A TRIBUTE TO MY FATHER, SOMASHEKHAR NAIMPALLY

By Ravi Naimpally

som

 

On October 17, 2014 we lost our beloved father, Somashekhar Naimpally. Som as he was called by his friends had a long and fulfilling life. He was born on August 31, 1931 in Mumbai, India.  His father Amrit was an excellent sportsman and played soccer in his native village. Amrit was also a top ranked badminton player in India. My dad played cricket and badminton while growing up and he continued to play badminton until his retirement from Lakehead University in 1988. I played badminton with him several times and though my dad felt he was never as good as his own father he beat me every time. Dad was also a good swimmer and we used to go swimming as a family at the university pool every Sunday.

One of my dad’s passions in life was mathematics. This he attributes to his mother Shanti, who despite being a high school dropout was very good at math. Even with  poor eyesight my dad went on to have a successful career as an academic. He held two masters degrees and a PhD. His specialty was an abstract form of math called topology. Dad was known for his animated and entertaining lectures. He often shared his topological insights with us with great enthusiasm but unfortunately we could not comprehend the depths of his intellectual prowess. He travelled widely to give talks at international conferences to such places as Moscow, Nice, Berlin, Prague, Memphis, Lecce, Sorrento and Genoa, just to name a few.

In 1984 my dad discovered that his work was prized in Italy. Once when my dad was invited to a conference he came back excited that people in Italy admired his work so much that they were asking for his autograph. From the early 80’s to 2005 my dad travelled to Italy every year, sometime twice a year. For a time, both my parents took Italian lessons and my father became proficient enough to lecture in Italian. They both liked the food in Italy and enjoyed the fact that it was cooked fresh and that there were many vegetarian options. After dad retired from Lakehead University he took an appointment at the University of Kuwait. The turbulence in this region did not allow my father to be in Kuwait for too long and he then retired to Ottawa. Though retired he continued doing research on a daily basis. Even over the course of the last 10 years of his life he was extremely productive. Over a lifetime he published close to a dozen books and over one hundred research papers!

My dad’s second passion in life was music. His uncle was the artistic director of the Suburban Music Circle, an organization that still to this day holds concerts and festivals in Mumbai. My dad was lucky enough to hear some of the legendary musicians in his younger days including: Keserbai Kerkar, Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, Pannalal Ghosh, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and many others. He used to like to tell stories of these concerts and in most cases remembered the ragas that were rendered.

Before Ravi Shankar became famous my dad remembers him travelling by train to audition for his uncle. Ravi Shankar was always grateful to the Suburban Music Circle for supporting him at the start of his career and after reaching world wide fame he would still play concerts for Suburban Music Circle while waiving his fee.

From 1969-1971 my dad taught at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, India. At that time there was no classical music society in Kanpur so my dad decided to start one. Many of his friends in Kanpur were skeptical that there would be an audience for classical music in the mostly industrial city. Despite this he started a music circle, often taking on all production tasks including selling tickets door to door. He arranged many concerts, all of which were hugely successful. My father told me that he arranged the concert of sarod player Amjad Ali Khan with Nikhil Ghosh on tabla. In those days it was the practice that the tabla player would be paid much less than the instrumentalist. In this instance my father felt that it would be incorrect to pay Nikhilda less since he was the senior artist. So he rectified the situation by paying the tabla player more. He also felt that tabla solos were not featured enough and always asked Nikhil Ghosh to play a solo as the first item.

Once my father had organized the concert of the legendary shenai player Ustad Bismillah Khan. Bismillahji always liked to arrive a few days prior to the concert, this allowed my dad to spend some time with him. One afternoon they were in the family room listening to fathers extensive LP collection. At one point Bismillahji said it was time for his namaz and that he would be back after completing it. My father told him that he had a recording of Ustad Fayaz Khan they could listen to after he came back. Bismillahji promptly sat down and stated that “listening to Fayaz Khan sahib is as good as doing namaz”.

My father also arranged a concert of Begum Akhtar. This was soon after my birth so my mom was in the audience holding me. As it turns out they needed a tanpura player so my dad asked my mom to play tanpura. My dad held me during the concert. At one point an audience member came to my dad and remarked “you are not only the organizer but you have to look after the tanpura players baby?!”. My dad of course explained that the tanpura player was his wife and that the baby was his son.

In 1971 we moved to Thunder Bay and my father taught at Lakehead University. Even in this cold and remote Northern Ontario city my dad decided he was going to organize Hindustani music and dance events. While we were in Thunder Bay a number of musicians came through including Hafiz Ahmed Khan, Jnan Prakash Ghosh, Nikhil Ghosh and sons, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Zakir Hussain, and many young and up-and-coming artists such as Shahid Parvez, Ashwini Bhide, Aarti Anklekar and many others. As one can see though I grew up in Northern Ontario I was able to listen to a lot of great Hindustani music because of my dad.

On one occasion dad and his friend Inder Nirdosh had organized the concert of the great bansuri maestro Hariprasad Chaurasia and tabla wizard Anindo Chatterjee. I recall a morning where Malhar Kulkarni and Anindoji were practicing in our living room. We had not heard of Anindoji before and the more we listened to him the more we realized that he was truly one of the greatest tabla players we had heard. My father, who in over 30 years of teaching had never taken a sick day, called the secretary at the university and told her he would not be coming in. All so he could spend more time listening to Anindoji’s mesmerizing tabla. Anindoji reciprocated my dad’s appreciation by giving him the title of the “worlds greatest listener”.

My dad’s passion for music was infectious and many people who came into contact with him credit him with being the one who first introduced them to the joys of Hindustani music. I am pretty sure youtube was invented for my dad. As soon as he discovered it he would spend hours listening to music, sending links to friends and relatives of the best videos he found. Right up until his last days my dad was attending concerts, listening to recordings and, of course, scouring youtube.

Dad believed in” high thinking, simple living”. He always did his work on scrap paper. Before he discovered word processing his research papers and entire manuscripts were handwritten in this way. When he showered he shut the water off while soaping so as not to waste water. He never believed in spending money on himself and was a strong believer in philanthropy. He gave to many charities anonymously and was quick to send money to relatives or elderly musicians in India that needed a hand.

Som Naimpally is survived by his wife Sudha, daughter Anuradha, sons Shiv and Ravi, grandson Rishi and granddaughters Purna, Tara and Uma.

 

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