Dhanraj master was the patron saint of piano in old Madras, today’s Chennai and the seat of cinema creativity of the south,
Those days almost all south Indian films be it Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu or Kannada and even many Hindi films sprung from this springboard of cinema.
The backstreets of Mylapore T Nagar and Kodambakkam was flush with talents that contributed to this industry; there were trillions of instrumentalist’s music organizers, extra actor’s actresses, production executives light boy’s sound recordists and middlemen doing their small bits to make the magic of cinema flow without fail.
Ilayaraja and Rehman were yet to rise in the horizon and the Vishawanathan Ramamurthy duo were the shining stars of the time as far as music direction was concerned.
I was in my 8 th standard and pestered my mother that I wanted to learn guitar and I had heard that there was an old man in Luz , Mylapore called Dhanraj master who taught the same.
At that time I never knew the master as I would later.
So one day we trudged up the broken steps of a rundown lodge in the busy Luz corner and knocked on a decrepit door, it opened to reveal a shabby gaunt old man, the room was small and was messy it was almost fully occupied by a grand piano and many guitars, master called us inside.
The room had an unpleasant odor which I later realized was that of liquor.
My mother explained how I was keen on lessons and being a fatherless boy she too was keen on my whims though she could ill afford such luxuries,
That warmed master to me he said don’t worry madam I will take care of him send him to me every week twice
And that was that I became Dhanraj masters student
(A label whose worth I never realized till late in my life).
So I would lug my wooden guitar on to my shoulders and walk the two kilometers in style as I felt everyone on the streets was ogling at the famous musician walking in their midst, this would have been far from reality of course, some would have wondered what is this small fellow doing with this huge thing on his shoulders.
As I push open the creaking door and some fat rat would escape between my legs I often found master with red-hot eyes reeking of liquor but he was in his full senses and his talents were extraordinary, he would patiently ask me to start on the piano
I would pester him to teach me some tunes in the guitar so that I could show off at school but he insisted that I learn the chords in piano in the proper way and would discourage all shortcuts.
This bored me and soon I stopped going to him though I can never blame him as he tried to call my mother and tell her of my disobedience.
But then I never had the right talent and perseverance as other famous students of the master had
For all you know Elayaraja would have been there at the same time as one of the other students and later Rehman too.
Both were two of the many illustrious students of the master
Both of them had praised the master in later years for giving them the basics in western classical piano lessons.
Only then did I realize the fool I was
of course the talent was not there in me just having a good teacher gives you no guarantee of being good if one had no stuff
but the question I often asked was did I deserve such a great man even as a teacher and one who sincerely wanted to teach me ?
Moving from the master I strayed to an Anglo Indian Reggie, who was all willing to play my way as long as he got his fee,
I remember Reggie and his gang more for midnight Xmas carols in Madras and his revelry.
Once he conned me to leave my guitar in his house and promptly sold it of all persons to a politician!
The fourteen year old me would leave no stone unturned to get it back and so I went to the house of this famous DMK MLA off T Nagar and somehow got into the sanctum sanctorum of his room worming my way through red and black clad Tamil politicians of the deadly kind ,and sundry small time hnag ons in such locations who were aghast at this English speaking boy who repeatedly insisted that his guitar was with their master.
Facing the great politician I didn’t lose my nerve but asked him to return my guitar given to him by Reggie master, he stared at me and said it was sold to him and it now was his guitar,
Well Reggie would have done this and more for his daily liquid needs
I replied I can give a complaint that stolen goods were being bought by him!!an MLA
This brave reply probably amused the MLA though his chamchas gave me dangerous looks and murderous signs
After interminable delays when I was in the front seat of the drama played in all politicians house during durbar time when so many petitions were handed over to the man of the masses and he dismissing them with the arrogance of a king ,
Attending many phone calls diving into his Tamil slang and the dicatto style of his great leaders the Tamizh Manmadhan sorry MLA was in full form
I stayed put ignoring the pull and push of his goonda gang to eliminate me from the scene and finally a defeated MLA asked his man Friday to get that guitar and give it to that boy who was becoming a pain in the posterior ,
he gave me a parting shot and said I will take care of Reggie.
Bad days were ahead for poor Reggie indeed as one never crossed politicians of this class
Reggie would roll in some canal in the days ahead so I thought as I clutched my beloved guitar onto my shoulders and walked back with a smile!!
So much for my instrumental aspirations.
Dhanraj master with ilayaraja