A tribute to S P Balasubramaniam

Friends came and went but my transistor radio stayed put. He was my constant companion. Like an appendage, everywhere I went. A present from my dad. Achan brought it with him on one of his visits to our college hostel one Saturday morning. A little black box run on batteries. Happiness comes in small packages. And thus started one of my beautiful friendships. I even managed to sneak him into class one day. A tedious lesson with the teacher droning on. I turned the radio on and the sound came out with a loud jolt. I frantically tried to turn it down and switch it off. The teacher looked up from her notes but decided to turn a blind eye. I breathed a sigh of relief. She didn’t confiscate it and I never took him to class again. 

I looked forward to the broadcasts. It was only fifteen minutes, every morning and evening. Three songs each if I remember correctly. The familiar voice announcing the start of the session ‘Ilankai oliparappu koottu sthapanam tamil….’ and I was in dreamland. All the latest hits in one short session and even before the films were released. By the time the films came out I knew all the words to the songs. Looking back I realise that it wasn’t my radio who was responsible for the best memories of my college years but the voice behind the songs. The inimitable voice of SPB. The joie de vivre with which he sang whether it was just an upbeat song or a romantic one, it was difficult to not get carried away with the enthusiasm. Even the sad melodies carried a sweetness concealed in the mists of torment. 

Years later I had a chance to relive my dream. He was in town singing at The Royal Albert Hall. What struck me most that day was not the singing but his humility. There he was on one of the biggest stages in the world and yet he refused to take an equal share of the limelight with KJY. He respectfully stood back and happily played second fiddle. In this era of power struggles it was a refreshing lesson. The voice is silenced, but the memories live on. The happiness I experienced from almost four decades ago is still there at a touch of a button. The voice that helped me get through university. I don’t ever remember shedding tears for someone I hardly know let alone a celebrity but today I’ve done that. It is time to let the voice rest. It has done its job. 

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