Inspired by a Legend to Bring the Gift of Vision to the Masses


Some of the attendees at the tribute concert to M.S. Subbulakshmi held at the UN on August 15. The concert was performed by composer A.R. Rahman (center) and among those attending were Houstonians Leela Krishnamurthy (fourth from left) and Prabha Bala (third from right)

By Jawahar Malhotra

NEW YORK: Hers was the voice that echoed in the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations and hailed the global achievements of the United Nations fifty years ago on October 23, 1966; a voice that millions of Indians were becoming familiar with and would later earn her the title of “Queen of Music” by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

The legendary Carnatic vocalist M. S. Subbulakshmi was remembered again in the same chamber on her birth centenary on August 15, with a photo exhibition over four days and a 3-hour concert of six pieces honoring her, composed by Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman and performed by six young talented underprivileged kids who make up the Sunshine Orchestra from the K.M. Music Conservatory in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

The tribute coincided with the cultural extravaganza and celebration of India’s 70th Independence Day and was underwritten by Sankara Nethralaya and India’s Permanent Mission to the UN. The concert honoring Subbulakshmi at the UN “aims to perpetuate the memory of not only one of the greatest musicians India had ever produced but that of a greatest soul who lived a life of philanthropy and goodwill for all humanity”, said Dr. Sengamedu Srinivasa Badrinath, the founder and Chairman Emeritus of Sankara Nethralaya.


Dr. S. S. Badrinath, the founder and Chairman Emeritus of Sankara Nethralaya co-sponsored the concert in memory of M.S. Subbulakshmi who encouraged Badrinath to start the institution.

For Badrinath, 77, it was also a very personal odyssey, as he had planned his trip to the US to visit family and attend the celebration too. His life’s defining work of helping the masses to regain their eyesight began with encouragement from MS (as she was affectionately known). Badrinath had just returned to Chennai in 1970 after completing an internship in ophthalmology in Massachusetts and MS became his patient in 1973. “She wanted me to stay back and work in India,” recalled Badrinath in a telephone interview, “and was a very important reason for me to do so.”

“MS knew a lot of VIPs and I heard the clarion call to start the Sankara Nethralaya in 1974 with a missionary spirit,” he continued. “So I turned a private practice into a non-profit, institutional one, with other ophthalmologists and the hospital was formed in 1978.” The name stems from the 8th century philosopher and theologian Adi Shankara and Nethralaya which means “the temple of the eye”.


SN has become one of the best managed charitable organizations in India with 100 ophthalmologists and 1,000 employees serving 1,200 patients a day and performing 100 surgeries a day. SN has 60% paying patients and 40% non-paying. Three years ago it has started a project of Mobile Eye Surgical Unit consisting of four buses which go to the villages and has performed 3,200 surgeries totally free, with free of cost medicines and glasses.

The Sankara Nethralaya Om Trust, a 501c (3) nonprofit, has been formed in the US since 1987 and is currently seeking to raise funds to create a Chair for Music in the name of M. S. Subbulakshmi in a university in the United States, according Trust President S.V. Acharya. The Trust is also working to raise sufficient funds to perform at least 3,000 free ophthalmic surgeries in honor of Subbulakshmi at SN in India.

Towards that end, it will hold a series of concerts across several cities in the US by Sudha Raghunathan to honor the works of M. S. Subbulakshmi. The concert in Houston will be on Saturday, September 17 at the Asia Society on 1370 Southmore, from 7 to 9pm.