While a film song refers to the ‘magic’ post, super star MKT shows his sensitive side during a radio recital. Randor Guy
In the early days of All India Radio, during the 1940s, the High Court Beach - magic post with loudspeakers in the sand and not very far away from the Bay waters - was a major attraction for citizens and the rural folks visiting Madras during festive occasions such as Park Fair Exhibition held at the SIAA (South Indian Athletic Association,) Grounds during December.
Naïve villagers were amazed by music coming out of the magic metal post and this was featured in a hit song in ‘En Manaivi’ (‘My Wife, 1941), produced by AV. Meiyappan and directed by Sundar Rao Nadkarni. In it, a village belle sings the song (‘Lux Beauty’ R. Padma, slim and attractive, she played key roles in a few films and vamp in some before fading away. Her husband Sornappa was a prominent make-up man of those days).
The song goes like this: ‘Pattanathai parka parka pasi edukkalayey….sayangala nerathiley samudrakara orathiley mayamaana kambam onnu manushanpoley paaduthayyaaa…!’ (Seeing Pattanam [madras]… do not feel hungry…evening time on the seashore a magic post sings like a human being!)
Concerts by Carnatic musicians of the day were eagerly welcomed by listeners. One of them was M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, the first super star of South Indian Cinema. MKT was a highly disciplined person in spite of his star status, and two incidents in his career with AIR showed him as a man of high value. One will be narrated here.
In those days, the artist would sit in front of the microphone in the recording room where a red light would indicate that he should start singing. A few minutes before MKT was to go on air, he met T. Sankaran, the top executive and told him much to Sankaran’s shock that he would like the elderly thambura player to be replaced. It was too late to get a good substitute, and a beginner was brought in. Sankaran began to feel that MKT had developed a ‘starry’ attitude. When Bhagavathar came to collect his remuneration, which was then paid in cash, the famed musician felt that his good friend Sankaran was rather cold. MKT realised that Sankaran was probably upset as he had asked for a replacement of the thambura- player at the last minute. So he explained to Sankaran, the reason behind his action. He said that the elderly man was his guru, who had taught him music in the past much before he became famous, and he thought it was not proper that his guru should sit behind him and play the thambura. Sankaran was taken aback and moved by this. MKT also asked him to hand over the remuneration to his guru. When Sankaran did so, the elderly man was stunned and more so because he had forgotten that he had taught MKT music years ago! That was Bhagavathar .the man.
The other incident is equally interesting. (Sankaran, a good friend of this writer, was from the legendary ‘Veena’ Dhanammal family, and a top executive of AIR. An excellent raconteur but some of his tales are unprintable even in this permissive age! )