Chief Minister Jayalalithaa presents the Sangita Kalanidhi M.S. Subbulakshmi Award to Sangita Kalanidhi

The Empress of Tamil Nadu holds a unique record as far as the Academy is concerned – she is the only one who has inaugurated its December Music Season thrice. Well twice actually, because she did not come one Season, sending her Chief Secretary instead, citing the severe floods that ravaged Tamil Nadu as a reason why she ought not to be seen at a festive event. That in case you were wondering, was in 2005.

Her first appearance was in the 1990s, during her first tenure as CM. She then wore a cape if you recollect and jewellery as well. Mylapore went into raptures over her diamond ear studs and bangles. The year 2005 was when she was to come and opted to send the Chief Secretary. Her final appearance was in 2012. By then, she was the Amma we all know – she had sworn off jewellery except for a pair of tiny earrings and wore the by then familiar sarees in magenta, green, brown and a dark blue.

I was present at the Academy in 2012. The normal ritual is for the Committee Members to line up outside the VIP lobby and be introduced by the President to the Chief Guest. This was waived in the interests of security. The CM made her way directly to stage and when curtains went up, was there with N Murali, the President, Trichur V Ramachandran the Sangita Kalanidhi designate, Sangita Kalanidhi R Vedavalli who was to propose his name, Sangita Kalanidhi Trichy Sankaran who seconded, and KV Krishna Prasad, then Secretary in charge of concerts.

JJ’s speech was a virtuoso effort. She knew the subject of music, which by itself was a refreshing change when compared to several others. Having been a top-ranking actress, she knew how to deliver. As an aide-memoire, she brought along a printed speech. This I noticed was in a huge typeface, of point 50 or so and each page had just a few words. I wondered what purpose this served, till it dawned that these were all cue sheets. They contained a keyword or two and she just glanced at them even as she maintained continuous eye contact with the audience. The script incidentally was not clipped or bound.  It was just a collection of loose sheets and even as she had finished with a page, she just tossed it over to the side of the lectern. A minion crouched there, collecting the pages! I doubt if even Queen Victoria would have had such a facility. Among the many good things she said was that the December Music Festival had it in it to become an event of global stature. She promised all help if the Sabhas worked together for it. But then that is like asking the SAARC nations to work together for world peace.

The first three rows were full of the party faithful. Most had probably stepped into a music festival inauguration for the first time and were understandably lost. They just gazed at their leader with awe and it must be admitted, some terror as well. The speech over, JJ prepared to return to her seat, to thunderous and let me add, well-deserved applause. Krishna Prasad rose to deliver the vote of thanks. The faithful began streaming towards the door; they had to be seen cheering when the leader departed.

They had not realised that the national anthem would be played. Even as the audience scrambled to its feet, Amma’s eyes swept over the cadre moving towards the exit. It was as though she had asked to them to freeze. To a man, they all stood wherever they were, one fellow actually holding the door and another with his foot upraised to negotiate the step. A couple were in what Wodehouse would have described as the pose of the Infant Samuel prophesying before Saul.

The anthem ended and they all came to life. There was a scramble to the exit. JJ emerged from the stage door and boarded her car. Loud slogans were raised. But she did not appear to have noticed.

This article is part of the series ‘It happened one #DecemberMusicSeason’. All other articles can be read here :

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