First of all, we would like to place on record the great support you have been lending to Samudhra magazine for the past eleven years as our Chief patron………..
I extend my congratulations to you for bringing out this magazine successfully every month. Since I am a patron of Samudhra, many readers also call me up and express their appreciation after reading the articles in it.
Basically, you belong to a business family. How did you develop so much interest in music?
From my early days, I have been interested in reading books and listening to music. My grandfather, Sri Nalli Chinnasamy Chettiar, was a weaver in Kanchipuram and his silks became popular among the people of Madras. Thanks to his devotion, hard work and the quality goods he churned out, he established a large clientele in Madras and decided to shift base. Mangesh Street, in Thyagaraya Nagar, was the location he chose to first set up a shop in 1928. It was only in 1951 that we relocated to its current location in Panagal Park. I was studying in Ramakrishna Mission School then. In the evening, after finishing my homework, I would come and sit in the shop. At that time, T Nagar was an extremely calm and quiet place and you could hardly see anyone on the road after 7 p.m !
In 1954, Krishna Gana Sabha was started and it was then having its venue adjacent to our shop. In those days, there was a calm atmosphere with sparse traffic and very less pollution and hence, even inside our shop, you could hear the performance of artists in the sabha so clearly! I would enjoy the music, though I did not know much about its intricacies then. I could experience the power of music in making my mind calm and forget all my fatigue. Thus, my strong association with music began from a very early age. Sri Yagnaraman, founder Secretary of Krishna Gana Sabha then requested me to become the Vice -President of the Sabha and later, I became its President and am still continuing to be so. Now, I am President for several sabhas in Chennai.
Who were the artists you got to hear in your early days ?
I have listened to greats like ML Vasanthakumari, GNBalasubra-
maniam, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and many others……
What were the sabhas existent then?
The main sabhas then were Music Academy, Tamil Isai Sangam, Jagannatha Bhaktha Sabha, Thyagaraja Vidhwat Samajam, Indian Fine Arts Society and Perambur Sangita Sabha. The patronage by Rajas earlier has given way to corporate sponsorship and now, that is the order of the day. Many banks and corporates are supporting the arts. You may know of the Season Reckoner book that I publish every year, containing the programme schedule of various sabhas during the December season. Last year, according to our book, we had 125 organisations conducting programmes in December. This may sound mind-boggling but with more than 2000 artists in Chennai, so many sabhas are required to give each of them a chance to perform.
In those days, how were sabhas able to meet the expenses for their programmes?
Well, the concept of sponsorship was quite unknown in those days. Concerts were also quite less then and gate collection was the main source of income. Later, when gate collection decreased, sponsorship was the main source to run events.
What does fine art mean to you? In what way do you think these can enrich our lives?
Whatever be the walk of life, one needs relaxation and entertainment. Listening to good music and attending dance concerts are pleasing and soothes the mind. Also in our tradition, these are related to the epics, Puranas and other religious aspects.
Your contribution for the cause of fine arts ha s been phenomenal. How did you get this attitude to support arts in such a large way?
I enjoy music, dance and drama. I want my friends, those around me and even those whom I do not know, to enjoy performances. If all should enjoy these fine arts, somebody should pay for it. I support the arts so that everybody can benefit from viewing it. Of course, unlike companies which support the arts, I am doing so as an individual.
While many business houses spend a major chunk on advertisements in the media, you seem to spend much more in supporting fine arts and allied areas………
Our family business has completed 85 years and Nalli has established its goodwill through good quality and service. Therefore, publicity through word of the mouth is enough. Hence, I spend more in sponsorship than advertisements.
In what way do you think such support from entrepreneurs like you will help fine arts?
Now, there is a provision for Corporate Social Responsibility CSR as it is called. CSR need not be confined to raising bus shelters or granting scholarships. It could also be in the field of entertainment and hence, entrepreneurs and corporate houses could support fine arts under CSR and also take tax shelter.
While sponsoring, do you have any specific criteria on which you decide to what extent you would support an organization? Do you assess whether your money has gone to the right person and utilized for the right cause? How do you ascertain the quality of performance of an organization?
Those who ask me for sponsorship are known to me. If new persons approach me, I check up their credentials. Initially, I give a nominal contribution. If I find or get to know that they do well and deserve patronage, I give them more and continue to do so. I also attend various events personally. Apart from this, numerous friends in the field of fine arts give me feedback to judge artistes and sabhas.
Apart from fine arts, what are the other areas for which you have been contributing? Especially education, your support has been immense…….. Please tell something about this.
I do support poor students liberally. Some come in person and some write to me. Through my friends and contacts, I check up the credentials of those who write to me. Since my father passed away before I completed my schooling, I did not pursue college education. Therefore, to the wards of known families, I get admission in schools and colleges and in this context, I help individuals and institutions. Because I am a voracious reader also, I help some deserving writers and publishers. It is a great pleasure for me to do this.
Today, especially in the December season, so much is happening in the field of arts. Do you think such excess is good for the growth of arts?
It is not excess as you say, not even surplus or supernumerary. Many people come to attend concerts nowadays. Many music and dance schools have also come up. In the December season, artists are given opportunities to expose their talent and also develop themselves. Hence, there is nothing excess………
Also, there is such a profusion of talent among youngsters. Do you think that the undue recognition given to them is good for them?
Yes, I do agree that there are so many talented youngsters today. I am happy to see that many of them perform so exceedingly well. But, they need to be given the right opportunities at the right time to expose their talent. In this context, sabhas have a vital role to nurture and encourage them. Personally, if I spot good talents, I see to it that I get them chances to perform wherever possible. Even in the field of drama, I try to encourage as many troupes as possible.
But, they are hasty to come up and look for instant fame. What do you think about this? As a successful entrepreneur who has come up through consistent hard work over so many years, what is your advice to these youngsters?
Soon after completion of Arangetram, an artiste cannot shoot to fame. It takes years to shape oneself into a seasoned artist. One must come up the hard way by seeking opportunities to prove their talent. The music field is not like law or medicine where the juniors work with the seniors. There could be mentors who inspire, but it is up to each person to develop himself. Ultimately, it is only the talented that gain reputation and inspire others. Youngsters need not have inhibitions in asking for chances in sabhas. When given a chance, they should do their best.
Do you think that such deep involvement in fine arts (the way you have) also helps in developing one's profession (like your business)?
The two are totally different. My sponsorship is in no way related to promoting business………
Your time management is amazing. You have such a hectic schedule of attending so many events amidst your business activities and you do it so perfectly. How do you manage everything so efficiently?
I have assistants and friends to work out my schedules and hence, I can share my time effectively between business and other pursuits.
Being courteous and pleasant to everybody and being so easily approachable by all - this is quite rare in people of your stature. How did you cultivate this great quality?
I am in retail business. I am the face of my business. I should be available always in the shop, quite visibly, preferably, close to the entrance. I am not running an office of hierarchy. I run a business where I should always meet customers. That is what is called customer relationship, which is an essential element in any retail business. Any merchant should be pleasant. There is a Chinese proverb “Can't smile? Then don't do business.” We should always be respectful, courteous and cheerful while speaking to a customer. This will earn a good name for the organization. Irrespective of what amount a customer purchases goods, we must treat all of them equally. I don't put on a smile just for the sake of it. My grandfather and father have been very cordial and friendly with customers. That developed the goodwill. It is in my genes to be what I am. I cannot be otherwise………….