The MDR Manuscripts

It started out as a chance encounter over an Internet discussion forum a couple of years back. A friend tipped me off that the person with a cryptic login name who had posted recently about my beloved MDR might actually be Balaji, the legend’s son. On an impulse I shot off an e-mail, enquiring bluntly whether that was true and asking if he had any recordings of my icon. My sole aim in life at that point of time was the enhancement of my personal music collection, especially hard-to-find nuggets of old masters, starting of course with MDR!

Balaji promptly and courteously responded, and since then we have been in touch off and on, mostly through e-mail. That relationship culminated a couple of days back with my entering the portals of #91, Ponniamman Koil Street, Adyar to be warmly and hospitably welcomed by Visalam mami, the simple and unassuming wife of the maestro. Armed with a scanner, laptop and a consent from Balaji, my aim was the digital archiving of the compositions of MDR, notated and neatly recorded in his own handwriting.

The “Compositions of Varadadasa”, mostly in Telugu and Sanskrit (and a few in Tamil & Malayalam) were written down by MDR in three slim notebooks. (At right is the first page of Vol. 1)

It so happens that soon after MDR passed away in April 1984, while the family was still grief-stricken and in turmoil, someone from Kalakshetra – the institution where MDR spent a lifetime – took away the notebooks. They presumably landed up in someone’s attic or in a dusty corner of the Kalakshetra library and had been lost for years. Visalam mami and Balaji had been trying very hard over the past few years to retrieve these priceless treasures, knocking on many doors and trying various sources in Kalakshetra itself. Balaji being in the US, it was even more difficult to follow up on those efforts, but as he himself said in one of his e-mails to me, “I am sure with his (MDR’s) blessings, I should be able to get most of them in the near future”. That has now turned out to be true, for the manuscripts were at last retrieved recently, with a lot of help from Sri. Rajaram, the ex-principal of Kalakshetra. It turns out that the notebooks were languishing in some forgotten corner of a library, uncared for and unlamented.

My correspondence with Balaji also coincided with the start of my involvement with Carnatica. Sowmya and I tried in our own small way to help Balaji find the manuscripts, but came up empty-handed. However, upon hearing about the retrieval, we offered our help with the preservation and Balaji graciously gave us his consent. We have undertaken to do the scanning work completely at MDR’s Adyar residence. At no point of time will the original manuscripts ever again leave the custody of Visalam mami. The digitized pages will be archived on compact discs and be with the Carnatica Archival Centre. It would be made available on demand to any interested music scholar, student or rasika. We will keep rasikas informed about the progress of the scanning and deciphering work and will soon publish a summary of the compositions with song titles, raga & tala information, language-wise breakup, et al.

This has been a labour of love for me personally, since MDR has been a godly, beloved figure right from the early age at which I was exposed to Carnatic music. Entering MDR’s house, being in the presence of his tambura, seeing Him smile benevolently down at me from the picture on the wall and savouring mami’s simple upma & coconut-jaggery sweet (authentic Kerala style!) were divine experiences, surpassed only by the divinity of MDR’s music!

— Ramanathan N. Iyer

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  • Guest

    please publish his compositions into a book that can be widely available with english translations.