Saturday, November 30, 2013

R.T.Chari- Sharing wealth with music

Until the age of 40, Chari’s interest in music was restricted to Tamil and Hindi film music. Listening to Binaca Geet Mala hosted by the legendary Amin Sayani was a must for him every Wednesday night. In fact, as a young boy he would get peeved as he was not allowed to listen to his favourite programme, as his brothers used to listen to Carnatic music on the only radio available in the house. This resulted in his developing an aversion towards  Carnatic music.

One evening he was hosting a dinner for some of his family members in the more spacious independent house on TTK Road, where his family had moved in by now and much to his dislike he found that the entire conversation was revolving around Carnatic music. He felt terribly left out. When he protested, his brothers-in-law posed a challenge to him; “They asked me to listen to 500 hours of Carnatic music to realise its magic” and Chari accepted the challenge.

He started by investing some money on music cassettes of some famous Vidwans and started listening to the tapes for a couple of hours every night. His brothers-in-law were proved right. Chari was hooked to Carnatic music in a big way. Soon he became a donor member of Music Academy, attending concerts regularly. Chari realized that Carnatic music was not only giving him great joy but also helped him to become a calmer and a focused person.

Just as he had decided to share his wealth with the deserving in the society, he also decided to share the joy of listening to Carnatic music with his close friends and relatives.

His first initiative in this direction was to hold Chamber music at his remodeled flat in Poes Garden. For 10 years, Chari organized nearly 50 chamber concerts lasting for about 150 minutes. Many junior and senior artists performed to a gathering of 60 to 70 people, every one listening to the “Kutcheris” with rapt attention.

Never satisfied with just offering a feast for the ears, Chari ensured that every concert was followed by a sumptuous dinner for all the invitees.

When I asked him about that, he said “I learnt that from my mother. Seeing the satisfaction of the guests after a hearty meal gives me immense pleasure”.

Not just the meal. Chari also ensured that every guest who attended the concert received a cassette containing 90 minutes of the edited version of the concert,. Only Chari can think of such things; once again proving his penchant for being different from others.

“Delighting the customers” is a phrase used extensively by marketers in the corporate world. Chari has always believed in delighting his audience in more ways than one!

* * * * *

This abiding interest in Carnatic music led Chari to collect more than 6000 hours of music from not only his own archives but also from other collectors. As a person with a vision who always believes in thinking big, Chari realized the need for chronicling and preserving the treasure trove of music he had collected for posterity.

The idea for a Digital Listening Library was born and soon Chari persuaded the Music.  Academy in which he was already an executive committee member to provide space for the proposed TAG Music Academy Digital Listening Archives which he agreed to  establish and maintain for 5 years (which he has now extended by another five years). The Digital Archive was launched at the Music Academy on 13th December 2008 just prior to the music festival of that year.

Chari says, “The difficult job of converting and indexing was done by my enterprising son Prakash and his Team. Empowered by a touch screen technology, the user can in 10 seconds listen to a song of his choice, categorized under a raga or name of the song, singer or composer”

Chari`s generosity seems to have no geographical limits. His dedication to the cause of promoting Carnatic music has led him to sponsor similar archives in cities like Bangalore, Mysore, Hyderabad, and Pallakad, apart from the one in Madras University`s Music Department. His foray to establish such an archive abroad, started with the inauguration of one in Singapore in association with SIFAS (Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society) and has extended to three places in Srilanka.

Not content with promoting only music, Chari who had no great love for Classical dances earlier, decided to also  extend his help in archiving Indian classical dance. The TAG Viewing Gallery was launched recently at the Music Academy adding one more dimension to the Academy`s efforts in promoting classical music and dance. The TAG Music Academy Listening and Viewing Archives has ambitious plans for acquiring 20000 hours of music and many more hours of dance programmes, in the next five years!

His passion for music and how it should be received by the audience has now extended beyond TAG Centre which he owns. TAG Corporation has already sponsored State- of the art auditoriums in eight schools including the ones in SSMS School, Chrompet Sankara School (Tambaram), Emmanuel Matriculation School (Pammal), Lady Sivaswamy Iyer Secondary School (Mylapore) , Bhavan`s TAG auditorium on Kilpauk garden Road and Ramakrishna Mission School, Madras South. Chari constructed the Super Tech 400 seater auditorium at the Guindy Engineering College, his alma mater, which he considers as one of his best contribution.

According to Chari, “Gifting is fine, but it is also important to see that it is received and used properly”. So Chari continues to monitor the institutions where he has extended his support.

In the last couple of years, Chari has been organising lecture demonstrations to help people appreciate Carnatic Music. He  also started supporting efforts to create greater awareness about Carnatic music among school students by  regularly conducting  raga
Identification competitions in selected schools.

The next most ambitious and sustaining project that Chari launched in February 2002 was the TAG South India Heritage Programme to develop a deep understanding of South Indian cultural heritage. Held on the last Sunday of every month, these lectures focus on specific aspects of South Indian Heritage, by eminent speakers.

Attendance is strictly by invitation and if a person does not attend three consecutive meetings without informing , his name is deleted from the invitee list.

Chari is extremely fussy and strict about time management. Speakers are told in advance not to exceed the time limit. Apart from the mandatory breakfast before the start of the programme, every lecture is also followed by a hot cup of coffee, ‘one for the road’ as some of my spirited friends would call it!

The audience consists mostly of senior citizens, all eminent people in their respective vocations; however, Chari’s effort to bring in the younger generation into the programme has so far not been very successful.

Under the auspices of South India Heritage programme, some 160 lectures, lec-dems, music concerts, plays, musical discourses, film shows and book launches have been organized. Both Tag Centre and the South India Heritage Programme have become synonymous with cultural excellence. The South India Heritage Programme recognizes exceptional music talent with the Ramabadhran Centenary Music Award, instituted in 2004. Eight excellent young musicians have so far won the award, which consists of a citation and a purse (which in 2012 was Rs 65,000). Likewise, outstanding performances in Heritage promotion by young achievers are recognized through the Vedavalli Memorial Heritage Award. Four  young achievers have won this award so far.

Chari encourages music talent in the young in several other ways as well. Every November, five young musicians are given a platform for a special afternoon concert, constituting an unusual five-day festival of young talent.

He has also published a 600 page book titled `South India heritage-an Introduction` which has contributions from 40 eminent scholars and which has been edited by Dr. Prema Kasthuri and Dr.Chitra Madhavan. This book is given free to any one going abroad for further studies.

In the last five years he has been also organising monthly lectures on various topics connected with religion. Dr.Pappu Venugopal Rao`s recent lectures on Hinduism under the `Pravachanam Series` has become a big hit among a select list of 100 invitees. Chari insists on the audience coming in Dhotis/Sarees for this programme which again is held on a Sunday morning, once a month.

Chari says, “I have learnt a lot about our heritage and religion from these lectures. I will continue with this effort and hopefully someday I will be able to rope in the younger generation to attend these programmes” 

* * * * *

Chari’s saga of service to society in the area of health, education, music and heritage and other social causes still continue.

When I asked him about any other hobby or interest he has, his face brightened; “Yes, travelling is a great passion with me. I have so far visited 60 countries. I am  an avid collector of coins and miniature dolls from other countries. I have so far collected 3000 sets of dolls and 3500 coins. I also have a collection of miniature chess sets”, he says proudly.

Many of these items can be seen displayed at the well-appointed Party Room on the fourth floor of TAG Centre and at his home.

On the professional front Chari has been a recipient of the Udyog Patra Award from Government of India. The other recognitions he has got include the Best Alumni Award from Guindy Engineering College and early last year Sunanda Trust presented the S Rajam Award of Excellence for his exemplary work in preserving and promoting fine arts, performing arts and cultural heritage of South India.

When I asked him how supportive his family has been, he said, “My wife has played a big role in bringing up my children with right values, while I was very busy with my business and other activities. I also would like to recognize the role of my brother Gopal and his wife for taking care of my old parents for 30 years, allowing me to help the family in other ways”.

As for future plans he says, “I want to continue to sponsor auditoriums in schools. I have already identified schools in Cuddalore and Chenglepet”.

Chari is a highly focused individual. “I don’t take on any project which I feel will be a waste of time and efforts. When I find something worthwhile, I totally concentrate on that just one thing. I am aware that I have a one track mind which is both my strength and weakness.”

He is also known for insisting that the recipients of his generosity agree to contribute something as their share for the project, before he commits to support it. Anything given free is never appreciated by people, according to Chari, so “I insist on a ‘deal’ to ensure total commitment from the recipient of my charity, for the maintenance and continuing success of the project I have supported”

Since his sons have taken over the day to day running of his highly successful business with an estimated turnover of Rs. 150 crores at the last count, Chari has more time on his hands. I will not be surprised if he comes up with some more  ideas to delight the ever growing number of his admirers in  society!

If more people start sharing their wealth and passions like what Chari has been doing for the last 35 years, I am sure this world will be a better place to live!

(This is the concluding part of the article on Chari, the edited version of which appeared in Madras Musings)

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