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Ashish Mohan Khokar on N Pattabhiraman
(24th Oct.1932 to 24th Dec. 2002)

Jan 1, 2003

Pat ji, as I fondly called Pattabhiraman, ought to have had humour as his mid-name. Especially, since that is one trait sorely missing where he lived his last quarter of life - Madras. Having taken a golden-handshake from the UNDP, which he served mostly abroad as an economist-statistician for about twenty years, Pat ji, left everything - including his Norwegian wife of many years - and moved lock, stock, and boxes of jazz tapes to Madras. By his own admission, when he lived abroad, he had more interest in jazz rather than Carnatic music but once he shifted home to Chennai, he was surrounded by Carnatic culture (his house was adjacent to the Music Academy, an important bastion of Carnatic culture) and he succumbed to its native charms.

Not satisfied by merely listening to it, he looked for some literature, and found Tyagaraja coming out of every woodwork but no notation or systems or supporting literature. No readable articles, profiles or biographical material. As is the wont of retired men, he met and socialized with more retired men and over several cups of ticotion (decoction, actually) coffee, this group of do-gooders decided to do the city of Chennai some good and thus was born the idea of Sruti, a magazine devoted only to south Indian classical music, initially. This was October (his own birth month, 24th to be precise) 1983. From being a magazine devoted to South Indian music, it became a magazine for Classical Indian Music and then later the word dance got added to its masthead, along with a claimer "premier". It was the only regular magazine on Indian arts and that itself was a feat. The mortality rate of such magazine being very high in India, Sruti took time to settle down and be stable but it was there for good.

Pat ji worked like an ant and tried to make Sruti all-inclusive. Thus, if arangetrams got enthusiastic parents to send photos of their wards, seminars on subjects like Bharatanatyam had scholars from all over India converging in Madras too. Pat ji's home became a must-visit for all who came to the city. His home was tasteful and comfortable and he was hospitable. A man of strong likes and dislikes, he generally heard everyone out and gave them a patient hearing and coffee. In S Janaki, his deputy, he found a worthy support system and she helped him bring out issue after issue of Sruti for over a decade. Sruti remained largely black and white with lots of grey matter in between and it slowly but surely won a sizeable readership and the credit for a tight, purposeful editorial content lay with Pat ji. It was mostly his magazine, even if the team boasted of several names, some mostly for decoration and others as advisors, including roving and raving ones!

Where Sruti made a contribution - and thus a difference - was that here at last was a regular magazine on music and dance. While there are several journals and self-indulgent literature palmed off as readable discourse on the subject, none came even an inch close enough to Sruti. Pat ji too left no stone unturned and reached into the pockets of chettiars and marwaris alike and asked them to support this cause. Till his end, he continued to valiantly raise monies for his twin interests - Sruti and Samudri, the resource centre he desired and created - and leaves behind something his team can build upon, provided they have the same vision, passion and pride as Pat ji had. He was also fair and never talked loose, an affliction the art fraternity suffers from. On the whole, Pat ji was a dealable and delectable man!

While he established Sruti and he leaves behind a healthy child, it is Samudri, the resource centre outside Madras that is in its embryonic stage and in need of much nurturing. For that he sensibly appointed a dynamic dancer-activist Anita Ratnam, as its Managing Trustee and all eyes will be on her to see what she delivers. In any case, as the shock of his sudden death at just seventy years of age seeped in, several felt Pat ji could look Saraswati straight in the eyes and say, I did something for real.

Ashish Mohan Khokar: editor of attendance (India's only yearbook on dance), author (15 books), photographer (7 books), critic and columnist for Times of India.