Music

‘This is the best phase of my life’

Vaikom Vijayalakshmi playing Gayathri Veena during her attempt for world record in 'most number of songs in one stringed musical instrument' in Kochi.

Vaikom Vijayalakshmi playing Gayathri Veena during her attempt for world record in 'most number of songs in one stringed musical instrument' in Kochi.

Vaikom Vijayalakshmi radiates optimism...so much so that you feel as if she has just breezed through the 35 years of her life. “My parents want me to be like this, strong and confident...,” she says. Although tired after a spate of interviews, travels and concerts, one can’t miss out her enthusiasm once she starts talking, especially about her music, her family, her teachers, her well-wishers and, of course, her recent world record - playing the single-stringed Gayathri Veena for six-and-half hours, presenting 69 songs in all.

A child prodigy who grew up to become a consummate musician, Viji, as she is fondly called, is candid to the point of being blunt and wants no sympathy about her being visually challenged. “It was not easy growing up as a visually-challenged person, but then my parents encouraged me to channelise everything into music - my happiness, frustration, disappointment, angst, fears... In fact, whenever I am in a foul mood or picks up a fight with someone at home, my mother would say, ‘Go and listen to a song!’ I am nothing without music,” she smiles.

Her parents, V Muraleedharan and P Vimala, discovered her talent when she was hardly three. “The first song she sang was KS Chitra’s ‘Naanoru sindu, kaavadi sindu...’ from Sindhubhairavi . She surprised us with her grasp over ragas. It is no exaggeration to say that by the age of five she could identify scores of ragas. She started giving concerts even before she was trained in classical music. Her arangetram was at the age of five and a half, and a year later she performed at the reputed Shanmughananda Hall in Mumbai,” says her father.

Guiding lights

Little Viji loved listening to KJ Yesudas and considered him her “maanasaguru”. Her joy knew no bounds when she finally met him at Vaikom. “That was a blessed moment for all of us,” says Muraleedharan. Although she started learning from Ambalappuzha Thulasi at the age of seven, most of her learning has been through listening to songs of stalwarts of Carnatic music on radio and audio cassettes. “Now I don’t get enough time to pursue my music training. Sometimes Das sir [Yesudas] and Jayachandran sir [composer M Jayachandran] take classes over the phone! I really enjoy those sessions,” she says.

The power and maturity in her voice and the ease with which she presents nuances of different ragas have received lavish praise from connoisseurs of music. Playback singing changed her profile. The duet Katte katte in Celluloid changed her profile. The song fetched her a special mention from the Kerala State Film Award jury. The next year she won the award for the best singer for the song Ottakku padunna... from Nadan .

Now she is busy with projects in Tamil and Telugu. “I prefer singing classical numbers. But songs of all genres are coming my way,” she says. Some day, she hopes to sing for composers such as Ilaiyaraaja, AR Rahman, Sharreth, and Vidyasagar.

Viji admits that she is living the best phase of her life. “I am extremely pleased with where I stand now. That includes my decision to call off my marriage. My former fiancé had promised to stand by me always. But his attitude changed after the engagement, he wanted me to stop concerts and playback singing and settle for a permanent job. He went back on many of his promises. I felt that I was about to lose everything, my music, the bond I share with my parents.... I realised that this relationship was not going to work. I felt so relieved once I made the decision to call off the marriage. Now all I want to do is to keep learning music, especially rare compositions...,” she says.

There is a ray of hope in her voice while talking about the treatment she is undergoing to gain her sight. “Now I can feel light. I can see vague shapes as well. That has never happened before. If at all I get to see the world, I want to see my parents first,” she signs off.

Rare notes

She has been playing the Gayathri Veena, a one-stringed instrument made by her father, for 20 years now. Kummanam Sasikumar, a music connoisseur, had gifted her the Gayatri tamburu, when she won the first prize in state-level school youth festival. “A relative had gifted her a toy veena. She used to play songs on it using a spoon. That’s what got me thinking about modifying the tamburu,” Muraleedharan says. It was named Gayathri Veena by violin maestro, the late Kunnakkudi Vaidyanathan. “Initially I used a test tube on the string, then a spoon and now I am using a rod,” she says.

His favourite student

M Jayachandran who introduced her as a playback singer in Celluloid calls her one of the most outstanding musicians he has known. “She is bound to touch great heights. She has everything that is needed in a musician - amazing voice, grasping power, intelligence and dedication. Her mastery over the Gayathri Veena is exceptional. When she made the record-breaking attempt, I wanted to be a part of it and so I played the mridangam for one of the songs she played. She is a complete artiste. I am proud that she is my first disciple and will probably be the last one!”

Imitation queen

Viji is an excellent mimic. “I learnt it from one of my relatives. I have done it on stage, imitating the voice of Jayachandran sir, right in front of him! I usually imitate the voices of KP Ummar, Kochu Preman, Adoor Bhavani and the like.”

Discography

Kaatte kaate - Celluloid

Ottakku paadunna - Nadan

Kaikottum kandittilla - Oru Vadakkan Selfie

Uppinu pona vazhi ethu - Utopiayile Rajavu

Parudeyam Mariyame - Kattappanayile Rithwik Roshan

Mazhai Ingillaye - Ammani

Puthiya ulagai - Yennamo Yedho

Aarivan aarivan - Baahubali (Malayalam)

Neeyo njano - Anuraga Karikkin Vellam


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Printable version | Jul 3, 2022 6:56:04 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/vaikom-vijayalakshmi-looks-back-at-her-music-journey/article17433991.ece