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Hariharan and Lalitha let their hair down

`I love to sing'

Photo: S. Mahinsha

Hariharan and his wife Lalitha give us glimpses of what keeps their marriage alive and ticking. Quiet and demure Lalitha seems to be a perfect foil to the flamboyant Hariharan.

Hariharan made his debut as a playback singer with `Gaman' after making his name as a ghazal singer. His soulful song `Thamizha, Thamizha' for Roja (1993) under the baton of A.R. Rehman made him a household name in the South. In 1996, Colonial Cousins catapaulted him to international fame. This National award winner and his wife Lalitha were here in Thiruvananthapuram to receive the award instituted in the name of playback singer K.J. Jesudas.

Hariharan was clad in a white dhoti and kurta as he had just returned after offering prayers at Sri Padmanabha Swami Temple. Hariharan and Lalitha were all game for a lively Take Two. Saraswathy Nagarajan records.

Hariharan: Most people don't know that ours was an arranged marriage.

Lalitha: We had the horoscopes matched.

Hariharan: We met over a glass of juice.

Lalitha: My mom asked me to wear a Kacheepuram sari.

Hariharan: She had oiled her hair.

Lalitha: I had very long hair then. My hair was oiled and plaited with flowers.

Hariharan: She came across as a very frank person. Very innocent.

Lalitha: The first time I went to Bombay was after my marriage. We were married in 1984. At that time you were an `upcoming' artiste.

Hariharan: There came a time when I said `don't call me upcoming. Just call me an artiste.'

True musician

Lalitha: What I like about you is that you are a true musician. Your style is unique and you do not try to copy anyone. Truly dedicated to music. I think your first love, wife, children - everything is music. The rest follows.

Hariharan: There are times when I just don't feel like singing. After that I am totally in my shell. It happens sometimes. Especially, when I am recording an album. Two, three months I am gone.

Lalitha: I sometimes say `You have not spent time with me today. You haven't spent time in a week.' His reply: I was home all the time. `Home whole day' would mean he was in his own world. He would say `I had lunch with you, I had tea with you.' During lunch and tea, your mind would be elsewhere. Your toes would be moving even when you are asleep. So then it is like, all right, this guy is at home. Music is everything.

Hariharan: Well, as a child my house was full of music. My father had a house in Thiruvananthapuram. My dad, HAS Mani, a Carnatic singer, died in 1963. I was about nine then. I remember spending vacations here. There was a shop selling firewood right opposite the house. I was fascinated by the woodcutter there - his physique and stamina. He was my childhood hero. Then there was a small Sivan temple. My mother used to tell me how I used to run there and get prasadam. So, small memories of Thiruvananthpuram. It feels good to be here.

My mother Alamelu Mani is also a singer. I used to be very scared of my father. Those days, you were in awe of your father. My first guru was my mother. I picked up ragas, varnams and keerthanams from my mother. I was 19 and in college when I heard Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan.

I was zapped and joined him as a student. Luckily for me he was open-minded. He is one person who had sung ghazals, film songs... In 1978, I listened to Mehndi Hasan. The kind of dimension he gave to ghazals was amazing. Basically, I love to sing songs. A song is to converse. That conversation aspect is present in ghazals. The word ghazal means to talk to your beloved. It could be to anyone - your child, partner, lover, God, nature. I try to put that conversational aspect into my film songs too. That kind of personal touch has to be there.

Favourite song

Lalitha: I enjoy many of his songs. `Uyire' (from `Bombay') is right on top of that long list. I don't sing. I have stated that two singers in the family are enough. I prefer doing the management.

Hariharan: She manages our big shows like when we have a 40-piece orchestra. Then I have another show called `Soul India' when I sing all my songs in two hours.

(Replying to a question about his tuft of long hair)

Hariharan: Well, it is very simple. I used to go to a hair stylist called Anand. He was a cat himself. Lot of style like Rajesh Khanna. He used to cut my hair and occasionally keep looking at himself in the mirror. (Imitating the hair stylist, he goes `khat, khat... .' with an imaginary scissors). So he told me: Haribhai yeh thoda grow kejaye. Aap ke liye acha lagega. (Grow your hair a little. It will look good on you). This was much before Colonial Cousins. In 1986-87.

Lalitha: I started chopping my hair shorter and he kept growing it.

Hariharan: So I kept growing my hair and I got the name pony-tailed ghazal gayak. After three-four years, my time came. I became popular and people attributed my hair to my popularity. They wanted to know if I was a musical Samson. Some others wanted to know if it was spiritual. I said no baba. It is nothing. It is something I started. Now, maybe after a decade, people identify me with that. So maybe I better not take it out (laughing loudly).

Lalitha: I don't like it.

Hariharan: (surprised) You don't like my hair?

Lalitha: I got to plait it. I got to take care of it. A lot of work.

Hariharan: I thought you loved it.

Lalitha: Really? Before a show, when I want him to portray a certain style for a song, I got to work on his hair.

Hariharan: (guffawing) It seems to be getting into everybody's hair.

Lalitha: Our sons, Akshay, who is 18, and Karan, 12, want to grow their hair like him.

Hariharan: Yes, both of them. They are inspired by my hair. They keep saying `Dad you have long hair.' So I tell them, first get out of your school and college and then do what you want. I don't have any hassles. It was not because of Colonial. Before Colonial Cousins, I was known more as a ghazal singer. My albums `Reflection' and 'Hazir,' which I had done with Zakir Hussain, had clicked. But ghazals do not have that mass appeal. When Colonial came along, it was so different and fresh, it was a massive hit.

Lalitha: After Colonial Cousins, gradually his popularity started growing and we became accustomed to it. I used to manage everything and the concerts of the Colonial Cousins used to keep me occupied for a long time.

Hariharan: Suddenly, from 10 calls, it used to be 100 calls a day.

Lalitha: We didn't have any office personnel then. I used to handle the shows and produce it too. I enjoy it because it is something different from what I do. To take a break, I make sure that every year we take off to some place together.

Hariharan: At least a month.

Lalitha: Whichever places take our fancy. We have gone to Africa, places in India, Switzerland...

Hariharan: I just loved Africa. No phones or TV. I really bonded with my kids then. It was between that Colonial Cousins craze.

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