We have been in Madurai for five days, and have been frantically looking for the house that the great singer MS Subbulakshmi used to live in, once upon a time. We have been interested in it ever since we read about it here, on Sudhagee’s blog. Like thousands of other South Indians, the husband and I have grown up listening to MS Subbulakshmi’s music, and would love to see the house she inhabited, at some point in her life. None of the passersby, auto rickshaw drivers or shopkeepers we ask seem to have any clue about the house – even when we give them the name of the street it is on, they are unable to guide us.
And then, on the last day of our trip, with just a few hours to go before we leave the city, the husband and I decide to take one last walk around the Meenakshi Amman temple, something we have done for every single day of our trip. We pick up a few souvenirs for family and friends and are about to head back to our hotel when the husband, as if through some miracle, spots a signboard that says ‘Mela Anumantharayan Kovil Street’ – the very street that, we know, houses MS Subbulakshmi’s house. It is the very street that we have been trying to locate ever since we landed in Madurai, which we never spotted in spite of having walked around the area for five whole days!
We walk down the street – a narrow, narrow, narrow one, with shops and houses hemming it in from both sides. We spot the house we were looking for towards the far end of the street – a small house with one window open, with the relief of a veena on the facade. The husband and I remember seeing the veena in pictures of MS Subbulakshmi’s house on the Internet, and look at each other with a mix of awe and sadness on our faces.
The house is not one bit what we had expected it to be. It looks old and small, but in good condition. What surprises us is that nothing about the street or the house belies the fact that one of the biggest names in Indian music, a Bharat Ratna awardee for that matter, lived there at any point of time. There’s no tell-tale signboard, no street bearing her name, nothing. Only the veena on the facade of the house gives any indication whatsoever of the inhabitants of the house, past or present, having an inclination towards music.
There are shops below the house, too. We ask these shop owners and they confirm that, yes, the great MS used to live here. They seem to have no clue about whether the house is lived in now, though.
These words from Sudhagee’s post come to me as I gaze up at the house, take a few photographs of it, and then head out of the alley with the husband:
In a country where memorials are built, statues erected and roads and chowks named after the most dubious of personalities, it is incomprehensible that there is not even a sign/plaque to indicate the house of a Bharat Ratna. The city administration, state government and the central government are all equally to blame for this apathy.
I find it ironic that a country that claims cultural and moral superiority over the rest of the world cannot even do this for one of the greatest musicians ever to be born here. And, in my opinion, a country that does not respect, recognise or nurture its creative people can never progress.
A pity, isn’t it? Will something finally be done if enough tourists start coming to look at it? Or will that only make matters worse? I have no answers.
Though I have grown up hearing MS Subbulakshmi’s music (my paternal grandfather was a big fan of her voice – he even used to say she reminded him of his own elder sister), I didn’t know much about her personal life until I read this article that Sudhagee had linked up to in her post. Why does life have to be so very tough for artists? Sigh!