How R Thyagarajan Uses His Business Acumen To Encourage Musicians

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A musician should be free to create — so believes Padma Bhushan R Thyagarajan of the Shriram Group. He talks to Aparna Sridhar on how he has encouraged talented artists through his business, to free them from financial worries, encourage their creativity and take their talent forward.

R. Thyagarajan, Founder Chairman of the Rs 76,000 crore Shriram Group, is passionate about both music and business. He has given employment on liberal terms to many artists, with a view to free them from financial worries, so that they can concentrate on their creativity and artistry. The most significant example of this was violinist Lalgudi Jayaraman, who was a board member in one of his companies. Sitting in his spartan Alwarpet office in Chennai, Thyagarjan, while being at the vanguard of mind boggling wealth creation, is the epitome of our civilizational character — of serenity, simplicity, integrity and working for the communal good.

“My own singular passion for music began from 1960 onwards. Listening to Lalgudi Jayaraman was a must for me. To me, the test of a good rasika is whether he can appreciate Lalgudi’s music. Originally, when our financial services firm started supporting music, we took Lalgudi-sir to places where we were opening a new branch. Because I felt we could not spend shareholders’ money in organizing music concerts, I had to find a business purpose to do so. So we would collect 1,000 people who were Lalgudi’s fans in a place where we could talk about what our business was and then Lalgudi’s music will follow. So this was one way we could get access to a very large number of Lalgudi’s fans who incidentally were also people who were inclined to save money — they liked this organization which was giving them good music. We combined business and music in many places, not only with Lalgudi but with one or two other artistes as well.”

It didn’t stop with the famed violinist. Shriram used his business acumen to support other younger artists as well.

“Later on, of course, we spent some money consciously to support youngsters to take up music as a career. There was a scheme that we were running for quite some years, wherein young musicians could join us. We would not give a great salary, but they would get the freedom to practice their music and occasionally do some office work. So if someone is willing to take up a job here and spend much less time here and spend more time with music, we will welcome them.”

One of the first things I told Lalgudi-sir was that he shouldn’t be travelling so much, doing an accompanist’s job. He should take it easy and devote his time to creating music. Music can be purely music only when it is 100 percent instrumental. So I used to tell him to create musical scores for instrumental music. Not just play krithi’s on his violin. I said I would create the income for him. So I took him as a business partner in one of my safe businesses which was lending money to commercial vehicle owners. I told him I would give him an income which would be 50 to 60 percent of what he was earning through his concerts. I suggested that he should become a board member on Shriram City Union Finance. He said he didn’t understand the ABCD of business. I told him – your personality, your passion for perfection, your willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of achieving perfection and beauty in whatever you do… These are all things which could inspire us in business. It may not have direct relevance but it is the attitude that you have towards your art and community, that is something which will be a beneficial influence for us. ”

(This article and accompanying photograph weas published first in Saamagaana The First Melody. The photograph is by H.K.Rajashekar)

About Author

Aparna M Sridhar

Aparna M Sridhar is the Editor of Saamagaana The First Melody, a national classical music magazine being published from Bangalore. She is a graduate of the Asian College of Journalism and the University of Leicester, UK.