An anaesthetist with an aesthetic passion

"You can feel poor if you do not exercise the talent in you. Use your talent and doors will open"

Anaesthetist Kalyan Subrahmanyam plays down his near-death experience. Those who know of the scary incident when he was revived from the brink of death recall it with awe. He, however, dwells more on his parallel passion, music. He tells R. Sujatha of his quest for his roots after he accidentally found a rare book on his grandfather on the virtual library.

Kalyan Subrahmanyam studied at the Madras Medical College and did his diploma in anaesthesia at Stanley Medical College.

Though an anaesthetist by profession, his heart has always been immersed in music.

As a child, he sang in the Sunday school at church. His voice attracted attention and soon he was performing in concerts.

His talent helped him evolve a career in music as well as in medicine.

"I am not into lyrics but more into arranging music. My forte is African-American music: lyrics written by African indentured labourers."

Music helped them move on despite the unhappy lives they led, Kalyan Subrahmanyam surmises.

Music career

His parallel career in music began when he sang as part of the chorus in the Tamil film Anbe Vaa. He has worked with Tamil film music directors M.S. Viswanathan, Ilayaraja and A.R. Rahman.

In the Eighties he worked with Ilayaraja.

"I did most of my recording for Raja singing falsetto (a man singing in pitch higher than the normal range). I had the gift and the opportunity to use it," he says of his talent.

Like the medical profession, music is team effort, where one cannot sing out of pitch, he says. "Singing helps to elevate another person's mood." And, it has helped him accept the challenges life threw at him.

"You can feel poor if you do not exercise the talent in you. It is talent that makes you distinct. Use your talent and doors will open."

This philosophy has also helped him in his medical professional. His patients see him as a broad-minded person, Dr. Kalyan says.

Short trip to Bahrain

The anaesthetist went to Bahrain on a short trip to care for patients during the end of the 1990 Gulf War, when people were fleeing the region.

When the American Mission Hospital offered him a position there he stayed back.

"It was a difficult decision to make" at a time when he was riding a popularity crest in Chennai, he says.

Now, he specialises in pain management, which involves a high "emotional component." As someone who has had three open-heart surgeries, his experience in post-war Bahrain with pain has helped him understand his patients better.

Virtual library

During a recent visit to Chennai, Dr. Kalyan pursued a lead he got from the Internet. He learnt from a virtual library that a book had been published on his grandfather.

He is trying to learn more about his grandfather, who was born a Brahmin and later became a Christian. The community ostracised his grandfather.

He went to South Africa and Britain and then returned to Chennai to set up an orphanage.