Shanmukhananda Sabha's ceremony had not a drab moment.
Award ceremonies can turn out to be slow affairs, because no matter what the interest of the organisation concerned or the awardees, certain constraints of the occasion demand a formality that weighs against the entertainment quotient. When the Sree Shanmukhananda Sangeetha Sabha began its annual Thyagaraja Music Festival by giving awards to various luminaries in performing arts, therefore, one could at best expect sincerity without fireworks. However, all the recipients that day, as well as the chief guest, the Governor of Andhra Pradesh ESL Narasimhan, manage to belie such stereotypes.
While Gurus Shanta and V.P. Dhananjayan were honoured with the title Natya Ratna, theatre personality Y.G. Mahendran was named Nataka Ratnum. O.S. Arun received the Nada Bhushanum award as did the sisters Ranjani and Gayathri. (The sisters however could not attend the ceremony and received the award later in the festival.)
The chief guest began his remarks by saying he first accept the invitation with alacrity, as an honour, but then thought what could a “mundane” person like him say amidst such great artistes. However, he went on to give ample evidence of his personal experience of having heard and appreciated each of the artistes on stage. Later after receiving the award, V.P. Dhananjayan mentioned what a double delight it was for him, since the Governor was his old mate from his school days in Adyar, Chennai.
The Chennai-based Mahendran, known for his subtle humour, jocularly hoped the Governor would soon be posted to Tamil Nadu, but assured him that the state would not erupt into demands of “a separate Mylapore, a separate T. Nagar,” naming Chennai neighbourhoods. He had the house in stitches when he referred to Dhananjayan's remark that when he played the role of saint-composer Tyagaraja, people used to touch his feet. “I too once thought of producing a musical play on Tyagaraja,” announced Mahenran. “People fell at my feet, saying please don't commit such a folly. The action was the same, only the purpose was different.”
It was hard for Arun to top such a rousing speech, but with his sincere recollections of his struggles and experiences with the Sabha, he too held audience interest. Later vocalist S. Sowmya gave a fine concert, setting off the musical part of the proceedings on a traditional note with “Sri Ganapatini” of Tyagaraja that traditionally flags off the aradhana of the bard of Thiruvaiyaru.
If there was one irritant, it was the creaky state of the seats and doors at Andhra Bhawan's Ambedkar auditorium.