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Daring, dedicated

SRIRAM VENKATKRISHNAN

It has been an arduous and eventful journey for Sruti celebrating its silver jubilee.



The Front Cover of First issue of Sruti.

Sruti, the magazine dedicated to the world of performing arts, completes 25 years this month. In a field where “all are welcome” are the three words most looked forward to, a magazine that hoped to thrive on subscription and advertisements really had slim chances of survival. It has been a long and arduous journey for a dedicated band of readers and contributors who have kept it going.

Founded in 1983 by N. Pattabhiraman, who had come back to India after a career abroad, Sruti reflected its founder’s personality. Pattabhiraman, who wrote under a plethora of pen names ranging from the more obvious P Orr to the more obscure Narayanan Pillai (a pun based on his father’s name) was creative, abrasive, argumentative, bold, and had a sense of humour. He had a good ear for Carnatic music and it was he who identified the need for such a magazine.

While writing and editing was his forte, he surrounded himself with experts in their fields such as T. Sankaran, S. Rajam, Randor Guy, V.A.K. Ranga Rao, K.V. Ramanathan, Sulochana Pattabhiraman and B.M. Sundaram to help him out with facts and it was through the efforts of all these people that the magazine took shape.

Inaugural issue

The magazine’s inaugural issue featured D.K. Pattammal with a detailed two-part profile on her. From then on detailed life profiles became a Sruti speciality.

Each profile was put together by a group of researchers, but the final output inevitably bore Pattabhiraman’s stamp — his exquisite use of English, his humour and his emphasis that biographies should be on the Western model, warts and all.

Sruti in its initial years waged a successful battle demanding the restoration of the Ragam Tanam Pallavi to its rightful place on the concert bill-of-fare. Towards this, a series of concerts was organised featuring musicians who had kept the tradition of pallavi alive.

A detailed critique of musicians and dancers was also an interesting feature in the early years.

S. Rajam’s analysis of ragas, accompanied by some of his delectable sketches was another noteworthy feature.

In between you had photographs courtesy Pattabhiraman, who among other things was a talented shutter-bug.

The controversies

Under its founder, the magazine happily entered into controversies. One of the earliest issues had a star talking quite frankly about accompanists hogging the concert platform. This led to some senior accompanists refusing concert opportunities with the star! Yet another piece took a detailed look at how parents exploit prodigies.

The magazine participated in the Swati Tirunal controversy, exposed phoney doctoral degrees, questioned the passing of some theses and reported caustically on events that were organised poorly.

All this earned the magazine quite a few enemies, some of whom expressed their annoyance in letters, all of which were duly published with stinging rejoinders from the editor, adding to the charged atmosphere.

Most readers of Sruti read it back to front. This was because the last page featured “The Whispering Gallery,” a kind of Tattler’s column written rather aptly by Anami. Opinion differed on the Gallery.

In the months when they were featured in it, “mandarins and sabhanayakas” (to quote from it) and musicians condemned it as yellow journalism of the first water. In months when their opponents were in it, it was praised as a piece of honest, incorruptible writing. Some praised it, others cursed it but none could ignore it. In time this column became obsessed with Music Academy affairs and it must be said that that institution gave plenty of material as well! The “Methuselah of Carnatic Music” and the “Mahamoney Vidwan” too were favourites. I leave it to readers to guess their identities.

Sticky wicket

The magazine was financially on a sticky wicket from day one. Pattabhiraman put in his own funds, appealed to people to subscribe rather than borrow (!) and even suggested that subscribing to Sruti ought to be a part of New Year and birthday resolutions. But things never changed. There were a few corporate houses that supported it, but this was never easy as sponsoring Sruti did not mean Pattabhiraman would write laudatory articles on the favourites of corporate houses. It was perhaps inevitable that over the years the magazine tilted more towards dance, for advertisements for arangetrams did keep it going. Strangely, dancers were of the view that the magazine wrote only about music.

The months following Pattabhiraman’s sudden death were perhaps the darkest, but the Sruti staffers led by K.V. Ramanathan, who gamely stepped into Pattabhiraman’s shoes, kept the magazine going. It was a happy day when the Sanmar group took the magazine over. There are divided opinions on the periodical going colour and becoming glossy, but the future of the journal is secure and that is what counts. Let’s look forward to more music in unison with Sruti.

(The author can be contacted at srirambts@gmail.com)

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