“Who am I, a mere Prime Minister before a Queen, a Queen of Music” – Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
A scorpion stung Apitha. No medication offered succor in her dying throes and to her, the culmination surprisingly came as a reprieve.
Back home in Madras, she had left her daughters and husband Sadasivam but with them stayed an unsolicited lodger. The admittance of the singer Subbulakshmi who had run away from an overbearing mother in Madurai had already sent Apitha’s marital situation downhill.
The triangle effectively broke with the sting. Unwittingly the scorpion had also opened up avenues for Sadasivam to chart the career of an incredible artist-which he wouldn’t have done, if Subbulakshmi wasn’t his wholly for life.
Sadasivam was small-made, but if one took his brilliant mind into consideration, he was a veritable mountain of a man. Unbelievable, but at that point of time, he had perhaps visualised how MS’s life would look 50 years hence.
Subbulakshmi’s mother Shanmugavadivu, (whose name she proudly carried along with her’s) lost control over her daughter. Vadivu’s efforts in a lucrative liaison with a zamindar for her two pretty daughters had worked with one but had sent the other scuttling for safety to the sheltering arms of Sadasivam. MS was of the opinion that unlike her sister, her future was a cut above being just a concubine.
Vadivu’s mind hatched plenty of ploys but MS sat as silent as a stone statue during those furious altercations between her mother and lover. A helpless Vadivu finally went back into her shell in Madurai and died in penury. (Rk Narayan would write a short story Selvi on this bout, but with a different ending).
The tough mother character in the novel/movie Thillana Mohanambal was named Vadivu most probably after MS’s mother
In a hurry that seemed coarse in view of his recent bereavement, Sadasivam married MS in a quaint hill temple, Thiruneermalai still known today for sanctifying marriages of eloping couples.
And then he commenced a methodical crusade that he took as a quest for the rest of his life. First he was resolute in making MS acceptable to the Brahmin community. Tough though it was, (jumping castes isn’t easy in India) he made her don Brahmin attire – the 9 yard madisar – and took her frequently to the top Brahmin mutt in Kanchi.
Subbulakhsmi too was determined to detach
herself from her past, and disregarded the veiled contempt of society as she played her charade. So effectively was it enacted that in half a century she became the very symbol of Brahmin womanhood, to the level that the next generation often did not even know of her Devadasi origins.
Subbulakshmi would be so pliable in Sadasivam’s hands. He answered questions in her press conferences, chose songs for her to sing and led her in and out of the politics of the Carnatic world. He also chose what movies she would act in and when she should quit Tinsel Town.
But MS was happy. It was a safe haven from her jarring past. Sadasivam’s children adjusted with their step mother, Radha even becoming a singer accompanying MS and acting as her childhood counterpart in the movie ‘Meera’.
The movie ‘Meera’ on the Rajasthani saint was planned as her swansong. From the siren image, MS now looked like an aging goddess. A murmur of wonder from the audience turned into a torrent of applause. And shockingly when her movie career was in its peak, Sadasivam put an end to it. In retrospect, it was a brilliant move for even when decades had elapsed, her saintly role in her last movie stuck in the minds of men like glue. And like Meera MS bore herself with the conscious dignity of a saint for the rest of her life.
With an air of quiet efficiency about him, Sadasivam made MS into the figure she is known in history as. He even started a sabha with the same initials as his wife – Mylapore Sangeetha Sabha ( I heard this gem first in a V.Sriram Talk) to challenge the might of the Music Academy. Politically well connected Sadasivam ensured MS was always in the limelight. (She even sang at the UN). Obsessed with being socially recognized, the couple donated all their earnings (and more) and became bankrupt eventually.
But the path that Sadasivam had charted for MS led her to the podium to receive the highest civilian honour the nation could bestow- the Bharat Ratna.
- MS did a male role as Naradha in the movie Savitri
- Ms has a statue in Tirupati town