On September 3, 1977, The Hindu announced that “Smt. M.S. Subbulakshmi will leave Delhi on September 7 on a concert tour of the U.S. to raise funds for the two new Hindu temples – dedicated to Ganesha in New York and to Venkateswara in Pittsburg. This will be her second tour of the States. It is sponsored by the Hindu Temple society of North America of which Mr. C.V. Narasimhan, Under Secretary-General of the United Nations, is the president.”

The press announcement noted that she would be accompanied by “Mr. T. Sadasivam and Mr. K.R. Athmanathan (manager). Her accompanists will be Smt. Radha Viswanathan (vocal), Kandadevi Alagiriswami (violin) and Guruvayur Dorai (mridangam).”

The group travelled via Moscow to London and on September 11, M.S. sang at Her Majesty’s Theatre in aid of the U.K. Centre of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. She “received several bouquets and a standing ovation from a packed audience numbering over a thousand.”

B.K. Nehru, India’s High Commissioner to the U.K., praised her for her generous support for a worthy cause, which netted the Bhavan 2,000 Pounds. On September 14, the Bhavan and the YMCA London held a reception in honour of M.S. and T. Sadasivam at the end of which she and Radha sang bhajans. The Bhavan authorities had every reason to be delighted for the money brought their dreams of purchasing a building in West Kensington closer to fruition. They could now plan to move in by the end of the year.

Dedicated to Ganesha

The party left for New York on September 14. Her U.S. tour began on her birthday, September 16, which was also Vinayaka Chaturthi that year. She gave a brief devotional recital at the Ganesha Temple in New York and then embarked on a coast to coast tour that saw her perform at Toronto, Dallas, Houston, Austin, Washington DC, Chicago, Poughkeepsie, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles. This was followed by performances in London, Germany and Geneva before she returned to India in the second week of November.

At Washington DC, where she sang on September 30, M.S. was given a standing ovation both before and after the performance. In the words of Easwar Sagar, The Hindu’s correspondent, this was “a special gift to the artiste, yesterday was Mrs. Subbulakshmi’s 61st birthday”. Presumably it was date of her birth star as per the Hindu calendar. On October 21, M.S. sang at the Carnegie Hall, New York, which according to The Hindu’s correspondent “is a musical landmark and has featured concerts of musical celebrities of the world since 1918.” He went on to write that a “large audience including a cross-section of the diplomatic community at the United Nations was treated to melodious Carnatic music” and that C.V. Narasimhan presented her as “the first lady of Carnatic music.” The concert tour had benefited the two temples immensely and at Carnegie Hall it was announced that that evening’s performance would be “issued as a concert album and its sale proceeds would go to the temples.”

Her home is sold

M.S. and her group returned to Madras on November 15. During her tour she had ensured that plans for two temples could transform into reality thanks to the money that was collected through her performances.

The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan could have a new home. Yet the star herself was returning to Madras where she was now without a residence to call her own. The sprawling Kalki Gardens where she and her husband had lived for three decades and had entertained every celebrity possible and had hosted lunches and dinners for many friends and well-wishers, had been sold owing to financial compulsions. She and Sadasivam moved into rented and very small premises in the Valluvar Kottam area. A way of life had ended. It would have been a shock for anyone and for today’s generation where a “mood out” can happen for anything trivial, undertaking an international concert tour and making a success out of it while something as traumatic as the sale of a loved home was taking place, would appear inconceivable. Yet M.S. and Sadasivam had done it, thereby proving that their faith and Gandhian way of life were unshakeable.

Every paisa earned during the concert tour had gone for charity. Had M.S. or Sadasivam so wished, they could have asked for and got a share of the proceeds for themselves. But this was anathema to both of them. On learning of their living in rented premises, M.G. Ramachandran as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, offered them a Government bungalow for free. But the couple refused.

Theirs were hands that could extend only to perform acts of charity and never to receive them. And they practised this till the end.

(The author can be contacted at srirambts@gmail.com)