A song that was never heard

MS and Radha at the UN concert in 1966

Yesterday evening I heard that Carnatic vocalist Radha Vishwanathan was no more. In the melee of Margazhi, not many even noticed it.

My childhood was incomplete without Bhajan Govindam and Vishnu Sahasranamam in the voice of MS Subbulakshmi. Several south Indian homes had this cassette next to their tape recorder all the time. On some days, it would be played in the morning and many a time, in the evening. While the song leaflet on the cassette cover said that these were sung by MS, I clearly felt the presence of a second voice in those renditions. That’s when my mother said, “It could have been Radha.” But Radha’s name wasn’t mentioned anywhere.

Radha was the daughter of MS Subbulakshmi. But does that description justify her eminence? Perhaps, that’s the only definition she desired. Radha was the other side of MS which no one noticed at first glance. For several decades, she provided vocal support to her step-mother (if I have to be accurate) in several kutcheris and recordings. Forever, she remained in her mother’s shadow. She also played the childhood part of Meera in the movie Meera (1945) which made her mother immortal in the pages of cinema. MS was also the vocalist for her daughter’s Arangetram. She didn’t have a child of her own and gave all that she knew in terms of music to Radha, though even that was tough many a time as MS was constantly learning new compositions and new styles of music from other vidwans. Did MS get rankled by the fact that despite being talented, Radha only chose to remain in her mother’s shadow? I don’t know but she knew of this fact and the below anecdote says it all.

Like several recordings, MS and Radha rendered the Vishnu Sahasranamam also together. If you keenly listen to it, MS had taken an extra pause in the portion “Amaani maanado maanyo lokaswami trilokadrikh“. The recordist suggested that the stotram be re-recorded. MS protested. “Let the two voices be heard distinctly and separately for a second. The world will know that Radha always sang along with MS.”

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