Monday, October 1, 2012

M S and Radha by Gowri Ramnarayan ; Published by Wordcraft ; Pages ; Price Rs 709/-

Gowri Ramnarayan who is the grandniece of  M. S. Subbulakshmi   is a  journalist who writes on music regularly for the “Hindu”. Having accompanied M S for 16 years she is eminently fitted to write on M S. She has done research on the role of emotion in art. She has written a number of books and translated stories of Kalki and Vijay Tendulkar. The book under review is the story of the bond between M S and her daughter Radha.

                           Pandit Ravi Shankar, who writes the Foreword to this book has stated, “M S’s aura, beauty and persona captured the audience even before she sang a single note. Her amazing voice had the tonal quality of a temple bell, which resonated throughout the concert hall. It was unique, combining deep pure emotion and technical perfection.”
She represented in her simple everyday life, the values of an ancient culture—humility, compassion, consideration for others and unwavering principles of conduct—all these ingrained in her from her childhood.

                           The M  in her stood for Madurai—the sweetness of Madurai Tamil, the fragrance of Madurai malli, the gentleness of Madurai people, the magnificence of Madurai in legend , history and literature, all equally celebrated in verse and song. The S in her stood for her mother Shanmukhavadivu who was an eminent Veena player. Her grandmother Akkammal  was a violin artist. Thus, she was from a family of musicians.

                             M S , initially trained by her mother, was later fine-tuned by the doyen Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. She acquired the status of a saint by her portrayal of Meera. She captivated the world by the grandeur of her voice. The man who transformed her from an ordinary singer to a Bharat Ratna was her husband Sadasivam. M S  made music and Sadasivam made M S.

                                She was the first woman to storm the Madras Music Academy’s and later bagged  the most coveted  title in the world of Carnatic music Sangita Kalanidhi.  India's highest civilian honour  Bharat Ratna was conferred on her but regrettably after the demise of Sadasivam .

                                Gowri Ramnarayan tells the story of this  great singer from Madurai and deals with  the special relationship between MS and  Radha. She  takes us through Radha’s early training in music, her highly acclaimed debut as the young Meera in the film of that name which made MS an icon, her brief branching out as a Bharatanatyam performer and her eventual return with the tanpura to her assured place beside MS. The story begins in an intimate and vivid moment in 1936 when a two-year-old girl with sparkling eyes and two well-oiled plaits, is introduced to a beautiful woman as she steps down from a horse-drawn cart in a narrow Tiruvallikeni street. As she is "enveloped in a cloud of jasmine", her father T. Sadasivam says, "Radha, from now onwards, this is your mother".

                                     Radha deleted  her real mother  from her memory. She attached herself to MS, who became over the years her mother, teacher, sakhi and nurse . She became a part of a musical journey in which M S led  her all over the globe. She virtually became M S’s shadow. Her exposure to music began the moment her new mother entered her life. She would sit for hours listening to M S practice and would sit with her on stage, remaining completely still and absorbed. Music entered her without her even realising it.  Radha had a native  sense of rhythm, amazing  photographic memory and natural vivacity. M S  and Radha became inseparable in all concerts.  A veteran  declared , "To see MS on the stage without Radha is to see the sky without the crescent moon. No doubt it is vast and starry, but something is missing."

                                    Radha had a brief career as a dancer but rendered full support to her mother.  She declared proudly "Sacrifice implies loss, but being second voice to Subbulakshmi is indeed a gain. It is my great good fortune to be able to sing with Amma."  Radha assisted M S in all her personal matters until she was overcome by tubercular meningitis and bedridden. Roles were reversed and MS took care of her as if she were a child again.

                                     Prime Minister Manmohan Singh , releasing the book  declared , “ MS was a rare individual and it is difficult to believe that she existed in flesh and blood. She shaped the lives of millions,” He recollected how Jawaharlal Nehru had said at the end of a concert: “What am I? A mere Prime Minister before the queen of emotions. She led a good life and her voice will inspire generations.”

                              The author declares “In writing about M.S. Subbulakshmi, I am asserting the values that our nation holds dear — damyata, datta, dayathvam (restraint, generosity and compassion). M S sang this prayer song at every concert with conviction and hope.” The greatest virtue of this volume are the stunning photographs of yesteryears---the like of which we have seldom seen. There are detailed and delightful descriptions of  M S’s and Radha’s musical development and the range of their stupendous repertoire. 

                                    Here is a book worth cherishing for its breezy style and collection of rare stories about the legend M S—to whom Sarojini Naidu  surrendered her title, “Nightingale of India”. 



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