Music in My Life
The gramophone was just like the record player which came out two decades later. It was operated manually. The spring inside was to be wound up for each side of the record. The unwinding rotated the disc on which the record was placed. The stylus held a needle which was not even a centimeter long. This needle had to be changed for each side of the record.
Tamil and Telugu films were produced in Madras. There were no Malayalam or Kannada films at that time, that is, in the 1930s and forties. Before the films were released the songs recorded were on sale, as well as small booklets with the story (without the ending) and all the lyrics.Each film had at least twenty songs and all of them were set to classical ragams.
We had records of all the films dating from Balayogini, Thay Bhoomi, Chintamani, Sevasadanam, Sakuntalai, Street Singer, Devdas, Achhut Kanya and Amar Jyoti. When these songs were played at home a huge crowd collected outside our gates to listen to them. Like today, the common man was very much interested in film songs. Because of these songs, the films became popular and were watched for many weeks, sometimes up to a Silver Jubilee week or even longer. Hindi pictures were crowd pullers with Saigal, Ashok Kumar, Devika Rani, Leila Chitnis, Khursheed, Shanta Apte and others.
We also had a collection of plays like ‘Seetha Kalyanam’ and Pathuka Pattabishekam’, both from Ramayanam and ‘Bhama Vijayam’ from Krishnattam. These were a set of four to six records and they came in beautiful flat steel boxes. In no time I learnt all the songs and dialogues of these plays by heart and reproduced them to whoever was willing to listen and watch.
My grandmother Karamanai Ammai was the President of my fan club. Whenever I visited her place she collected all her neighbours and friends to listen to her wonderful granddaughter who was not even six years old at that time. She made me feel great. Maybe this was the foundation for the love and affection I had for her – a good bonding for ever. Later on in life when Bala was four or five years old, whenever we visited our place she used to make him sing the then popular ‘Kalyana Samayal Saatham’ from the film ‘Maya Bazar’. Bala, don’t you remember Karamanai Ammai and those days?
Only later on I came to know that though I was word-perfect while showing off, I was not at all perfect in my singing, but always out of tune and off key. But who cared? I enjoyed singing!
My three elder sisters used to have music lessons at that time. A ‘Bagavathar’ came home every evening to train them. Even now, though they are all eighty plus, they have good voices and sing well, never out of tune or off key. My eldest sister learnt to play the harmonium (and she still plays).
So in right earnest, my mother started my music lessons too. That started my elder brother teasing me and my singing, which I was not able to handle. So I played truant from my music classes, hiding myself in the neighbour’s place. My mother, sensing my misery, stopped the lessons. But that did not stop my singing or my interest in singing. I learnt by heart all the film songs and sang to myself roaming in the backyard where the only listeners were the birds, flowers, plants and trees. Those were the most happy times of my younger days. The trees, plants and flowers were never bothered about my way of singing. So who cared?
After marriage when Babuji heard me singing for the first time he requested me not sing any more – not for my supper; not even for peanuts. I did not mind. The bathroom was always there with the shower running. So who cared?
When I became a mother I enjoyed singing lullabies to my children. Maybe even they could not bear my singing because from the very beginning these babies of mine used to go to sleep without much trouble.On the other hand Babuji used to sing very well and he had a good voice. I was very proud of the fact and in the early days of our marriage he used to sing very regularly and sometimes only for me. In the evenings there was always a gathering of friends at our place and the music and coffee flowed till late at night. My three daughters sing very well – both classical and light music—though all of them had only basic training. My sons are also very much interested in Carnatic music. All of them are interested in Western Music and have good collections with them. So wherever I am now there is always music. So who cares whether I can sing or not?
My grandchildren, luckily, have not taken after me. Thank God for that!They all have an ear for music, appreciate good music and sing well. One plays the bass guitar in his band. Another is the lead singer of his group. Another is winning prizes left and right in all inter-college and university meets and promises to become a very good musician.One of my great-grandchildren, who is not even four, has got an ear for music and has a sweet voice. Maybe she will blossom out to be another good singer in the family!!I am lucky with my family. So, who cares?