For MS music was a therapy of the soul. In music, she found strength, solace and stimulation. By giving her music everything she had, she received in return a blissfulness nothing else could give her.
To know how music transcends all barriers, all one has to do is to listen to M S Subbulakshmi sing. Her mellifluous voice, her phenomenal range, her command over the nuances of classical music, her exquisite diction and, above all, her emotional and aesthetic appeal have held audiences worldwide spellbound. Her long and fascinating odyssey began in the south Indian temple town of Madurai and took her to various places including Madras, New York and London. Her music has attained universal dimensions. She has achieved icon status in the pantheon of Indian classical music, especially on the basis of her concerts for charitable causes. If her repertoire is legendary, so is her humility, despite having won the Magsaysay Award (1974) and the Bharat Ratna (1998).
This authoritative biography unravels the saga of one of India’s most revered and respected musicians, whose name has become synonymous with bhakti (devotion).
While narrating the fascinating story of MS, the author brings into sharp focus an entire gamut of related events, both historical and contemporary. For instance: how the arts in general and Carnatic music in particular developed over the centuries; the significance of the radio and gramophone records in shaping the careers of several classical musicians; the role of Tamil cinema in popularizing classical music; the impact of the freedom struggle and subsequent independence on MS’ career and profession; the role of her husband (T Sadasivam) in deciding her life pattern; the interaction between MS and the North Indian ustads; and the current trends in experimental music and their possible detrimental effect on the purity of Carnatic music.
Like music, bhakti came to her MS naturally. When she combined the power of music with the appeal of bhakti, she got as close as a twentieth-century singer could to saintliness. It was the grand culmination of her evolution as a musician and as an Indian.
She always remained conscious of the need to take music to as wide a world as possible. More than her contemporaries, she reached beyond her home town, beyond her home state and beyond even her country to become a universal ambassador of Carnatic music. It was no small achievement for a person who had virtually no schooling, could not speak any language with confidence other than her native tongue and was surrounded by social obstacles traditionally considered insurmountable. She triumphed by just being herself.