Saturday 19 September 2009

M.S.Amma

The first time I saw her , I was a tiny tot of 9. The venue was Sri Parthasarthy Swami Sabha, Triplicane, Chennai. Late Sri Venkatakrishnan, the former secretary of the sabha invited me to garland the legend during her concert. I remember Smt. Radha Viswanathan accompanying her, and nothing else. I could register the presence of Smt. Radha Viswanathan because of the legend's frequent and personal interaction with her on stage, through smiles and gestures. I was totally oblivious to anything or anybody other than late Smt. M.S. Amma, that was the power of her magnetism! The sheer beauty of herself and her voice swept me off my feet and my gaze remained unwaveringly glued to the sight of her all through her memorable concert.

When it was announced that Baby Gayathri would be garlanding Smt. M. S. Subbulakshmi, I literally ran up the stage in my two plaits and half skirt. I had to be slowed down by Sri. Venkatakrishnan as he gave me the garland. As usual I was aware of bemused smiles of the audience and organisers at my childishness, (at the age of 9, crossing my silver jubilee concert, I had come to accept people's indulgent smiles as part of my life). As I neared the stage, I was aware of M.S. Amma's keen gaze on me and her sweet and loving smile. To the mind of a nine year old, she seemed motherly,yet out of reach due to something extraordinary about her. As years went by, I was able to define the extraordinary quality as divinity which lent her an almost visible golden aura around her figure, attracting and magnetising people by her physical presence and golden voice.

I have been one of her millions of admirers over the years, never attempting to disturb her by seeking an appointment. I knew she was a celestial being, a "Gandharva Sthree", and that her birth on earth was a karmic design.

In 1994, when Karthik Fine Arts conferred the Isai Peroli award, I was particular that I should receive the same from M.S. Amma with her blessings. I was overjoyed when she accepted to present the award and for the first time sought an appointment with her to invite her personally.
She received me warmly like a typical, traditional housewife. There was nothing even remotely starry about her! I was struck by her daintiness and her absolute femininity. She exuded vulnerability making her seem almost childish. It may sound weird, but I felt a strong surge of protectiveness towards her, I wanted to hug her. I was even awestruck by my own reaction to her, as I normally do not get overly carried away by feelings or sentiments and worse still, demonstrate the same (on the day of the function, my wish came true when she embraced me on the stage after presenting the award)! In the course of our conversation, I was surprised to learn that she listens to all the AIR morning and night concerts, and had great things to say about all the musicians, including myself. I told her that I listened to her Annamacharya Krithis (my favourite being ,the first volume which has "Sriman Narayana", "Manujudai Putti"' "Bhavamulona", etc.,) whenever I felt the pangs to visit Tirumala and her "Sri Rangapura Vihara" whenever I longed to go to Srirangam. She smiled humbly.

Next interaction with her came when news was out that she would be the recipient of the ultimate award, "Bharat Ratna". I rushed to Park Sheraton, where my florist friend, Mithra used to have a lovely showroom. I asked for the best and biggest bouquet to be sent to M.S. Amma!

Years went by, and I got a special offer from Symphony Recording Company to record a veena version of M.S.Amma's Sri Venkateswara Suprabhatham, Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam and Bhaja Govindam. Even though I wondered how any instrument (due to lack of sahithya) could fulfill such a mission, I readily agreed as it was primarily a divine project and not only that, it was a reproduction of the vocal version of none other than M.S.Amma herself!

Sri Rajesh Dhupad, who heads the recording company is another great admirer of M.S.Amma.He was particular that the album should be released by Amma. On being contacted, Sri Atma told us that she was extremely sick to go out anywhere.It was then decided that the album should be released at her bedside by M.S.Amma. The title of "Sangeetha Kala Saraswathi"(conferred by Symphony) was presented to me by Amma lying in bed, with her frail hands. I was extremely upset to see her so small and weak. As I reached for her feet to take her blessings, she stopped me and hugged me tightly with her bony arms, kissing my cheeks and forehead. I knew that I had received the ultimate blessing through outpouring of love in its purest form, coming from a celestial being like her.I was moved to tears, at the same time I was also concerned that she should not strain herself. Sri Atma, Sri Rajesh and my husband were standing at a distance watching us. Amma still held on to my hand tightly and spoke something about her childhood, which I could not comprehend due to her weak tone. I was worried about not being able to understand what she was trying to convey, all I could decipher was her frequent mention of "Meenakshi"(obvioulsy Madurai Meenakshi).The rest of it went over my head, as I had no inkling of the various names of friends and relatives she mentioned. I told her, "You are Meenakshi". She shook her head, not accepting what I said. I told her that is the truth and even she does not know of it. She kept refusing and I left it at that, not wanting to strain her.Parting was painful, I wondered if I would be able to see her again.

Mylapore Fine Arts Club awarded me "Sangeetha Kala Nipuna" in the year M.S.Amma passed away. While the sabha awarded me, I was painfully conscious of the fact that Amma was bang next door in Isabel Hospital(ICU) fighting for life. I thought of the irony of how close she was, yet so far! The very next day, her demise was announced and I was literally shattered! I rushed to see her body. There was a huge gathering and wading my way through the crowd I placed the garland on her. She looked calm, peaceful and divine. Her karma was over, her music had burnt any remnants of karma and she had gone back to where she belonged- to the astral plane of celestial beings. While I was doing the 'pradakshinam' around her body, Sri Atma stopped me midway to tell me, "She was extremely fond of you". As someone tuned to cosmic messages, I felt it was M.S.Amma who was expressing herself through Sri Atma. I felt comforted. My concert in Mylapore Fine Arts came a week after her funeral and I played all of M.S hits in my concert, dedicating the concert to her memory. I also instituted an annual price for music competition winners in the name of Smt. M.S.Subbulakshmi in MFAC.


In the following year, I dreamt of something fantastic! In my dream, I was listening to Smt. Raji Gopalakrishnan's performance (she is one of the artistes whose music I admire)and the venue was Hamsadhwani. Somebody was holding my hand and I turned to see that it was Amma who was holding my hand, sitting next to me. She smiled at me and told me, "I like Raji's singing so much, that is why I came." In the morning I woke up feeling happy about my dream and wondering if there was something significant in Amma figuring in my dream. I discovered that it was Bharani Nakshtram (Amma's star) that day! I was stunned at the significance of my dream!Drinking my morning cup of coffee, I wafted through the Hindu. To my astonishment, Raji Gopalakrishnan's name was in the entertainment column, announcing her concert that evening in Hamsadhwani in the memory of Smt. M.S.Subbulakshmi!!!!!!!!!!!It was not only Bharani Nakshatram that day, the same Raji Gopalakrishnan was performing in the same venue, Hamsadhwani and the subject was "M.S.Hits"!I was flabbergasted and immediately placed a call to Smt. Raji to share my dream with her. I also called Sri.Atma and late Sri Ramachandran, secretary of Hamsadhwani to share about my dream!

On every Bharani Nakshtram day, I think of her mentally seeking her blessings.