Ilaiyaraaja resonates differently when you are in the State of your birth, and then outside of it. If you’ve grown up hearing him in the language of your State, all your childhood, teenage and young adult dreams bear his music, with matching lyrics. But, when his familiar music washes over you in another language, you still sing along, with the lyrics you first heard.
Growing up at a time when the only modes of communication were shy smiles, postcards or envelopes, and a precious phone call was a luxury, Raja sir’s music was your best friend as you crushed on someone (‘Kodai kaala kaatre’ from Paneer Pushpangal), as your heart sang in the first flush of love (‘Valaiosai’ from Sathyaa), and as you wept on losing love (‘Unna nenache paatu’ from Aboorva Sagodarargal). And you picturised yourself in the song sequence as you experienced those emotions. This happened recently with Viduthalai‘s ‘Unnoda nadandha’. Long before you saw the film, you imagined a walk in the forest, and dark skies. The lantern was a bonus. His music is a mood-setter.
So many of us kids in the 90s who’d never worn a swimsuit imagined we were all Nirosha as we sang along to the languorous ‘Oru poongavanam’ from Agni Natchathiram. And, when it seemed everything was perfect in the land of love, it was ‘Raja raja chozhan’ from Rettai Vaal Kuruvi or ‘Madura marikozhundu vasam’ from Enga Ooru Paatukaaran that made you smile.
Songs on the move
In college, the famous paatu buses of Tamil Nadu ensured that all of Raja sir’s hits stepped into our hearts. We’d wait to hop on to the one with the best collection of his songs. Driving to office was a joy when FM channels played a curated list of his gems.
Listening to Kannada FM channels in Mangaluru, where I shifted to in 2017 from Tamil Nadu, I suddenly realised some tunes were familiar — a new pastime was discovering the original song, and travelling again down melody lane. Some stellar originals such as ‘Naguva Nayana’ from Pallavi Anupallavi left you feeling warm.
Ilaiyaraaja usually insists his music happens and that there is no explanation for it. He said some feedback moves him immensely — the then director of Bajpe airport (Mangaluru), Peter Abraham, told him that his music helped him cope with the trauma following the horrific 2010 air crash. “I never knew it could touch people in so many ways. But, that is the power of music What is the use of something if it can’t provide succour and help you live in peace?” he had said in an interview to The Hindu in 2012.
This, then, is Raja’s gift to the world.