There’s a Tam in me!

As I am trying to reflect on SPB songs that I adore, it seems that while Sagara Sangamam and Sankara Bharanam top the list, all other favourites are in Tamil. A few in Hindi too, but not like the Tamil songs.

I’ve obsessed about Mandram vantha thendral in more ways than one. Mouna Ragam is one of my favourite movies, and a fantastic soundtrack by the maestro himself Illayaraja. Nilaave va, Oho megham vandado, Chinna Chinna vanna kuyil are also melodious and bring memories of those childhood days in Chennai.

And then the other day I chose ‘Thalapathi‘. Boy! what an album that is. I remember that early morning of 1991 on Deepavali, when our next door liquor shop got the track Rakkama and played it over and over and over on the loudspeaker. And we were mesmerized. We hadn’t yet watched it, and didn’t know which movie it was from. And as was customary, after we finished the morning round of ‘pataas’ or fireworks, we’d switch on the TV for Deepavali specials. And then we watched it and were mesmerized even more. The last part of the song with Shobhana and her dance troupe entering, the seamless integration of the traditional song and dance with the ‘josh’ that is ‘Rakamma‘. Even today opening music that begins the song sends me into exhilaration. I think SPB’s voice was so fantastic in this song (just one of several thousands of course). I went on to listen to more of the Thalapathi songs. The duet ‘Sundari‘ with SP Janaki, the duet ‘Kattu kuyile‘ with Yesudas. I’d heard Kattu Kuyile after so long but could remember all the lyrics, anticipate each beat that was to come, so etched has it been in my memory.

Memory. What a thing it is. Like a chain reaction, one thing set off another and I was transported back 29 years with a crystal clear memory of a few things. Visually, even photographically. I remember watching the movie ‘Thalapathi’ in the theaters closeby our house. They were a little bit of a walk -the Udaya/Surya/Chandra theater complex. Movies were a big deal, watching them at the theater was an even bigger deal. Deepavali releases were a big deal. Illayaraja was part of ‘essential survival’, for life without music was and is unimaginable.

And then came Roja in 1992. On Deepavali, we were treated to Chinna Chinna Aasai. And we were mesmerized again. A new name, A.R.Rahman. A cinematographer, Santosh Sivan. Mani Ratnam who we already held in high regard. A new hero and heroine who captured our hearts. Somehow, movies had so much magic and so much of an impact back then. SPB with Kadhal Rojave again. Roja is another album with a fantastic soundtrack.

The magic of the late 80s and early 90s transports me to my Chennai days. Yes, there’s a Tam in me. I get bugged by incorrect representations of Bharatanatyam. I remember my walks and cycle rides to my dance class, as well as the maroon uniform for my dance class. I remember the Friday flowers adorning the hair of many students and teachers in my school. School itself has so many memories that I could write another post about it. I remember early mornings in Chennai, especially festivals which started bright and early. When I was younger I’d get upset with people saying ‘You have a South Indian accent’. Now I think it is essential to keep some parts of your identity, accent included. My years in Chennai were all about academic excellence, Tamil (and Hindi) film music, carnatic music and bharatanatyam in our family, broken Tamil sentences that my mom and we spoke, fluent Tamil that my father spoke, Senthil and Goundamani’s comedy, not to forget oldies like Cho, Manorama and S.V.Shekhar. Heroes like Satyaraj and Karthik and Kamal and Rajini, heriones Radha, Radhika and Revathi and Suhasini. And so many more I’m sure I can’t put them all down.

Just one song and a chain reaction of memories, like a flood. What a fond thing it is to experience different cultures and places. Recalling the pledge we’d read out at school (I think on Fridays) – India is my country and I’m proud of its rich and varied heritage.