Continued from part 3

By the 1970s the growth in income had tapered off and in 1977 expenditure exceeded income for the first time. The Sabha was feeling the pinch owing to many more concert venues having come up at various locations in the city thereby distributing the audiences. Theatre had almost given up the ghost and films were ruling the roost. The general fall in patronage for Carnatic music added to the Sabha’s woes. The Hall was frequently hired for performances by other Sabhas, while the activities of the RR Sabha itself declined gradually. The golden jubilee was celebrated in 1979 with Rajah Sir MA Muthiah Chettiar inaugurating the events and M Balamuralikrishna presiding over the celebrations which spanned four months. The diamond jubilee celebrations in 1989 were very simple in comparison. In order to shore up revenues the Sabha even began hosting film shows in the 1980s, but the general patronage was low. The music school was wound up in the 1990s owing to lack of support.

For a few years the Sabha ran a fairly successful Dasara/Navaratri series with the main focus being dance. Several youngsters were given opportunities and the souvenirs of those years have the names of many hopefuls who took to the stage. In fact, performing at the RR Sabha became a matter of prestige for dancers. However the preface to the 1980 souvenir said it all when after patting themselves on the back for successful conduct of the golden jubilee, the members of the governing body recorded “ today there can be no comparison with the glorious past of the Sabha. However it can claim having survived the several challenges that were faced during the last decade. We have lost the leadership in inaugurating new Drama programmes. Our membership has fallen”. The 1981 souvenir records the need for repairs to the roof of the auditorium and the false ceiling besides the urgent need for electrical rewiring and extension of the stage to the rear by about 6 feet in order to accommodate the grandiose sets of RS Manohar’s plays. There is an appeal for funds in the same document. It is not clear if the funds were collected and the repairs done. The 1982 souvenir paints a better picture with a plan to hold a six month series of music and dance programmes beginning with Dasara with most concerts by stalwarts being sponsored by several patrons and well wishers. In later years the Dasara series was discontinued though it may have been a niche season that the Sabha could have continued with. The Sabha entered the December music season in the 1980s. It was more a question of keeping up with the Joneses for there was nothing new or different about the fare that was offered. An award for the season too was instituted and the Kala Ratna is one of the many awards of the season today.

But in terms of historical ambience the Sabha had everything going for it. Acoustically it had one of the best halls in the city. Artistes such as KJ Sarasa and Sanjay Subrahmanyan loved it for its heritage value. Some artistes have also performed free of charge, such was their respect for the Sabha. The auditorium was not air conditioned and hence necessitated keeping the doors open during the performances. Sundareswarar Street being a quiet one, there was no danger of road noises infiltrating and the open doors added to the aural pleasure. The upkeep though, was deteriorating and the Krishna idol that had stood guard over the Hall for over seventy years was witness to a progressive decline. However the venue was still the regular haunt of those who loved good music, simple ambience and lots of memories. Several Sabhas without a home such as Kartik Fine Arts and Kapali Fine Arts used the Hall for their own festivals.

The RR Sabha’s auditorium was pulled down some years ago leaving the Krishna idol to play its flute to a great pile of debris. The idea was to build a new auditorium complete with air conditioning though the old building was not really structurally unsound. It was only in the need of renovation. But in a city with no heritage laws such sites really have no chance. Today, long after the demolition, the venue remains desolate. A shell stands half finished. There is no building activity and no one has a clear answer as to when the promised new auditorium will come up. The Sabha that once rivaled the Music Academy, shared its logo and hosted programmes of other organizations is now forced to hold its own programmes in rented premises and is a mere shell of its former self. Can you beat that for irony?