Jyoti Nair thinks of the association she shared with the doyenne.
The first time I saw Pattamma, she was singing “Shanthi Nilava Vendum,” a song immortalised by her: The Academy was jam-packed; it was the last number in her December 25 concert. I had had a disturbing morning — I was torn between visiting the hospital where a friend was fighting a losing battle to cancer or hearing Pattamma's deep resonant voice. My daughter and I were grateful to catch the last strains of the song. In a moment, I felt hope rushing back. I was drawn to the singer and the song, and that which followed later was my destiny. And I wanted to learn the song, from the doyenne herself. Mutual friends helped and the lady was the embodiment of total love; she embraced me with open arms, and until her last moment we shared a special bond.
I learned at least ten songs from Pattamma. Sunday afternoons stands out so vividly in my mind's eye. She was like a child, loving fully and whole-heartedly without any reservations. There were many things we shared — love for antique jewellery, well-made clothes and so on. I became a familiar face around the place. There were many who, like me, had been adopted by her.
As time passed, it became a great meeting place for us all. Ramani came to learn the ghatam; Gayathri's little daughter would join in our singing. Pattamma's ever warm smile and acceptance could only be felt never described.
Birthdays, Vinayaka Chathurti, Vijaydasami, Deepavali were all occasions that strengthened the bond. It was always a time of festivity, giving and taking flowers and consuming mouthwatering sweets, like jhangri and mysore pak. She received little and gave so much. On one of these occasions she gave me a beautiful black and white picture of hers, of her younger days which is a souvenir I cherish. Pattamma would never take ‘no' for an answer and if it was a sari she gifted, would like you to wear it the next day (Naalaikke kattindu vaa). If you oblige, her happiness would know no bounds.
The Amir Khusro Sangeet Academy, of which I was part, decided to honour Pattamma with The Life Time Achievement Award. When we went home and gave her the award, she was sad that she could not make it to the venue. Nevertheless, we had a great photo session; she looked radiant and beautiful in a red Kanchipuram silk and her lovely red bindi. With the liberties that one could take with her, we were all over her, literally making her strike a dozen different poses. I once was a witness to the unfurling of a great tradition — an award ceremony for Pattamma at the Kalakshetra Auditorium, which brought three generations together.
Though her resemblance could be noticed in the contours of Nitya Shree and Gayatri, the texture and tenor of Pattamma's voice can never be replicated. With due apologies to Nitya, who can traverse the three octaves with the ease of a soaring bird, the majesty and the grandeur of Pattamma's voice leave one spell-bound; it is something that will never be matched. Einstein's words, with reference to Gandhiji, flash across my mind whenever I think of Pattamma _ “For generations to come the world shall scarce believe that ever a woman in flesh and blood walked on this earth.”