in cricket circles, was suitably impressed and he actually lifted one eyebrow to show he was, just as Beach the butler would have done in his salad days.

The conversation that followed went along predictably enthusiastic lines, as it often happens when two people have discovered a common interest. I learnt in the next half hour of the many wonderful concerts Pataudi had listened to in his ancestral home at Bhopal, of a particularly memorable recording of a great Hindustani vocalist performing for the royal family when he was very drunk. "You must come home and listen to it one day," he said, now in an expansive mood after a few drinks himself. Unfortunately, I never got round to listening to that gem by that celebrated Ustad who happened to be my favourite!

Pataudi's family was keen on music and reputed to be close to Begum Akhtar the great exponent of ghazals, dadra and thumri and Tiger was known to play the tabla well enough to accompany professional musicians in private concerts.

Ravi Kichlu was my teammate in Calcutta where I turned out for Rajasthan Club during the 1968-1969 season. He was an opening batsman who played Ranji and Duleep Trophy cricket but his greater claim to fame was as one half of the well known Kichlu brothers, vocalists of the Agra gharana if I remember right. Ravi passed away a few years ago but his brother Vijay is the director of ITC's Calcutta-based Sangeet
Research Academy. I don't know if he played cricket, but I spent delightful hours fielding in the slips listening to my neighbour Ravi giving me impromptu samples of alap and khyal.

Many, many cricketers of my time were fans of the Hindi film playback singer Mukesh, a trend started by the incomparable leg spinner B S Chandrasekhar. A couple of them were good singers in their own right. Bombay's left arm spinner Padmakar Shivalkar sang well enough to give light music concerts and so has Sanjay Manjrekar been in recent years, just as his father Vijay was in his time.

Closer home, I have had the pleasure of playing cricket with Radhakrishnan of Bunts Cricket Club fame, as well as his son Unnikrishnan, who might have gone on to play at least state level cricket had he not decided to concentrate on developing his
considerable musical talent instead. Sivakumar and Burma Shankar, were both my team mates in the TNCA cricket league in the sixties.

Sivakumar as we all know is D K Pattammal's son and a mridanga vidwan in his own right besides being the father of Carnatic music's new star Nityashree Mahadevan. Burma's son, the hugely talented Sanjay Subrahmanyan is crazy about cricket too. I believe he spends more time thinking about cricket than about Carnatic music!
When I first met Sanjay in the Music Academy foyer during a concert, I introduced myself as an admirer of his music. There were a number of friends surrounding him and he acknowledged my compliment modestly. But after I had walked away from him, he shouted: "I have been a fan of your cricket, too", to my utter surprise and delight.

I am sure the annual cricket match among leading Carnatic musicians is common knowledge by now. I happened to officiate as umpire in one of those some years ago. The intensity of the competition had to be seen to be believed. Ravi Kiran, T M Krishna, Sanjay and Unni would give nothing away; there were a few other equally fierce competitors but I don't remember their names. At least one of them gave me a withering look when I gave him out lbw, a decision that obviously did not satisfy him. That was when Vijay Siva whose idea it had been to invite me, must have had second thoughts about the wisdom of my appointment.

I may add that I have never again been asked to umpire in this gala affair, but I do hope I will get another chance in the future. Who knows, I may have the pleasure of giving a Sangita Kalanidhi out, provided the Music Academy relaxes the age criterion a bit in honouring its vidwans.

Music lovers and musicians are few and far between among cricketers, but the few I know are diehard rasikas. Kedarnath, an accomplished opening batsman of yesteryear, was a trained mridanga vidwan, who forsook music for cricket. He is a wonderful mimic who can imitate some of Carnatic music's greats. His takeoff on MD Ramanathan is pretty impressive, but he can do an equally creditable Pattammal. His ontemporary, the late Devendran, played the mridangam on the concert stage.

Fast bowler Kalyanasundaram - the man who once took a hat trick against Bombay -- is a dedicated concertgoer whose knowledge of music seems to be good enough for him to discuss its technical aspects with musicians and even advise them sometimes. I must ask Unni what he thinks of Kalli's expert observations, as I believe he has reserved
him for special attention, having known him as a cricketer.

M O Srinivasan is well known in music circles as the founder of Dasanjali, a one-man crusade to teach a large number of school kids music especially of the bhajan or light classical variety. I wonder how many people in music circles know that he played for India as a wicket keeper in what were known as unofficial Tests in the late forties-early fifties. He was highly respected as an efficient wicket keeper and stubborn batsman. His son M O Parthasarathi, naturally known as Mop to one and all, was a Ranji and Duleep Trophy player, who bowled fastish leg breaks with a Paul Adams like action, except he was a right arm bowler. He was also a hard hitting batsman, somewhat unorthodox, but extremely successful. He learned Hindustani music and does a very reasonable imitation of singing -- he almost sounds like the real thing. He is a familiar figure at Hindustani music concerts in Chennai and has stopped listening to Carnatic music, I believe, after the demise of Maharajapuram Santhanam.

S D Sridhar the violinist, we all know, is the proud father of S Sriram who now plays for India. Sriram too learned the violin for a few years before the pull of cricket proved too powerful. Former Ranji trophy cricketer S V S Mani, an elegant batsman who played for Tamil Nadu and South Zone with considerable success in the sixties, and once fielded as a reserve against England, is the son of Kottamangalam
Cheenu, that talented singer, who faded away after a stint in films.

S Radhakrishnan (Ambi), a consistent batsman who could also bowl off spin, played for several seasons for Parry's in the league and Hindu Trophy,. Once, a century by him in the league led to a newspaper report which said Radhakrishnan, the son of Semmangudi Srinivasier, had scored a century, thus revealing to the world at large his musical ancestry only friends had hitherto known about.


jaya pydah said...

Wow! A very interesting exposition on the versatility of our singers and cricketers.

Ramnarayan said...

Thanks, Jaya.

Nikhila Ravi said...

A very interesting article! Do you know any female cricketer-musicians?

Ramnarayan said...

Nikhila, that was a superb question. Yes, indeed I do, though I did not know when I wrote this piece. The younger of the Priya Sisters played cricket at the state level. It was TM Krishna who introduced us and told me about her cricket accomplishments. It's great to have a woman cricketer-musician.

Balam said...

A very interesting article. There seems to be a kind of bond between music and cricket. Thank you Nikhila for sending me this article. I enjoyed reading it.