Much has changed in the last 47 years since the two friends met or even spoke to each other last. While one became a superintending engineer in Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage (TWAD) Board and retired from service in 2004, the other rose to the pinnacle of glory and came to be known ‘Isaignani’ Ilayaraja. The tale of their friendship would not have surfaced if Mr.Ilayaraja had not named his friend S.Subramaniam and recalled the days he spent with him in Madurai, during a visit to inaugurate Tamil Music Research Centre at Thiagarajar College here on July 17.
The Hindu was the only newspaper to report about Mr.Raja’s reminiscences. This prompted Mr.Subramaniam’s elder daughter S.Virginia to call up this newspaper and say the friend whom Mr.Raja referred to was her father.
“My father has always been hesitant to discuss his friendship with the musical genius and that made me bother about a good relationship going unrecorded. Now it has come from the horse’s mouth. My younger sister and I are married. While she works as a software engineer in the US, I stay separately in a house next to my father’s at S.S. Colony here. He has been living a solitary life after my mother’s death on March 15 this year.
The news of Mr.Raja having mentioned his name at a function has rejuvenated my father,” she said. After much coaxing, Mr.Subramaniam recalled that it was in the ‘Radio Room’ of the hostel at Thiagarajar College of Engineering that he met Mr.Ilayaraja and his brother Gangai Amaran for the first time in 1965. “A group of hostel inmates was there to a listen to a gramophone recording of M.S.Viswanathan’s song ‘Adada Enna Azhagu…Aruge vandhu pazhagu.’ Power went off within seconds after the song began. “It was then that Ilayaraja and Gangai Amaran, who were in a music troupe headed by Pavalar Varadarajan, had come to the hostel along with an inmate, continued playing the complicated Moroccan beats from the song. Everyone present there was awestruck by their performance and I invited the brothers to my room where our friendship blossomed,” he recalled. Continuing his recollection with moist eyes, Mr. Subramaniam said: “One day, Raja, a harmonium player in the troupe, expressed his desire to play guitar. I took him to my friend Alex, then a lead guitarist of a band in the erstwhile Pandian Roadways Corporation. Alex was living at a mansion in Thembavali Illam near Arapalayam here.
“He explained the nuances of the lead, rhythm and base to Raja and left the place on some personal work. I also took leave as I had to attend the proceedings at the district court which was then functioning at Thirumalai Nayak Palace. When I returned at 4 p.m., I saw 40 to 50 people gathered around Raja who was playing all the three — the lead, rhythm and base — with bleeding fingers.
“On that day, I told him that he is no ordinary musician. We parted ways in 1966 as he went in search of greener pastures. After a decade, I was on cloud nine when the music he scored for his first Tamil flick Annakili in 1976 became an instant hit. The very fact that he remembers my name till date shows what a great human being he is,” Mr. Subramanian concluded.