On this recent 2013 visit to Madras, the first since 2007, six years since my last one with Master and five years since he passed away, I learnt from his family that the Periakulam Zamindar lady had recently passed away.
Her name was Mrs. Haripriya Ramabhadran.
I respect her tremendously for her generosity to Master during the 70s when she literally gave him as a gift a piece of land and also built him a house on that land. This is the house to which I came and learnt from Master all those years later in the 90s and 2000s.
Master always used to mention her, and he also used to mention another lady he'd call "Uma Amma" as his two chief patrons.
Without the support and patronage of those two ladies, his life would have been a lot less secure.
I have never spoken to the other lady but I did speak to Mrs. Haripriya several times. She kept a low profile and did not appear in the papers much and was averse to fame. She supported several artists during her life time.
I remember Mrs. Haripriya once saying to me "A dance teacher needs a house of his own. Otherwise if he is constantly shifting from place to place people won't be able to continue studying with him for a long time. It will keep getting broken up. And a place can sometimes get to be too expensive and he may have to move when he doesn't want to move."
It was a tremendous and immense thing that she did. Giving Master an independent home of his own as a gift. Which allowed him to live in one place with security and teach.
We all owe her a debt of gratitude.
Every single one of us who came to that house and learnt from him.
All of us who learnt from him in Madras.
If it were not for her gift, he would not have been able to live in Madras as securely as he did.
She was an extremely wealthy lady. So she could easily afford to do it. But the point is that she chose to do it. And she picked a very talented person and supported him at a crucial early stage before he became very famous.
And there are many very wealthy people in Madras and elsewhere who spend their money in other ways. Identifying an artist and supporting him is not something they would do. Or if they do support the arts, they support established people or established organizations in small ways or they appear to show off in functions.
The Periakulam Zamindar lady wasn't like that. She chose very well, she did not do it in a public way, and she supported someone in a crucial state of their career and made a significant difference.
I really really respect her a lot for both her generosity and the way in which she exercised it.
Master has also spoken to me a lot about the patronage and generosity of this other lady he called "Uma Amma".
It seems for a very long period, between 15 or 20 years, starting in the late 60s, this lady was very generous in her support and helped Master with all the family marriages and so forth.
Master once mentioned to me that in the late 60s, after his father passed away, everyone in his extended family thought that he couldn't survive on his own in Madras, and that he would leave and go back to either his village or to Bangalore to a relative.
But that thanks to these two ladies and their families' generosity he was able to establish himself in Madras and make his own name and his career.
Master taught for many years at a school in Kilpauk. It was called a "Lalitha Subramaniam" school or something. It was set up by some inspector or civil service man in honor of his wife and he set it up for Master so he could teach there.
After this man passed away it was shut down and when I came looking for Master in 1994 and went to that school they directed me to his home in Purasawalkam - the one that the Periakulam lady had built for him in the 70s - and that's where he had set up his class room.
The class room on the terrace was also a gift from some other businessman, I forget his name. It was built as an addition to the house. It is not as big an expense as the house itself but it was still something.
It is strange to think how precarious an artist's life and career is. Even a very great one, like Master was.
There were plenty of functions and speeches and awards and symbolic recognition but when it came down to actual meaningful support - just a handful of patrons, that's what made all the difference.
And Mrs. Haripriya, this Periakulam Zamindar lady, was the chief one. I had lost touch with her after my 2007 India trip. But we all owe her. She was the big patron behind Master's life and career.