I never dreamt I’d be able to sing without amma around, says Radha Viswanathan

As we enter the Suswaralakshmi Foundation for Classical Music and Performing Arts, a wheelchair-bound Radha Vishwanathan, daughter of legendary Carnatic vocalist M.S. Subbulakshmi, is immersed in teaching her grandchildren.

“It’s a revival of sorts for me here in Bangalore. And the enormous Chamarajpet Ramseva Mandali audiences that my mother garnered were measures of our bond with the city,” Ms. Viswanathan tells The Hindu in an interview at her home on Bannerghatta Road at Gottigere, just days after Subbulakshmi’s 97th birth anniversary.

Did you ever imagine you will settle down in Bangalore?

Settling down in Bangalore a few years ago was a natural course for me as my son [V. Srinivasan] is here, but I never dreamt I’d be able to sing without amma around. When I accompanied her last in 1993, it was the end of a 60-year partnership that had taken me around the world. I am happy that my grandchildren Aishwarya and Saundarya are getting into the mould of M.S schooling. My mother was too busy to teach; she considered herself a student all her life.

We hear you sing more in your base voice now….

My voice lost its timbre after my operation in 1994. I was shattered for a while but I pulled myself together. I am excited to teach and perform with Aishwarya and have her accompany me in the upper octaves. I am reminded of my days with M.S. amma when as a four-year-old I first sat on the dais with her. The classic lines in kritis where we popularised the high-and low-octave singing were in Janani Ninnuvina in Reetigowla; Raave Himagiri in Todi; or Terateeyagaraada in Gowli Pantu. We learnt this styling from Brinda-Muktha.

You learnt from several stalwarts, and your students gain from this amalgam.

M.S. amma and I never missed our classes even when we were star performers. Our teachers included Semmangudi for serious ragas and kritis, Musiri Subramanya Iyer for pallavis, and T. Brinda for padams. My mother even learnt Dasara padas from R.K. Srikantan in Bangalore. I learnt from her that just as prayer is important every morning, diary writing every night is the best for developing computer-like memory. All these come in a package when I teach my students too.

We have heard of your photographic memory!

I recollect everything without a single piece of paper by God’s grace. I have taught 150 kritis to Aishwarya and I have a target of completing 500 more in the next three years. I have at least 1,000 kritis in my bank that M.S. amma and I learnt together, some of which weren’t even presented due to ill-health. I am teaching these to my students now.

Did your father generally do the concert packaging?

Subbulakshmi was made for singing, packaging a concert was never her forte. My father Sadasivam thought it was his prerogative to make the list with ragas and kritis and used to advise us on raga delineations, sangatis, neraval and swaras. Once he came to the dais to ask my mother to include Hindi bhajans because Surjit Singh Barnala sat through the whole concert.

And I cannot but ask: how did the fabulous MS-Blue come about?

This twin colour sari hue, MS Blue, which set a trend in silks, owes entirely to our exclusive weaver. Kancheepuram Muthu Chettiar would choose the colour, shot and design and restrict his creations to a few pieces for our family because he couldn’t take up extra work. That explains the exclusivity.