Kausalyaa suprajaarama poorvaa sandhyaa pravartate
Utthishta narashaardoola kartavyam daivamaahnikam
I don’t think that there is any one in India – at least in south India, who cannot immediately relate these words to the melodious sing-song recital of Sri Venkateshwara suprabhatam by the legendary Smt M.S. Subbalaksmi.
The moment I hear or even think about it I go back to the Saturday mornings of my primary school days. Those days, Saturday was something we looked forward to. The daily classes were from 10 am to 5 pm and Saturday was ‘morning class’ - 8.00 am to 10.30 am. We had only four short periods out of which one was sports. Verymuch bearable. And, after finishing the school we still had plenty of Saturday and the whole of Sunday for ourselves.
Monday through Friday, we ate our - just off the stove - lunch at 9AM, scalding our hands and tongue and rushed to catch the peak hour crowded bus, pushing in through the mass of bodies with our bulging bags getting stuck between bulging stomachs, to reach the school by 10 AM, panting and sweating. Whole day of arithmetic, geography and English grammar in store for us. There was a break for lunch but the packed lunch was usually the same rice and sambhar or rice and curds that we had had in the morning which was now dry and with an additional metallic taste of our brass lunch boxes.
Saturdays were different. We got up early on Saturdays, spent a few minutes warming ourselves in front of the wood fire used for heating the bath water,- a great pleasure - then had a refreshing hot bath which felt so nice in the cold weather, drank a warm glass of milk and walked to the bus stop enjoying the warm rays of the rising sun, carrying a light bag with few books and no lunch box. The bus used to be empty with seats to choose, the window seats or sometimes, even the seat next to the driver (the biggest privilege). School was not at all bad with only four periods and we would be back home before noon for lunch. Mother usually made something special as the children were eating at home in the afternoon. The rest of the day for play. Marbles, gilli – danda or spinning tops. What a contrast!
Saturday WAS special. But what made it even better was Smt Subbalakshmi’s Venkateshwara Suprabhatam which was aired on All India Radio every Saturday morning. It started just as we left home but we did not miss even one verse during our walk to the bus stop as none of the radio sets in the houses on the way strayed from the Suprabhatam when it was on. Perhaps people did not want to miss any of it as they moved around the house on morning chores, and so it was set louder and could be clearly heard from the street. I relished that walk to the bus stop on Saturdays. And I almost had the Suprabhatam by heart.
I have heard many other singers reciting Suprabhatam and Vishnu sahasranamam and even though some of my friends insist that they are as good or even better than MS in enunciation and rendition, I feel none can match her. That is probably because these new cassettes and CDs are made with sales in mind, while MS sang with god in mind.
Now, let me come to the reason for bringing this subject up today. We had a cassette of Suprabhatam and my wife used to put it on our partly broken cassette player now and then. Our coastal weather is perfect for spoiling tapes and recorders and within a short time our tape was giving out all scratchy sounds and bits of Suprabhatam in between. I asked her to throw the cassette out and buy a new one. My wife, who thinks twice before throwing out even a dead rat, insisted that it is fine and persevered with it. I could not bear the torture for long and one day while I was clearing unwanted clutter, of which there is no dearth in our house, I cleared out this tape too.
A few days later my wife wanted to play the cassette and looked for it in the usual spots on top of the refrigerator and behind the microwave oven and having failed to get it, came and stood in front of me.
“Did you throw the cassette out?”
“What cassette? Why will I throw anything out?”
“You need no reason to throw things out. It is a wonder that I still exist in this house. If I stop moving for a few hours I will go into the garbage bin”
“I have no intentions of buying a giant garbage bin and you are safe. But, which cassette are you talking about? Why accuse me?”
“Don’t try your innocence with me. I cannot find the Suprabhatam cassette. There is no one else who can be responsible for its disappearance. I only need confirmation.”
I evaded the court of enquiry as best as I could but was pronounced guilty and the sentence was passed.
“Now, get me another cassette immediately.”
I was under the impression that the Suprabhatam being so famous it should be available in any music shop but I was wrong. I tried all the shops in Panaji and Margao but could not find the cassette or CD. I promised my wife that I would buy one when I visited Bangalore next time. A visit to Bangalore is always a rush and I could not get them in one or two shops that I enquired.
“I know that you only made a half hearted attempt in the second rate street corner shops selling ‘wooden’ music. (bollywood, tollywood, sandalwood and other woods). I cannot believe Venkateshwara supraabhatam is not available in Bangalore, however bad the present day tastes are.”
I offered to recite it every morning myself.
“Thanks for your consideration. You need not take extra pains to ruin my days.”
So, this time when my son came home on vacation she pestered him and made him down load, upload, middle load or do whatever they do to make the computer sing and ‘cut’ a CD. I commented that the CD looked as shiny and round even after it was ‘cut’ and so, may not work. My son thanked me for my observation and suggested that there is no need for unnecessary exhibition of ignorance and requested me to restrict my observations to dentistry.
This morning my wife had put this new CD on, filling our living room with the glorious melody of M S’s voice. It made our maid servant Sayeeda bi pause in her work of wiping the floor and listen to it. She listened quietly for a minute and said “didi, what is that you have put on your CD player? I cannot understand it but it feels so very nice to hear that!”
Smt.MS has put her soul into that recital and it sure touches souls.
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