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Biography of a Music Critic

Sulochana K. Subramanyam

By Lada Guruden Singh
Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai and Bibliphile South Asia, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 265, Rs. 275.00


In the Preface to the book, the young author thanks “all the musicians, dancers, critics, Subbudu’s friends and enemies” for their time and inputs. During his long innings as a critic Subbudu attracted many “friends and enemies” who spiced up his unusual life.  Most Delhi Tamils know that “Subbudu” and “controversy” are synonymous.  His critical faculty and equally sharp tongue often caused resentment among those at the receiving end.  His turn of phrase and biting sarcasm made him a critic much admired and feared.  Asked how the dance “scene” was on his return from a city, his brief “obscene” left no room for further enquiry!  Fidgeting through an amateurish dance recital mangling a kriti in the raga “Nagabharanam”, he fiercely muttered “What ornament is this?” A friend commented that the dancer was lucky not to be shredded to pieces in the auditorium itself.   Yet, seated in the middle row hearing T.V. Sankaranarayanan’s Kambodi alapana, you could see him emotionally overcome.  “What shall I sing?” – “Kaana kannkoti”.  One singer and one rasika face to face – the rest  of us mere observers’. Subbudu’s early life in Burma saw Subbudu growing up to the sound of his sisters’ Carnatic music lessons.  The enthusiasm  of his family for music and theatre provided him a chance to interact with Carnatic stalwarts who visited Burma for concerts.  A talented mimicry artist and harmonium and mridangam player, family circumstances made him take up financial responsibility early in life.  But he found time to continue his artistic pursuits, writing reports on cultural events for the Rangoon Times by the age of twenty.  Ananda Vikatan and later Kalki, and his friendship with  Kalki Krishnamurti and Sadasivams were important influences in his life as a Tamil critic.  He was equally comfortable writing in English for papers like the Statesman and the Indian Express. We get a vivid picture of his childhood, the traumatic evacuation from Burma to India, his subsequent settling down in Shimla and Delhi, his enthusiastic participation in theatre, music and dance events.  It revives memories of attending Karnataka Sangita Sabha and Shanmukhananda Sabha concerts as well as Tamil plays with South Indian Theatre groups.   Lada Guruden Singh gives us a great deal of information about Subbudu’s interaction with leading dancers and musicians, his clashes with several artists and critics due to mutual disagreement (Charles Fabri etc.) his unfailing enthusiasm and encouragement shown ...

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