M S Subbulakshmi the definitive biography by T J S George is a fine example of how diligent research on an interesting personality can create magic. M S was born to a Devdasi. There are disputes as to who was her father- a famous musician or a lawyer? She plainly rejected her mother’s proposal of she being comfort of a wealthy chettiar. This is when much married Sadasivam entered her life. The two started living together and married on his wife’s demise. It was his dexterous hand that took M S’s career to unprecedented heights. However that doesn’t rob away credit from her mother who single handedly brought her talent up to the rasikas of Madras.
It would have been easier to confine this book to M S alone. But the author goes an extra-mile and tells us about the origin of Carnatic music, the divide between Carnatic and Hindustani music. He also introduces us to contemporaries of M S, political clout of Sadasivam, socio-political scenario of the nation, cinema and many other things. Even the lives of passing characters like MS’s sister and Sadasivam’s wife too are very well articulated. You are able to get into the psyche of these men and women.
The author has filled this book with great nuggets of information. He tells us how Violin, a western instrument, became an integral part of Carnatic music. It tells us how M S who was drawn to Carnatic music devoted herself to the cause of Tamil isai. Her failed affair with GNB finds a mention too. For the first time I came to know the complete name of M S. It is Madurai Shanmmugavadivu Subbalakshmi. The tale of how dassi attam was renamed Bharatnatyam, that too quite recently is equally interesting.
The author says that conformism was usually deprecated as an inhibitor of initiative and a tranquillizer of the mind. But in Subbulakshmi’s case it proved a pillar of strength. The advantage of a life circumscribed by tradition was that it left no gaps to be filled. One knew what had to be done, how to do it and who would do it. There was no room for loneliness; there was no lack of direction. He further says that in musical terms, she was not among the maestros in the front row. If there was anything distinctive about her style it was that she sang heart to heart.
There is a submissive wife and a dominant husband, but both compliment each other perfectly. This book is as much about Sadasivam as it is about M S. This book recreates an entire era in front of your eyes. It entertains you, encourages you and even makes your eyes moist. This book is certainly not to be missed.