The master's voice

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Music K.J. Yesudas evokes absolute adoration not just because of his music but also due to his humility and sparks of wisdom. RANEE KUMAR

Music is his means to salvation K. J. Yesudas. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy
Music is his means to salvation K. J. Yesudas. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

T here are any number of great musicians — classicists, stylists, innovators, perfectionists, modernists and populists. Each is a class unto him/herself, no doubt. Their music might be infallible in many aspects. But only one is blessed with a divinity that radiates right from his voice to his persona to his music. His name casts a spell and audience throng to his concerts, unmindful of all the mundane hassles, just to have a glimpse of him. K.J. Yesudas belongs to a different league. His concerts are not just appreciative, finger-tapping exercises; they are not spiced with gimmicks to showcase his creativity. They are like pearls from the oyster. We pick them and enjoy their lustre while the mother remains like a dew drop on the lotus leaf!

His musical bonanza spans across Carnatic classical music concerts/discs, playback singing for films beyond linguistic boundaries, devotional songs cutting the barriers of narrow religiosity. Fame spread its red carpet way back in his youth when he ventured into film singing.

Into his 70th birthday (January 10), Kattassery Joseph Yesudas achieved that spiritual equilibrium which is the core of all classical music. The humility with which he shares his experiences in life with his audience in crisp, brief statements and the gentle counselling to all aspirants of music, during his concerts are to be heard to be believed. If the audience are in raptures over his honey-throated rendition, they are enslaved by his sparks of wisdom, going by the ecstatic applause and open admiration from one and all.

In one of his many concerts during the Margazhi music festival in Chennai, the audience were treated to a four-hour non-stop katcheri last week. Not a soul stirred out of the seat, no signs of hunger, not even thirst. From a teenager to an octogenarian, they all sat rooted to their chairs in absolute adoration.

A person steeped in music moves from one plane to another as age progresses. M.S. Subbulakshmi was a sterling example of a sthitapragnya, hence she wore the Bharat Ratna lightly on her sleeve. Yesudas is a committed artiste of a different genre. His spiritual odyssey is that of a karma yogi. Money may come, it may go. It is a means to livelihood but music is his means to salvation. He says in an emotion-suffused voice, “They (Thyagaraja and my guru Chembai ayya) placed trust on one Rama and gave up their life and music for that Rama. We seek resort with ten Ramas, that's the irony. Today it is the biksha of my guru that I am eating, roaming in AC cars and living in big house and singing on prestigious stages. I cannot wipe out my indebtedness to my guru no matter what all I do in his name. His grace is beyond words and deeds.”

Allowing us a peek into his early life, he recounted, “If at all I secured any marks it was in Math. My father found out that my passion lay in music. So he consoled me saying forget education just go learn music. I could only learn at the music school for one year. I couldn't afford to pursue further. So, I forayed into film music for sustenance. Once I could afford the fee, I continued with my Carnatic music under my guru. You cannot imagine how my heart used to ache to learn what was my life and blood. I underwent trials and tribulations but decided not to give up on music till I attained at least a tenth of what my guru bestowed on me. Even now I still feel like a pupil; there is no end to learning.”

Having said that much, time and again he requested young music aspirants not to be in a hurry to make it to concert on stage. “There's a long way to go. Have immense patience only then you will achieve something.” A jibe at all those text messaging on the mobiles (in silent mode) even as they gave an ear to the recital, “I belong to a generation that kept guru's lessons in mind and then in heart and try to remember the style during practice at home. Thanks to mobiles, and also to Youtube, downloading is a smart way out.” As a last piece of advice to youngsters, Yesudas remarked, “I know that I shouldn't be talking too much or else I'd be asked to concentrate on singing than lecturing. Just a few words. Believe me our arts are so great because they reveal the divine to whoever ( Chakkani rajamarghamu.. in Karaharapriya scaled aesthetic heights) pursues them with single-minded concentration and internalise it as they progress. Why are you moving towards garbage when a platter is laid out here?” He gave a run to others of his ilk by rendering the 16th pashuram of Tiruppavai on January 1 of the Margazhi season. What more can you ask?

Even now I still feel like a pupil; there is no end to learning.



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