SPB Sir and My Music


SPB in 1985 (courtesy Wikipedia)

Where do I even start? It’s been more than 5 days since the dreadful news came on Friday morning that SPB Sir is no more. I’ve been trying my best to process this loss - I personally do not know him, I haven’t met him, he doesn’t know me, but yet where did all this relationship begin? (tere mere beech mein kaisa hai ye bandhan) Of course, after hearing the news, I reached out to my friends and also shared some of his songs that I loved on social media. I reminisced over his songs and his interviews on YouTube. That cheeky laughter, the amazing sense of humor, the way he praises others wholeheartedly, the genuine love for everyone - it’s really hard to realize that we might not get to see this in the future. Why did this affect me so profoundly - this blog post is a quest to understand it.

Being the son of an Ilayaraja and MSV fan parent-duo, I was almost immediately ingrained in their music since a very young age. I didn’t really know about Ilayaraja or MSV or most of the actors who acted - the only thing I associated with all these wonderful songs was the voice behind these - a common voice that could bring almost any emotion. One of the first songs I listened of SPB Sir was Raagangal Pathinaaru - I listened to this as part of watching the movie Thillu Mullu. The song just got etched in my mind - the beautiful aalap that opens the song, the veena bit, strings, the classic MSV beats and then the mellifluous voice that Rajini mimics to - SPB Sir’s divine voice. I just melted away. Around the same time is when Roja came out and I crooned over Kaadhal Rojaave which absolutely transported me to heaven. A few moons from then, my mom also promptly enrolled me in music lessons where I started learning Carnatic music diligently.

Very soon, I started listening to many many numbers of his for the sake of singing for friends, relatives, school competitions. It also possibly helped that I was this portly, chubby and cherubic kid which added a little bit of authenticity. Over the years, I kept searching for his songs - previously via rare MP3 CDs that I procured and after the onset of the Internet, on cooltoad.com. Eventually I started participating in competitions and one of the most memorable competitions for me was Raagamalika on Jaya TV in 2006. The first song I sang in the competition was Orey Naal, followed by Kana Kaanum Kangal and Namma Ooru Singaari. Barring a carnatic krithi and a Yesudas Sir song, all the songs that I sung were of SPBs. Around the same time, I was also a part of my college’s orchestra where the first song I sang was Minnale Nee. Then it was Ennamma Kannu followed by Adiye Manam and a few more and finally ending with the magnum opus of Sangeetha Jaathi Mullai.

Needless to say, I reveled in SPB Sir’s music and everyone around me loved me for it. Even today there are a few friends who ask me to specifically sing SPB Sir’s songs and I’m so happy to sing it for them. No matter what, I attribute all those happiness that I provided to my friends to him. There came a time when I consciously decided to not pursue music as a career but today after learning that he’s no more, I deeply regret my decision. Not that I could’ve sung more of his songs (which I do today in closed quarters and occasionally on Instagram) but I could’ve got a chance to meet him. At least once.

A couple of years ago, my father-in-law who’s a huge MSV and KVM afficionado was part of an initiative to celebrate KVM Sir’s centenary celebration. He had approached SPB Sir to invite him to the function. Apparently, SPB Sir graciously accepted the invite and in fact volunteered to even emcee the function. He did it with aplomb by engaging with the audience throughout. And he was there right till the very end until all the musicians were finished packing and had their food. My FIL was in total awe of his simplicity and humility and in fact was very happy when SPB Sir likened him to himself given that they both are self-taught and not formally trained musicians. The huge SPB fan that I’m, it did bring me a bout of envy that I didn’t get a chance to meet him. Although I did mention to my FIL that the next time I visit India, I definitely want to go meet him and seek his blessings.

Early this year, we were blessed with a daughter. The COVID pandemic has been absolutely devastating but I’m grateful for what 2020 has given us - the birth of our daughter. Again, after she was born, one of the first things I told my FIL that the next time we all come to India, I want to definitely visit SPB Sir, not to just seek his blessings but for him to bless my daughter. But, alas!

No one just likes SPB Sir for his singing - yes, he’s a fabulous singer and one of the most versatile at his craft. But the man himself was genuinely one of the nicest folks ever to walk on earth. Watching his interviews (here, here and here), you realize how full of humanity he is. The amount of genuineness he showers upon those around him is insane. What I realized after watching these was that the voice not just is award winning and versatile but it’s comforting - a person with a voice that can literally hug you. And in these testing times, you need someone like that in the world to spread positivity.

At this juncture, I think deeply about his family who have been with him through thick and thin all these years and now are devoid of his colossal presence. I pray to God to give them all the strength in the world and I just want to say that they’re not alone in the sorrow but there are many many millions of people around the world like me who everyday wake up and still wish he was around. It’s going to hit us even harder when 2021 rolls out and we are all optimistic for a better year and welcome the year with Ilamai Idho Idho and then realize that we lost him this year.

But, knowing SPB Sir, he’d laugh at this and possibly even admonish someone who’s wallowing in sorrow over his death. He’d have wanted happiness to prevail in the world. I know it’s hard but I’m going to try - I’m going to try by listening to more of his songs but more importantly sing them more. Most of all, I want to imbibe the values he exuded - humility, warmth, care, spreading joy, helping others, patience, gratitude, happy for someone else’s success and amor fati.

SPB Sir, it’s going to be hard. But I’m going to try. I’m sure you’re keeping everyone happy and laughing around you wherever you are. And I’m sure you’ll be watching us and having that cheeky smile when a small kid tries to sing Kannamma Kanavillayaa. We’ll always have you in our memories. Thanks for keeping us all happy over the years and now you need your well deserved rest.

Until we meet again…

Mannil indha kaadhal indri yaarum vaazhthal koodumo

Ennam SPB-in paadal indri yezhu swaram thaan paadumo