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Of Gifted Voice : The Life and Art of M.S. Subbulakshmi

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Item Code: HAS379
Author: Keshav Desiraju
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
Language: English
Edition: 2023
ISBN: 9789356994256
Pages: 518 (Throughout B/w Illustrations)
Other Details 8.5x5.5 inch
Weight 420 gm
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Shipped to 153 countries
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More than 1M+ customers worldwide
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100% Made in India
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Book Description
About The Book

M.S. SUBBULAKSHMI’S life was one of extraordinary achievement. Although she was portrayed in many ways - as a musician who sought and achieved an all-India appeal; a philanthropist and supporter of noble causes; an icon of style; a woman of piety and devotion; and a friend and associate of the good and the great – she was first and foremost a classical vocalist of the highest rank, of unmatched gifts, who lives on in the musical history of India.

Of Gifted Voice looks at her life and times, and the great musical tradition she belonged to and to which she brought so much, against the larger backdrop of developments in the world of Carnatic music. It describes how music came to be performed in concerts; the impact the gramophone, the radio and the talkie had on music; the decline of the traditional performing families; and the appearance of women on public platforms. The book also delves into Subbulakshmi's brush with films as well as her concert style and that of her celebrated contemporaries.

Though her story has often been told, we know little of the woman behind the image and the musician behind the public persona. Of Gifted Voice attempts, with warmth and keen-eyed perception, to understand the music, the history, the artiste and her incomparable presence.

About the Author

Keshav DESIRAJU was educated at the universities of Bombay, Cambridge and Harvard and worked in the civil service. He is a co-editor, with Samiran Nundy and Sanjay Nagral, of Healers or Predators? Healthcare Corruption in India, Oxford University Press, 2018. He lives in Chennai and is thinking about upgrading his Telugu before writing about Tyagaraja.


कलावती कमलासन युवती कल्याणम कलयतु सरस्वती' '

O Sarasvati, beautiful and young, with eternal youth, thou who art seated upon a lotus flower, work good for us!'

(Opening words of Muthusvami Dikshitar's composition ‘Kalavati' in the raga Kalavati)

ALL lives are a mixture of character and destiny2 but it is only Ilin some lives that character is so sharply etched and in which destiny plays so dramatic a role as to make the life itself immortal. M.S. Subbulakshmi is one of these immortals. M.S. Subbulakshmi has been portrayed in various ways, as a musician who sought and achieved an all-India appeal, as a philanthropist and benefactor of noble causes, as an icon of high south Indian style, as a woman of piety and devotion, and as a friend and associate of the good and the great. But while she was all of these, she was first and foremost a classical musician of the highest order, and it is as such that her life's work must be assessed. And after all these years, despite her saintly persona and many avatars, it is the music by which we remember her.

Indeed, that is how she identified herself. This task is not particularly easy, especially given how long her career was and how significantly her style and presentation changed over the years. It was said of the singer Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar (1890–1967) that he 'bestrode the concert stage of Karnatak (sic) music for a little more than half a century - a dangerously long period for any but the greatest artist's This is true as well of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (1908–2003), but these two preeminent Carnatic musicians, over their very long performing careers, stayed within the bounds of the course they set for themselves early on. This was not the case with Subbulakshmi.

It was a life lived in the public glare; it was a life whose most private moments were carefully obliterated. In her very last years, in a private conversation with an acquaintance, she observed, 'I do not wish to speak untruths but much of the truth of my life is better unsaid.” In the same conversation she said, 'I have been condemned to fame.' And even of the person who was accessible to the outsider, and of the truths which could be said, there were many. There is, therefore, an early Subbulakshmi, and a mid-course Subbulakshmi, a Subbulakshmi of the screen, a Subbulakshmi of the sabhas, a Subbulakshmi of fun and frolic and laughter, a Subbulakshmi, sublime, serene and sacred. Each Subbulakshmi is real, essential.'? And in each of these roles, she was nothing but utterly true. If she completely absorbed the Tamil Brahmin ethic in her manner and style, a trait for which she is now mocked by some, she was, to others such as the poet Hoshang Merchant, Mira personified.

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