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And the mentor passed away....
- Lada Singh, New Delhi
e-mail: lada.singh@gmail.com

March 30, 2007

Exactly 48 hours before Subbudu decided to leave the mortal world, I was with him to celebrate his 90th birthday. A day, marked by silence and occasional murmuring by the man who was never at a loss of words. A day, when for the first time, in nearly three years of my intense interaction with him, I found us caught in the stillness of time. As I began to leave, his left hand arose, bitten by an inexplicable urge. With no words exchanged, I bowed my head and he rested his hand on my head. No blessings were muttered, Subbudu had taught me how to hear his silences over the last so many months.

I am not concerned here to write about the greatness of the man or about his unrelenting spirit, highly abrasive and satirical writing, or his play with words, the sting of his pen and the charm of his wit. The entire world knows about it and will do a better job in detailing how Subbudu changed the entire scene of the arts writing in India; How Indian performing arts owe a great deal to this unassuming fellow, who walked the earth from Burma to India, perhaps just to change the face of Indian arts ; How he rubbed the mighty the wrong way and faced death threats a dime a dozen; How his madness for arts often cost him some crucial moments with his family; How his knowledge and his ability to flaunt it, put a lot many people ill at ease; How he took over from Kalki and chose to remain faithful to his pen despite numerous temptations; How he wrote continuously for nearly 6 decades and enriched Tamil and English criticism with his knack for performing through words; How he was the forbidden fruit who, if tasted, could enamour you, for the rest of your life. All this and more can be said about P V Subramaniam who also happened to be a government servant, a carefree husband and a clueless father but nonetheless a caring man to the core.

Beyond all that the world may call him or remember him as, Subbudu was a man of gestures. Simple things done for him could keep him going through his hardest times. The sense of gratitude that abound him, is perhaps unique to the family he came from. His brothers and sister, children and grand children, those who lived under the towering shadow of the man, sustained their, brother, father, grand-father, through unconditional love and care that is hard to replicate in our times.

Subbudu was a renowned critic to the world whose power extended from Delhi to Chennai but this power lost its roots, when his wife passed away. Her death, coming after 65 years of unstinted love and affection for her husband, left a vacuum in Subbudu's life and his tryst with destiny began in earnest.

As he joined his wife again last night, Subbudu, the man who passed away, was not the one he wished to be, but the one that world made him to be. As Subbudu had to cut his artistic engagements, the world of arts, too decided to seek another Sun. From his protégés to the masters of arts, from those who bowed before him to those who showered him with love and affection, from his republic of fans- musicians, dancers, writers, to his close quarter of powerful Sabha secretaries, businessmen and media moguls, Subbudu became a history best remembered for the association these men and women had with him, during his hey days.

Subbudu, the old man, who struggled hard through bouts of health problems, that became acute because of a feeling of let down he felt from his art world, was hardly referred to. The man, with a fragile heart and soul was nurtured by his family- who made each passing day of Subbudu's last few months memorable with all the affection they showered on him.

However, one man who did value the master, is the President himself. Dr. Kalam visited Subbudu's family and placed a rose on Subbudu's chest. The critic had written to his President that, if he passes away, the President should place a rose on his body. Subbudu lived for gestures, all through out and the President, displaying exemplary greatness, faithfully followed Subbudu's wish…

As Subbudu's grand daughter, Sewtha told me on 27th March, 2007, "He is now in a state of trance, he has visions that he is sitting in a sabha and hearing a musician play, or a dancer dance. He becomes ecstatic and chuckles when he watches a great performance and still manages to correct if someone goes wrong..."

Our tears flowed as I looked at the man, sleeping silently, his chin up, mouth wide open, smiling shyly perhaps, witnessing the divine dance of the Gods above, who valued him more, than we could ever.

Subbudu died on 29th March 2007, at the age of 90 leaving behind a huge corpus of writing on Indian performing arts that will forever remain un-matched...


Lada Guruden Singh wrote Subbudu's biography, 'Beyond Destiny: The Life and Times of Subbudu.' A Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan publication, Beyond Destiny's Tamil translation is in progress.