As a child, I grew up listening to devotional songs by MS – the Hanuman Chalisa, the Ramnavali, the Suprabatham, and the Vishnu Sahasranamam. One of my proud mommy moments was when my 2-year old second born would regale us with the singing of the first few words of Bhaja Govindam by MS when he had barely begun to string words into sentences. Every once in a while, I would resolve to play her songs at home as steadfastly as my dad did, only to let it slip in the humdrum of life.
MS, to me and to several others exposed to her mellifluous voice and divine rendition, is synonymous with devotion. A certain sense of peace pervades your being as you lose yourself to her singing. Little did I know that underlying that serenity were stormy forces and scandalous events that made MS a household name in south India.
In this biography, MS – A life in Music, author T.J.S. George has done a phenomenal job of writing the life story of MS in the context of the societal norms, the evolving performing arts, and the people in her life – notably her mom Shanmughavadivu, her husband Sadasivam, and her contemporaries.
I confess that half way through the book, a part of me wished that I had not started this book because I was worried that I would feel let down – I would form impressions of MS that I didn’t want to. But I am glad that I persisted because the rest of the book so beautifully reinforced how that her enablers (her mom and her husband) may have made calculated moves to make MS popular but that did not in anyway adulterate her dedication to her art . From the beginning to end, MS did what she knew best – being true to her music. With passion. With discipline. And devotion. Nothing else mattered to her.
If you heart MS or are a music lover, this is the book for you. You will not only end up learning more about the legend but become more knowledgeable about the dynamics that shaped the carnatic music through generations.
I leave you with few lines from the book that tugged at my heartstrings.
“Her involved non-involvement, her detached attachment somehow enhanced her beatific profile. She was Sadasivam’s wife, Rajaji’s disciplie, Kalki Krishnamurthi’s friend, but she was always MS. In the end, she herself was her music and her bhakthi. In the end she attained what the people around her seemed to miss – a sense of fulfillment. Sadasivam was successful and devout, but did he find ultimate fulfilment? Rajaji stayed for long at the top of political and social pyramids, but did he find the satisfaction of the true achiever?
A look at MS was enough to convince anyone that she had found herself. When she sang the Rajaji hymn “Kurai ondrum illai” it was like she was telling the world about herself and thanking her god for his blessings. One word occurred frequently in the language of those who met MS in her later years: Glow. Everyone talked about how she glowed from within. In the midst of frenetic life, she had found serenity. An aura of grace surrounded her.“