About a year back, I visited Madurai with Chennai Pastforward. Led by V. Sriram, the 3-day was filled with temples, music, culture, rock-cut caves, heritage, history and was fantastic (watch out for posts on Madurai coming up next week!).
On one of the evenings in Madurai, our group was walking back towards the bus when Sriram, who was leading, suddenly ducked into a narrow street. Actually, alley would be a better word for the street which had a sign that read Mela Anumantharayan Kovil Street.
We obediently followed him, walking in a single file as the alley wouldn’t allow for anything more. Lined with shops on both sides and double storeyed structures above them, the sky was visible as a dark blue ribbon floating above us. I don’t suffer from claustrophobia, but I had the feeling of being hemmed in.
Just when I was wondering Sriram was leading us to, he stopped and pointed at an open window, through which light was streaming out, and said: “This is it. This is the house of MS Subbulakshmi.
I stared at the plain façade, plain except for a relief of a veena just below the window. If Sriram had not pointed it out, I would not have seen it — that is assuming I had entered the alley in the first place ! And even if I had looked up, I would have seen the veena relief and moved on since there is nothing to indicate the importance of the site and its connection to Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi.
“This is where MS grew up, this is the house she left one evening for Madras (now Chennai) never to return again,” said Sriram. Everyone in the group was thoughtful as we looked up at the window, and the house where MS lived. Her story was familiar to all of us; her music even more so as most of us had grown up with it. It was a rather silent group that filed out of the Mela Anumantharayan Kovil Street that evening, each one lost in his/her own thoughts, including me.
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 word 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.
For more in the “Travel Shot” series, click here.