HE lives in a filthy cowshed in the backyard of his one-storey home in Maihar's Purani Basti. A grubby mosquito net has been hanging in this cubbyhole for ages. Whisky bottles and ballpoint drawings are strewn around in the mess. Pasted outside the low-slung door are his favourite sayings: 'Visit India, Quit India', 'Think before you leap' and 'All that glitters is not gold'. In a way, the room and the sayings sum up the life and times of its resident, Sri Lanka-born David aka S.D. Podiappuhamy, one of Baba Allaudin Khan's most promising disciples.
They call him the spoilt genius of Maihar. Born in Sri Lanka, David had travelled to England for his matriculation before he heard the strains of a raga and was enraptured. "I knew instantly that I wanted to learn Indian music," he says. He came to Santiniketan, joined Visva Bharati's music school, learning the sitar, tabla, vocal and dance. Considered the most promising student of his times, he completed the five-year music course in four. He met Baba Allaudin Khan during one of his visits to the country in 1951—the legend was a visiting professor of music at Visva Bharati. Khan, struck by the young David's enormous talents and nimble tabla playing, sent him a cryptic cable in 1954 which said: "Come immediately with your instrument."
The Sri Lankan didn't waste time in joining the legend in Maihar, and remained with him till his dying day. He learnt his sarod from Khan, practising up to 16 hours a day and became the principal of the music college for a few years. At one point, David's talents in sarod, tabla, flute and his nifty skills in kathak made him the most formidable talent from Maihar's music nursery. Today, the 74-year-old maverick musician, refusing to move out of the town and ignored by his fraternity, is an alcoholic wreck, roaming the town aimlessly by day and retiring to his cowshed corner at night. His hands and voice tremble when he manages to play a raga on his sarod or sing a thumri. The problem is few people outside Maihar have heard David play. Living in a haze of alcohol and cannabis, he has no complaints.
But Maihar residents say he actually scrapes around for a living, earning a few hundred rupees from the occasional performance. A few years ago, an Australian university offered him a faculty position in music after hearing him play, but David laughed it away. Now his two sons, trying to pursue a career in music in Mumbai, send some money home to keep the fires burning. "We don't disturb him," says wife Usha Devi. "He has totally withdrawn from the society, so he lives in the cow-shed." That is the spoilt genuis's favourite nook in his three-room home.