In the passing of SVK (S.V. Krishnamurthy) earlier this week, Carnatic Music lost a veteran critic. His reviews in The Hindu were widely read. So were his commentaries on several songs of Tyagaraja, which were compiled into volumes, titled Know Your Tyagaraja . Interestingly, he represented the second generation in his family to be associated with The Hindu . His father SVV (S.V. Vijayaraghavachariar) contributed articles regularly to the paper from the 1920s and between father and son, they had written for The Hindu for almost a century!
SVV was a discovery of The Hindu . A lawyer from Tiruvannamalai, he initially sent in articles and stories. These had a humorous slant that made A. Rangaswami Iyengar, then editor, invite him to begin a regular column. Titled ‘My Wife and I’, it appeared every alternate Saturday, the intervening week’s column being that of another veteran writer with a talent for humour — Hilton Brown, ICS.
‘My Wife and I’ became greatly popular. It had a wide canvas — there could be descriptions of audience reaction to a Devadasi dancing at a wedding, a hawker’s day as he sold his wares on the trams without buying a ticket, the slowness with which civic projects move, etc. He would write of dreams as well, one of a cricket match being memorable — all of a sudden he was “bowling for dear life with Gandhi for the wicket-keeper, and having for fieldsmen Annie Besant, Lord Birkenhead, Ramana Maharshi and Rabindranath Tagore. My servant Murugan was batting furiously with a road mender’s pick axe.”
But his best was reserved for observations on the city of Madras and here are a few samples. The Madras University — “has not produced one poet, one philosopher, one physicist, one chemist, one biologist, one inventor or one anybody who can be said to have added a millionth share to the sum total of human knowledge.” The Triplicane Tank was “covered green and consequently held more sacred and at least four unwary pedestrians walk into it every month mistaking it for a mossy lawn, get drowned and submit to post-mortem examination.” Those were the days of the Mylapore lawyer and so “motor horns hoot only affidavits, appeal memos and legal maxims” in that locality. According to SVV, the Guindy racecourse was the great leveller as everyone from HE The Governor to Muniammal, the vegetable seller congregated there.
SVV turned 60 on August 26, 1940. The Hindu in its editorial compared him to Mark Twain and Lewis Carol, claiming the world of SVV to be one which “reveals beauty in drabness and joy in the heart of the tedium.”
When he passed away in June 1950, The Hindu said that SVV, like Charlie Chaplin, was popular because in his writings the average reader could recognise himself. SVV, it said, laughed at everything: “the paraphernalia of modern life, the motor car, the shoes and sandals… and it must be added, the very newspaper in which his articles appeared”. He would have chuckled.