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Heritage Builders

Lalita Ramakrishna

By V. Sriram
East West Books, Chennai, 2004, pp. 311, Rs. 295.00


This is the second book published in 2004 featuring biographical sketches of prominent musicians who performed during the second half of the 20th century. Indira Menon’s Great Masters of Carnatic Music, is the earlier of the two books and covers the same period. Although the list of musicians is nearly the same, the two books are quite different in their perspectives. Sriram’s book gives a fund of interesting detail about the lives of the star musicians whereas Menon’s has more details of their musical careers.   Writing about recent celebrities is tricky because their families, disciples, and admirers are sensitive to remarks made about the music and personal life of one of their own. Sriram has managed this skilled exercise of tight rope walking and has described personal details without being offensive. He has gathered details of their lives and musical careers from their inner circle and thus been made privy to much that is interesting and occasionally unflattering. About the Nagasvaram wizard Rajarathinam Pillai he offers the following scene: “ TNR’s car was by itself a legend. An American tourer, it needed to accomodate his entire entourage of accompanists, some of his women, and a couple of Alsatian dogs for added effect. In this gas guzzler ( reportedly he paid only the first instalment for the vehicle, with M.M. Dandapani Desigar paying the rest ) he would travel like an oriental potentate ! “ This is balanced by the assessment that “Rajarathinam was one of the unsurpassed geniuses of his time” who had the singular honour of playing in the Council Chamber in the presence of Pandit Nehru and “the auspicious notes of TNR’s nagaswaram actually ushered in the country’s independence.”   After dwelling at length on Ariyakudi’s prime position in the field, Sriram comments “So obsessed was Ariyakudi with his seniority that when it came to payments by the All India Radio, he demanded that he be paid Re.1 more than others as a token recgnition of his stature.” Indian biography is called hagiography since it deifies all renowned artists indiscriminately. Thus biography is seldom realistic, avoiding anything even remotely perceived as uncomplimentary. Sriram handles the delicate task of being candid and not voyeuristic by presenting facts and situations without being judgmental. This is the main strength of the book.   The book is rich in detail—of dates and places. ”MS, known as Kunjamma at home, was born ...

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