The violin is often called one of the toughest string instruments to master. It takes years of meticulous and painstaking practice, learning to glide the bow at the right angles across the strings to reach the right octaves. The slightest of miscalculations can ruin your rhythm and destroy the piece you’re trying to play.
Since my childhood, for some reason, I have always been enamoured by the violin. Maybe it is it’s perceived ability and power to put a man to sleep. Or it’s lilting music known to be the perfect accompaniment to grief. Or even, as fictional detective Sherlock Holmes says: ‘it makes me think.’ I remember just stopping mid-track when I hear the sound of a violin somewhere during my school days. I used to stand and listen until it dies away. In 12 years of my school life, I had to change four schools (due to personal reasons) between Kolkata and Kerala, which meant I never actually got to sit down with a guru and learn the violin. Years later, it was while I was working in Delhi that I happened to notice a school giving violin classes, a few hundred metres from where I stayed. Without thinking twice, I enrolled myself for classes where I was taught by an accomplished teacher how to play the instrument in Hindustani classical music. All through these years, I was always taught by my guru to surrender myself to the violin, to be humble and above all, to be extraordinarily patient.
Years later, I can proudly admit that I am still grappling with the instrument, trying to understand it and it’s nuances. I always believed there was no one who could completely, 100 per cent, master the violin. Until, a young man, just 12 years elder to me, proved me wrong. The man was Balabhaskar Chandran, a young prodigy who wove magical music with the violin. Born into a musically-affluent middle-class family, Balabhaskar was brought into the violin scene at the tender age of three by his uncle B Sasikumar, a veteran musician himself. By the time he was 12, he was good enough to start performing on stage and at the age of 17, when most kids are clueless about their careers, Balabhaskar had become the youngest music composer in the Malayalam film industry.
Today, Balabhaskar is no more. He passed away early Tuesday as the result of a cardiac arrest at a private hospital in Thiruvananthapuram where he was admitted last week after being critically-injured in a car accident. His two-year-old daughter Tejaswini Bala died the very day of the accident while his wife Lakshmi and his friend Arjun (who was at the wheel) are still fighting for life at the hospital.
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Neither did I personally know Balabhaskar nor did I religiously listen to his music. But every time I watched him perform on TV or on YouTube, I remember being awestruck by his talent, his sheer ability to charm the listener through the most melancholic notes of popular film songs or Carnatic compositions. I remember thinking the arduous number of hours he must have put in and the patience and humility he must have shown to understand the instrument. Each time I listen to him doing a cover of AR Rahman’s finest compositions or playing the more intricate and convoluted kritis of Saint Thyagaraja or better still, displaying the instrument’s ability to blend seamlessly into fusion music, I found myself more and more inspired to believe in the power of the violin and to commit more time to knowing it. Balabhaskar’s contributions to fusion music have been unparalleled and his zeal to discover the extremes of music, to not repose belief in moderation or sticking within the limits has been his trademark.
Also Read | Who was Balabhaskar?
In a TV chat earlier this year, when the interviewer rightly asked him how he feels being just 40 and yet having spent more than 20 years in the industry, he said with a lot of hope that he still has to go a long way, how he feels like shifting some weight off his shoulders when people sometimes call him a maestro. He spoke of how he felt it was undue honour, how he has not reached a position to allow people to call him that. In that interview, I saw the humility in him, the same humility his guru must have taught him. Kerala and the world will miss Balabhaskar and his music terribly. And I will miss being transfixed by that music.
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