Remembering MS

Her friend Chinnani

Chinnani and M. S. Subbulakshmi.

Chinnani and M. S. Subbulakshmi.   | Photo Credit: spl

M.S. was born on 16-9-1916 and Chinnani on 9-9-1919. And the two of them forged a friendship that lasted over 60 years.

M.S. was returning after a tiring day of shooting from the ‘Savithri’ sets on a breezy evening in Calcutta. As she was climbing up the steps of a Lake Market apartment, she did not fail to notice a nine-yard clad woman walking down. Chinnani recognised M.S. instantly, but wasn’t sure if it was right to offer a greeting. M.S. took a few steps back and asked, ‘Neenga Tamizha? Aathukku vango’ (Are you a Tamilian? Please visit us!). Those were the opening words of the association that survived six decades.

Over the next weeks, as M.S. was busy shooting, Chinnani played foster mother to Radha, who found company in Chinnani’s children, Rajalakshmi and Ramesh. Every evening, Radha was picked up when MS returned from shooting.

In the next couple of decades, M.S. and Chinnani kept up the ties through letters. MS was the prolific one, writing over 100 letters, in chaste Tamil, neat handwriting and observing paragraph rules. She even wrote from the aircraft on Air India stationery, while travelling to London and Edinburgh in 1966. Chinnani wrote a lot less, often bordering on scribbles. (She would read her own letter for clarity, when they met later).

They met at the annual music seasons and on a few other occasions in Bombay. Chinnani helped Radha to settle down in Ahmedabad, post her marriage, as MS was unable to take time off from her schedule. On Skanda Sashti day in 1968, Chinnani was knocked down by a car on a Matunga street and was hospitalised with serious hip and leg injuries. M.S. and Sadasivam visited her at the hospital. Naiveté personified, M.S. asked the doctor, “I am receiving an award in a couple of weeks (Sangitha Kalanidhi). Can she travel in a wheelchair to Chennai?”. The doctor obviously did not agree.

Chinnani had a good orientation in Carnatic music. She could sing over 100 kritis and was trained by Srikantiah. Yet, when the two met, their conversations revolved round – food, family, people, jewellery, saris, weddings, old times, navarathri kolu etc. — everything except music. Once when MS was receiving lessons from her guru, the phone rang. The aide informed her that it was Chinnani. After waiting for a few minutes, the guru packed up and told the aide, “Tell amma that I will continue the lesson tomorrow. This phone call will not end now.” He knew about their friendship. The guru was Musiri Subrahmanya Iyer.

The secret of durability of their friendship was that both did not seek any quid pro quo from each other. Chinnani scrupulously avoided seeking favours. The two decided to celebrate 50 years of their friendship with a lunch at Chinnani’s home. Someone had ordered a cake. But the cake shop wrote on the cake ‘for 60 years of friendship’ by mistake. Sadasivam, with his characteristic wit said, “Kunja, the cakeman (“kekkaamale”) has given you 10 more years with Chinnani!”

At the sadabishekam of Chinnani’s husband K.S. Mahadevan, a well-known music critic, M.S. and D.K. Pattammal sang in unison, ‘mamava pattabhirama’ in Manirangu.

Chinnani survived M.S. by ten years and would often wonder why she was chosen to be MS’s friend, despite no typical commonalities.

In this month of their birthdays, I salute MS, the legend, and Chinnani, my grandmother.

Bala Shankar

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 6:52:16 AM |

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