Generous gestures

Generous gestures


Generous gestures

I had the privilege of interacting closely with (M S) Subbulakshmi amma and her “friend, philosopher and guide,” Sadasivam uncle. I enjoyed their hospitality when I visited them once at the sprawling Kalki Gardens, their home in Chennai. I was awed when amma, out of affection, served me food.

In 1965, my father represented our country in the Commonwealth Music Festival in England. In honour of his visit to England, Sadasivam uncle hosted a dinner party at his home, which I attended. Dishes were delectable. The highlight of the menu was mango pickle! Singer Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, one among the invitees, had a special word of praise for it. On hearing this, uncle Sadasivam asked his assistant to stuff two large containers with this “gourmet’s delight” and deliver them to him.

In the course of a conversation that followed the dinner, Sadasivam uncle recalled that business tycoon Birla had approached him for a wedding concert and that uncle had demanded Rs 10,000 as remuneration! (That was a lot of money for a vocalist to ask in those days). But the business tycoon had accepted it without qualms. Then Amma chipped in: “But I brought to his notice that we have to cough up the lion’s share of it as tax to the government.” To which uncle said, “Still, this high remuneration will improve our professional image. Besides, my policy is always to tap the rich and pat the poor.”

In 1980, Sadasivams moved to a small rental in Nungambakkam. They had parted with Kalki Gardens. This was the price he paid for his generous and charitable dispositions. When I visited him at his Nungambakkam house, I was wonderstruck at his compromising attitude. How he had reconciled from the luxury of a five-star lifestyle to that of a recluse in a small rental is a lesson for all of us. When he came across my quest for some medicine from abroad, he instantly instructed his secretary, Atma, to act on it.

Imagine my surprise! The medicine was delivered to my doorstep within a week. Despite my persuasions, the couple declined to accept any money for it. Later, through reliable sources, I understood there had been scores of beneficiaries of such gestures! The royalties and the heavy prize money presented to amma on winning the prestigious Magsaysay Award were all diverted to charities.

My father and amma were felicitated by the Tamil Nadu government in 1980. Speaking on the occasion, minister R M Veerappan shared with the audience that Sadasivams had politely declined the offer of a new house by the then chief minister M G Ramachandran. Shall we call this colossus ‘Mother Teresa of the music world’ who observed, ‘give, just give, until it hurts’?