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Friday, August 31, 2018

Rendezvous with The Raaja Hamsam - A meet with Smt. K. S. Chithra in Sydney

Alleppey 1985.  A regular school-holiday destination for me at the grand parents.  Mom would always be taking me around to different friends’ houses who she would get to see after a year’s break.  Once we visited a tailor-friend’s shop.  I was happily licking an ice-cream outside in the moderate heat but supremely humid weather.  Nearby from the tea-shop rose the appetizing smell of “vadai”  which made me hungrier.  But so did come with it a soothing song in the transistor-radio.  “aayiram kaNNumaay” - a feminine voice which had such a fulsome innocence and sweetness that captivated me instantly.  And when I was back in Tirunelveli, I could hear that same voice in “chinnakkuyil paadum paadal” and later the spectacular “paadariyEn”.

There was a recent study about how caressing alters the DNA of the children (  I will not be surprised if in the future science finds how repeated listening to one’s favorite artists - conditioned or on free-will - impacts the genetic structure especially right from childhood.

It is impossible to quantify the joy the legendary singing quartet - SPB, KJY, S.Janaki and K.S.Chithra - has provided to  the kids who grew up in the 80s.  These four have done all the caressing unknowingly for the kids of the 70s through 90s with 80s being the epitome.  We can proudly say “they are in our DNA” in some sort.

Fast Forward to 2018. An opportunity to sit next to an unassuming greatness who is more famous for her effervescent smile than her uncompromising scrupulous adherence to shruti - be it a recording or a stage show -   What more do you ask for in life ?

The raaja hamsam indeed flew to Sydney with the King for a show in hillsong church after which she kindly met with a handful of mortal fans and magnanimously heard a few of us sing before her as well.  As one of the eager guests sang manjal prasadavum in front of her, I could not contain myself with some questions that had been nagging me for quite long:

Me: “Chechi - we know this is a national award winning song which was composed by the legendary composer Ravi Sharma.  Can you please recollect how the recording experience was ?”

KSC: “The song had already been composed by the time I reached and I was taught this song by Singer Dinesh. He was assisting Ravi Sir who was on the harmonium”

Me : “Chechi - have you ever thought that this movie NakakshathangaL has 3 songs in ragam mohanam ?”

KSC: “Is it ? Oh yeah ..aareyum bhava gaayakan and neeraaduvaan - both are in mohanam too ! But that is the favorite ragam of Ravi Sir - for example chaudvin ka chaand ho”.

It is indeed.  Even the song “in hawaaoon mein” by him was composed in that raga.

Me :  “In this juncture, I would like to know Chechi - your experience working with Sharath - especially those two superhuman songs - madhuram gayati mama hrudhayam and yamunaa nadhi ozugum ?”

In the meanwhile another guest sang a song in mohanam as well prompting an immediate exclamation from her.

KSC : “Looks like it is all mohanam today !  Sharath is a great compsoer.  Shrutibedham Grahabedham etc are in his fingertips.  Even late Shri Balamuralikrishna Sir appreciated him
a lot.  Once BMK sir was teaching Sharath a rare ragam - S M 1 D1 S/ S D1 M1 S.  BMK sir went for a toilet break and before he arrived, Sharath conceived a prati-madhyama counterpart of the raga, composed a kriti in it and rendered it when he arrived.  BMK sir himself was astonished and patted encouragingly.  Such a wonderful composer he is.  Wish I could do a tour with him sometime”

Me: “But how did you manage to sing those two songs ?  Was it easy to notate at all ?”

KSC: “Interestingly singing for Sharath is a very peaceful exercise.  He encourages a lot and lets us sing different phrases. So somehow I never struggled”

Well - that is a revelation.  For the uninitiated, it is important to note that these two songs are extremely difficult.  You may attempt it at your own vocal cords’ risk.

KSC: “Even at this age, Raja Sir’s songs are always the toughest.  With MSV sir, the tunes used to just flow out incessantly and we had to just pick bits and pieces and somehow manage to capture his unbounded imagination in our rendition.  To a certain extent, Raveendran master was also like that”

Me:  “Generally do you notate ? And who mentored you for volume dynamics ?”

KSC : “ I do notate but not for all.  While I have practiced Janaki amma’s songs the most, volume dynamics is something I have developed inherently over the years.  Raja sir is particular about the curves (sings yaaradichaaro of thenpaandi cheemaiyile).”

Given the paucity of time and more eager guests waiting to have a tete-a-tete with her, I withdrew after my rendition of Raja Hamsame.  As a theist would say : “Flowers are god’s creations.  We acknowledge that but still offer them by our hands to him”.  My musical exercise was thus merely an archana to the singing Raja Hamsam of the south.


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