Archive for January, 2018

Illaiyaraja – Padma Vibhushan

Back in my teens, in 1981, I was lying on the floor listening to VividhBharati on a  well-worn Murphy Transistor Radio that would fit in the palm of your hand. The 2A Eveready Battery was on life support. My brothers and I were praying that the battery would last, anxious to enjoy every second of what we could listen to on the radio at 9:30 at Saturday night.

It was well past bedtime in our household; it was an art to keep the transistor volume at the right level; enough to hear the radio above the sound of the fan. Just about the right volume to not disturb my father in the next room lest we would awaken him from his deep slumber (something which he would never take to pleasantly, especially in those days when his hearing was good!).

The much awaited sponsored programs (vilambara dhaarar alikkum nigazchigal) started; the second film presented that night was ‘Panneer Pushpangal’. I didn’t like the name; but my ears pricked up when the music director’s name was announced. Then came the strings ; soon after, the sound of Uma Ramanan’s voice cut through the night. I increased the volume on the little radio. It didn’t matter if it woke my father up. The scolding would be worth it. ‘Aananda raagam’ – she sang; I didnt know what to focus on; the voice, the singing, the tune, or the powerful strings. This was out of the world; like nothing I had ever heard before. Wait. Was it based on a Raga? There were no markings of kacheri-sangitam in the song, but the scale was unmistakably that of Simhendra Madhyamam. Yes, this was a different paradigm; a fully loaded orchestral construct based on the scale of a raga that I had not been too fond of until then.

“This music deserves every reward under the sun” – I thought then.

36 years later, people are still talking about this song. I saw a recent performance of this song with live string accompaniment; my mind playing back images that I had conjured in my mind – as I had heard this song, lying flat on a thin mattress on the floor on a warm late-summer night 3.5 decades ago, snapping back to reality as the emcee LR Narayanan cut the program short just as the penultimate bgm started.

Anandaragam is just one. There are tons of songs such as these that were part of my teenage years and early 20s.  Illayaraja was an integral part of growing up in Madras (now Chennai!); the man kept creating new vistas in music with the limited tools at disposal – in an age prior to the studio era of sequencing, digital recording, digital editing, auto tuning and pitch correction.

It is a delight to still use a palm size device – create a play list and play a seemingly never ending list of songs that transport me back to that era.  I had never imagined on that sultry summer night that such a playlist would be available in every corner of the world. And, as a teenager,  I hadn’t imagined that the effect of those songs would be the same, some 35 years later.

I think Illaiyaraja’s music and the impact that it had on society is beyond rewards and titles. Every song of his that has touched and moved people is a ‘Ratna’ in itself.

 

Kanniks Kannikeswaran

Advertisements

January 26, 2018 at 4:08 pm Leave a comment


Categories