reverie TMS etched life in all its colours, besides black and white. GEETHA VENKATRAMANAN

The demise of TMS was not sudden; he was ailing; but when it actually happened it was as if a window had closed. Never mind the fact that he has left thousands of his songs and that it is at least two decades since he withdrew from the scene. Memories fly back to another era…

This writer literally grew up on his songs. And that spans a wide swathe of time – from the 1960s to the Eighties. The radio was still a novelty – not every house had one and it was unwieldy. The advent of the transistor a few years later changed all that.

The compact box that provided the only connectivity to the world outside was a marvel. Life was suddenly filled with music, cinema adding a generous share to the melody. The gadget became a constant companion, even in bed. Late night broadcast of classics would be heard, low volume, in the dark until sleep crept in.

Incomparable majesty

His contemporaries – Sirkazhi, PBS and ALR – were great and famous but TMS was unbeatable. The voice lent itself to anything from devotional to romance. The majesty was incomparable.

‘Maanicka Veenaiye Maragatha Padumaiyae…’ Kannadasan’s superb translation of ‘Manickya Veenam’ leads to ‘Yaar Tharuvaar Inda Ariyasanam?’ It is Mahakavi Kalidas singing a paean to his favourite Goddess for bestowing on him the gift of poetry. Perhaps the same deity endowed this singer with the gift of a style inimitable.

In the same film, Kannadasan captures the essence of ‘Megasandesam’ in these lines: ‘Odum Maegame Unakkuraippaen…’ The song is ‘Kalaimagal Enakkoru Aanaiyittal.’ It is drama played out as the voices (Suseela a brilliant foil) sing the story, lilting all the way.

It was the diction that clinched it. The words flow fluently, syntax intact, in the tough lyric, ‘Vadivelum Mayilum Thunai.’ His voice acted, literally, whether it was anguish as in ‘Annan Kaattiya Vazhiyamma’ and much later, ‘Deivamae…’ and ‘Aattuvithal Yaaroruvar…’ or devotional (‘Marudamalaiyanae…’) or romance (‘Kaatru Vaanga Ponaen’). ‘Oli Mayamana Edirkalam,’ ‘Malargalaippol Thangai Urangugiral…’ ‘Poomudippal Indha Poonkuzhali…’ ‘Tiruniraichelvi’ and ‘Poomazhai Thoovi…’ brim with a brother’s pride and affection. None breathed life into Kannadasan’s lyrics as picturesquely as TMS did.

Can a voice convey humour without actually laughing? TMS did it several times – ‘Naa…aan Kavignanum Illai…,’ ‘Madras Nalla Madras,’ ‘Ponna Poranda,’ ‘Poova thalaiya,’ ‘Appappa Naan Appanallada,’ ‘Pudu Nadagathil’ and so on. A beautiful blend of humour and romance is ‘Paalakkattu Pakkathile,’ with Suseela not missing a beat. Easwari is all fun and frolic as she joins him in ‘Muthukulikka Vaariyala…’ He showed this trait as early as in ‘Thookku Thookki.’ Sivaji’s antics and TMS’s rendition make ‘Eradha Malaithanilae… Ananda Konarae…’ a virtual riot.

Among the songs a few stand alone for the way they reflect the mood with minimal orchestral support. For instance, ‘Unnai Arindal…,’ ‘Oraayiram Paarvaiyilae,’ ‘Yaarai Nambi Naan Porandaen…,’ ‘Sumaithangi Saaindal…’ ‘Thalaatupaadi Thaayaga Vendum…’’ ‘Nethuparicha Roja…’ and the haunting ‘Yaaranda Nilavu…’ Everything came to a standstill, whenever these songs were played. So poignant are the lyrics and the music. The song fades even as Sivaji Ganesan cycles away into the sunset in ‘Manidan Maarivittan…,’ voice and visual in perfect sync! The majestic voice also had a soothing side.

It was an era that was yet untouched by gizmos. The lyricist, composer and the singer had to toil until they achieved results. And it belonged to those, who had the time to stop and savour wholesome music. Listen with eyes closed to the velvety cadence of ‘Sabari Malayil Vanna Chandrodayam,’ ‘Nadaswara Osaiyile,’ ‘Amaidiyana Nadiyinile,’ ‘Ponnai Virumbum Boomiyile,’ ‘Aettil Ezhudi Vaithaen,’ ‘Ennirandu Padinaru Vayadu,’ ‘Iravum Varum Pagalum Varum’ … Studies, work, food and everything else could wait.

The songs are still available, thanks to youtube, ipod, etc. But can they recreate the atmosphere the humble transistor provided back in those golden days? The window has shut, for ever.