There have been sincere efforts made in the past to document the life of masters of Carnatic Music. However less in number these attempts have been, they have given us, in the absence of other documentation and sources, insights into the life and times of the masters and the changes in Carnatic music over the ages whenever they have been published. Four such books that I have read in the past many times over and that immediately come to my mind now are Great Masters of Carnatic Music 1930-1965 (Indira Menon, Indialog Publications Pvt. Ltd), The Madras Quartet – Women in Karnatak Music (Indira Menon, Roli Books), Carnatic Summer – Lives of twenty great exponents (Sriram.V, EastWest Books Pvt. Ltd) and MS – A life in Music (T.J.S. George, HarperCollins Publishers India). “Voices Within“, which can be termed as the latest offering in this series, by Bombay Jayashri, T.M. Krishna and Mythili Chandrasekar (Matrka, 2007) was released in Chennai yesterday.
In the words of the authors themselves – “It is not a collage of biographies“, which is where perhaps it seeks to be different from the earlier attempts. Which is also why I was perhaps a tad disappointed on reading it as I was expecting it to chronicle the lives of the masters in a greater detail. The amount of written matter inside the book also pales in comparison to its size itself. Having said that, the book contains some details of the lives of the masters not covered in the other books I named earlier, to get a sample of which you can read this article that appeared in The Hindu’s Sunday Magazine a few days back. The article contains almost all the text that is available in the book on Sri Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar. The voices “from the heart” of the authors that are insterspersed with the other content and the many photographs that adorn the pages are a welcome addition and form an integral component of the book.
The choice of just seven maestros from the many that lived and breathed Carnatic Music might raise several questions about the omission of the rest. The musicians that individuals feel should have also been included will also vary from individual to individual, which points to the fact that the line has to be drawn somewhere. Instead of criticizing why only these seven, as has been happening in some forums I have visited on the internet, it is more constructive and beneficial to savour what additional material has been contributed about these seven and move on. I feel the authors have done a very good job given the tough task of selection of a limited set of maestros to represent and given the time it takes to research and collect material on each one of them due to non-availability of ready material to refer from.
- Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, the margadarshi. For introducing the modern day kutcheri format and forever changing it.
- T.N. Rajarathnam Pillai, the one and only Nagaswara Chakravarthi, The Last Emperor. For fighting to give his instrument its rightful place and whose influence went way beyond his instrument.
- Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, The Grand Old Man of Carnatic music, with the longest presence on stage. For influencing not only the music, but also its organisation and administration.
- G.N. Balasubramaniam, the revolutionary. For a style and bani that opened unknown vistas and generated a new kind of audience fervour.
- Palghat Mani Iyer, the first and last word in South Indian percussion, timekeeper to the entire system.
- M.S. Subbulakshmi, The First Lady. For giving Carnatic music a place not only in the national fabric but also in the international arena.
- T.R. Mahalingam, maverick, genius. For going where few before him had dared to tread. And for unequivocally giving a completely new dimension to a piece of bamboo called the flute.
The book is priced at Rs. 1900 per copy and was available at a discounted price of Rs. 1710 per copy outside the Music Academy after the launch function.
(Pictures courtesy: The Hindu)