Remembering MS, a human nonpareil... (16th Anniversary of MS Amma) Whenever Death claims an illustrious life, I recall the famous words of Khalil Gibran- “For what is it to die, but to stand in the sun and melt into the wind? And when the Earth has claimed our limbs, then we shall truly dance” Someone said that each departed friend was a magnet that attracted us to the next world. But when someone like MS departs, we feel truly envious of the souls up there who will be treated to the most Divine Music by her, nay Her, until Time itself will be no more. The shocking news of MS’ passing away on the night of 11th December 2004 plunged every household into greater gloom than the death of a close relative would cause. There were thousands of obituary references expressing genuine grief and admiration across the globe in the following days referring to the golden voice that has merged with the wind. But not a single one of these could ever be adequate to touch even the shadow of this Colossus of Music. At least three generations of men and women grew up on the music of MS. In my own family, I can’t think of a day that has ever been set in motion without the rendition of Sri Venkatesa Suprapadham or Vishnu Sahasranamam or the bhajans of MS. It is as much an integral part of our daily life as anything that we can think of. For years, girls keep winning prizes in classical music competitions to this day rendering songs immortalized by MS. They are all ‘Ekalavyas’ of MS. When my father died in 1974 and my sister in law breathed her last in 1978, we played Bhaja Govindam of MS just as their breathing subsided. We considered it as much an act of purification of the soul as the pouring of the waters of Ganga into a mouth that would soon become lifeless. The look of serene contentment that their lifeless faces bore when they were consigned to the flames is still talked about in my family. I strongly attribute the phenomenon to the music of MS that enraptured them in their dying moments. I look at MS beyond her music. I look at her as a human being nonpareil. I have had a few personal encounters with MS that had left an indelible impression on my heart. In the late 80’s, I was a senior functionary in State Bank of lndia in charge of their retail banking operations at Chennai. I wanted to honour some of our major account holders with a unique gift. I discussed this with my peers and settled on an evening of music to which our clients would be invited. The unanimous choice was MS and I was asked to meet her and fix up a suitable date. I went to her house and was greeted by her man Friday, Atma, who was more like a son to her. He took us in and introduced us to the legendary couple. I prostrated before them and sought their blessings. I explained the purpose of my visit and for her part, her husband did all the talking. A date was fixed and I was asked to speak to Atma for the rest of the transaction like her remuneration etc. Atma indicated Rs one lakh and we agreed to it. The concert was to be held at a prestigious hall in Chennai that had a seating capacity in excess of 1000. As we did not have that many to invite, we decided to team up with Alliance Francais to sponsor the programme. On the day of the concert, we were told by Atma that a part of the amount payable to MS would go to Sankara Netralaya and Dr.Badrinath, the founder of Sankara Netralaya, would have to be invited too. Just before the concert started, we asked MS in whose favour the cheque for Rs one lakh was to be made out and she instantly said ‘Sankara Netralaya’ She did not want even a paisa from the concert and the entire amount was paid out to Sankara Netralaya directly. Many of you may not know that MS donated almost the entire earnings from her concerts throughout her life to charitable causes. It was this that earned her the first Ramon Magsaysay Award. No one knows the exact quantum of her contribution to charity through her music and it could run to several crores. The second occasion was when I was the Vice president of Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha. The Annual Music Festivals of this Sabha are quite famous and are invariably inaugurated by very eminent persons. We wanted to request MS to light the Kuthu Vilakku and sing the Invocation song on the inaugural day in 1991. It was decided that I and Dr.Nalli Kuppusamy Chetty should meet her and fix it up. We went on a Sunday afternoon. At that time, MS and her husband were actively collecting funds for the Memorial Mani Mantapam for the Kanchi Paramacharya that was coming up at Orikkai and Dr Nalli was carrying with him Rs one lakh as his personal contribution to be handed over to MS for the purpose. As usual we were met at the door by Atma and conducted inside. Dr.Nalli kept the bundle of currency at the feet of MS and tied his silk angavastram at his waist and prostrated before her. MS was taken aback and jumped to the side. In a broken voice, she exclaimed that she would consider anyone falling at her feet without her husband standing next to her as a sin. (‘Aiyyo, avar ange nikkarappo, ennoda kalula vizharele, kaduvule’ were her exact words.) I was literally moved to tears by her utter humility. Death is not a calamity that strikes only a chosen few. It catches up with every living being, sooner or later. But calling it a great leveler is blasphemous. How can even death level us with a truly great soul like MS? In the passing away of MS, we see how great people live respected and die regretted that is the hallmark of a high quality life. MS, indeed, lived respected, revered and worshipped and died regretted and lamented. Through her death, MS has only shed her fragile body. She has immortalized herself by laying a bridge between the Human and the Divine through her heavenly voice. When you hear her voice wafting through the air in the early morning hours filling us with a Sublime Devotion, you can feel her immortal presence.