Whatever the emotion, TMS’s voice caught it, perfectly.

It was twilight when I first met T.M. Soundararajan at the terrace of his house in Mandaveli, Chennai. He was finishing the last round of his evening walk. The trademark vibhuthi on his forehead with vermilion at the centre was intact despite the sweat. After the traditional namaskaram I mention about his emotional rendering of Pamban Swamigal’s ‘Shanmukha Kavacham’ which was released as a gramophone record. His eyes gleam. “Thambi, to date I chant this daily during my evening walk, at least twice,” he said.

It is then my turn. “Ayya your songs on Lord Muruga are still popular and by far they are the best ever devotionals that one can think of and ‘Kandan Tiruneeranindhaal Kanda Pini Odividum’ is closest to my heart.” I then sing a few lines of his devotional on Sathya Sai Baba. A broad grin with his finger pointing skywards was the response I got. This was about a year ago. His passing away on May 25 is an irreparable loss to the music world, which has already lost invaluable personalities such as M.S. Gopalakrishnan, T.K. Ramamurthy, Lalgudi Jayaraman, Shamsaad Begum and P.B. Srinivoss.

Born in the Saurashtra community in Madurai, TMS had a humble beginning. TMS grew up listening to P.U. Chinnappa and Subbiah Bhagavatar but was attracted more towards the voice of M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavatar (MKT), then super star of Tamil films.

Adept at singing

TMS was adept at creating the mood with which the song was perceived by the film’s director and the lyricist. His rendition took the songs to a different level. The same when canned became even better with actors enhancing the song with their histrionics. There was this unwritten healthy competition between artists of various trades in the film industry which ensured a good treat to film viewers, those days.

Noted light music singer A.V. Ramanan (Musiano), a witness to many recordings, recalled the way the song ‘Ninaithadai Nadathiyae Mudippavan naan naan naan’ was recorded. “With a full complement of orchestra particularly the brass section which had great stalwarts, chorus singers and the rhythm section the recording hall was packed. Tempers were at fray. Such was the heat that a thermometer would have burst. TMS and L.R. Easwari were singing, with Easwari always goading TMS to perform better. Improvisations ruled the roost with MSV at the helm. I could see TMS fired by adrenalin. The result – the song ruled the charts for several weeks and even today when it is played, people stop and listen to it.

“The same could be said of the song ‘Oru Raja Raniyidam’ for ‘Sivantha Mann.’ This time it was with P. Suseela. This combination had given super hits in many films earlier. On a few occasions, TMS has walked onto the stage without announcement while passing by the hall where I was performing and spoke appreciatively. He was a colossus.” His wife Uma Ramanan echoes Ramanan’s feelings.

Krishnamurthy, a light music singer is indirectly a benefactor of TMS. “As a young lad when I saw films such as ‘Thooku Thooki’ I believed it was Sivaji Ganesan himself singing. It was my aunt who made me realise that it was T.M. Soundararajan who rendered the lyrics and not the actor. I was fascinated and then on I shaped up my voice with TMS as my ‘manaseega guru.’ His Murugan devotionals, which are still popular, replicated by me in my devotional programmes did receive good response. TMS’s songs thus sowed the seeds for my career in light music field.

“Starting from the 1960s to this date I have been singing only his songs. In one of my concerts TMS was present when I sang ‘Vasantha Mullai Polay Vandhu.’ The praises I received from him still keep ringing in my ears. TMS was an expert in bringing out the bhavam in a song and giving a result more than the director’s expectation. Be it any mood such as comedy, pathos, love, angst, anger, pining, philosophical, to name a few, nava rasas came to him naturally.”

An avid fan Vra. Jeyapiragash of Tiruchi had this to say: “TMS has sung for a spectrum of actors and the list is quite long. He had the unique technique of modulating his voice according to the actor.

I can easily tell you the name of the hero for whom TMS has sung by listening to it. The last charanam of ‘Vadivelum Mayilum Thunai’ from Ambigapathi is a breathless rendition without any technological manipulation. Such was his grooming that he achieved this with aplomb.”

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