You know Mr. Subbudu? 
by Lada Guruden Singh, New Delhi 
May 2002

A critic is a critic is a critic - Used here, there and everywhere like the much abused term used to address anyone of the closest friends who has turned against you!  

Traditionally, artistes create and critics destroy! Could it then mean, mythically Artiste is Brahma and Critic is Shiva? But where can one place the artistes who hardly create? Artistes who are masters  
in tautology! What would you call a critic who wishes the art to grow and who writes with passion what he sees with intensity? A critic who has "pun in pen and sting in bonnet"! You will call such a critic Subbudu. You will call the critics of his nerves Subbudu-I and Subbudu-II! It's a royal blood  
of wisdom, wit, alertness and astuteness that runs through him. 

To honour the adorable "Grand Uncle of the Indian Art Scene",, organised a  felicitation ceremony at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi on 6th May 2002. The highlight of the evening was Rama Vaidyanathan's exquisite recital which may be rated as the best by the danseuse till date (This writer thought the same when the dancer performed last time!) Even as Subbudu's 85th birthday celebrations were a huge success at Chennai a month back, Delhi was no less in coming together to wish the octogenarian many more years of creativity. Prolific as he has been in his 51 years of indelible contribution to the world of Indian Music and Dance, it was Politics that he first wrote about! Whether it was Anjana Rajan's strong attempt at Poetry addressed to Subbudu- "To Sir with love, from those who err with love" or the presence of the ever gracious R. Venkataraman, no  
one could overlook the child like smile that adorned the face of Subbudu whose half century old hammer-strokes have been felt by one and all! 

The evening began with Rama Vaidyanathan dancing Bharata Natyam numbers based on Subbudu's compositions. Of the three items performed by the exponent, Pitanjali's "Shambhu Natanam" stood out for its encompassing masculine feel. Subbudu's Varnam depicting the love triangle between Lord  
Kartikeya, Goddess Devayani and Valli, reinforced the creative leap that the artiste has taken in the last couple of years. Rama's dance is made of two essential features - One, Sthirtha and Two, Challenge. In more words, with the way she performs, she seems to challenge the Rasika to enjoy her dance more than she enjoys it at that moment! As she traverses through the stage with piercing alacrity, she does not let the intensity change itself into hyper - actions. The tirmanams, even as they are long, do not lose the hard cover of innovation which has become the forte of her dance. Her abhinaya, especially where she distinguishes between the expressions of jealousy and anger with a slight twitch of her jaw muscles, leaves the viewer spellbound. The ability to hold the interest of the audience throughout the recital goes to the credit of this dancer whose footwork is clear even if fast paced. Tillana in Raaga Kalyanavasantham composed by Subbudu  sealed the impeccable performance which always leaves younger and upcoming dancers gasping for breath! 

For once, Subbudu's excitement was visible with his fingers continuously adjusting themselves on Tala patterns of Aadi Talam as he kept his right hand on his left shoulder and watched the entire recital in the same posture! 

Talking of Subbudu, the magnetic force of the evening, veteran art commentator  Shanta Serbjeet Singh referred to the impact of the man on the art scene and the sting and the pun of his pen which became synonyms of his name! Sonal Mansingh talked of Subbudu who represented  a tradition of  
fearless criticism. Though Subbudu was praised and admired, his wife's contribution in making him the Critic par excellence, was profoundly brought up by the noted speakers. Could we hear the golden truth - "Behind every successful man is a woman"!  His wife, carrying a humble appearance and a  
loving smile seemed touched with the words spoken for her by the leading lights of the art scene. R. Venkataraman presented shawls to the couple. Art critic Leela Venkataraman, noted the survival instincts of the man and threw light on the other side of the Maama who had often set "Kaveri on fire"! Dancer Swapnasundari, took a trip down memory lane and removed the cobwebs from the events of her past which was deeply impressioned by the writeups of the man who "never asked for anything apart from being read and understood"! 

A point, not missed by anyone was the sharpness of Subbudu whether it was his memory, do-not care attitude or his iron will to take things head on which included  a turbulent flight from Burma to  India too. As a dancer said, "Subbudu  does not command respect, he evokes respect". 

In the sidelights, it was Subbudu's grand daughter who impressed the audience with her prayer. Coming from a family of trained musicians, it was no surprise but unadulterated delight to hear her sing so magnificently.  Organiser GS Rajan chose to stay behind the stage as Sadhana Srivastva  
compered the evening's proceedings, putting her best as always. A slight surprise was the speech made by Sudhir Gandotra that made one wonder why the host of took so much pains in showcasing his importance and relevance in the current art scene. Mr.Gandotra, we need people like you who can finance art and who do not actually patronise it! So, please don't be so  
conscious!  "Oh really!" was the reply to a Bulgarian friend learning classical dance, who prayed for the long life of Subbudu because he had not yet seen her perform! 

While the evening ended and one struggled to find car keys, a slide of images of this evening filled a pocket of memory. An evening so rare, so wonderful! A question was born though.. will there be another Subbudu?   

Delhi based Lada Guruden Singh is a young Bharatanatyam dancer. A budding poet, he has to his credit a collection of poems, entitled Split Ends. Lada envisages a conscious role play for himself in the realm of Dance and Art related issues in years to come.