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Travel with Lakshmi & Sarasvati

R K ShriramKumar

RK Shriramkumar‘Delhi le pADa romba kETTirkka.Unakku Needucharana pankaja pADamA?’ Amma would ask in a caring tone. ‘aDuttadu Delhi porom. adukkule AnAlum thayArAyidu!’ Mama would enthusiastically inform me about the concert a month in advance. Amma’s concern would be about my learning the kalyani krti. Mama’s constant reminders to me would be to learn the game of cards so that I would give him company on the twin night travel to Delhi.

Traveling with the Sadasivams was always a most welcome and an enjoyable event. Be it a car drive to KAncIpuram or the trans country train journey to the capital of India, it was an event that was always looked forward to. It was not just the artist in Amma who was traveling with her escort in Mama. It was like a whole family traveling together on a joyous occasion. The well coordinated efforts of Atma Mama, their sincere secretary, would always result in an ideal travel plan. Mama was always particular that all of us traveled together, stayed together and returned together. It was this trait of togetherness that was one of Mama’s and Amma’s innumerable virtues.

Their car would enter the portico of the vintage British structure of the Madras Central station, and, there, would wait for the station manager to respectfully receive the couple. As they walked to the train, one would hear the whispers of surprise that would hiss across the sprawling hall of the busy station. Every other person would invariably take a step backward to glance at the graceful glowing couple. A sense of elation of being with such a celebrity would pervade my constitution. We would wait at the platform, amidst a trolley load of suitcases and bedrolls for the train to come. Though seated under a dim light, ‘Lakshmi’ and ‘Sarasvati’, the two tamburas of Amma, which were the lifelines of her concerts, would ‘beckon’ a few people to extend a note to Amma for an autograph. ‘avar kiTTa modalla vAngikkongo’, she will direct them to get it from Mama first. ‘pAvam AshayA kEkkara’ and will happily complete signing the autograph next.

There is an upsurge of nostalgia when I look at the cubicles of the air-conditioned coaches of most of the trains of the Indian railway. After the loading of the baggage on to the train and tucking in both the tamburas on to an upper berth of the 2 tier AC compartment, Amma and Mama would settle down in adjacent cubicles. With the rays of the morning sun sneaking into the compartment, Amma would be ready for her coffee, her most favorite beverage. Vishalam, her personal aide would be on her toes and as the morning coffee session would be in progress, Amma would deplore at my not drinking the south Indian speciality. At a major station in the morning and noon would arrive breakfast and lunch, specially ordered and prepared for us.

With the closing of the food wing, Mama would gear up for his favorite pastime. A makeshift table using the suitcases and a bedspread would appear in the aisle in Mama’s cubicle and the card game would begin. Mama would remember his instruction to me and would ask again if I would join. I would excuse myself for not having learnt the game. Mama lamenting yet another time, would say ‘EnDA Ammakku pakkavAdyam vAshikkare.enakku pakkavAdyam vAshikka kUDadA?’ I would smile and say ‘Mama, next time’. The game would go on and on. Mama would rule the roost each session and his cross-legged sukhAsana position would remain intact until evening! Amma, Atma Mama and I would spend the afternoon in the other cubicle. Amma would rarely have a nap in the afternoon. She would share most of her experiences, both off stage and on stage, and hearing all that would leave one awestruck with astonishment.

The topics would cover anything from sangitam to social issues!! She would recollect about how her mother groomed her, the rigorous practices that she used to do of the akaras and the varisais to keep her divine voice in good shape, her focus on impeccable shruti shuddha ,internalization of the composition and her intense efforts to respect the sahitya bhAva. Her initial concert experiences with her mother accompanying her on the vina, and later her concerts for many a vidvat sadas were amongst her fond memories. She would also reminisce about her migrating to Madras, her training under the doyens of the music world such as Musiri Mama, Semmangudi Mama, and a host of others, her acting skills in movies, especially ‘Meera’, the accolades and recognition from all over the globe and her philanthropy . Amma would choke with emotion as she would narrate her blessed experiences with the Sage of KancI, shrI Candrashekharendra Sarasvati and BhagavAn shrI Satya SAi BAbA. One would feel highly inspired and rejuvenated to listen to her narrations.

Talking of one of her cherished concerts for the Music Academy, when she sang a pallavi in the rAga BegaDa, learnt under Musiri Mama’s guidance, Amma recollected how, amidst the great vidvat sadas assembled for her concert, the mahAvidvAn Shri Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer came up to the stage and complimented her saying ‘Subbulakshmi, nee vINaiya kanThatthule ye vecchinDu irukke’. While she learnt along with Radha akka, a few tumris from Smt Siddheshwari Devi, Amma would mention how both of them had to keep singing the raga scale in different kAlams until Smt Devi finished rotating her rosary during her japam! Amma would cite innumerable instances of how her dedication to the divine art gained her much recognition from the pAmarAs and the panDitAs alike. Finally, she would owe all of what she was to Mama. ‘But for him I wouldn’t be what I am today’ she would say in total reverence.

Her penchant for the glass bangles, perfume and flowers was something unique. Every time I told her that I would be going to Madurai for a concert, Amma would give me a talk on the excellent glass bangles that one can buy at the entrance of the Minakshi shrine. She would feel immensely happy if somebody got her the glass bangles, especially of the dark red and green shades. Similarly, she used to be so fond of good perfumes and flowers, particularly the jasmine. Amma would talk about how a family should work. She agreed with the dynamism of the woman and at the same time expected her to be in line with the ways of her husband. It was absolutely amazing, that, for the supreme celebrity status that both Amma and Mama enjoyed their life style was one that was simple and lofty in ideal.

By evening, as the card game would come to a close, Amma would spend a few moments with Mama, watching the final rounds and retire early after dinner. As I would lie in my berth with the thoughts of the afternoon tossing in my mind, I would thank the Almighty for having blessed me with the noble association of Smt M S Subbulakshmi & Shri T Sadasivam.

After the splendid niraval at o jagajjanani drenched in the nectar of kalyANI, at the Delhi concert, I would be reminded of the king ParIkshit who got his name because he saw the Lord while he was still in the womb. After all, I have also grown up with Amma’s music right from my mother’s womb! She sang for my mother’s seemantam!!!

 
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