If you’ve never been to a Carnatic concert or thrive on rock ‘n’ roll, perhaps the Pictures of Melody graphic novel series is for you. What started out as an initiative for children in 2011, has now transcended its boundaries to all age groups, says author Lakshmi Devnath. “I realised a long time ago that there wasn’t any reading material for youngsters about our Carnatic legends,” she states.
Then adds, “I find that even if you listen to their music, their stories and struggles that brought them to fame are equally important.” In remembrance of 100 years of the legendary Madurai Mani, the author will release the third graphic novel in her series, Madurai Mani Iyer – The joy of song. The launch will be take place at the Narada Gana Sabha hall on Friday evening.
With months of research, long hours of conversation with the descendents of these famed voices and often, actual visits to landmark places in the story – Lakshmi packs in all the facts in 24 pages. “And I pride myself on not leaving out a single detail,” she smileAs. Sitting on the sofa of her immaculate vernacular-style home on Greenways Road, it isn’t hard to tell that this author is a perfectionist. For her latest work on the life of Madurai Mani, much time was spent with his nephew T V Sankaranarayan, who lives in the same house in Mylapore that his uncle lived in, over half a century ago. The author offers fans a teaser, “Some of the incidents in this novel have never been told before and will be appearing for the first time in print.”
Beyond the story and fun snippets of trivia, the difficult part is taking a heavy biography and penning it simply. The author, a trained Carnatic vocalist and vianika (veena player) herself points out, “I’ve kept it so easy to read that a even a 9-year-old can pick it up.” So how does she pull it off? “My first question to myself is always – how do I make this sound interesting?” she responds immediately. Each pictorial scene is choreographed in multiple ways before it is given to the artist, she confides.
In fact, the author points out, “There are times when I’ve even enacted scenes to the artist or given him style ideas to suit the clothing of the period – just so the whole scene is as authentic as it can be.”
The middle-aged mother of two demonstrates the same by tapping her foot like the Britisher who went to one of Madurai Mani’s concerts. She then slips her hand into an imaginary pocket and says the dialogue as well, complete with a changed accent to suit. “I think the child in me is still alive,” she laughs.
Asked about feedback for her previous releases: M S Subbulakshmi — Queen of Song and G N Balasubramanium - Speed Thrills and it’s evident that the author is happy. She reveals, “I’ve received several letters from children – all handwritten that I have kept safe.”
Apparently one such letter from a little boy about the M S Subbalakshmi graphic novel had a surprise in store. Lakshmi elaborates, “This 12-year-old writes to me that his favourite character in the book was Kalki Sadasivam (M S’ husband), and I couldn’t imagine why,” she states and adds with a smile, “I continued reading and he said, it’s because he (Sadasivam) supported M S so much.”
Perhaps a highlight of this novel series for youngsters, is that with every release, there is also an autographed poster inside. “That was one of my fundamental ideas right from the start,” Lakshmi recalls. “If teenagers can put up posters of their favourite western musicians, why not our Carnatic heroes?”
(Madurai Mani Iyer – the joy of song will be launched at the Narada Gana Sabha hall on November 2 at 5.30pm. This will be followed by a concert by Balamuralikrishna at 6.45pm. For details, call 9381066613.)