It is now pertinent to write about GNB as a man, as little about his personal
life is known.
In the first instance, one has to wonder at his strong will and determination
when we consider the endless obstacles he had to surmount and the powerful
currents of opposition he had to wade against in the music field, particularly
as he was not tempera mentally suited for wheeling and dealing. This field is
infested by jealous and petty minded vidwans and their fans who seldom can
stomach anyone with genuine worth coming up in life. GNB from the very beginning
had the added disadvantage that he was the only educated person in a field where
education was at a discount and also scorned at.
The upstart Theory '
Added to that, there was the rage against the ' upstart ' who had made good without going through the
rigors of a traditional Gurukulavasa. As S.Y.K. put it, " there were many who shook their heads at the
start of his concert career and prophesied that it was a flash in the pan!
An exhibition of vocal dexterity which could not overcome the defect of the lack of discipleship! They ate their words later when GNB established himself on orthodox lines, his originality
being a distinction and not a deviation.
Mean men admire meanly
One was reminded of the famous words of the great Mozart addressed to an ungenerous
critic of Haydn: " Sir, if you and I were both melted down together, we should not furnish materials for one Haydn ",
Even at a later date, when he had established his position and was reigning supreme, there were many envious persons who started a campaign of veiled vilification which naturally affected the sensitive GNB. Right through his life, GNB had to counter the forces of opposition which were surfacing now and then in different forms. Though in the early stages he was able to counter opposition by his indomitable will and his innate musical reserves, he was to some extent affected physically and mentally by such uncharitable criticism at the later stages. As B.V.K.Sastri rightly remarks, GNB created an impression
of "evergreen youthfulness", so much so his admirers would not take him to be on the other side of 50. Like Endymion on Latmos, he was ever handsome. This combination of factors worked against him in later years.
The utter lack of ego in GNB has been referred to earlier. He did not keep any '
Mudra' in his compositions nor did he try to propagate them. Though he had discovered two ragas and had composed good kritis in those ragas, never did he pride himself about this. What a contrast to the spectacle
we are witnessing today of Vidwans trying to sing their own compositions on
every possible occasion and talking loudly about the ragas they had ' created '.
GNB liked the good things of life. He dressed immaculately for the concerts. He
used different perfumes for different occasions. So thorough was he about the
perfumes and their combinations that he stunned a reputed perfumer of Thanjavur
by correctly telling him the various "athars" that were mixed in a perfume that
he gave to GNB.
The voracious reader that he was, GNB always used to read foreign and local magazines to enrich his knowledge. A glance at his writing and musings would reveal the breadth of his erudition and extent of his scholarship. The Presidential address he delivered at the Music
Academy in 1958
reproduced herein itself is a proof
Though GNB was the person most responsible for increasing the fees of musicians, he was the least commercial minded. He never exploited any situation to jack up his rate. Even on occasions when he could have legitimately asked for more, GNB was content with his usual fee. Many individuals and organisations admired this quality in him and willingly gave more than what was fixed. At the same time, there were others who exploited his good nature and did not give him his dues. As Palghat Mani Iyer, who knew GNB more intimately than others, said at a public function, GNB never worried about money nor
did he respect a person because he was rich.
Not very worldly-wise
Perhaps from a pragmatic point of view, GNB was not
worldly wise. He did not run after persons high or low for any favor. He did not respect people for their position alone, while for Art he would go out of the way and do anything. The few friends he had were ever loyal to him because he was totally free from malice and
GNB's capacity to stem the tides of unfair opposition and resist the ravages of illness probably stemmed from his involvement in Sri Vidya Upasana and his total surrender to his
' Ishta Devata '
Sri Rajarajeswari. He was initiated in this by the great savant Thethiyur Subramania Sastrigal for whom GNB had the greatest respect and
admiration. In the later years, GNB used to spend most of his time in Devi Upasana and it is the inspiration he derived
there from that sprouted into fine compositions.
The extent of his intellectual involvement in Sri Vidya Upasana may be gleaned from the episode mentioned by C.Seshachalam in the Academy's Journal. " On the eve of one of my visits to Kashmir, GNB expressed his yearning to secure a copy of that very rare
manuscript ' Srividyarnava ' of which only two copies are known to exist. Unluckily, the Kashmir Government research authorities at Srinagar did not make the manuscript available. This is an instance of his pursuit of deep study of Sri Vidya through which discipline his nature
mellowed, leaving the years of travail behind him.
Devoid of any trace of jealousy, GNB remained a student all his life, quite willing to learn from anyone at any time. The way he attended the performances of other musicians and generously appreciated whatever was good in them is fit to be emulated by others.
A Gifted Author
A gifted speaker and reputed writer, GNB has given expression to his ideas on music,
Kutcheri dharma, etc, as well as his views on musicians of repute like Ariyakudi, Rajaratnam Pillai and others in articles and speeches many of which lie buried in souvenirs and such obscure publications. A serious attempt needs to be made to edit these and bring them together in a book form for the benefit of musicians and music enthusiasts.
Regarding ' Kutcheri Dharma ', GNB was forceful in his view that ' Madhyamakala' pieces shall form the major share in a concert. The extract from one of his essays on the subject
" In my opinion it is the ' Madhyamakala' and this is an important aspect of Carnatic Music which gives endless scope for improvisation and manodharma to the performer The ' Madhyamakala '
tempo of so many of our compositions and the style of most of our well-known
musicians bear testimony to this fact. This by no means places ' chowka kala' at a discount. Beyond doubt, the chowka kala songs and padams reflect the soul of our ragas. But experience has shown that ' chowka kala ' is best enjoyed by audiences of cultivated taste. Its place is thus the chamber music where the audience is limited. My view is that true Carnatic
' bani ' should adequately provide for the three degrees of speed, ' Madhyamakala ' getting the lion's share and the
chowka kala ' just the minimum that would not tire.
A gentleman in every respect, GNB would never talk disparagingly of any musician old or young. He did not hesitate to come down heavily on his own admirers, if they indulged in any such talk about others. Once when some one mentioned, that there was nothing new or revealing in Ariyakudi's music, GNB got annoyed, sang a few items as Ariyakudi would and demonstrated " how difficult it was for any musician to establish a quick rapport with his audiences as Ariyakudi did. "
Though he got large sums of money for his concerts, GNB saw to it that his accompanists
were also equally rewarded. Whenever he used to get a lump sum for a concert, he used to tell his accompanists how much actually he was getting and
that he was proposing to give them. " A rare quality indeed
not to be seen nowadays " said T. K. Murthy in one of his tributes to GNB. He further added an instance where GNB shared with his accompanists even the additional fee he got for some of his concerts. His
large heartedness and lack of ego were conceded by all his accompanists.
Few people know that GNB was very charitably disposed towards indigent people, especially musicians. He was generous to a fault. He helped the family of Chinnaswamy, a piper attached to his family, for two generations. Whenever a needy musician came to him for help, he would gladly part with hundreds of rupees. It appears he has even given performances to help out poor families. His disciples often had the control of his purse and they were never asked to render accounts. He believed utterly in their
bonafides. As Palghat Mani Iyer had noted, GNB earned hugely and spent hugely and the
meager savings he had left for his wife and children bore no relation to the lakhs of rupees he had earned from the film and music worlds. Financial prudence never claimed him for her own.
An Understanding Teacher
The large heartedness of GNB was also reflected in the way he taught his disciples. Quite sure of himself and his extraordinary capacity, GNB did not mind teaching his disciples all the intricacies of the art in the most open manner. His innate capacity to bring out the best in a young artist can be understood from the following episode. In the year when Mudikondan became Sangeetha Kalanidhi, Palghat Mani lyer and GNB were the judges for the pallavi competition held in the P.S.High School Hall. Young Sirkazhi Govindarajan was one of the competitors. He rendered a complicated pallavi. The judges wanted to test him and GNB took up the task. He sang the pallavi ' Mahima Teliya Tharama ' in
Shankarabharanam and asked Sirkazhi to elaborate it and sing a few avarthans of swaras.
Sirkazhi tried but did not succeed. Finally, GNB asked Sirkazhi to sing with him a few rounds. Govindarajan at once
put up a good show and won a tambura as prize.
gift for bringing out the latent talents of youngsters was unique.
GNB as Prof. T.V.Ramanujam says,
was a ' conscious
Votary ' and worshipper of ' Nadhabrahmam '. He realised that , grammar and acrobatics should be subordinated to
' poetry '
and 'aesthetics '. That is why his raga alapanas, the sangathis in his kritis and swaraprasthara were all marked by
beauty and consummate artistry rather than by rhythmic jugglery. The great philosophers described the ' Good Life ' as dependent on Truth, Beauty and Goodness. There can be no greater tribute to GNB's music than that he was constantly striving to and did succeed in making his music
rest on these three pillars
Truth, Goodness and Beauty. In his heyday, he was ,truly " the monarch of the musical kingdom " words applied by Beethoven to Handel.
Loyalty to Academy
should mention about GNB's loyalty to institutions like the Academy which claimed him as " Academy's own musician
". He had the rare distinction of being a boy prize winner first, then presiding over the Expert Committee on getting the prestigious title of ' Sangeetha Kalanidhi '. GNB's devotion to the Academy was such that he would not take any
payment for his concerts; when he did, he gave it back as his donation to the institution. This generous attitude of his was highly commended by the late K.V.Krishnaswamy Iyer, the illustrious President of the Academy, in one of his concluding remarks at one of the sessions. It was GNB who also had the record of singing in the Academy continuously (except for 1959 when he was down with major illness) for 27 years.
It is difficult to imagine, as the eminent vainika S.Balachander has said, whether one person could combine in himself
all the best qualities and attributes of a musician,
a musicologist, a teacher of music, a pressman and quite simply a man. If any did, it was surely G.N.Balasubramaniam. He probably
had the motto of Abraham Lincoln in his mind always:
" I am not bound to win
But I am bound to be true
I am not bound to succeed
But I am bound to live up
to the light I have "