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Record of sorts

Scintillating sound, inspiring speeches, mimicry, drama, film and non-film music are part of T. Santhanakrishnan's huge collection of 78 and 33 rpm records, EPs and CDs.

IN A matter of minutes T. Santhanakrishnan makes you realise that he is different. And if you decide to dismiss his passion for music as just another pastime, he makes you think again.

Santhanakrishnan's yen for music turned him into a collector of 78 rpm records at a very young age. "I don't know music but I love the art," says this connoisseur, who firmly believes that what soothes the mind and stirs the soul is music.

But it is not just music that affects him. Scintillating sound, rare rhetoric, inspiring speeches, mimicry, bomb explosions, drama, cinema and film and non-film music are part of his collection of 78 and 33 rpm records, EPs and CDs — a collection that runs into lakhs!

"It all began with the gramophone my mother possessed ... radio was a rarity in those days. I was fascinated by the gramophone but couldn't afford new records that cost around Rs. two. I started hunting for second hand records that were cheaper." That made him become a regular visitor at the Moore Market, a haven for seekers of second hand goods.

That was the time when not many Tamil film records were produced. The market for Hindi film music was a little more. So with the help of shopkeepers who sold old pieces, Santhanakrishnan began to travel all over the country in search of rare records. The pursuit took him to remote corners of North and South India.

Today 78 rpm records are completely out, mainly because they are breakable. Even the mother shells in which songs were stored then have been destroyed. Then LP (Long Play) and EP (Extended Play) records that are unbreakable came into existence. The first gramophone record was produced in 1896 and the date of Santhanakrishnan's oldest record is 1902!

When K.L. Saigal's "Devadas" was dubbed in Tamil, two of the Tamil songs were sung by Saigal himself. Interestingly it was singer C. S. Jayaraman who taught Saigal the Tamil songs. "There is still a hunt for the rare songs ... I have one," says Santhanakrishnan. "Even today old songs are a collector's delight. HMV's old LPs sell at Rs. 35 a piece. The same cannot be said about songs that came later," he adds.

Similarly, Santhanakrishnan's rare pieces include a song that M. S. Subbulakshmi sang as an eight-year old. " I have her mother's veena recital too, along with which she has sung," he says.

Santhanakrishnan makes a very valid point when he says that not all talented people became popular. " The great nadhaswaram vidwan Rajaratnam Pillai acted in a film called "Kalamegham". But who could compose music that would find the approval of the genius? The man who filled the bill was R. N. Chinniah, the guru of the likes of C. R. Subbaraman. Yet how many know him?" Geniuses like him find pride of place in Santhanakrishnan's collection.

In the non-film category, name the singer and the man has their music — be it V. V. Sadagopan, V. A. Chellappa or Honnappa Bhagavathar. And as far as voices go, from Eisenhower, Churchill, Hitler, Mussolini and John F. Kennedy to Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rabindranath Tagore and Rajaji, from Pope Paul and Kanchi Paramacharya to Pradhivadhi Bayangaram Swamigal and Balakrishna Sastrigal, the collection is astounding!

Then you have a whole range of international folk music — Irish, Mexican, French, Polish, Italian or German, you name it, he has it. Again Santhanakrishnan's collection of Telugu, Kannada and Hindi songs is enormous. "Composer Rajeswara Rao was so impressed that he gave me a whole set of his personal records," he recalls. The hobby has found many friends and like-minded contacts for this retired Government employee.

"P. B. Sreenivas, Jamuna Rani, Jikki and T. K. S. Kalaivanan have visited me. A. M. Raja's son Chandrashekar wanted to have his father's favourite song, "Mazhaiya Puyala ... ", that he had sung with P. Susheela for "Rama Bhaktha Hanuman" and got it recorded from me."

Audio tracks of the original sounds of birds, hurricanes and tornadoes and the original sound during the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can be heard at Santhanakrishnan's mini audio theatre. Or if it is old cinema classics that you wish for, there are unique records such as Satyajit Ray's "Pather Panchali". The rare collection also has the inimitable folk songs of `Buffoon' Shanmugham, the incredible mimicking skills of `Vikatam' Santhanam Chandru and the enjoyable `Therukkoothu' of Ekambaram.

Santhanakrishnan's invaluable gramophones are also an antique lover's delight.

All India Radio uses Santhanakrishnan's library for source material for their "Nenjam Marapidhillai" programme, broadcast on FM.

His two daughters too are very much interested in their father's `audio history'. In fact, the elder one Parvathi manages Ragamalika, a shop where they record old songs.

From the oldest available records to the latest "Palaiyathamman" and " Yae Nee Romba Azhaga Irukkae" CDs, Santhanakrishnan (Ph: 6390124) has them all. "That's more for documentation," he laughs.

MALATHI RANGARAJAN

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