TS Narayanaswami, courtesy Wikipedia

I saw in the newspapers this morning that it is TS Narayanaswami’s death anniversary. His portrait hangs in the Music Academy chiefly because of a signal service he did it in the last month of his life, along with his close friend and business associate KS Narayanan. I thought I will write this as a tribute to two great industrialists who helped the Academy. This is an extract from Four Score & More, The History of the Music Academy, Madras, which I co-authored with Dr Malathi Rangaswami.

On 1st January, 1968 TTK invited prominent members of the Academy and some well-wishers for an informal discussion on the state of finances. While there was now a surplus of income over expenditure at the end of each conference, the same could not be said of the building account. The bank was pressurising the Academy for repayment of loans and TTK, by then having given up Government office and in self-imposed exile in Tambaram, toyed with the idea of selling off the whole building just to get out of the financial situation. There were three large loans whose annual interest alone amounted to Rs 35,000 or so and had to be liquidated urgently. There was also need for urgent action for it was reliably learnt that Ramnath Goenka, the newspaper baron was evincing interest in this piece of prime real estate and had approached the banks offering to take over the loan and thereby the land as well.

The industrialist, VD Swami rather light-heartedly suggested that the Academy could be run as a cinema theatre for nine months in a year when it was idle; after all it had a projection room. TTK was furious. As industrialist KS Narayanan put it in his memoirs, it was like asking “the US President to hand over the Oval Office to the Russian Premier for nine months of the year”! It was decided that a Building and Finance Committee be formed to look after these subjects and on 7th January, the Executive Committee met and ratified the formation of such a committee which would be referred to as the Board of Trustees. It was more or less agreed that TS Narayanaswami (Abboyi to friends) of India Cements would be the head of this board and within a short while, even before the Board’s formation was approved at the General Body Meeting, he had raised large sums of money by way of donations for the Academy to ensure that Goenka was thwarted. But by February 1968, Abboyi was dead. When the General Body met on 25th February and approved the formation of the Board, VK Ramaswami Mudaliar, VD Swami, T Sadasivam, KR Sundaram Iyer, G Narasimhan and TV Viswanatha Iyer were appointed as its members. TL Venkatarama Iyer, as President of the Academy became an ex-officio trustee and V Raghavan as Secretary was nominated to the board by the Executive Committee. It was also decided that each Secretary would be co-opted into the Board for a period of one year by rotation. G Narasimhan was appointed Convenor of the Board.

Within the year the Board was showing results. Rs one lakh of the loan account was repaid leaving a balance of only Rs 10,000. In addition, the overdraft at the Indian Bank was brought down to Rs 1.72 lakhs from Rs 2.63 lakhs which was the position at the beginning of the year. TTK turned to KS Narayanan for further help and he in turn spoke to the bank and successfully negotiated for a two-year moratorium on the repayment and a restructuring of payments after that. “That same year,” writes Narayanan, “I was nominated a patron of the Music Academy, though to this day I don’t know who proposed my name”. MS Subbulakshmi continued to help in her own way. That year she was awarded the Sangita Kalanidhi and an MS Subbulakshmi Felicitation Committee had been formed which collected Rs 5500. This was given over to the Academy.

Every time I pass by TSN’s photo in the Academy, I think of what he did and offer a silent thanks. Can we imagine the Music Academy minus its auditorium and that vast space it lords over?