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Vol. XXXII No. 21, February 16-28, 2023

S. Kannan: Quiet champion of the arts

-- by S. Janaki

In the passing away of S. Kannan, the world of eyal, isai, natakam has lost a quiet champion of the arts. Hailing from Karaikudi, this 73-year old connoisseur of the arts, had endeared himself to one and all in the field through his selfless service, sincerity, simple demeanour and sharing nature. He was best known for two handy books. One was the Season Guide, which he brought out with meticulous care initially as part of Aiyndu Karangal with R.T. Chari, and later with the assistance of art patron and silk baron, Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti. It was a mammoth task in the pre-Google days to compile the vast number of sabhas, venues, concerts, and artists involved in the famous Madras music and dance season. His second pocket book titled Ragas Ready Reference (RRR) too was equally popular with concert-goers as they could quickly check with ease every song, raga and composer as they sat in the music hall. He would come home and give us five copies hot from the press! We called it “Kannan’s Geethai” and looked upon it as “Kannan kaattiya vazhi” to enjoy the season! Nalli Sir recollects with pride that Kannan had unobtrusively played a major role in helping Chennai become a part of UNESCO’s ‘creative city network” – as it was the handy book that had served as a much needed resource-proof about the mind-boggling season.

My association with Kannan Sir goes back to 1995 when both of us was invited to join the core committee of Natyarangam soon after it was launched. This dance wing of the Narada Gana Sabha, under the guidance of R. Krishnaswami, at that time comprised Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, K.S. Subramanian and Charukesi Viswanathan. As Kannan knew all the staff and workers of the sabha, he played an enthusiastic role for several years in taking care of the nitty gritties of the events – especially the monthly programmes showcasing young dancers of merit; as that was close to his heart. He would take extra interest whenever Natyarangam arranged Bharatanatyam programmes based on Tamil literature – during our annual thematic festivals, as well as for Subramania Bharati Day, and for Dr. S. Ramanathan endowment and Kamban Vizha. He would enthusiastically help the artistes coordinate with the Tamil poets and writers, and willingly share his own valuable insights, well versed as he was in Tamil. He would also help in organizing outreach programmes in Corporation schools, orphanages and old-age homes under Natyarangam’s Jana Bharatham project. He would don the role of a responsible guardian at the sabha’s camps at Thennangur. Once, when a participant suddenly took ill, Krishnaswami Sir asked him to escort the girl to her home in Chennai by car and return to the camp. Kannan did so with alacrity, but came back to the camp not by car but by the public bus. That was Kannan! In the past few years, with increasing health issues, he would still attend meetings, and take on the duties allocated to him during events, but on a lower key.

Kannan was a gentleman with varied interests, but he was first and foremost a discerning rasika. He had a vast knowledge of and was passionate about literature (with a deep love for the Tamil language), music, dance and drama. He was ever willing to share the joy that he derived from literature and the arts, and would go to great lengths to disseminate it. He was an avid reader with his home library well stacked with books. He was ever willing to learn, always wanting to buy a book to read, and was on the lookout for rare out-of-print books. He would suggest books and encourage his friends to read, and if we happened to get books of not much interest to us, he would be quick to pick them up for his library. He was a member of several organizations but would never brag or even speak about his active involvement in them. He was an excellent talent scout of young musicians and dancers. He would travel from one venue to another on his scooter, observing concerts of young artists, making note of the promising ones and immediately suggest to the sabha organizers. There are hundreds of such young performers who have now become famous artistes – thanks to his relentless zeal.

Though he was always polite and soft spoken, he would not mince words about the quality of any event. You could see him smiling with happiness after an excellent performance, or looking troubled after a mediocre one. He would patiently wait for the fans to move away and then convey to the artist what he truthfully felt about it.

Kannan was quite an enigma. In the Shraddhanjali organized recently at the Arkay Centre it was amazing to listen to various personalities from different organizations like Madhuradhwani, Natyarangam/ Narada Gana Sabha, TAG Centre, Putthaga Nanbargal, Tamil Heritage Trust, and Aanmajothi, pay emotional tribute to Kannan and remarking that he or she was not aware of his deep involvement in other spheres! Such was his unassuming and self-effacing nature. He was a part of Madhuradhwani ever since its inception, and its founder Arkay Ramakrishnan remarked that Kannan, an eloquent speaker, had compered and introduced over hundred programmes with elan.

Talent promotion and sharing with others the joy he ­derived from the arts was his mission; and he went quietly about it till the end. He succumbed to cancer on 26 January 2023.

He will sorely be missed by the arts fraternity in Chennai. But true to his wont, he must be busy scouting for young talent in the Indra-sabha to enrich the quality of performances up-above! K. Harishankar’s (Secretary, Narada Gana Sabha) announcement that the sabha will shoulder the responsibility of bringing out the two handy-books of Kannan in his name – would be the most befitting tribute to ‘Music’ Kannan’s memory.

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