Simply divine MS Subbulakshmi – A. Sathyanarayanan

I grew up in Hyderabad in the seventies and that ensured I could not read and write in Tamil, my mother tongue. Truth be told even my spoken Tamil is a subject of much banter and mock when cousins come visiting. In the eighties I was into Rock music, it fitted my rebellious teenage years. It meant I grew up far removed from my moorings. If you would have asked me on Carnatic music, I would have known nothing more than get the spelling right.

It was only in 1990 at the age of 21, I stepped into this beach city then called Madras. Suddenly there is Tamil everywhere. But then of course the December festival is hard to ignore.

If Vienna is the centre of western classic then Madras is even more a window and centre for traditional Carnatic. Nowhere in the world is the entire month devoted to celebrating a glorious tradition. Since I have no ear for raga or tala, the nuances escape me. But how can I ever forget my first tryst with Carnatic?

After a heart surgery that came out of the blue I was advised to go on long walks. I requested the Theosophical Society Manageent to letting me walk on their serene course. They acquiesced and that afforded me an opportunity to meet other walkers. Once you started walking at 5:30 in the morning to a daily schedule you make a lot of friends within a month. It was Air Vice Marshall Venkatramani who introduced me to this new world.

I had spent my life savings on the surgery and jobs were simply hard to come by. It was then AVM reminisced of his lot,” Sathya, I lost my wife. She died while I was on tour. It was a nightmare that forced on me.”

My God! How sad!, I added to show I was with him.

“I was only 52 when this happened. I would drink to sleep for months to the point of passing out. That was the only way to keep away the nightmares. It was then I discovered Carnatic music.”

He offered to take me to a concert in Music Academy and it’s an experience that even recollecting after two decades, it gives me the goose bumps.

I don’t remember much but I cried when MS sang “Kurai Ondrum Ilai”. There is such divinity it felt like being in heaven. To say that I have no troubles as Venkatachalapathi is there for refuge. It is a simple thought and prosaic too but when MS sings it vibrated every cell in the body. There was not a dry eye in the audience. It felt transported to a world where god was in his right place and everything happens to his design.

I came home and heard many of MS’s works. It was then I realized what a grand emotion is. What music we listen on the cine screen is designed to titillate the base emotions. While the purpose of classical music is to evoke emotions of gratitude, piety, and communion with god, there is only surrender and love. Cine music is all about putting a woman in a bikini under a waterfall while here, gender is of no consequence. It is then you realize any good book or music is just a stimulus that stirs us something already embedded inside. Call it Sat Chit Ananda or any terminology, certain stimulus reveal who we really are.

Since then I followed Thyagaraja’s Aradhana and “Endaro Mahano Bhavulu” also gets me lachrymose any number of times I hear. It is impossible not to be moved when certain compositions are sung. Then I realize art is enduring as it moves hearts and minds, it doesn’t really matter when it is MS or Mozart or Thyagaraja. Their work is celebration of the human spirit and maybe they reveal what we really are even if it is for a passing moment. Anything to gets the mind to go peaceful and forget itself is what art is all about. Timeless too!

– A.Sathyanarayanan

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