Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXIX No. 23, March 16-31 2020
Janardhan Srinivas Prabhu, or J.S.Prabhu as he was more commonly known, had a stellar career at EID Parry but alongside, he played a very important role in the promotion of Hindustani Music in Chennai, and in propelling the growth of the SGS Sabha, a well-known social organization in the city.
Born on 14th July 1912 in Mangalore in a Konkani-speaking Gowda Saraswat Brahmin (GSB) family, JSP was the eldest of the six children of Srinivas Janardhan Prabhu and Rama alias Satyabhama Prabhu. He was named Srinivas after his paternal grandfather per the tradition of those times, but was called Raghuram at home. Father Janardhan was an employee of Parry & Company who started his life-long stint at the company at 16 as a stenographer to Gerald H. Hodgson, later to become Chairman of the firm. (In fact, Hodgson has made a mention of his dependence on Janardhan in his memoirs). JSP received his schooling in Cochin and Calicut, and his pre-collegiate education at Aloysius College in Mangalore, before moving to Madras, where he completed his Bachelor of Science degree in Botany from Presidency College in 1933. Thereafter he joined Parry & Company as a covenanted officer, which was an exclusive preserve of Englishmen in those days. In 1934, he married Koppi alias Rama, daughter of Ullal Narayan Kini, and they had two daughters, Tara and Meera.
In the early years of his career, JSP was posted to the western coast of India and successively given charge of the branches in Calicut, Cochin, Palghat, etc. As was the case in those days, executives were exposed to all the trading businesses of the company, from fly ash to window glass and toilet soap, and from belts and biscuits to Scotch, and it was no different in JSP’s case. His delightful memories of his experiences during those times have been recounted in the book ‘Parrys 200: A Saga of Resilience’ by N.S. Ramaswami and S. Muthiah, published in 1988 to commemorate the bicentenary of the company. Thanks to his excellent administrative abilities and management acumen, JSP rose steadily in his career, moving to Madras for good in 1946, and eventually becoming Joint Managing Director of the EID Parry Group, in which position he retired in 1970. He continued to serve the company as the CEO of Parry Confectionary until 1974.
JSP’s interest in Hindustani Music was awakened in early childhood, thanks to his father’s interest in the genre. As a youth, and even later as a married man, he would regularly spend evenings at what was known in the community as ‘Das Naik’s neighbourhood’, a popular hang-out for young GSB men in Calicut. An important activity during these daily get-togethers was listening to the gramophone records of musicians such as Narayan Rao Vyas, Abdul Karim Khan, K.L. Saigal and Pankaj Mullick, and discussing the music. While he never formally learnt music, JSP’s passion for Hindustani Music led him not only to listen widely but also to read extensively on the subject, and to discuss the subject with musicians and like-minded rasikas, resulting in his coming to be regarded as a discerning connoisseur by musicians.
An early example of JSP’s initiative at organizing concerts is how, as a student at Presidency College, he organized Abdul Karim Khan’s concert in Madras during one of the Ustad’s many visits to the city. As he progressed in his corporate career and grew in stature, JSP lost no opportunity to build his contacts with musicians, host them and organize their concerts in Madras. The list of musicians who performed in the city at his behest in the period between the ‘50s and the early ‘80s, is long and includes the names of Nissar Hussain Khan, Nivruttibuwa Sarnaik, Shaik Dawood, Bhimsen Joshi, V.G. Jog, Amarnath, Malabika Kanan, Ghulam Mustafa Khan and Malini Rajurkar, to cite but a few names. More often than not, the public concerts of these stalwarts would be preceded or followed by a private baithak at his residence, his daughter’s residence or at the residences of his close associates such as Mr. Mahadevan, also of Parry & Co., and Mr. U.N. Baliga. Many a time, the visiting maestri would be guests at the Prabhu home or at the home of his daughter.
J.S. Prabhu’s name is inextricably linked with that of the Samyukta Gowda Saraswata Sabha, or the SGS Sabha, as it is commonly known. Set up in 1912 as a forum to facilitate the social progress of the larger Saraswat diaspora in Madras, the focus of its mission is to help needy and deserving college students of the community through scholarships, in keeping with its motto of ‘Vidyaa Para Devataa’. JSP took over as Honorary Secretary and Treasurer of the Sabha in 1962 and played a key role in the remarkable growth and progress of all activities of the Sabha during his tenure of 36 years. Fondly addressed as Raghuram-maam (Uncle Raghuram), Prabhu-Maam or Parab-maam (Uncle Prabhu) by one and all at the Sabha, he was a man of a few words who let his actions do the talking. His wife, fondly addressed as Koppimaayi (Aunt Koppi), stood by him and was a pillar of support in all the activities that he undertook. The title of Saraswat Ratna was conferred on JSP by the All India Saraswat Cultural Organization in 1974 in recognition of his service to the community, The buildings on the Sabha premises were built and completed during the ‘60s. In fact, it was thanks to JSP’s remarkable vision that the Kalyana Mantapam was built, with the aim of bringing in revenues through renting the Sabha premises for weddings and other functions. To this day, the SGS Sabha is among the wedding venues most in demand in Chennai.
There was a happy coming together of JSP’s twin passions of Hindustani Music and the SGS Sabha when he raised funds for the construction of the Sabha Hall and Kalyana Mantapam by persuading musicians of the stature of Bhimsen Joshi, Lakshmi Shankar and others, to perform at fundraising concerts. Even MS sang at one of the annual Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations at the Sabha in the early 70s. In later years, JSP organized six Sangeet Sammelans at the Sabha, of which the biggest one was conducted from 7th to 13th April 1975, in collaboration with Wills (ITC). This sammelan saw the participation of the who’s who of Indian Classical Music, such as Mallikarjun Mansoor, Bhimsen Joshi, Kishan Maharaj, Girija Devi, Vilayat Khan, Voleti Venkateswarulu, Lalgudi Jayaraman, Guruvayoor Dorai, Nikhil Banerjee, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Amjad Ali Khan and Parveen Sultana. Thanks also to his friendship with industrialist and music patron, Emberumanar Chetty, the 50-50 Club formed by the latter held its concerts at the Sabha for many years. A little-known facet about JSP, which came to light after his death, was the fact that he wrote articles on Hindustani Music for local newspapers and for the annual souvenirs of Chennai sabhas under the pseudonym of Sangeethapriya and Gaanapriya!
Class and aristocratic tastes marked the man – for example, he was adept at solving cryptic crosswords. In fact, he subscribed to the Sunday edition of a British newspaper just so that he could attempt its cryptic crossword! JSP was also a great fan of P.G. Wodehouse, and probably the only telecast he watched on TV, besides Hindustani music concerts, was the BBC dramatization of the great humourist’s novels that Doordarshan chose to telecast weekly sometime during the late 70s or early 80s! An extremely disciplined and organized person, JSP brought a high degree of professionalism and thoroughness to whatever activity he took up. He was the moving spirit behind the Sabha’s immaculately maintained garden, which won the Sabha prizes from the Horticultural Society, Chennai.
A firm believer in meticulous planning, he was also a stickler for punctuality – even now, old-timers reminisce about how Sabha concerts would always begin on the dot irrespective of how many people had turned up in the audience! JSP was also a great team-builder, mentoring several people whom he took under his wing, and grooming them for greater responsibilities, while staying in the background. JSP helped countless people throughout the course of his life – whether with securing scholarships/jobs for them or for their family members or even with helping them out financially from his own pocket, and he did all this quietly, without making much ado of it. In fact, many of these acts of benevolence on his part became known to his family and friends only after his demise in June 2000, when beneficiaries visited or wrote to express their condolences on his passing. Krishnanand, Veereshwar Madri, Eshwar Morgeri, N.V. Moorthy and Janardan Mitta were among the Madras-based Hindustani musicians he promoted by giving them concert opportunities and giving them referrals for tuitions.
J.S. Prabhu truly was one of Chennai’s illustrious sons. It is hoped that the SGS Sabha will revive the practice of conducting the annual J.S. Prabhu Memorial Hindustani Music concert on his birth anniversary in tribute to his memory.
1. ‘Amgelo Raghuram – Sangeetha Priya par excellence’, by S.Ranganatha Rao, Saraswat Vani, SGS Sabha, Calicut, June 2012
2. ‘Parrys 200: A Saga of Resilience’ by N.S. Ramaswami & S.Muthiah, Affiliated East West Press Limited, New Delhi, 1988
3. ‘100 Years 1912-2012 – Samyukta Gowda Saraswata Sabha Centenary Year Celebrations’, SGS Sabha, Chennai, 2012
4. Vatsala Acharya, J.S.Prabhu’s sister
5. Tara Shenoy and Meera Rao, J.S.Prabhu’s daughters
6. S.Ranganatha Rao, J.S.Prabhu’s son-in-law
7. Suresh S.Prabhu, J.S.Prabhu’s nephew
8. Khaja Nisar, Ustad Shaik Dawood’s son, for the 2nd photo