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Shyama Sastri’s descendants live in penury

K. Manikandan

Over the years, the descendants have run up debt losing their ancestral property and a biscuit factory

— Photo : A. Muralitharan

Hard times: The kin of Shyama Sastri outside their rented house in Chitlapakkam.

TAMBARAM: The descendants of Shyama Sastri, one of the Carnatic music trinity, are languishing in penury.

Having lost their ancestral property, that included four palatial houses and a biscuit company in and around Thanjavur, the composer’s great grandchildren have been living on the margin in Chennai for the past five decades.

On Sunday, Devaki, a great granddaughter of Shyama Sastri died of old age at her cramped, rented house in Chitlapakkam, near Chennai. Devaki was the eldest child of Kalyaraman Iyer, who was the son of Natesa Sastri, a descendant of the legendary composer. The family’s financial condition is so bad that they could not even afford the expenses for the funeral rites. Shree Gayathri Trust, a voluntary organisation, pitched in.

“I still remember our palatial houses near Bangaru Kamakshi Amman Temple in Thanjavur. Singers used to gather and render songs composed by Shyama Sastri,” said Seethalakshmi, younger sister of Devaki, adding that her grandfather, Natesa Sastri, too was proficient in Carnatic music, particularly the compositions of Shyama Sastri.

Over the years, the family run up debt, their houses were sold off and their biscuit company folded up. “We used to make biscuits from ‘omavalli’ herb that was very popular in the region. We used to send cans of these biscuits to Karaikudi, Tiruvarur, Mannargudi and Melmangalam,” Ms. Seethalakshmi said.

“Devaki’s husband, Venkatrama Iyer, was an ex-serviceman and he too passed away a few years after marriage. Having no means to support ourselves, we moved out of Thanjavur and came to Chennai. Since then, we have been living in rented houses,” she said.

“My mother put me at the government service home in Tambaram Sanatorium. She joined Lady Wellingdon College but could not complete the teacher training course. But she managed to support me after getting a job as a cook,” said Kumar, son of Devaki, who is also into catering.

Seethalakshmi lives with her two sons in Velachery in Chennai and they too are in the catering line. Her elder brother Swaminathan lives with two sons in Hyderabad.

“Shyama Sastri’s contribution to Carnatic music is invaluable. But none of us was proficient in music or carried on his legacy, nor did we make an attempt to take advantage of being his descendants,” Ms. Seethalakshmi said.

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