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Updated: May 17, 2013 19:37 IST

A ‘Super’ ride

Akila Kannadasan
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R. Azhagesan is chugging along to fame Photo: R. Ragu
The Hindu R. Azhagesan is chugging along to fame Photo: R. Ragu

He regaled passengers for 10 years during his train journeys from Veppampattu to Chennai. The fan following continues as R. Azhagesan inches his way up in the Super Singer contest

When R. Azhagesan sings ‘Aayirathil Oruthi Amma Nee…’ the world seems to stop. His booming voice reverberates across the room; it drowns all other earthly sounds. And when he stops, the atmosphere is that of the calm after a storm. It’s this power in his voice that won the 62-year-old a place in the top 33 in Vijay TV’s reality show Super Singer. Algates, as he is popularly known, has won the hearts of his fellow contestants and those of viewers across the State. There is a story behind Azhagesan’s thundering voice.

Even as a little boy, he loved to sing. His father K.V. Rajamanickam was a well-known music teacher in Cheyyar, a small town in Tiruvannamalai district. People came from near and far to learn music from him. Sadly, Rajamanickam didn’t get the opportunity to train his own son — Azhagesan studied in a school far from home, and lived in a hostel.

When he came home for holidays, the songs from his father’s room drew Azhagesan in. He gradually developed a taste for music. He sang at stage shows and temple thiruvizhas, and made a name for himself in is hometown. His life changed drastically when his father died — he had to quit school and fend for his family. Azhagesan’s dreams of learning music were quashed. Music came calling years later, when he was travelling in a train for work from Veppampattu to Chennai. A pompous fellow passenger, who thought highly of his own singing, sang away in the compartment, much to everyone’s annoyance. “Why don’t you sing and teach him a lesson?” asked Azhagesan’s friend. Thus began his 10-year-long ‘train concert’.

Every day, from 1992 to 2011, Azhagesan sang for about 60 co-passengers. He and a few other singers transformed the compartment into a moving orchestra during the one-and-a-half-hour journey to Chennai. Travellers looked forward to the ‘anna’ who sang old Tamil hits for them. Friendships formed, and one day, the ‘train gang’ found itself listening to Azhagesan for the last time. “It was January 31, 2011. I was retiring from work the next day,” he recalls. An emotional Azhagesan sang ‘Pasumai Niraintha Ninaivugale…’ There were tears and good-byes.

Azhagesan says that years of singing in a moving train has affected his voice. For, he had to sing loud enough to drown the sound of the engine. Then there was the whoosh of the wind and the noises that are part of a train journey. As a result, his voice is resonant. But this has worked in his favour in the television show.

“It’s my train friends who encouraged me to enter Super Singer,” says Azhagesan, when MetroPlus contacted him after obtaining special permission from the television channel. He auditioned and beat thousands of singers, most of them much younger than him, to earn his spot. Azhagesan is touched by the support of his fellow contestants. His only regret is that he didn’t train in Carnatic music. But he vows to do his best — he is learning new songs to compete against younger contestants.

Azhagesan renders another yesteryear Tamil hit for us — we wonder if he hears the chugging of a train every time he sings...

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