A MelodiouS Meet

M S - these two letters of the English alphabet provoke an instant reaction, even from a commoner. What is so magical about them? Well, they point to a simple phenomenon - M S Subbulakshmi. Paradoxical? That is what she is. She is simple, yet a phenomenon.

It was one lazy afternoon. The weather was hot, lulling me into slumber. Just then the phone rang. "Hello!" I said, hoping the line would get cut or it would be a wrong number. I was in no mood for a conversation. A buoyant voice from the other end shook me up from the twilight zone. "Adiye naan thaan di" (Hey! This is me). That was my best friend's mother and we got chatting. I briefed her on some articles on music that I was writing for a dotcom company and got talking about Semmangudi Mama on whom I was planning to do a feature. The topic steered on its own towards MS and I lamented the fact that it was a life-long dream of mine to meet her but could not.

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For an ordinary person like me meeting a phenomenon is no easy task. (Or that is what I thought) "What! You want to see MS? I will take you today", the voice boomed from the other end. I was now fully awake. Mami's father, Shencottai Venkatachalam Iyer, was a patron of sorts to musicians of the earlier generation and had hosted MS Amma and Sadasivam Mama on many occasions.

This unexpected turn of events took me entirely by surprise. However, I was not prepared to miss this golden opportunity. It so happened that, only a couple of days earlier, All India Radio in its 8.30 am slot had relayed a recorded concert of MS and I had used the opportunity to initiate my nine-year-old daughter to the glory of MS' music. We had sat glued to the radio and to the best of my knowledge I pointed out those nuances, which made Amma's music stand head and shoulders above any other.

Day passed into evening. I was a bundle of emotions. I racked my brains for what I could offer her as a token of my regard. But what could I possibly give a queen, I thought, especially to one who had spurned wealth! Finally I packed some fruits and at 5.30 pm, Mami, my younger daughter and I were standing at the gates of Subham-Sivam.

"Vaango", (please come in) a voice beckoned from above. I looked up to see Sri Atmanathan on the balcony, warmly welcoming us. (Hey! This was much easier than I thought). The doors of the house opened and there, sitting demurely on a simple sofa with a sruti box on one side and a walking stick on the other, was the queen whose music had soothed many a grieving heart and regaled others, not to mention the heads of states who stood humbled before her divine music.

Wise men always say "the greater our expectation, the greater the disappointment'. But aren't there exceptions to every rule, however profound? Or so it certainly seemed to me. The music of Amma defies description and I, in my mind, had also built an image of the person who was the architect of this music. I realized to my great joy that my idol certainly did not have feet of clay.

MS is in a class by herself. The YACM's millennium show, which took place on the eve of 1st Jan 2000, bore testimony to this already well-established fact. A very well conceived program, it included clippings of the music of stalwarts from the past and the present. The show was a trip down memory lane for old timers and a peek into the glory of a bygone era for the younger generations. As history unfolded itself, the MS era dawned on screen and a serene voice enchantingly sang "Sri Rangapuravihara" in Brindavana Saranga. The audience jolted from its reverie broke into a thunderous applause, which was as spontaneous as it was genuine. The MS magic had only grown over the years.

I related this incident to her and marveled, "How do you manage to bring out the bhavam in your rendering so perfectly?" She smiled disarmingly "Ellame avaral thaan". (It is all because of him - meaning Sadasivam mama). "He taught me to sing perfectly in ten languages."

Had she resolved her ego so totally? The word 'Naan' (I) never once figured in her conversation. Her life, she repeatedly asserted is what it is "because of Saibaba, the Kanchi Paramacharya and Sadasivam Mama".

As she spoke, I recalled all that I have heard about her sterling personal qualities and her amazing musical prowess. "What is there to teach her?" Semmangudi Mama had once exclaimed. "You have to sing it once. After that the song is no more yours. It is hers." However there was not even a hint of this famed precocious talent in her words. The lady carries fame lightly on her shoulders.

The following hour was an unforgettable experience. Simple words of praise followed without an air of superiority after we rendered a song. A request for her guidance as to the right methods of practice was readily demonstrated in a gentle manner. Again, there was no display of authority, merely a suggestion. The Manimandapam of the Paramacharya was her pet subject. There was reverence in her voice when she spoke about it. Just as there is no harshness in her music there was none in her speech as well. Her face reflected serenity and calmness. Later on, in the confines of my home, I groped for words to describe her to my family. I finally took refuge in a succinct Sanskrit phrase "Na Bhooto Na Bhavishyati" (not in the past, nor in the future).

Call me and come over again", Amma told me as we left. "Here is my number." Ten days after this meeting I was tempted to avail of the offer. I hesitated, but then asked myself - what qualifications does one need to enter a sanctum sanctorum? Nothing replied my inner voice, except true devotion. I picked up the receiver and dialed with confidence.

Courtesy: The Hindu

Lakshmi Devnath


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