SUDHA RAGUNATHAN - Keeping the MLV legacy alive
“You brought the rains with you!” she says, as we sit in the comfort of her living room. On the shelves all over the room are numerous awards she has collected over the decades. On one wall is a larger than life portrait of hers, painted acrylic on canvas by an ardent fan. On another is a life-size image of hers, holding the spine of a tambura, head downcast. On the centre of the wall, hangs the prestigious ‘Padma Shri’. As she wanders off, to fetch some coffee, I am joined by Ragunathan, her husband. “Don’t you feel the warmth inside the house?” he asks. Opening a window, he lets me peek over the parapet wall and says, “Do you see the thickness of the wall? It is a set of two walls built, one over the other, with a vacuum column of over a foot in between. We got architects from Finland to specially design this so that it retains the warmth inside the house at one temperature throughout the year. This protects her voice.” Ragunathan – now married to Sudha for over three decades – has monitored her career to her present stature. As we sit down, Sudha opens up, narrating her life’s journey through music.
“My paternal grandparents were far removed from music. Living in Surandai village in Tirunelveli, my grandfather was a Tahsildar. There was music in the family among distant relatives, but my grandparents had no exposure. My mother was married when she was about eighteen. She did learn music, but after marriage all that stopped,” says Sudha. Her mother Choodamani grew up in Madhurantakam and learnt music from Varadarajan and Rangarajan who had made a name in the music circles as the Manakkal Brothers. Sudha’s father S.R. Venkataraman was an established lawyer who migrated to Bangalore and ran a law-book publishing house in the 1940s and 50s. Sudha was born on 30 April 1957 in Chennai. “My mother’s music was sort of sealed off,” says Sudha. It might have been this deprivation that made Choodamani decide that her daughter must become a musician. She made every effort towards that endeavour. “I can’t claim any great lineage of musicians,” she adds. Choodamani also made sure her other daughter Chitra learnt music, sending her to train under Selvapillai Iyengar.
The Season, 75 years ago
The December music season of 1938 was unique in one respect – it marked the beginning of a halcyon period of three brief years, when the two rivals – the Music Academy and the Indian Fine Arts Society (IFAS), conducted a common music festival. It also marked the beginning of a trend at both sabhas – the personality invited to preside over the annual conference would henceforth be a star performer and rarely a musicologist. In 1938, the honour went to Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, by then the most popular singer who, however, rarely bothered himself with debates and discussions on the grammar of music.
The unity among the two sabhas was the result of some hard work put in by K.V. Krishnaswami Iyer, the President of the Music Academy. He had taken over the reins at the fledgling organisation in 1935 and would continue to remain President till 1965. Between 1935 and 1938 he had worked hard at putting the Academy on a sound financial footing, though the money it had at its disposal was nothing compared to that of the IFAS, backed by the wealthy Arya Vaisya businessmen of George Town.
ART-STAMPS: MUSIC SABHA-S
Sri Shanmukhananda Fine Arts and Sangeetha Sabha
Sri Shanmukhananda Fine Arts and Sangeetha Sabha (Shanmukhananda Sabha) is a leading cultural organisation in Mumbai, with a glorious record of service to fine arts to its credit. Over the past half century it has evolved into a centre for national integration and cultural synthesis. Established in 1952, the Sabha celebrated its diamond jubilee in July 2012. Earlier, it had celebrated its golden jubilee in August 2002. On both the occasions the Department of Posts, Maharashtra and Goa Circle, released special covers. That the Department issued two special covers on the same organisation speaks much about the prestige and reputation the Shanmukhananda Sabha enjoys in Mumbai.
The Golden Jubilee cover was issued on 31 August 2002. The cancellation depicts the emblem of the Sabha and indicates the occasion. The cover has a picture of the building of the Sabha with the figure 50 thereon and the inscription ‘Golden Jubilee Year’. The Diamond Jubilee cover, issued on 17 July 2012, has been cancelled with a stylised figure ‘60’ as also a sketch of a diamond and the words “Six Glorious Decades of Fine Arts”. The cover has the emblem of the Sabha and symbols representing the performing arts.
NEWS & NOTES
Darbar festival has made impressive strides
Among the many Punjabis, Biharis, Marwadis and South Indians who migrated in the decades after India’s independence to settle down in remote corners of the world, was the family of Bhai Gurmit Singhji Virdee who migrated to Kenya. There, in the 1960s, he made a livelihood out of teaching the tabla, which he had learnt back home in Punjab. From Kenya, he and his family migrated to London and settled there. Having trained hundreds of students, the maestro passed away a peaceful and contented man, leaving behind a legacy of students and a mission to propagate Indian classical music. His son Sandeep Virdee renounced a successful law practice and took on the baton of a cultural impresario to curate the Darbar Festival, which over the last eight years, has grown to be Europe’s largest festival for Indian classical music. This year’s edition, held in the prestigious environs of the Southbank Centre, featured some of the finest talent from Indian classical music.
Spread over four tightly packed days, the festival stands as a nerve centre in bridging cultures. In addition to concerts of Hindustani, Carnatic and dhrupad, on the platter were exclusive percussion solos, lecture demonstrations, fringe shows, and academic discussions, all in one place. The entire festival was sold out almost five months ahead with every performance witnessing packed halls spilling over its seams. Taking up varied themes like ‘Where are the women?’ and ‘The betrayal of the Saraswati Veena’, the festival also threw up some serious pedagogic concerns relating to the classical arts.
Sandeep Virdee is a bit of a tyrant when it comes to programming Darbar. “I can’t but go for the best. We are not driven by popularity charts or recommendations”, he says. This year Darbar introduced over half a dozen Indian classical musicians to European audiences by debuting them. All that mattered were the purity and essence of the art form, being delivered in the best possible way, according to him.