Today, Malathi Rangaswami turns 80. A birthday party is being organised at her son’s house and I look forward to attending it. Malathi is among the many women friends I have, all of them as my younger son is fond of pointing out, above or nearing 80. Those who follow my writings will of course recognise her as the co-author of Four Score and More, History of the Music Academy, Madras. This was Malathi’s second book. The first one, was The Kasi Diaries, The Diaries of ND Varadachariar. NDV was Malathi’s father and he died very early, sometime in the 1940s. And he left behind his diaries, which were a few years ago edited and published, by Malathi and her two brothers Sampath and Kasturi. It was at the release of that book that I was formally introduced to Malathi. It was a Book Club event put together by S Muthiah where he spoke on NDV’s observations of Madras, my friend and mentor KV Ramanathan spoke on the political observations and I spoke on the musical elements. NDV was a close friend of several musicians and Veena Dhanam was his all-time favourite.
It was also at that book release that I made the acquaintance of Sita Varadachariar, Malathi’s mother. She was then in her early 90s and has since turned 100. Happily with us, she is still able to read books. When I once called at Malathi’s house, the old lady was reading the da Vinci Code and had quite a few insightful observations on the novel. She also regaled me with some unprintable stories about Carnatic musicians of the past. I am sure she must be as sprightly as ever, though frail.
Anway, Malathi is a chip off the old block too. She has for long been Secretary of the Music Academy and one of the group that stood by that institution when it fought several court cases. And so much taken up is she with the Academy that she made it the subject of her PhD thesis, which she completed successfully in her 70s! She is therefore Dr Malathi now. That was also how she became a co-author of the book on Academy.
I was initially very wary about the presence of a co-author and that too several years my senior. But it soon turned out to be great fun. She was so involved with the project. Many a discussion with the designer Deepa Kamath would go on till late into the evening at the Academy and Malathi would always be there giving her inputs. And if we needed a picture (Deepa would suddenly drawl out, “You know, I think we must have that Mark Twain-like musician’s picture here” by which she meant TV Subba Rao) and Malathi would already be on a ladder or getting the Academy Library Assistant Sathya to climb one and fetch some of the photos. And that was how the book was completed. The first picture in the book which showed the Congress President Ansari arriving in Madras, has NDV standing behind him. This was from Malathi’s personal collection. The book was a very exciting but a draining exercise and at the end of the launch, we just hugged each other.
Malathi incidentally, married TT Krishnamachari’s third son TT Rangaswami. Which meant that in her time she has met up with all the big wigs. There is a photo of a dinner party at TTK’s house in his biography, which has her with Nehru, Mrs Gandhi, Rajaji, MS and others. But she wears all that rather lightly.
A simple person who loves travelling, she has a fantastic dress sense, always impeccably turned out, never a hair out of place. Malathi has several friends and I am sure every one of them will be there today. So here’s to a great year my friend!