Smt Susheela Acharya
My mother, Smt Susheela Acharya, was probably one of those mothers who agreed with Khalil Gibran’s view (without reading his work) that ‘Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself”.
In her childhood, she spent hours every evening with her siblings, singing songs that they knew and those they had learnt from someone or the other. Most of the learning was by ‘osmosis’ method, where even the roadside singing beggar was not spared by her father of teaching a song to the girls in exchange of a shirt.
To an extent, this was followed at our house, with time for bhajans every evening in front of the altar. Then came the idiot box which became more important than the altar, and thus our daily services came to a sad end. Singing was an accepted part of life, just like we could walk and talk. So, there was no great fuss about it. Only singing, as against walking and talking, was done exclusively for an audience, and not as daily Pooja. And audiences did not crop up every day!
Amma would come up with new songs (Kannada, Sanskrit & Hindi) and tunes like new recipes just so often! While teaching, she would always tell us the name of the Raga that she had composed in. And, it would never register in my head! Just like a mother likes to know whether the family liked the food that she cooked, Amma would ask us how we liked the tune. She would always want to know my opinion. Not caring for her sentiments, I would say what I felt. Sometimes it would be, “it’s ok”, or “this tune sounds like that song”, or by way of teasing, “this sounds too Carnatic”! Her face would fall at these comments.
It was only when we grew up and saw how her compositions were being appreciated by so many, that it dawned on me that they were special compositions, unique to the core. In fact, this was something Amma was sore with me about – when she bought new clothes and tailored them for me, I would never say I liked it. When my friends said they liked the clothes, I would accept that they were nice! The same behavior extended to her compositions. When others appreciated them, they suddenly became nice for me!
It was when I started taking formal lessons in music that I realized that she had composed in complex ragas and talas, and could identify scores of ragas without batting an eyelid. My regard for her knowledge kept growing, and I started wondering why I was not like her. That probably triggered the little musician in me to get more serious. Wanting to know what I was singing became more important then. And that helped me to understand Amma’s music better.
To this – my mother, my teacher, my music role-model, my seamstress, my guide – my deepest gratitude and namaskaras.