Beyond destiny is perhaps the first ever biography of an Indian Critic (Subbudu) from the world of classical performing arts. Put into place through scores of interviews with country's top musicians, dancers and critics, the book traces the growth of an incorrigible kid as he takes on the high and the mighty from the world of arts to emerge as a fearless critic, whose single minded passion in life has been, to serve the arts.
The book captures Subbudu's rise as a critic incisively by juxtaposing it with the way Indian performing arts have shaped up post-independence. Beyond Destiny ends with a note of caution glancing at the reality of music and dance in India and its survival in the mainstream media
Lada Guruden Singh is a trained broadcast journalist, a poet with two collection of poems, Split Ends and Where Must I Go…, a Bharatnatyam dancer, a columnist with The Statesman and a freelance writer for host of national and international dance journals and websites.
Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan's Book University had brought out several biographical accounts and some autobiographies of eminent persons, scientists and thinkers. Bhavan has also published several books on the great Indian Heritage in Arts, Music and Dance. The Delhi Kendra of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan took the initiative in preparing the manuscript of this biography of Subbudu, the respected and well known critic of Carnatic classical music and Bharatanatyam. The author of the book, Lada Guruden Singh is a young writer, a performing artiste and an admirer of Subbudu and has indeed succeeded him in The Statesman, as one of its critics writing on dance and culture. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan is privileged to offer this biography to the discerning readers who, I am sure, will find the book full of insights and illuminating the life and work of Subbudu and also on several aspects of life and works of artistes and critics. I wish to express our heartfelt thanks to all those who have made this book possible and congratulate the Delhi Kendra on this initiative.
Nearly three years ago a suggestion was made to me that Bhavan should bring out a collection of Shri Subbudu's articles published. in The Statesman and elsewhere and also a biographical account of his life and work. I responded enthusiastically to this suggestion on account of the great admiration I have for Shri Subbudu, I as a person and as a professional. But the project got delayed spite my best efforts, as those who were selected for taking up assignment could not continue the work for one reason or another though they were admirers of Shri Subbudu and committe their assignments. It was then Shri Subbudu himself carne to rescue by suggesting that the task could be assigned to are unlikely person, Shri Lada Guruden Singh, in age a very IT younger person. Of course, his being a dancer qualified him Partly for the job and after a few discussions with him and after seeing some of his writings, I was convinced that he would be able to up this project and complete it in reasonable time.
Not unreasonably, Shri Subbudu himself was getting in impatient. Hence, the idea of having a collection of his writings in The Statesman and elsewhere in English was dropped. Fortunately Tamil writings have already been compiled and published.
I am happy to say that Shri Lada Guruden Singh has fully justified the faith reposed in him. He has worked hard and with enthusiasm and after many interviews with Shri Subbudu and colleagues, he has given us a reasonably full account of Shri Subbudu's life and work and makes us familiar with the measure of his contribution to classical music and dance criticism.
We must thank The Statesman and The Hindu who have provided valuable space in their Delhi editions for music and dance criticisms. I wish the Hindustan Times and The Times of India would emulate this example and provide similar space, which they used to do in earlier times. Thanks to these newspapers, leading critics of classical dance like Subbudu (P. V. Subramaniam), Shanta Serbjeet Singh, Leela Venkataraman and Sunil Kothari (among others) have enhanced the understanding and appreciation of our great classical heritage in dance.
Some years ago, I had participated in a function organised by Shri Garg of the Indian Cultural Society to honour another reputed dance critic, Shri V. V. Prasad. On that occasion all the speakers eulogised one particular aspect of Prasad's writings that he never hurt anyone's feelings. Obviously Prasad believed in the Sanskrit dictum Tell the Truth, Say the Pleasant but do not tell the Unpleasant Truth. There is also the famous observation of the novelist Sarat Chandra that in telling the bitter truth, it is the love of bitterness rather than love of truth that prevails.
But surely we must distinguish the injury caused by a bludgeon from the pain caused by a skilful surgeon's scalpel. The latter heals and accelerates the growth of the healthy tissue, while the former leads to gangrene and destruction. Subbudu often hurt the feelings of artistes and even more of the admirers and friends of artistes. (The artistes who saw the value of the truth in the criticisms often overcame the hurt faster than their friends.) I believe that the hurt he caused most often helped the growth of art.
As it is, serious artistes have a difficult task in meeting the diverse expectations of audiences and critics with different tastes and levels of understanding. Further, as Ruskin observed, great artistes always work beyond their powers of execution. Much of what they do is "unfinished" and there is the ever present search for perfection and excellence, which is never ever attained. Their own "inner voices" are often the most strident critics and it is not surprising that any criticism whose truth or validity does not carry conviction to the artiste can rankle their minds with a continuing sense of unfairness. It is in this context that it is absolutely necessary for critics to have a certain depth of knowledge of the particular art about which they write.
Bharatanatyam as an art form is centred on classical music and could be described truthfully as visual music. In his book, Facets of Indian Culture Prof. R. Srinivasan quotes Leopold Stokowski:
"One of the great characteristics of the music of India to my mind is its flexibility and freedom. While giving due consideration to traditions stemming from the past, Indian music is free and improvised so that all powers of imagination in the musician are brought into play. In this way the music of India is always creative, never a reproduction of what is written or played, as sometimes happens with the music of Western countries."
So too with the Indian classical dance; it allows the individual artiste's "soul to express itself" in a combination of discipline and freedom, tradition and creativity that makes every single performance - even an oft repeated one - a new choreography on each occasion,
Subbudu's masterly knowledge of classical music undoubtedly makes him an outstanding music and dance critic.
Born in Madras in 1917, Subbudu spent his early years in Yangon (Rangoon). I was born fifteen years later, spent some of my early years near Tiruvarur (of Saint Tyagaraja fame) but mostly at Chennai. Despite this time and space difference, the great Tamil writer Kalki was a common formative influence on both of us. I was an avid reader of Kalki absorbing every line he wrote week after week - story, essay, dance or music criticism, in all of which he set a tradition.
In the 1940s, every middle class family in Madras invariably had a visiting music teacher training the girls in Carnatic classical music. The boys who were not formally taught had the incidental benefit of exposure to the music and if they were more musically inclined and talented did better than the girls. In the post-war era after 1945 all this changed. The 'home' became more crowded and visiting teachers more expensive. Music and dance schools took the place of visiting teachers and as the girls went there to learn, the boys lost the exposure. That gave the opportunity to Radio Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Radio Goa, then under Portuguese rule, to attract them to Hindi film songs which became the rage. (All India Radio did not then enter in this game of film music.)
It is no wonder that Subbudu strides like a colossus among critics because of his deep knowledge and mastery of both music and dance. But beyond this, his greatness lies in the simplicity of his living, his courage and fearlessness and his commitment to the art he espouses so well and spiritedly.
Shri Lada Guruden Singh deserves our thanks for this endeavour. We in the Bhavan's family also wish to place on record our sincere and deeply felt gratitude to Subbudu for giving us the privilege of publishing this biographical account. Prof. N.N. Pillai, Shri Manna Srinivasan, Dr. G.R. Sundar and Justice Viswanatha Iyer read through the manuscript and made several suggestions for which I would like to express our grateful thanks.
North Indian Music (279)
Original Texts (59)
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