Sometime in the late 90s, I tuned in late on radio to a concert. The tanam had just begun. As Khamboji flowed I was trying to figure out who the player was. I was quite sure I hadn’t heard this musician before. The measured yet vibrant playing got me hooked onto the rest of the concert. At the end came the announcement and I had heard Vid. Geetha Bennett for the first time.
As I developed interest in Carnatic music, I was fascinated by the music and works of Dr. S. Ramanathan, Geetha Bennett’s father. There were a lot of mention about his work on Silapadikaram but it was not easy to locate the publication. In 2001, I was in the US to do my Masters degree and through internet I could locate Geetha Bennett. With a hope of finding Dr. SR’s book I drew courage to call her up. She must have been surprised to receive that call from a stranger. Internet bandwidth and ease of digitization were not great then. Geetha did mention she had his thesis but was hesitant to send me the only copy she had with her. That was the only conversation I had with her.
As years rolled over, my fascination to Dr. S. Ramanathan – the personality — only grew. I had the chance to discuss and learn more about him with his other family members, some students and many rasikas.
A few months before Dr. Ramanathan’s centenary year, I ran into an article by Geetha Bennett on her illustrious father. Her account was a fascinating read and left me longing for more. I wanted to meet her and get more insights from her. When I contacted her niece, I was shocked to know about her prolonged fight with cancer.
Despite ill health, she travelled to Chennai to be a part of her father’s centenary celebrations and played a wonderful tribute concert last year. The Senchurutti varnam (a composition of Dr. S.R on Tyagaraja and perhaps the only varnam composed in this raga) is still ringing in my ears.
Despite going over 50 chemo sessions, here she was, on a mission on YouTube to record and document at least 100 songs that she had learnt from Dr. S. Ramanthan. The videos that are available are a treasure trove bearing the undeliable stamp of Dr.SR. One can see that despite her frail state, the music had a rejuvenating effect on her. The way she glows along with the composition would be etched in my memory forever.
It is unfortunate and our loss that she could only partly realize her dream. Her students and other students of Dr. S.Ramanathan can perhaps fulfill her dream.
Goodbye Vid. Geetha. I wish I had met you once.