Twenty-seven years of scaling musical heights and still going strong. Singer K.S. Chitra talks about how she keeps herself on the top of the charts, as Nita Sathyendran listens

K.S. Chitra’s constant presence on the top of the charts for the last 27 years obviates the need for an introduction. The moment she starts talking it is her heart, her simplicity rather than the idiosyncrasies of fame, that shine through.

She still thinks of herself as “the simple girl from Thiruvananthapuram” who still leads a sheltered life. “My family is very protective of me. They tell me that all I have to do is sing and that I should not bother myself with anything else,” says Chitra as she smiles meaningfully at her sister, Beena, who is listening in on the interview and adds that she relies on her family to take care of the more mundane aspects of life.

Stickler for perfection

Her supposed “ineptitude” at the mundane hasn’t stopped her from being a perfectionist homemaker though.

“Homemaking is my secret obsession although I’m not much of a cook. But whenever I am at home I am constantly tidying and cleaning up. I am a stickler for perfection and everything just has to be in its proper place. For instance, when I am out of town, say I need a particular sari in my wardrobe. I can tell the person who is going to pick it up where exactly I have kept that particular sari down to its number in the stack,” she says.

Do we detect a trace of the obsessive-compulsive? “Not at all (she laughs). It’s just that I abhor untidiness,” adds Chitra who counts her late father, Krishnan Nair, as her pillar of strength.

“Nowadays my husband, Vijayshankar, has taken over from my father as chief champion/ guardian.”

Perhaps it is this very tendency to be a stickler for perfection that has lead her to great heights as a singer.

Chitra is also one of the few playback singers in India who has always steadfastly stuck to her own style and her principles. “I don’t believe in the spectacle; running around the stage while singing. One should realise that doing so causes unnecessary strain on the vocal cords,” says the six-time National award winner whose repertoire in a variety of languages that also includes Hindi, Bengali, Oriya, Assamese and even Arabic apart from the four South Indian ones is awesome.

Quite surprising then that ‘the nightingale’ as she is dubbed by the media shies away from giving Carnatic concerts.

“Carnatic music is a vast ocean. I am but a mere student who is not even on the shore so to speak. Truth be told I don’t have the confidence to give a full-fledged kutcheri for I believe I still have a lot to learn. There are high expectations of me and I want to do justice to them.”

Such modesty both in and out of the studio makes Chitra the darling of her ‘seniors,’ popular with her peers and more importantly a much sought-after mentor to the generation of younger singers. However, she feels that the young generation is missing out on a whole lot of wisdom and rapport with their ‘seniors’ because nowadays everybody records separately and mostly only meet each other at functions.

“My seniors taught me invaluable lessons. It was Dasettan [K.J. Yesudas] who taught me the importance of writing notations, how to avoid distortion while stressing syllables such as ‘pbha,’ and how to bring subtle changes when singing the more common ragas such as Mohanam.

“Similarly when I first started singing in Telugu, S.P.B. always took the time and effort to explain the lyrics and even the mood of the songs to me,” says the singer who counts doyennes Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, P. Susheela, M.S. Subbhalakshmi and of course S. Janaki (whom she had “the privilege of hosting” at her home in the city) as her role models.

Although not a big fan of vacations “except to go to temples and take daughter, Nandana, to the park, the zoo and the like to introduce her to the sights and sounds of the world,” the singer recently travelled to China to represent India at a music festival on Nature held on the banks of the Yellow River where she sang Sadashiva Brahmedra’s ‘Thungatharange Gange’ on River Ganga.

So what’s next? “An album called ‘Amaril Hab.’ It’s a collaboration with Saudi Arabian singer Jawad-al-Ali,” says Chitra as she signs off.

Chitra’s National award numbers

Padariean... Sindhu Bhairavi (1986)

Manjal prasadavum... Nakashathangal (1987)

Indupushpam... Vaishali (1989)

Oo...lalala... Minsara Kanavu (1996)

Payali chunmun... Virasat (1997)

Ovvoru pookalum... Autograph (2005)