(My dear friend and a noble soul, Dharma Raman, interviewed me for a magazine a year or so ago. This morning, it popped up when I was searching my system for something else. Well, you had it! Here it is!!)
We are a state that revels in bestowing titles to public figures – be it actors, politicians or artistes, most of which sound ridiculously bombastic and glaringly irrelevant. But there are a few exceptions. And Taruvai Ananthramaseshan Venkateswaran, better known as Isaikkavi Ramanan is certainly one of them. The epithet preceding the name could not have been more appropriate for a man who lives and breathes poetry and music.
What strikes one the most when coming face to face with Isaikkavi Ramanan is his unpretentious humility, genuine warmth and extraordinary wit that are at once endearing and inspiring, giving away the spiritual journey that he has embarked upon in the last couple of decades and more. A prolific writer who has authored about a dozen books, written a staggering amount of poetry in Tamil and composed an equally impressive range of songs, Ramanan ‘s one of a kind poetry show on Podhigai channel called ‘Konjam Kavidhai Konjam Theneer’ where he converses with a variety of guests about the beauty of poetry, is immensely popular with a niche audience. He shares vignettes from his fascinating and eventful journey in this free- wheeling chat.
Who has been the biggest influence in your creative journey as a poet, writer and composer?
My father Sri T.V. Anantharamaseshan has been the driving force behind my creative pursuits. An erudite Sanskrit scholar who had mastered the language to the extent of being able to converse very fluently in it, his achievements are nothing short of awe inspiring. An expert in Agamashastram – the science of temple architecture, performed Kumbabishekam for more than 20 temples in India and abroad. He was an astrologer par excellence, known for his photographic memory. He was deeply religious He has composed 27 Suprabathams. His stint as Asst Editor for ‘The Hindu’ is remembered by many for the insightful editorials he wrote for several years. But for all his formidable talents, he was very simple and unassuming. He passed away at the age of 87, leaving behind a legacy.
When did you start writing poetry?
I was fascinated by Sri M.V.Raghavan, my tamil teacher in school, who would recite Kamban and Bharathi with passion. We were living in Nanganallur at that time and I had the good fortune of associating with a number of poets and scholars who had a lasting impression on my mind as a teenager. Sri Radhakrishna Sastry who was a Siddha Vaidyar, Astrologer and a remarkable philosopher inspired me with his wisdom and knowledge. At the age of 17, I started writing poetry in both English and Tamil.
What was your career like?
After being in a few small jobs and an agonizing period of unemployment, I joined ‘The Hindu’ in 1977 as a Sales Representative and worked tirelessly for 27 years. My job involved a lot of travel which I always liked. That gave me an opportunity to see several historic places and temples and it also gave me the privacy I wanted for my poetry.
For several years, every day was a long day. Not many know how difficult it is to cover 40 to 50 kms a day in places like Bangalore or Madurai and that too, leaving home very early in the morning and being chased by the street dogs which had an inexplicable hatred against a poor newspaper salesman!! I have worked as a packer, loader, delivery boy even after joining The Hindu. I never had any complaints. I enjoyed work. I relished labour. I learnt a lot mixing with the poor and deprived. After all, I am just an ordinary graduate, somewhat fluent in Tamil and to a small extent in English. Life was hard but I soldiered on with gusto, penning verses, pining for my Parasakthi and singing along the road. Even literally!! Yes, wounds hurt you when they happen but when you pause and caress the scars today, don’t they become sweet? (Patta kaayangaL padumpodhu valithaalum thottup paarthaal thazumbugaL inikkum!!)
I had a memorable period of stay in Visakhapatnam where I was the Regional Manager. My staff members were not merely men and women; they were blessings from the almighty. The synergy that resulted from this great team helped us in earning an enviable reputation among branches and winning several awards for achieving our targets. My staff members were the incentive for me! Yes, even if I was not well, I always wanted to go and meet them. It is now almost eight years after I quit employment. All of them are still in touch with me, pouring their love and affection as usual.
It shocked them when I quit and surprised the Management. It took me two full days to convince my bosses. My staff? I could never convince them. They broke down, moved me and were very cross with me for leaving them. I quit like Sunil Gavaskar when my reputation as a Manager was as its peak. I quit at a time when I had 10 years of service in my hand (and nothing else!!) My good lady has always been a home maker and my twin boys were yet to settle down. I quit because I wanted to pursue my personal dreams — literary, cultural and spiritual. The inner call was getting louder by the day and I could not ignore it anymore..
What prompted you to opt for early retirement and walk the spiritual path?
Despite a successful career and gratifying creative pursuits, I yearned for spiritual progress and harmony. My quest led me to several disappointing and disastrous encounters which knocked me down very badly. Fortunately, in 1994, at the age of 40, I met my ultimate master, Satguru Sivananda Murty. He is my Master, my Beloved, my Refuge. It is he who guides me to this day. My life is over; my living continues. I was consciously mad, extremely anxious. Now I am at peace. I am enjoying the fatigue of relief. Tremendous love flows through me. I can talk to anyone. I can connect with life….all living beings.
You are known as much for singing as for your poetic prowess. When did u start singing?
I am not trained in music, hence I cannot call myself a singer. I don’t have a healthy throat or voice, neither do I have musical knowledge. I don’t know music, yet, I know nothing else except music. Well, that is the listener’s problem!! Music happened to me although learning of music never happened, since my career and hectic travelling did not allow me the luxury of taking lessons. I sing, for myself and those who enjoy the simplicity and truth behind my music.
You have penned lyrics and composed hundreds of songs over the years. What is the process you go through when you do this?
I have no technical expertise in composing songs as my knowledge of music, classical or otherwise is almost nil and I don’t carry the burden of conforming to a particular raga or thaalam. Not by choice, I just don’t know anything! My songs are neither classical nor entirely folk….you could call them pastoral. I think it is the music of my soul, because when composing actually happens, I go through a fascinating and unique experience. I have composed all kinds of songs- devotional, romantic, rustic, social, philosophical….whatever the genre of the song, I go through the same mental state. Something seizes me. I develop mild temperature. My stomach churns and I am in the grip of some unseen force. I seem to dwell temporarily in a corridor between consciousness and unconsciousness. Songs happen when I am on the other side of consciousness. It is almost as if I see a video. But I find the final outcome to be pitiably poor, paling in comparison to the exhilarating experience I go through.
Is it the same for writing poetry as well?
Yes, the process is the same, although there is a clear distinction between song and poem for me. For, there is music in every word; yet, not all words are musical. No one can guarantee my next word. I don’t know if I can write another word or compose another song. All my poems are spontaneous and from my heart, since I am under no compulsion to write for any specific situation. Of course, I can write a poem if someone asks me to and it could even be good and impressive. But it does not come from the heart.
How has your experience in hosting the show Konjam Kavidhai Konjam Theneer been?
Beautiful. A couple of years ago, Ms Andal Priyadarshini, poet, writer and a Producer in Door Darshan had invited me for a Kaviyarangam in her studio, not as a participant but to be part of the audience. After it was over, my friend and a remarkable poet with multifaceted talents Sri Marabin Maindan Muthaiah took me to her room. As the participants were waiting for their cheques and tea was served, he introduced me as a poet to Andal and her husband Sri Balaramani and enquired whether they had heard my sing. Though I had met them before, they were not aware that I was some kind of a poet who could sing somewhat. Yes, I sang a few songs. I could see Andal in tears. She declared that she would launch a programme with me as the mainstay. I explained to her that I was not a singer in the popular sense of the term, I could never sing in tune with the sruti and so on but she would not listen. And I thought that she was simply emotional but she organized things and called me. I fondly recall the first few sessions I had with Muthaiah and that remarkable lady Ms Jayanthasree Balakrishnan, who, to me, is an aspect of my Parasakthi. Though Andal was transferred to Coimbatore, DD persisted with the programme under another producer Mr Basha who is a brilliant poet himself and now under another producer Sri Krishnakumar.
It provides me an opportunity to rub shoulders with many eminent poets and literary connoisseurs besides budding talents.
Well, wherever I am, suddenly, someone comes to me and congratulates me about the show. I owe it to DD. I should mention Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam also here. She called me to anchor a mega show on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Rajarajeswaram where more than 1000 dancers performed in the premises of the Big Temple, Thanjavur. Though my announcements were to be confined to six minutes, thanks to some communication gap, I had to speak extempore for several minutes. The programme was telecast live across the globe.
I acted in a movie titled “Konjam Kaadhal Konjam Kavidhai” (adhuvum konjamthaan!) which is yet to be released. I am also acting in Sri K. Balachandar’s serial “Amudha Oor Achyarkuri” which is being telecast by Kalaignar TV. I have also been giving talks in Tamil and English on different topics in Tamilnadu and other states.
What is the task ahead of you? How do you see yourself accomplishing it?
As you would have understood by now, my post retirement life has been quite busy or rather active. I feel it is our dharma to express our best. My Master told me, “The best way to treat the gift of God is to return it to Him!” That is what I have been doing, expressing my best, sharing my joy through poetry, music, talks and photography. Alongside, my yathras continue. I must mention that I have been fortunate to visit different parts of the Himalayas about 29 times now. I have spent quite a few days in solitude.
I am in deep love with this great country. I know its great distant past, its dismal present and its uncertain future. I do my bit in creating an awakening in the minds of the listeners about this.
I am not special in any way. But I have been very fortunate in every way.
I am at His feet, by His grace. Let Him do the rest as well!