Song of Surrender

Monday, 17 September 2012

The day after MS left us…

By Raja Ramanathan

(Written on 12 December 2004)

Once again, history happened in my life, yesterday. MS passed away. In a few weeks I will be 55, and, I know that from yesterday, life will be very different.

I was introduced to MS, a few months before I was born. My father gave my mother a gramophone as a present to entertain herself as she waited for me to be born. In the extended family that lived in our house in Calcutta in 1949, the day began at around 6am with an MS ‘Meera’ song, and, ended around 11 at night with another MS song. This was much before music therapy was part of pre-natal training for expectant parents, and, contributed much to my sense of well-being and happiness as I sailed into the world.

As I grew up, MS was all the music I knew. Till about the age of ten, I did not know that there were other singers, too. Every song I knew, “Odi vilayadu pappa…” a rendering of a Bharati song for children that my brothers gifted me on my fifth birthday which had on the other side, his proud patriotism rendered in MS’s voice Velli pani malai and Devai Tamizh nattinele were all part of the music that played at home. My elder brother, Gopu, who is now listening to MS sing live in another plane of existence, was a great music lover. I remember around 1962 his making a trip to Moore Market (Chennai-vasis, remember that institution?) to search for old 78s of MS that he did not have in his collection.

MS was so integral to my life that she was there for all the joyous events of my life. When Lakshmi and I were expecting Geetu and later Sid, every morning started with a playing of MS reciting the Vishnu Sahasranamam. Her bhajans would float through the house whenever we could play them. When she sang Kabir, ‘Ja mukh Ram nahin woh mukh dhool bhari, you knew the conviction that Kabir brought to his life. Or the total surrender that she brought to ‘… Thakur tum sharanahi aayo.

I never understood the intricacies of Carnatic ragas. Nevertheless to understand MS you did not need to know anything about music. You could just start making love as she sang Ghanashyam aaya ri or lose yourself in the love of Sakuntala and Dushyanta as you listened to the soulful songs from Sakuntalai.

Just like MS went beyond the intricacies of raga and tala to touch your heart as she sang, she reached beyond the shores of India. I have often played her Vaishnava jana to to different spiritual groups and while the meaning of the words may not have been there for them, the appeal of her voice was prayer. No wonder Gandhiji often told her at his prayer meetings, ‘Subbulakshmi, ab tum gao…’

I have heard and seen MS seen, twice or thrice, live. The one occasion that remains etched in my memory is when she sang at the conclusion of a session of J. Krishnamurti’s talks at Vasanta Vihar in Chennai, one December, some thirty years ago. One could see that Krishnaji had moved beyond the confines of the mind as he sat transformed listening to the human nightingale sing. Sitting before me were two of my childhood heroes, Krishnaji, whose talks I did not understand but came attracted by a strange force, and, MS, whose music had nurtured me before I was born. The only individual missing was the hero of my political-social thought, Jawaharlal Nehru, Panditji.

Yesterday when I heard of her passing on, I wondered as to the song she would best have liked to hear as she moved on. Several came to my mind, and, the one that stayed was Kurai onrum illai Govinda ‘there is total contentment within me.’

I shall go down and play that song for her.

1 comment:

  1. Great write up and a much needed reminder :-))

    amas32

    ReplyDelete