Pattum paatum

Briefly, very briefly, I enrolled for optional music classes in school. They were taught by a lady in her mid-thirties who was too sweet and gentle to handle 13-year olds. There were six of us in her class, which took place twice a week for an hour and a half.

At that time, school was small place – parents and teachers made friends, sometimes we grew to know their families and they ours. One Navaratri, Music Ma’am as she was called, invited our class home to see the golu and eat sundal. There was also something about singing a kriti she had taught us, but we paid no attention to that part.

Dressed in shiny pavadai chattais, four of the six of us arrived at the address she’d given us. Even before we had opened the gate, we could hear music. Inside, there were about ten girls and women of all ages, including Ma’am, singing Devi Neeye Thunai. At the back was an elderly lady in a rust-coloured saree, joining the rendition only occasionally, but smiling at everyone who came in, nodding happily when the higher notes turned out without apaswaram. She looked familiar, but I made no attempt to recall where I might have seen her.

After Devi…another kriti began (the one we had been taught!) and when this one ended, Ma’am got up to see to the guests. There were others who had arrived after us and those who were among the singers. A dozen conversations, swishing silks, someone humming, coffee tumblers clanging against davaras, the gecko-call doorbell, myriad sounds of a south Indian household in celebration swirled around the four of us who sat talking among ourselves, hoping for channa sundal, rather than payaru. Neat paper potlams appeared, we couldn’t see what kind of sundal it was. They were distributed and vettalai paaku was handed to everyone.

The namaskarams began as people started to leave – all of them for the elderly lady, who we assumed was Ma’am’s mother-in-law. A quick consultation among ourselves and we decided to would be safer to do a namaskaram as well, than stand out by not doing it!

Just as we were about to rise and say polite things before leaving, K grabbed my arm and hissed something in my ear. I could hear nothing of what she was saying, so she dragged me to a corner and said, “I know why that maami looks familiar! She is Pattammal!”

I could have fainted. DK Pattammal was a legend in our family. My grandfather thought her music vastly superior to MS’ and declared that she was the only woman he could bear to listen to. A perfect imitation of her rendition of Poonguyil Koovum was mandatory at bride ‘viewing’ events, and the first song my grandmother asked a new daughter-in-law to sing was Eppadi Paadinaro. My father had an old recording of a concert by DKP at Mylapore Fine Arts, which he made copies of and distributed to cousins who hoped to become musicians, with strict instructions to listen to it each morning and learn from it!

And she was here! I was in her house! And my music teacher was her daughter-in-law! I was practically her student! My head buzzed. I thought of the things my family would ask – they would want to know the exact colour of her saree, what sort of bangles and necklace she wore, if I actually heard her singing in her own house, if the sundal had enough salt, if other celebrity musicians had been there, oh, the grilling would be endless!

We did our namaskarams, with great respect and care. Pattammal said something about studying with shraddhai and doing well in life. Then it was time to say our poitu varens and leave. The family didn’t go as overboard as I had expected them to, but all Navaratri visitors that week were told that I had been to DKP’s house for vettalai paaku.

It turned out that Music ma’am was DK Jayaraman’s daughter-in-law, not Pattamal’s. For a few weeks afterwards, I actually practised and tried to sing reasonably in class. But even blessings from Pattammal herself couldn’t help with that.

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8 responses to “Pattum paatum

  1. I thought DKJ had only a son , Vaidyanathan the Mrdangist and a daughter Sukanya who’d sing along with him and the son got married long after his death. (May be I am wrong). Confused as to who the music maam was.

    Vidya – this is a mystery to me as well! When my mom asked her after that Navaratri how she was related to DKP, she said she was DKJ’s daughter-in-law. At that time we had no idea how many children DKJ had, etc. But when we later heard that he had only one son, we wondered as well. By which time Music Ma’am had left school and we had lost touch with her.

    Updated to add: I’ve written to some old schoolmates to find out more about her. Will tell you if I hear anything.

  2. DKJ had two sons, Srivatsan and Vaidyanathan, and the daughter, Sukanya.

    Hello vv, welcome here! This is the first time I am hearing of DKJ’s other son – it may be the end of the mystery! I have no idea what my teacher’s last name was – it may well have been Srivatsan (or she may have kept her maiden name). I will check.

    • Thanks varali!

      This other son, to my knowledge, is not musically inclined (i mean as a performer)…

      Thanks to you too, vv! I no longer live in Madras, so my inquiries are taking a long time to be answered. Will update here when I hear something.

  3. What a lovely story! I learned music for a short while from DKP’s daughter-in-law, Lalitha Sivakumar. A lovely person, and a terrific teacher. I have written about this, as well as a short tribute to Pattammal, on my blog. Do pop over and read it if and when you feel like it.

    Your piece is wonderfully written, thank you for pointing me to it.

  4. It is actually killing me – please let me know when you find out name? And yes, thank you for the nostalgia. Sundal Nyabakam always takes me back to happy, pattu pavadai swishing bliss. 🙂

    Sure. The ‘inquiries’ are taking time because I’ve lost touch with most people I knew then and those who are around have forgotten!

  5. and now she’s gone…(i also heard her sing once, at a wedding. now i’ve forgotten whose and how she was related.)

  6. what a lovely story! don’t stop singing…or start again

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