SMT.SUBBALAKSHMI SATHYANAND (Strings of heavenly resonance and fragrance).
"A little girl just like you is going to play veena this evening in our sabha." Late Sri. Venkatakrishnan,President of Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha told me. As a tiny tot of nine, I was fascinated.
"Oh, who is she?" I asked him curiously.
"Her name is Meduri Subbalakshmi, like you even she is from Andhra. Come to the sabha and listen to her."
As I recall,that evening I was taken to the greenroom where Subbalakshmi was sitting demurely next to her veena, the tuning of tambura and mridangam in progress. Her sparkling nose stud and clear white blouse on top of her long silk skirt remain in my memory even now. I remember wishing for curly hair like hers. She looked my age, quiet and reserved. We smiled shyly as we were introduced to each other.I found her a lot more quieter than me as I jumped all over the place uninhibitedly.
Showtime and Subbalakshmi was shown the stage and myself a seat in the front row.
Her playing took my breath away right from the start! She was a natural with veena. Her plucking and left hand technique were absolutely aesthetic and stunning! Till date I remember her Kalyani and the excellent nuances she had produced in the raga.I looked at her with new eyes, noticing the uniqueness about her.
After that we met whenever she visited Madras to perform, ate together, and spoke affectionately to each other.There was never any tension or that weird sense of alertness between us while interacting with each other as veena artistes.
We gradually lost touch and later I heard that she got married and settled well (presently known as Smt. Subbalakshmi Sathyanand). Often I would think of her wondering about her approach to veena post marriage.
I chanced upon her younger brother's (Sri.Meduri Srinivassrinivasmeduri1234@rediffmail.com ) veena recital on SVBC Channel who is an artiste of repute. His versatility and manodharma revealed that he is Subbalakshmi's brother.
I was delighted to know that Subbalakshmi is in India (right now) and it seemed like old times as we chatted endlessly on phone (just like our childhood days). During our conversation I gathered details about her approach to veena. The above clipping of Thodi bears testimony to her meditative approach to veena.
Subbalakshmi is a wonderful veena vidushi, who plays her veena as an offering to God. She told me that she played during 'Sandhya" kalam (break of dawn and dusk, the junction between sunrise/sunset and vice versa) as worship by rendering vedic prayers on veena to Lord Ganesha, and "Siva Siva", the Pantuvarali krithi of Saint Thyagaraja everyday without fail .
Subbalakshmi also practises the krithis of Saint Thyagaraja, especially the two krithis (Rama Nannu Brovara and Undedi Ramudokkadu) in Hari Kambodhi as a spiritual exercise. She told me how she focused on the 'samyoga' (union) of feeling (bhava) and expression (technique) when she rendered the divine krithis of the great saint composer on her veena. Subbalakshmi cited the instance when she had to repeat the phrase "kshemakarudu" (in "Undedi Ramudu....) on veena innumerable times until she could merge her soul and the phrase through expression (her hand technique on veena).
Just like voice, there are true and false veenas too. The purity of approach and yogic way of playing veena are detected only in the absence of amplifying gadgets attached to the instrument. The resonance of veena is partly the prana shakthi of the player. Notice Subbalakshmi's veena without gadgets and one cannot miss the golden aura of sheer veena tones, which is the tone of her inner self resonating through the veena. The naked tones of prana combined with veena nada is audible only minus amplification. It is also noteworthy that Subbalakshmi has not wasted her pranic energy through strain and demands of over-performing. Also, her playing has not suffered the ill effects of "drishti" from jealous and antagonistic scrutiny, mostly an occupational hazard for artistes who are constantly exposed to public gaze.
Smt.Subbalakshmi Sathyanand is also an artiste with All India Radio/Doordarshan and performs regularly.