Mala Chandrasekhar, Sruti Magazine Issue 244, Jan 2005
It was a pleasant evening on December 11th 1985 when my betrothal ceremony with Chandrasekhar took place. Until then I never realised that I would become MSS’s grand daughter-in- law. Once in 1982, I had the good fortune of being blessed by her when I received the first prize for flute in an AIR music competition. My relationship with MS Patti was unique, though I never addressed her as Patti. I could not digest calling her that for she was like a mother to all of us. For me, she has been my mentor apart from my own guru-s (the Sikkil Sisters).
I was very scared, or rather nervous, playing the flute before her (what a test soon after my betrothal function to play before her, Semmangudi Mama and others!). But gradually, because of her kind words of encouragement, I got over the fear of making mistakes in rendering any kriti or raga. She used to correct me in a very subtle manner.
As a human being, she was very kind, simple and humble. It was a great delight to observe Patti, Kadayanallur Venkataraman Mama and Radha Amma (my mother-in-law) practising, learning new compositions and preparing for cassette recordings. How dedicated she was in her pursuit of professional excellence, what a perfectionist!
I had the pleasure and privilege of preparing and serving her food- either lunch or evening tiffin depending on her practice sessions. I had the satisfaction of preparing for her whatever menu she relished (kothavaranga paruppu usili, any dish made of bitter gourd, vetha kuzhambu, soft idlis and dosas …. ). The highlight was dosa chilli powder- Thatha called it gun powder! This was a must for her whenever she had dosas or idlis, with a tinge of ghee and green chilli chutney. She enjoyed the food and liked the sambhar if it had a little more “pulippu” than usual. It was always a pleasure to see her eat because she had developed that too as an art. She would keep a small cup near her plate to keep the karuvepilai, chillies, and drumstick peels. Her aesthetic sense did not permit her to discard them in a corner of her plate or on the table (an eyesore for sure!). She enjoyed meeting people and talking to them in the hall till lunchtime. Lunch was always simple. Whatever she ate, the quantity was measured. There too she maintained discipline. She enjoyed sharing the food with their numerous friends and visitors. ‘Stand idlis’ (idlis as big as dosas) of Kalki Gardens fame was yet another delight in the family. MSS would carry food while flying, to share it with the flight crew and others on the plane.
Whatever she did, was done to the utmost perfection, without her being aware of it. As she was extremely well organised and disciplined, she made sure on her concert day that by 2.30 pm her saree, blouse, her sparkling blue jager diamond earrings and other accessories were laid out. After sometime she would work on her hairdo, taking a lot of care in dressing up for the recital. She never failed to do akaara sadhakam before every single concert to open up her voice. She also spent a lot of time with her two tamburas to set the perfect pitch.
At this juncture, I would like to share an unforgettable experience. Once I went to drop Radha Amma at Patti’s residence while they were getting ready to leave for a marriage reception concert (it was their custom that all of them, including the accompanists, would leave together for the venue from her house). On my arrival there I was very much moved by the beautiful sound of Patti’s voice and the tuning of the two tamburas – Lakshmi and Saraswati. In the drawing hall on one side sat Patti surrounded by Radha Amma, Gowri and Kadayanallur Mama, with the two tamburas and a sruti box, practising akaara sadhakam in raga Sankarabharanam in three speeds. Oh, what sruti suddham and divine vibration! Tears started rolling down my cheeks and I did not even realise that I had to go home. I could not bring myself to cut short such a wonderful and blissful experience. Finally MSS said: “Neeyum kutcherikku varayaa ~ (Are you also coming to the concert?). I said I was not properly dressed for the kutcheri. Immediately she asked Visalam (her personal assistant who was very dear to her) to give me one of Patti’s sarees that would match the blouse I was wearing. She told me to use her make-up stuff and she made sure that I was also seated on the concert platform. To play the tambura for her while she sang was a great blessing for me. On those many occasions I got an opportunity to observe and understand the minute nuances, the gamakas, the modulation, the perfection with which she rendered any kriti or raga, her swara-singing, the sense of proportion, the dedication and perfection, the bhakti bhava (emotion) in each song.
Patti and my mother-in-law Radha Amma were inseparable. They treasured their relationship. Patti was devastated when Radha Amma fell ill. When my mother-in-Iaw’s condition improved, Patti would come to our house everyday with the sruti box and the notebooks around 11 am so that they could practise together. Kadayanallur Mama would also come for the sessions to help them. I am very fortunate to have been present there and listened to them and I have certainly learnt a lot. Around 2 pm Patti would have tiffin insisting that the coffee be brought along with the eatables and not after.
Discipline and punctuality are what I have always associated with Patti. I have never seen her utter a harsh word to anyone. Even her criticism of my performances would be gentle in nature. Just a glance from her was enough to tell me I had made a mistake.
A typical day for MSS Patti would start with coffee and a bath followed by an elaborate pooja and singing of sloka-s for almost an hour in a ‘madi pudavai’. She always had a ‘well groomed’ look with sparkling teeth, clean short straight nails, and well combed hair. She even took special care to keep the soles of her feet free of cracks. Her glowing features would become more marked with the beautiful kumkum and vibhooti which she meticulously applied on her forehead. Patti loved the fragrance of jasmine and in those days would wear a ‘veni’ everyday. In case jasmine was not available, her only other choice was roses- with “marugu”- all threaded like a ‘veni’ with every single flower in place.
She loved perfume, but would not spray it on herself. She preferred to sprinkle a few drops of it on her extremely clean handkerchief that she held in her hand during the concert. Soon after returning home from a kutcheri, MSS would immediately remove her special earrings and place them it their box adding a dash of perfume to it. She used only three hairpins- they would be stored away for the next use. Even in those days, she never retired to bed without brushing her teeth.
Patti loved silk sarees and also thick cotton sarees with border. Muthu Chettiar wove a special blue for her which became very popular as ‘MS Blue’. She loved that colour.
Another fact about MSS is that she did not wear spectacles during her concerts, This was suggested by Thatha as he felt it could distract her attention while singing. She always sang the songs as listed by Thatha. Some of her other interests were stringing flowers, drawing kolams with rice flour and listening to the radio. After a simple meal at night she would relax as she listened to some music on her tiny pocket radio. According to Radha Amma, both Thatha and Patti were fond of plants and maintained a lovely garden at Kalki Gardens. In fact, a hibiscus variety with very light pink flowers grown there was named after MS. Patti loved children, dogs and other animals too. Of course she loved all human beings. She touched millions of people with her music, her character and her abundant love.
It is indeed a strange coincidence that my close association with her began and ended on the same date-11th December. It commenced on the day of my betrothal in 1985 and ended on the same date in December 2004 when she passed away. But her divine music will continue to be a source of perennial inspiration.