A daughter remembers…

Radha Viswanathan re-lives moments of living and performing with an icon, to Ranjani Govind.

Updated - February 26, 2015 08:58 pm IST

Published - February 26, 2015 08:38 pm IST

Radha Viswanathan. Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

Radha Viswanathan. Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

“It’s comforting to see my grand-daughter Aishwarya become a serious performer. I remember the days when I would wonder whether there would be anyone in the family to carry the legacy forward. My prayers seem to be answered,” says the 80-year-old Radha Viswanathan, daughter of M.S. Subbulakshmi, during a recent interview in Bengaluru.

Radha was recently honoured during the release of an album of a nearly 40-year-old soundtrack of MS and hers, in Bengaluru, with veteran mridangam vidwan T.K. Murthy and former ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan participating. The album was recorded in Mumbai by the National Centre of Performing Arts (NCPA) and is now being brought out in association with Sony Music.

Radha is happy that the rare gems from the 1970s, was now being shared with rasikas. “It is a historic occasion for our family.”

Radha, who accompanied her mother for over 60 years, be it at live concerts or recordings, cherishes every memory of the time she spent with her iconic mother. “I was blessed to have a mother who was an embodiment of compassion,” she says, as she gets nostalgic. Radha’s mobility might have been restricted to a wheelchair owing to several health issues, but her zest for life, passion for music and elephantine memory keep her as youthful as ever. She can leave you stumped with her recollection of events, rolling back to instances when as a four-year-old she remembered the time when MS entered her family.

Talking about her computer-like memory, Radha says, “Storing information is inherent to my persona. Every time I sang a kriti leant instantly at class, Semmangudi mama would say, ‘You have a camphor-like brain, catching everything instantly!’” recalls Radha, who always made notations of the trickiest of sangatis.

Looking settled in her son V. Shrinivasan’s home, the contentment is apparent on her still radiant face. “It’s rewarding to have taught Aishwarya nearly 500 kritis. Do you realise that it is authentic Semmangudi, Musiri and T. Brinda schooling that I have passed on? My younger grand-daughter Saundarya too is catching up,” she says.

But why didn’t MS train other students? “My mother was too busy an artist to teach. She was incredibly humble and used to continuously learn from others and considered herself a student all her life,” says Radha. There were instances when Radha learnt from Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer as MS was too busy. Radha would later sing what she had learnt to her mother. “In fact, we practised together to get the nuances right,” she remembers.

Radha stepped on to the music platform as a four-year-old, singing tail-enders or the so-called ‘tukkadas.’ “That was the beginning of my musical journey. But later I learnt from Mayavaram Krishna Iyer and GNB’s sishya, T.R Balu,” she says. Once when MS was unwell, Musiri came visiting. Radha had then sung ‘Saraseeruha’ in Nattai and ‘Sudhamayi’ in Amruthavarshini. Fourteen years later, when the same kritis were presented at the Central College of Music where Musiri was the principal, he remembered, “I recall Radha singing these kritis as a six-year-old. Even then, I knew she would go a long way.”

It was Musiri who had advised them about the importance of ‘voice synchrony;’ he had told Radha, “Your voice should blend with MS’s and sound like a single, integrated tenor.” No wonder their Vishnu Sahasranamam recording is known for this quality! “In the line, “Amaaani Maanado Maanyo,” when MS briefly stopped to take a breath, it had to be re-recorded, but Amma insisted it be left alone. ‘Let people know that Radha sang along,’ Amma said.”

What was special as far as their voice experimentation was concerned were the lessons that MS and Radha got from T. Brinda and T. Muktha, who had by then set a trend in high-and low-octave singing. Kritis such as ‘Janani Ninnuvina’ in Ritigowla, ‘Raave Himagiri’ in Thodi and ‘Teera teeyaga raada’ in Gowlipantu that saw MS taking to the base and Radha singing in the higher octaves, became a rage with audiences.

Father Sadasivam’s love for dance saw Radha and Anandi (daughter of Kalki Krishnamurthy) team up and learn Bharatanatyam from Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai. Her ability to learn and absorb was so amazing that Radha had her arangetram, along with Anandi, as an 11-year-old! They performed to packed audiences, effortlessly. “Even here, Amma would sing padams for us. Who can forget the rave reviews that the two got for their superb pairing in ‘Maalai Pozhudinilae’ and ‘Thayae Yashoda’?

Says Radha’s son, Shrinivasan, “In 2010, when my mother was asked to do abhinaya at the Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhana, she obliged and left the the audiences in tears. And mind you, she was sitting all the while!”

It was her love for song and dance that Radha saw act as the young Bharatan in ‘Shakuntalai’ in 1940 and as Bala Meera in ‘Meera’ in 1946. “By the time, the Hindi version came, I had grown taller and so I did not act in it,” she says. When Radha was13, she had led the chorus in ‘Meera’ and had the music director Bhattacharya refer to her as ‘my boss.’

Born in 1934, December 11, in Gobichettipalayam, Radha was married to Viswanathan and went to Ahmedabad. But Radha’s passion for music and MS’s need for a vocal support soon brought them together and they travelled the world and became ambassadors of Carnatic music.

From Radha’s memory bank

* MS always advised me and my sister Vijaya to have a smile on our faces while singing.

* We took classes from Semmangudi, Musiri, Brinda-Muktha, K.V. Narayanaswamy, Siddeshwari Devi in Hindustani, Sandhyavandanam Srinivasa Rao and Meera bhajans from Dilip Kumar Roy.

* Radha still remembers the first concert at The Music Academy. Prime Minister Nehru was to inaugurate. The Udaipur Maharaja, mesmerised by our Kalyani rendering, had offered MS his kingdom!

* She recalls MS’s ‘never-question’ attitude towards her father Sadasivam’s ‘concert listing’ as a mark of respect for his knowledge and intuitive knack of planning.

* Once, Radha danced in front of Mahatma Gandhi with MS singing ‘Ghana Shyam Aaaye Re’ at the Birla House in Delhi. “And Gandhiji really enjoyed my performance!”

From the NCPA archives

The CD with 16 songs of M.S. Subbulakshmi and Radha Vishwanathan that Sony Music has released in association with the National Centre of Performing Arts (NCPA), is part of “Masters Works” series,” which was recorded in the 1970s.

Shridhar Subramaniam, president, Sony Music said, “Two more live concerts of MS and Radha, with Karaikkudi Mani on the mridangam will be released in two months. Also in the pipeline is one with Alla Rakha and Zakir Hussain on the tabla.”

NCPA had 5000 hours of live and studio-recordings in several genres mainly done in Mumbai from 1971 for their archival and academic purposes and directed towards student-researchers. Soon, recordings of Pandit Jasraj, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Ustad Rashid Khan, Gangubai Hangal, Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna and M. L. Vasanthakumari, were released by Sony Music.

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