M.S. Baburaj’s life and career has often been a concoction of truth, lies and hear-say propagated by armchair writers who perhaps never even saw the musician in flesh and blood. And they read like a well-spun story with all the essential ingredients. This book is different.
Written by Baburaj’s wife, Bicha, in association with P. Zakir Hussian, this is her perspective of her husband, as a person and musician.
The pages recount her experiences, the highs and lows, alongside him. She emerges as the sounding board for Baburaj’s deepest thoughts.
In less than 200 pages, that include the complete list of Baburaj songs and six pages of rare photographs, Bicha lovingly narrates her husband’s beginnings from the streets, literally, to the hearts of a million music lovers. The book is punctuated by short, crisp, unnumbered chapters, each with a catchy chapter title.
The biography begins with Bicha’s memories of seeing Baburaj for the first time. Preparations were on for a wedding in the house next to hers. The women in the neighbourhood spoke excitedly about a brilliant singer who was expected to perform on the day before the wedding.
Later, Bicha saw the young singer through the window of her house. Dressed in a white shirt buttoned at the wrist and a‘mundu,’ he was with four or five people walking behind him. Bicha remembers a friend whispering in her ear that this was Baburaj. She watched him as he turned a corner towards the nearby tea shop.
From that romantic beginning, the story of Baburaj unfolds through Bicha’s memories. This first part of the book (if one could make such a demarcation) forms the most interesting part. Baburaj’s life, right from his troubled childhood, is
Bicha says so much like the lines of one of his songs, ‘Kaneerum swapnangalum vilkkuvaanayi vannavan njaan…’ (I have come to sell you tears and dreams). Mohammed Sabir, as Baburaj was known as a child, was groomed to be the successor of his father Jaan Mohammed, a popular Hindustani musician. Those were years of happiness and music.
All this changed with the death of his mother first and that of his father soon.
Bicha recounts touchingly, in simple, typically Kozhikodan Malayalam, Baburaj’s days of struggle – singing on the streets; finding a godfather in Kunjumohammed a police constable; numbed by deaths in his family; singing at weddings for a living…
There were some bright moments too, like meeting Abdul Khader, K.T. Mohammed, K.P. Ummer and making a mark as a music composer in theatre; and, of course, Bicha’s marriage to Baburaj.
The second part of the book is about Baburaj’s entry into Malayalam films and his Madras [Chennai] days. Bicha talks about the intimate association of Baburaj to those who impacted his life and career. So we have notes on K.J. Yesudas, P. Bhaskaran, P. Leela, S. Janaki, Mehaboob, Zero Babu, C.O. Anto and many more.
In the last part Bicha draws an intimate picture of Baburaj the man, during his brief days of glory and his sudden fall, plagued by illness and poverty. Baburaj was one who would die for his friends. He could never say ‘no’ to them. People exploited this generosity. Bicha records many such incidents.
For his eldest daughter Sabeera’s wedding, Baburaj did not invite G. Devarajan. On the eve of the wedding, the postman delivered a parcel from Madras. It was a red silk sari from Devarajan Master. Baburaj was struck by the gesture; Sabeera wore this sari for her wedding.
After Baburaj died, Bicha reveals painfully that people who flocked around her husband when he was alive and famous deserted the family. Devarajan Master was one of the very few who helped them in need.
Bicha talks about Baburaj’s final moments in a Madras hospital and her car journey with his body back home.
Bicha has a list of her favourite Baburaj songs. But one she holds close to her heart is the song ‘Pottithakarnna kinavinte mayyathu…’ from the film Subaida.
Bicha feels it was composed and sung for her. The book concludes with this song, one that perfectly describes her life too.
Babukka: Thaliritta Kinavile Virunnukaran, Bicha Baburaj and P. Zakir Hussain, DC Books, Rs. 95