“Shri. K. Viswanathan of RmKV Silks, 49 years young, dynamic businessman, passionate lover & energetic promoter of classical music and fine arts…” – words I would rather be saying as I introduce him as a guest of honour at the inaugural of a Carnatica event. Sadly, I have to use the same words today with a heavy heart and mind in an obituary, for Viswanathan Sir died last night in a tragic automobile accident near the southern town of Kovilpatti – a piece of news I’m unable to come to terms with and I doubt I ever will. For he was much more than just a businessman sponsoring our events…
Carnatica’s association with Viswanathan goes back a couple of years to the time when RmKV Silks – till then a Tirunelveli-based reputed silk house – was trying to make its mark in Chennai. Given the time-honoured connections between silk houses and Carnatic Music, it was but natural that RmKV would also be drawn into supporting and promoting classical art events and organizations. And we were very happy to be one of the first organizations that Viswanathan chose to associate himself with. I still vividly recall that first meeting. I went mentally prepared to meet with a 70-something, veshti-clad grey eminence, sitting cross-legged before a short wooden writing desk, poring over his hand-written ledger accounts. Imagine my shock and surprise when the assistant ushered us into a swanky, ultra-modern office and the man rising to greet us was this dapper youngster wearing a trendy full-sleeved shirt, elegant tie, rimless glasses and that engagingly pleasant smile!It was a pleasure doing business with a thorough professional like Viswanathan. He was disarmingly frank and very clear about his vision, objectives and budgets. And once he gave you a commitment, there was no going back, no dilly-dallying, no bargaining… just a determination that he would cut through the red tape and back you to the hilt to get the event done successfully. I believe these qualities can be attributed to his family’s business background as well as his technical qualifications – Viswanathan earned a degree in Textile Technology from IIT. He could talk to you in intricate technical terms about the dyeing technology behind the 50,000 colour silk saree that created such a splash in the media. He could enlighten you about the intricacies of the silk business and the challenges inherent in running a mega-store with 500 staff members in the heart of Chennai. His store celebrated its second Diwali last November, having established its name successfully in Chennai in a short span. He could talk with equal passion about his desire to do something for classical music and musicians. And he backed up his words with monetary support and human resources, most recently for our path-breaking Bharat Sangeet Utsav 2005, making sure it got unprecedented coverage.
I close my eyes and see him sitting there across the table during one of those event-planning discussions. Breaking away from the nuts and bolts of the event, he would share some interesting anecdote about music or business and laugh in that unique way of his, a silent but hearty laugh that shook his entire frame and lit up his eyes. He had an unbounded energy, be it for setting up elaborate colorful kolus for Navaratri complete with daily music performances or for endless rounds of the vast store to personally oversee tiny details. He ran a tight ship, being able to recall where exactly the saree of a particular shade was located in the miles of shelves. He had a natural flair to make visitors to his store feel at ease. But most of all, we at Carnatica were impressed by his openness to new ideas, be it for planning new events or considering an intricate musical theme for his upcoming range of silk sarees.
Forcing myself at this juncture to believe in the old adage that God makes an early recall of those whom he loves, I fervently hope Viswanathan Sir has found peace somewhere up there, listening to his favorite kriti based on the deity of his native Tirunelveli – “Shri Kanthimatim”, Dikshitar’s masterpiece in Hemavati.
— Ramanathan N. Iyer