A life in
waters run deep
helps her feel better
M.S. Subbulakshmi, shared a devotee’s relationship with music. Radha Balakrishnan pays a tribute to the legendary singer who passed away recently.
M.S. Subbulakshmi, the embodiment of music, perhaps the most charismatic artiste of our times, held centrestage for more than 60 years. Providence had blessed her with a honeyed voice with an exclusive, rich timbre that was unequalled. In millions of homes in India and abroad, Subbulakshmi’s rendering of Sri Venkatesa Suprabatham and Sri Vishnu Sahasranam provides spiritual succor and tranquillity to generations trapped in the hurly-burly of every day work.
MS, as she was popularly and affectionately known, a multifaceted personality, could traverse spaces and distances to strike a rapport with people from different cultural backgrounds.
Born on September 16, 1916, into the family of Subbramani lyer and Shanmugavdion at the temple town of Madurai in Tamil Nadu, MS was formally initiated to singing by her mother who was a noted veena player. She gave her first stage performance at eight year of age. MS immortalised many songs including Vaishnava Janalto — a favourite of Mahatma Gandhi, Meera bhajans, Annamacharaya kirtans and many more. Invited to render a concert before the UN General Assembly in 1966, she kept the audience, comprising many heads of state, spellbound. She also acted in a few Tamil films during her youth. Her first movie, Sevasadanam was released in 1938, followed by Shatemthalai, Savithri and Meera to mention a few. A globetrotter, MS was the first woman to be awarded the Sangita Kalanidhi by the Madras Music Academy. She was honoured with the Magasaysay Award in 1974 for giving maximum benefit concerts and was honoured with India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna in 1996.
Her marriage to T. Sadasivam, a veteran nationalist, in 1940 was a major turning point in her life. The fact that MS belonged to the Devadasi (temple dancer) clan did not deter the young idealist from marrying her. He gave up his job and concentrated on guiding MS’ musical jouney. She always described her husband as a friend, philosopher and guide who moulded her music and concerts to perfection. The concerts were always recalled as being throughly rehearsed and flawless. MS would have still been a lodestar in the musical constellation, but it was her husband who selflessly and self-effacingly stood behind her all those years to ensure that she reached where she did.
MS supported many philanthrophic activities. In 1944, following Rajaji’s suggestion, MS conducted a series of benefit concerts to collect funds for the Kasturba Memorial fund. This was perhaps the first of the benefit concerts which MS conducted to collect funds for a cause. She treasured the letter she received from Gandhiji in appreciation of her work. Both MS and her husband helped a staggering variety of public causes, both by donating royalities from her LPs and by benefit performances. MS had cut discs to provide funds for the Bhaarathi Memorial Mantap, Gandhi Memorial Mantap, Hindi Prachar Sabha, the Kamakshi and Ramaswamy temples... the list goes on. She also donated generously to Sankara Nethralaya Research Foundation, Chennai. The Magsaysay Award money of $10,000 was promptly donated to three different causes in India. Perhaps, the most touching aspect of MS and her husband’s involvement in charity was when the latter announced that MS would no longer sing for money at a time when the couple were facing severe financial difficulties. Their bungalow ‘Kalki’ gardens’ was sold to meet the debts. From a very lavish lifestyle, they had moved into a simple rented house.
To MS, music was not merely an art form. Given her total dedication and involvement, it was a penance that is larger than life itself. If she strode like a colossus on the scene of Indian music all these years, it is because she inhaled music with every breath. MS strove tirelessly towards perfection in the diction of innumerable songs in more than 20 languages.
The characteristic simplicity of her style, without nerve-wracking bungee jumping displays, is symbolic of innate sophistication. The dignified manner with which she conveyed her ideas should serve as a lesson to modern-day hopefuls.
In September, 1947, A.I.R. contacted Sadasivam to inquire whether MS could sing a few bhajans on October 2, Bapu’s birthday, To every body’s surprise, Gandhiji insisted on MS rendering Hari Thuma Hari, a Meera bhajan, Sadasivam humbly sent a message stating that MS was not familiar with the tune and the song. Gandhiji sent word that it did not matter. He would rather have it spoken by Subbulakshmi than sung by others.
"I am a mere Prime Minister, but you are a queen, Queen of song", said Jawaharlal Nehru while paying tribute to MS Subbulakshmi, after a charity recital in New Delhi on November 29, 1953.
Her concerts had melody and simplicity of presentation—all part and parcel of a well thought out process to maintain an aesthetic and exalted ambience. She was humility personified. I had the honour of sitting on the stage way back in 1945, as a small child when MS came to New Delhi to perform in the Karnataka Sangeetha Sabha. Much later, MS visited Chandigarh in November, 1971, to give a concert under the aegis of Tamil Manram. The contact was scheduled to start at 4.20 pm, at Bhargava Auditorium, PGI. I went to the greenroom at 4.10 pm to offer a string of jasmine. To my surprise, MS was already there with all her accompanists tuning their respective instruments. Both MS and Sadasivam were sticklers for time. MS started her concert with Guru Nanak Dev’s shabad, much to the audience’s delight. It was Gurpurb. I could see the audience becoming emotionally moved. The next day she came to our place for breakfast. Without fail, she had the old faded jasmine string on her. That was MS.
A moving performance by Kiron Kher in Pakistani filmmaker Sabiha Sumar’s eloquent Punjabi film Khamosh Pani shows how men fight battles over the bodies of women, writes Nirupama Dutt
ONE heard of this film when friends like Navtej Johar and others went to Pakistan to do a film that had actors from both countries. Next, one started hearing about the awards and accolades it was getting abroad. Punjabi poet Amarjit went gaga over it in an e-mail. Meanwhile cine-directors seemed to have taken to Indo-Pak themes with a never-before enthusiasm. One saw Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s adaptation of Amrita Pritam’s novel Pinjar and more recently Yash Chopra’s Veer-Zaara. But seeing Khamosh Pani was an intense experience because as a film it stands a class apart. It is indeed the most significant film of the sub-continent in recent times. The small elite Punjabi audience that had come to see the film shared this opinion. Of course, there were people on a nostalgia trip telling one another, "My village is in this film." But when the film ended after a brief 90 minutes, it was a standing ovation and not even a whisper for so overcome was everyone.
The film opens on a picturesque Pothohar village off Rawalpindi. Ayesha, a middle-aged village woman is drying clothes with her friend Shabbo. Ayesha is very much at home living as a widow in that she was born to. Her adolescent son and she live on her late husband’s pension and she earns a little by teaching Quran to young girls. Her son Salim is in love with a village girl Zubeida and Ayesha wants the boy to start earning so that he can marry his sweetheart. Life seems to be going on with its small joys and sorrows, when suddenly Gen. Zia-ul-Haq overthrows the Bhutto government in a coup and a repressive dictatorship begins. This is also the time when fundamentalists are indoctrinating youths. Salim caught between two strong women, his mother and love, finds it an easy means to assert his own identity. Three superb performances come from Kiron Kher as Ayesha, Aamir Malik as Salim and Shipa Shukla as Zubeida.
In fact, the Chandigarh girl Kiron, groomed by Balwant Gargi for the stage in the early 1970s, in a remarkable restrained yet intense performance carries the film through. Little wonder the best actress award at the Cape Town World Cinema Festival came her way for this performance, a very antithesis of the rather loud role that she did very well in Bhansali’s Devdas. Kiron has a fine social status in the village even though there are mild suggestions that there is something of the past that troubles her in flashes. And there is a leather-bound memory box which in West Punjab was called a yakdan that she returns to time and again. As the film unrolls, a jatha of Sikhs comes from India for pligrimage to the gurdwara. Among them is a man who is searching for his sister lost some 30 years ago during the Partition of the country. He starts making inquiries and is led to his sister Veero, the woman who will not go to the well. Veero is none other than Ayesha, a young girl of 15 at the time of the Partition. She refused to jump into the well like her mother, sister and other women of the family at the behest of the men lest they are abducted.
She is abducted and then she marries one of her abductors, Salim’s father. As the truth dawns on Salim that his mother is of kafir origin, his own identity as a devout believer and crusader is threatened. The leaders want his mother to come out in the open and proclaim that she had abandoned by choice her false faith to embrace the true faith. The brother wants to take her to India to give solace to their dying father. Ayesha also loses the social position she had carved out for herself in the village. So much so that even her best friend Shabbo start avoiding her. There is just one choice left to her. The choice of jumping in the well. Salim hands the locket with his mother’s picture as a young girl to Zubeida and goes onto become a fanatic leader.
However, woman’s struggle is not over with the death of Ayesha. In the flash forward, there is Zubeida wearing Ayesha’s locket as she goes out to work. She is a single working woman of the city with an identity of her own. She may be sad but she is determined and rejects the speech that her childhood sweetheart is making on the small screen. It is on a note of hope that the film ends and filmmaker Sabiha Sumar says, "Violence in any society affects women directly. This is true of Bosnia, Assam, Sri Lanka or for that matter Kashmir. I have chosen a chapter from Pakistan’s history to project this aspect." And it has been projected sans any compromise to make it a ‘hit’ as they would say. It is serious and authentic cinema in populist times. The film has won 14 international awards and one waits to see Sabiha’s well-begun journey as a filmmaker.
For the homegrown Kiron this film is
one in which she has given a memorable performance. Commenting on the
film, she says, " Khamosh Pani deals with women’s
empowerment. In our society women don’t have much of a choice in any
decision. But this rustic woman who was once Veero and is now Ayesha
makes a choice quietly. What I liked also was that the film is that the
film is a protest against growing fundamentalism in our society."
For a viewer clapping speechlessly in the theatre it is the best film of
the Partition and after, after Govind Nihalani’s tele-film, based on
Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas. In fact, Khamosh Pani takes over
the period Tamas closed with. It is of course the first-ever
WHAT is the common link between Meena Kumari and Deepti Naval? Many would at once say, "Gulzar." This is so because both had a close association with the filmmaker and poet. But there is more to it than that. Both Bollywood actresses have a common link of poetry. Meena Kumari penned her loneliness into poignant verses. Deepti had published many years ago an anthology of verse in Hindi called Lamhe and it had the distinct Gulzar influence. One line that still lingers in the memory is Kaisa hoga Mumbai sochate thhe hum apne Punjab mein. Deepti, as many would know, is an Amritsar lass.
Deepti did some covetable roles in Hindi films and she symbolised the image of the girl next door in Sai Paranjpe’s Chashme Baddoor. Her other memorable films include Ek Baar Phir, Junoon, Damul and Mirch Masala. The personal life of this talented actress has been none too happy. Her marriage with filmmaker Prakash Jha broke and she suffered great personal loss when her fiancé Vinod Pandit died. Neither did she move to make a transition from the heroine to character roles.
The result was depression and blues, which find their way into verse. She released her book of poems in English called Black Wind and other Poems in the Captial recently. It has been published by MapinLit, Mallika Sarabhai’s publishing house. The book is divided into two sections. The first is one on her own life and the second on mentally ill women she met in an asylum while doing research for a role. These poems have a marked Sylvia Plath influence. Of her own life and poetry, she says, "The dark phase is over and I am moving on." — ND
Contrary to popular perception, the children of those in high offices do not always have it easy but have to bear the burden of the office their parent holds. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's family has gone to great lengths to remain anonymous, and even their security cover is as discrete as can be. But can you escape the tag of being the PM's child?
It seems that even you can't run far enough from the spotlight. Uncomfortably in the glare is Amrit Singh, the youngest daughter of the PM, a lawyer from Yale, working with the New-York based American Civil Liberties Union, which is a premier establishment known for championing civil liberty of individuals and taking on governments and big business alike.
The intrepid attorney has successfully taken on the US military establishment over prison abuses in Iraq. Last week, the Pentagon had announced that four soldiers of a US special operations team have been punished and reassigned other duties for abusing some Iraqi prisoners with Taser guns that cause electric shocks. Amrit is one of the attorneys who invoked the US Freedom of Information Act and waged a legal battle to get documents that Pentagon would not part with easily. "The public must know the full truth about the US government's involvement in this scandal", said Amrit. With headlines like "PM's daughter versus US army", one hopes Amrit is allowed to do her work quietly without undue media attention or her connection detracting from the significance of the uphill task that she is engaged in, against all odds.