Madras miscellany

Promise of a new Madras

Busy trying to establish a permanent home for what he is confident will, in the years to come, become a major draw in Madras. N. 'Sruti' Pattabhi Raman's is a dream that a giant oak will grow from a little acorn. In this case, the acorn was 'Sruti', now the country's leading journal on classical music and dance. He hopes that 'Samudri', founded a year ago by Sruti, will grow into a giant oak that will become a 'must visit' destination in Chennai.

Forty kilometres from Chennai on the New Mahabalipuram Road is Dakshina Chitra, the city's first heritage centre, featuring the homes, crafts and folk arts of South India imaginatively in a spacious ambience among the sand dunes. Dakshina Chitra's success has earned it an American Association of Museums Award that will partner it with the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. Aiming to establish a similar international reputation is 'Samudri', the Subbulakshmi-Sadasivam Music and Dance Resources Institute. Its location, now in Pattabhi Raman's Alwarpet house, will soon be on the other Mahabalipuram Road, also 40 km from the city, in Sidavoor on the Old Road. And it will be a major centre of classical music and dance, throbbing with life the year round when Pattabhi Raman's Rs. 10-crore dream becomes a reality.

I was there at the planting of the acorn soon after Pattabhi Raman returned from serving with the U.N. in New York. In the first year or so, I had something to do with Sruti's production. Looking back, I must admit that I was less confident than its founder-editor of its survival. But not only did Pattabhi Raman, helped by committed sponsors, nurse Sruti into a lively teenager, but he also began to see a greater purpose for all the material that had been collected for the magazine.

Few in India recognise heritage and the need to archive it. Pattabhi Raman is one of the few. It is to store and make accessible to anyone interested in all the information available on Classical Music and Dance, including the Sruti collection, that he began thinking of an archives and library. And so was born 'Samudri'. But now he sees that 'Samudri' can do much more than merely play host to what it has been receiving in kind from generous well-wishers.

The pulse of 'Samudri'

Spending a morning with 'Sruti' Pattabhi Raman, exchanging ideas on archiving, I heard him outline his plans for tomorrow. And as I did, I could not help thinking what a wonderful cultural and archival triangle could be developed in and around Chennai in a few years' time with the Debbie Thiagarajan-inspired Dakshina Chitra, Pattabhi Raman-inspired 'Samudri' and 'Crea-A' Ramakrishnan and Theodore Bhaskaran-inspired 'Roja' Muthiah Library. If new life is breathed into the Museum-Art gallery complex, then the triangle could well become even a cultural quadrangle.

But that is only the beginning. What Pattabhi Raman hopes is that Sidavoor will become a destination for scholars as well as those wishing to enjoy daily cultural programmes that would include lecture-demonstrations, discussions, audiovisual presentations and performances. Not only would the Sidavoor campus have its own accommodation, but 'Samudri' is busy persuading others in the neighbourhood to build guesthouses for the visitors expected. With the old Mahabalipuram Road fast developing as Chennai's 'Silicon Valley' and a centre for educational excellence, Pattabhi Raman sees 'Samudri' as being in the right place at the right time. But that Rs. 10 crore is what he has to now concentrate on. And if the corporates and the NRIs oblige, he can move on to a second stage of not only enlarging the 'Samudri' campus but also making acquisitions of various private collections. I wish him luck; faith, they say, has moved mountains...may it raise 'Samudri' and give Chennai another unique cultural niche.

Evening with the Opposition

"Itold Chandrika 'I'll give you six months to solve the problem and offer you my support, but if you can't, you should hand over the Government to me and I'll solve it'," I overheard in passing a confident Ranil Wickremasinghe, Leader of the Opposition in Sri Lanka, remark at a dinner during his short stay in Chennai recently. The trend of the conversation at the tables where he and his advisers sat was along this line, with their audiences listening to nothing very new on the tragedy of Sri Lanka. If there was anything a bit different, it was Wickremasinghe's short address which recommended a Tamil Nadu-Kerala-southern Karnataka- Sri Lanka common market and an unfettered investment zone, after some fine-tuning of the new Indo-Sri Lankan free trade accord. To lend strength to his case he went back in history to when Manavamma teamed with the Pandyas and waning Pallavas in the 7th Century to take on the Cholas. Manavamma had sought Pallavas' help to come to the Sri Lankan throne and a Pallava army had contributed considerably to this end.

Closer to my heart, however, were Wickremasinghe's newspaper connections. Close kin of his had long run Ceylon's biggest newspaper group, the Lake House newspapers, till it was nationalised. Those kin have been trying to revive The Times of Ceylon group with which I was associated and I was glad to hear that my old paper, The Sunday Times, was thriving, but disappointed they had not got around to re-launching the Daily Times. It was, however, sad to hear that the oldest English daily in South Asia, The Observer,an evening paper like The Times, was to be closed. Many were the epic battles The Observer and The Times fought over a century; over two decades I watched some of them from as close as you could get.

So was the tenor of the conversation at the all-woman table I joined to get away from the political and martial travails of a nation. Wickremasinghe's wife Maithree, who lectures in the Arts Faculty of the University of Kelaniya, was more interested in discussing the teaching of English to IT professionals if Sri Lanka was to make as much of an impression in the IT world as India, a world her husband was trying to access through the Sri Lanka-South India link he sought. Adviser Moragoda's Californian wife Jennifer wanted to find out more about the Kerala-Sri Lanka connection and was glad to hear that someone had already looked into it. A former Chief Secretary of Kerala, Sankaranarayanan, had written in his doctoral dissertation about the tens of thousands of Kuruppus in Sri Lanka, the Ezhavas and their connections with the Island, the similarity of the Sri Lankan west coast lifestyle to Kerala's, and the cultivation of rice in Sri Lanka's Tamil majority Eastern Province by techniques that reflect Kerala's. Perhaps Jennifer Moragoda will explore those connections further.