My guru’s daughter
Friday October 27 2006 16:37 IST
“Viddheemma, Viddheee, get ready for your dance class. Dandayudhapani sir will be waiting for you…” “Someone get orange juice and Sanatogen ready for Viddhee for her dance class…” Thus would go my Guru MLV akka’s voice, a voice which was melodious even when she spoke. Dosas made of egg-white and coconut-oil massages were a must for the young danseuse under the watchful and loving eyes of her mother. Srividhya was brought up like a princess by her celebrity mother ML Vasanthakumari who was constantly on tour to fulfill her singing engagements all over the world.
Leaving her children at home and travelling, coming back from tour and catching up with them, indulging them and spoiling them, were all part of the routine in Akka’s home. And we, the disciples, pitched in where we could, to support this remarkable family. In her early years, Vidhya was pampered by her gracious grandparents Vidwan Ayyasami Iyer and Vidushi Lalithangi amma. Very early on, Viddhee’s talent in laya (rhythm) was recognised by her mother. A December-season radio relay was being heard by Akka and her accompanists. Viddhee was a tiny tot playfully jumping around. Palghat Mani Iyer, the mridangam maestro, was playing a fiery thani (solo) . The whole group was perplexed as to the time cycle he was playing — was it seven beats or six they wondered. Suddenly Vidhya the child piped out, “He’s playing thaka dimi taka thakita — nine beats,” and all of them acknowledged without doubt her laya gnana. Then and there Akka decided that the child should learn dance. Her perfect face and large lustrous eyes were ideal for dance. Once, however, the critic Subbudu felt that she should become trimmer to dance better though he praised her competence no end.
Viddhee mastered the margam (repertoire) from her guru and people came to witness with exhilaration the laya competition between guru and sishya on stage with MLV backing her up with some gorgeous music in the second half of the programme. I have also sung along with Akka for several of Vidhya’s scintillating performances. Several disciples like Saraswathi Srinivasan and TM Prabhavathi also helped in Viddhee’s upbringing as we were all part of Akka’s extended family in the true Gurukula sense. She also trained formally under Vidwan B. Krishnamurthy for Carnatic vocal. She excelled in music and dance and nattuvangam too.
Vidhya was quite reserved by nature but was a dedicated person as far as her dance was concerned. The same commitment came to her film roles too. I remember she was always in a world of her own. She was very keen on joining the turbulent film industry though many of Akka’s conservative mami friends advised against such a move. They felt her dance would take a backseat. And it did. Some years ago, Viddhee told me that she had a desire to start a dance school and propagate Dandayudhapani’s style for posterity. She seemed to miss her dancing desperately. Naturally, since she had spent years and years mastering the art.
Fate willed otherwise. Brushing aside her mother’s protests she rushed into a bad marriage. This traumatic event separated mother and daughter for several years. They never saw eye to eye on things. Akka lapsed briefly into an unexplainable depression. When the marriage soured, Akka and Viddhee came back together with a lot of loving and caring. The interim period had been hell for both of them. God was unkind. Soon Akka fell ill. Vidhya nursed her, and after her death she looked after her father Vikatam (mimic) Krishnamurthy and her brother’s family. Vidhya never recovered fully from her mother’s demise. That was a deep sadness which became part of her.
Vidhya’s life was dedicated to service to others and she led it like a stoic, a karma yogin. There was no real happiness except when she acted. She told me that she found profound joy in the presence of Satya Sai Baba and she also composed and sang 500 songs on Baba. The last few years saw her giving music concerts, and as she was a very good singer it was but natural for her to sing. This I think would have found favour with Akka. I know for a fact that she was educating a number of orphans and doing charity.
Her sudden untimely death was shocking and saddening. One felt that a life had been wasted. It leads one to ponder on the private and sad lives of stars and celebrities and how much they have to sacrifice in life, to remain stars and celebrities in the fickle eyes of the public. For me, a part of my childhood has been erased and thoughts of my guru rekindled. Life has its ups and downs — this is a particular low. Now I want to remember only the good times and get on.
The mother in my Kandukondein Kandukondein had to be somebody who could show great dignity in adversity. Srividya was perfect for that role — a woman who was a great beauty, but who had taken foolish, impulsive decisions, who lived to regret them, but learnt to deal with life. She had the perfect South Indian face, with large expressive eyes. Although she started her career in the Tamil cinema of the 60s and 70s she was incredibly non-melodramatic. Then of course she matured in Malayalam cinema.
During the shooting of my film, I found her totally sensitive to direction. Her eyes would light up if she approved of a particular nuance. In between shots she used to sing Carnatic music on our request. Her music was beautiful. I saw her as a top notch musician surrounded by disciples. That was not to be. She had her mother’s knowledge of music and the passion of a dancer. Her talent was not suitably rewarded in her home state. But she died in glory in Kerala.
— Rajiv Menon,