R.K. Srikantan’s wife Maitreyiamma believes that her humble wants and commitment to family allowed her husband to pursue music peacefully
Who is an achiever? The accomplished or the individual who helps one realise goals? For Maitreyamma, wife of the late Carnatic doyen R.K. Srikantan, it has been 70 years of marriage that she cherishes. “I had a huge family to maintain with my husband’s modest income way back in the 1950s and 60s. But with fine arts as our passion and vocation, we could live a simple life of meagre wants with contentment. The philosophy of our life rested in music, which is something my husband Srikantan believed and lived passionately,” she explains.
Maitreyamma’s father, Subramanya Harve, was an accountant at the Indore Royal Court and later shifted to Mysore. It was there that young Maitreyi learnt vocal music and to play the harmonium from vidwan Ramaiyyer. This, her father thought, was good enough for his daughter to set feet into a family steeped in music. “I gradually sensed that my husband worship’s music. He was flooded with concerts and was always busy with it. I am glad I took charge of everything at home…be it children’s education, buying groceries, cooking to meet every demand, keeping accounts or saving for my daughters! The seven decades were smooth sailing,” says Maitreyamma, who was married in 1944.
Earning was only from her husband’s music tuitions. “Before I was 35 I had seven children,” says Maitreyamma. “The defining moment was Srikantan’s Akashavani job in 1947 in Mysore that fixed for him a salary of Rs. 40 a month!” she adds.
Srikantan may have decided to stay put in Karnataka, but when the choice of joining Akashavani Bangalore came knocking, it was only Maitreyamma’s prudent advice that proved a turning point to Srikantan’s career. “Mysore will not help you widen your musical interests, we have to accept this offer for your sake,” she had advised. “What my husband feared was the high expenses involved here, including the rent. But believe me, within the next few years we bought this Seshadripuram site for Rs. 3,000 and built the house in 1962.” It may not have been easy to live hand to mouth. “Our wants were bare minimum. Even in the Sixties I had only two saris. One that I would wear, and the other which went for a wash,” she remembers. “Rice, oil and all the groceries were so cheap. When my husband retired from Akashavani, his salary had touched Rs. 2500 a month! I even bought gold and silver for my five daughters from our small-time savings.”
When it comes to music, Srikantan had Maitreyi for a critic too. “Why did you finish the concert without a tillana? It was rather abrupt!” she would ask. “I remember making my son Ramakanth sit with his other students and learn music. That was how the prodigy in him was identified. For my daughter Ratnamala, I went to AIR and brought the form for a national competition. All this gives me a sense of accomplishment and feel comforted that my husband’s legacy is being taken forward.”