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Awards and Rewards

January 30, 2017

Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer

Dear dancers, this is in a lighter vein (sorry this sounds like some comedians who perform on American TV to a live audience...they have to laugh or applaud when a light with the message flashes), so you can laugh or smile, whatever...

Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, the great musician, was a family friend and so I used to interact with him now and then. His humour was sharp. Once at an awards committee meeting he said, "Does this carry any cash or gold medal? If it is just a piece of paper why not give out more?" Whenever anyone approached him to accept any honour he would jocularly ask: "Panam ethanum unda?" (Any money included?) His humour also showed that he did not take awards so seriously. But he always tried to see that people who had contributed silently were recognized.

M.S. Subbulakshmi was another great artist who was overwhelmed by awards. Of course her husband managed all. Still.... she never flinched when the award money was given away to charity. She gave me an award.....once, when I visited her, she was getting ready to go to some awards ceremony where a dancer was being honoured. She chatted for a while and as she was about to leave she said, "Unakku ippo Sangita Kalanidhi title kudukkanum" (You must now get the Sangita Kalanidhi). All I could say with adbhutha written all over my face, "Amma, as of this moment, YOU have given it to me! And this is the greatest!" So guileless and generous was she in her affection and appreciation.

S. Balachander

Once a gentleman's name was announced as the recipient of Padma Shri. He was so relieved and happy that even before getting it from the President, he quickly printed a new visiting card with the title more prominent than his own name. He was handing the card out generously at events. At one such gathering, an ignorant man who wanted to catch his attention from across the large reception room, shouted out, "Mr. Padmashri, Mr. Padmashri, please come..."

Of course we all know how some people get so disappointed when they do not get an award or title which they think they rightly deserve. Their reactions sometimes turn into a kind of intense devil-may-care attitude. The great veena vidwan S. Balachander, became so incensed in his disappointment that he decided to collect at least twenty five titles for all the years he had been a veritable maestro. The titles were truly fancy and everybody had a good time on the festive twenty five occasions. He used to amuse us by saying that the world of music in India was as bad as the politics. His famous line was, "Look my dear, there are local frauds, regional frauds, national frauds and international frauds!"

Papanasam Sivan

Once, a sabha that I was quite familiar with was not an award or title- giving sabha, even though they had been functioning for a number of years. But suddenly one morning I saw an advertisement in the paper with a singer's name, getting a pompous sounding title from this, time etc, was mentioned. Out of curiosity I called up the president of the sabha. My curiosity was also because it was I who had introduced this artist who had recently migrated to Chennai, to this sabha. The president gently said, "I don't this the case?" Then I called the secretary and asked, "Since when have you started giving titles?" He asked, "What title?" I said, "Have you not seen the papers today?" He said, "No, I was busy." After some exchanges, he said, "Our chief advisor may have put out this ad." "But," I asked, "Why would he do it without telling you? And why would he spend his money?" Well, readers... you can imagine whatever you want to! But do lol (laugh out loud)!

The most famous one liner came from the old and frail Papanasam Sivan. Such a great composer of the twentieth century was ignored for years. Finally he was on the stage, sitting like Jatayu, and opened his speech with this: "Indha thadavai vera yarum kadaikkalai pola irukku... Adhaan en thalayil katti vittargal..." (This time around I suppose they did not find anybody else so they have foisted it on me). After a hushed moment there was loud applause from the audience.

Famous award returnees are also well remembered. The Kathak queen Sitara Devi rejected her award saying, "After junior artists who were not even born when I reigned supreme, I have got it. I do not wish to receive this award." That needs guts and she had it!

Stories are legion about awards and titles that one can write a book! Suffice it to say, dear is best we do not take it all seriously. What we should take seriously is our work, our sense of aesthetics, and our pride in the Parampara.

Lakshmi Vishwanathan, a prime disciple of Guru Kanjeevaram Elappa Pillai, is an exponent of the Thanjavur style of Bharatanatyam. She is also a trained vocalist. She is the author of several acclaimed books: Bharatanatyam - the Tamil Heritage, Kunjamma - Ode to a Nightingale, Kapaleeswara Temple, Women of Pride -The Devadasi Heritage. Her film 'The Poetry of Dance' was commissioned by the Festival of India. The Mamallapuram Dance Festival started in 1991 was Lakshmi's brainchild. She has served on several arts committees. She has served as Vice President of Music Academy (Chennai) and is a member of South Zone Cultural Centre.


Golden words from a platinum dancer! Akka, your writings are equally inspiring as your dance. Continue guiding us. You are beyond awards!
- Dr Vasanth Kiran, Bengaluru (Jan 30, 2017)

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