This has to be sometime in or around 1979. That is almost forty years ago and for that reason it is likely that I have got some details of the incident mixed up, but not any part of the central incident, I’m sure.
Gurudev Swami Chinmayanandaji had come to Kolkata and I had gone there to meet him and to be in his presence for the time he was there – a day or two. Swamiji was staying in the Birla House and was in a very leisurely mood – his schedule was light, a very rare thing since he was always kept busy with so many engagements. That evening he was seated in one of the large chambers or, maybe, an open veranda with bamboo curtains hanging in front as protection from the rains and the sun. He was seated comfortably on a sofa and there was a small group of his disciples and devotees sitting on the ground – just some twenty of us. I was one of the few disciples present, maybe four or five. Swamiji was speaking, some of us were asking questions, to which he responded in a light vein, bursting out in his characteristic laughter frequently. A quiet evening.
It was then the legendary singer Bharat Ratna MS Subbalakshmi walked in quietly, unassumingly and, kneeling on the ground before Swamiji, bowed down to him. Swamiji welcomed her warmly, his voice full of joy, and asked her to sit down and she sat down at Swamiji’s feet. After some pleasant conversations, what we call kushala-prashna, Swamiji asked her to sing a song and all of us became quiet with expectations. MS Subbalakshmi herself singing, not on a stage, not in a public performance, but on a private occasion like this, unscheduled, without preparations, without any accompaniments!
After a few moments of silence, MS Amma began and instantly the whole audience was transported into another world. What I remember most is the sacred silence in which we all sat until the song ended and we were forced to come out of that world, her singing no more keeping us there.
That and what happened next.
Following the singing, Amma became completely silent and still, and we noticed, there were tears in her eyes. Swamiji remained silent allowing her to stay with the emotions she was obviously struggling with. We held our breaths and waited.
When Amma had composed herself, she looked at Swamiji and said, emotions choking her, that it was twenty-five years ago, that she had last sung that particular song. She had sung it for Pt Nehru, the Prime Minister, with a small group of people present, just as this time. The people had remained silent, all of them giving themselves completely to the singing, lost in the singing, Pt Nehru more than anyone else. With one difference, she said, powerful emotions making her body tremble, her voice hardly audible: it was Nehru who had wept openly like a child, tears flowing down freely from his eyes.
Amma, Swamiji and all of us became silent for a long while.