Seven persons from the State have been chosen for the Padma Shri Award for their contribution in the fields of art, literature and education, medicine, and social work. Actor Sowcar Janaki, Sadir dancer R.Muthukannammal, Clarinet vidwan A.K.C. Natarajan and Shehnai maestro S. Ballesh Bhajantri have been chosen from the arts sector. In the field of literature and education, Pollachi-based Sirpi Balasubramaniam has been recognised. Diabetologist V.Seshiah has been honoured for his contribution to treating the condition, especially gestational diabetes,and S.Damodaran,a social worker, has been awarded for his work on constructing toilets and providing drinking water to remote villages.
Veteran actress Sowcar Janaki said: “I have won so many awards for my performances over the years, including lifetime achievement awards. But I am immensely proud of this nationalhonour. It is like a crown to all the other awards I have beenhonouredwith.”
Being honoured from Tamil Nadu, and being among people from different fields who have been recognised,was special, she said.
She made her debut in the 1950 film Shavukaru , directed by L.V. Prasad, opposite N.T. Rama Rao. In a career spanning over seven decades,Ms. Janaki started off as a radio artiste, and has worked in films across languages, including Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. She has also worked as a stage artiste. “Through my career in films, I have been very fortunate to work with the best of production houses and actors. I recently finished filming for a Telugu film, helmed by director Nandini Reddy,” said the veteran actor.
Muthukannammalmay have begun to show signs of her advancing age,but the Sadhir dancer and the last living Devadasi’s eyes twinkle when asked to perform. “I may stop walking, but I will never stop dancing,” she says. The Padma Shri award is not just a recognition of my work, but also that of my ancestors, who taught the art form to me, the 85-year-old says. Through this recognition, she hopes more people will try to learn Sadhirattam. Seventy-eight years after she first performed, she continues to teach the art form and visits various dance institutes across the State in the hope that it would be carried on after her. “We never wrote down the songs; everything is in my mind,”saysMs. Muthukannammal,who can sing in Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit and even Maithili.
At the age of 92,Tiruchi-based clarinet virtuoso AKC (Aenjala Kuppusami Chinnikrishna) Natarajan is elated to have received the Padma Shri award.
“Recognition is important for an artiste. I have always keenly anticipated the Padma Shri, because it is an official acknowledgement of one’s talent. It’s true that I have received many accolades and titles from a variety of institutions before. These are an expression of people’s affection for, and adoration of, my art. The Padma Shri, on the other hand, is like a validation of one’s work. Both are essential for an artiste,” said Mr. Natarajan, who is also known as ‘Clarinet Everest’ in Carnatic music circles.*
Shehnai maestro and Hindustani vocalist Pandit S.Ballesh Bhajantri, who hails from Belgaum in Karnataka but has settled in Chennai’s Saligramam,did not believe that it was indeed a call from the Home Ministry. “I had not applied for any award, and there have been many times when we thought many more deserving persons should have been chosen for the Padma awards. This came as a real surprise to me,” said the Shehnai artiste, who has performed in around 45,000 film songs in Tamil, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu and even Marathi.
“I came to Chennai some 38 years ago, after obtaining an A grade in AIR. I learnt music from my father, Pandit Sanna Bharamappa Bhajantri, Ustad Bismillah Khan in Varanasi,Pandit Puttaraja Gawai,and Pandit Kodand Salunke. I fell in love with the shehnai since it used to be played on the radio in the morning. I started learning it when I was just 12,” said Mr.Bhajantri, who, along with his son Krishna Ballesh, was awarded the Tamil Nadu government’s Kalaimamani Award in2020.
86-year-old Sirpi P. Balasubramaniam sees the award, though delayed, as a national recognition for his 50 to 60 years of involvement in the Tamil literary field.
A two-time Sahitya Akademi awardee and a recipient of the Kalaimamani Award from the State government, he did his schooling in erstwhile Kochi in Malayalam medium. He had his first encounter with Tamil literature in Jamal Mohammed College in Tiruchi,and fondly remembers his professor, Abdul Kafoor,who endeared him to Tamil literature.
He taught Tamil for 30-years at Nallamuthu Mahalingam College in Pollachi, and served as Head of the Department of Tamil at Bharathiar University. Having published 130 books, Mr. Balasubramaniam’s literary works continue in his capacity as Director of Arutselvar N. Mahalingam Translation Centre.
V. Seshiah studied medicine at Madras Medical College after being inspired by his brother, Perumal. It turned out to be the perfect calling for him, as in 1978, he established the Department of Diabetology at MMC and in 1985, the Postgraduate Diploma in Diabetology.
He has done seminal work in gestational diabetes, and today, the protocols he helped develop are being followed while screening pregnant women. He was the first to start a separate clinic for pregnancy and diabetes at the Women and Children’s Hospital inEgmorein 1979.
“The Padma Shri award is a big impetus. This recognition gives me the ability to say what I want to say,”Dr.Seshiahsaid.“The Government of India has recognised that we started the Department of Diabetology much earlier. It has given guidelines for diagnosis of gestational diabetes mellitus and its management. It is the only condition that has been recognised,” he said.
He served in the Indian Army during the India-China and India-Pakistan wars, and later at the Uri-Poonch bulge, for which he was recognised with the Samar Seva Award in 1965 and the Sainya Seva Medal.
S. Damodaran, 59, has spent over three decades raising awareness about the link between clean water, sanitation and hygiene through his NGO, Gramalaya, based inTiruchi. He dedicated his Padma Shri Award for social service to the staff and partners of his organisation, and said Gramalaya’s purpose had evolved with the changing times.
“We consciously chose to focus on water, sanitation and hygiene because these are key to our survival. When we started out in 1987, most homes lacked drinking water supply and toilets. Getting people to change over to domestic toilets after years of open defecation was not easy, but with the passage of time, our message of the link between sanitation and good health has started reaching the public. Now, we all know that providing a toilet and drinking water at home are a part of preventive healthcare,” Mr. Damodaran said.