Tyagaraja’s 250th anniversary is quite possibly the biggest among many milestones this year. Thankfully, most of the celebrations of the bard consist of concerts featuring his songs and not speeches, while there is no shortage of books or weighty theses on him.
There may be among us those who have other personal favourites among Carnatic music composers, but rarely is Tyagaraja’s pre-eminence, his superiority among equals as vaggeyakaras, questioned by even the most objective, balanced experts among musicians, critics and rasikas alike. In addition to his massive repertoire of ragas and compositions, not to mention his famed devotion to Rama, Tyagaraja was verily the William Shakespeare of our music in his acute observations on human nature and in giving expression to his underlying philosophy in his compositions.
Tributes to his vast oeuvre and his exemplary life are being poured daily across the globe, and we at Sruti are no exception, as we attempt offering fresh perspectives on his work in our pages this year. Tyagaraja has been so extensively written about that it is a serious challenge to say something new about him, a challenge our contributors seem to have negotiated successfully.
An event to mark the centenary of music and dance critic Subbudu or P.V. Subramaniam will have concluded by the time you read these pages. Subbudu has been the most celebrated (often feared) critic in these two fields since Kalki Krishnamurti more than 70 years ago. Kalki it was who first spotted Subbudu’s talent, especially his wit, which is usually described as caustic. Subbudu wrote reviews in both English and Tamil with equal ease and sarcasm, and his columns were eagerly awaited by a legion of rasikas—rasikas of Subbudu as much as of the arts. His annual arrival from New Delhi—where he lived after he moved from Burma by foot as a refugee—in Chennai during the music season was advertised by the Indian Express as a major attraction of the festival. ‘Beware of Subbudu’ was the general tenor of the posters the newspaper splashed across the city, and the readers loved his no-holds barred critiques of musicians, especially senior vidwans. His fearlessness was admired by his followers, while some artists abhorred his presence in the auditorium and some others yearned to gain his nod of appreciation. His phenomenal memory and deep knowledge of music and dance helped him to dictate his reviews to an ever present typist-assistant without consulting any notes. Both in praise and in negative criticism, he avoided generalities and wrote in specific detail, though he tended to get carried away by his own penchant for puns and clever turns of phrase, sometimes crossing the limit of objective criticism, even getting personal. He seriously believed that readers should remember him rather than the object of his attentions!
P.S. Narayanan (75), Sruti’s publisher, passed away on 18 May after prolonged illness. Taking over as publisher from his father P.N. Sundaresan who passed away in 1994, Narayanan played a crucial role in the continuance of the magazine when the first editor-in-chief N. Pattabhi Raman died in December 2002. A former employee of Chemplast Sanmar, Narayanan initiated the discussions that eventually resulted in the entry of The Sanmar Group—with a reconstituted Sruti Foundation—into the management of Sruti. His death is a sad loss for the Sruti family.