Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu recalls his decades-old association with S.P. Balasubramanyam.
The devastating news of the passing away of the legendary playback singer, S.P. Balasubramanyam has left me shattered and shell-shocked. I am benumbed and words fail me as I struggle to express my deep anguish. Like millions of people across the globe, my wife, Ushamma and I, prayed fervently for his speedy recovery. We hoped that he would win this battle against the dreaded Coronavirus. Alas! The cruel hand of destiny has snatched away ever-smiling Balu from us.
I wake up every morning and get rejuvenated by listening to Annamacharya Keertans and devotional songs of late Sri Ghantasala Venkatasewara Rao and Sripathi Panditharadhyula Balsubramanyam. This has been my routine for many years. The words that Balu is no more has left a void in me. How can my morning routine be the same without listening to your mellifluous voice, Balu?
Ever since I came to know about his hospitalisation, I have been in constant touch, initially with Balu and later with his family members. It became my daily routine to seek updates on his well-being. I was regularly in touch with the doctors who were treating him at MGM hospital. For the past many days, the doctors kept me informed on how he was coping with the aftermath of contracting the virus. I must compliment the doctors for doing their best.
S. P. Balasubramanyam being felicitated for entering 50th year of his singing career. Photo courtesy @MVenkaiahNaidu/Twitter.
During the initial days of his treatment, I felt happy when the doctors told me that he was improving and responding to treatment. They informed me that they were taking advice of experts from Mayo Clinic and Boston Medical University and used to update me on their line of treatment too. Upon my suggestion, they took the advice of leading pulmonologists in South India. When the doctors informed me of the need for physiotherapy treatment for Balu, I had spoken to Apollo Hospitals Group Chairman, Dr C. Pratap Reddy for arranging the machine.
Balu’s son, Charan was also in constant touch with me, briefing about his health condition.
Four days ago, it came as a relief when the doctors told me that he was progressing and responding to the treatment. They said that he was spending time with family members by speaking to them. I was relieved on hearing this as initially his communication was only through gestures or by writing down his thoughts on a piece of paper.
I was told that he had recently expressed his wish to watch TV as he was a keen cricket enthusiast. On getting those updates a few days ago, I felt confident that he would pull through. All this made me not believe the news that he is no more when it was broken to me. I can barely stay composed and collect my thoughts. Memories come flooding to me, unable as I am to cope with this sudden tragedy.
I have always had a special affinity towards Balu… it could be due to the fact that I knew him since childhood or because he hailed from my village in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh or for his humility, dedication and hard work, which he imbibed from his father, late Sri Sripathi Panditaradhyula Sambamurthy, who was a harikatha artiste and a great musician. Sri Sambamurthy used to organise Thyagaraja music festivals and invite eminent musicians. It was a great opportunity to me and music lovers of Nellore to listen and enjoy the music of legends like D.K. Pattamal, M.S. Subbalakshmi, Chambai Vaidyanathan Iyer, Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna, Violinist Lalgudi Jayaraman, Veena expert Chitti Babu, vocalist M.L. Vasanthakumari, eminent percussionist T.K. Murthy and others. It could be any or a combination of all these reasons which endeared Balu to me. I will miss him personally in ways beyond the pale of language — such is the deep bond I shared with him.
With his friendly disposition, Balu was equally affectionate towards me whenever we interacted. We used to go down the memory lane and get nostalgic.
His conversations used to be interspersed with interesting anecdotes, which I cherish.
Our love for Telugu language and Bharatiya Samskrithi ( Indian culture) was one of the common factors that further cemented our bonding.
Balu was an institution by himself. Undoubtedly, he was like a binding force, an overarching bridge between the past and present generations. He was a mentor par excellence and a genteel guide for the younger generation. Not only did he earn name and fame globally as a versatile singer, but was equally at ease in donning the greasepaint. He slipped effortlessly into the supporting characters he had enacted. The fact that he lent his voice to leading actors from the sixties till recently and in different languages speaks volumes of his brilliance. He had the unique gift of modulating his voice to suit the actor’s persona. Voice modulation was his forte.
Apart from Telugu, he has sung in many languages, including Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi.
The Telugu people in particular and the world of music in general will be indebted to Balu for unearthing fresh and hidden singing talent through the popular programme of Padutha Theeyaga patronized by Ch. Ramo Rao, Chairman, Eenadu Group and telecast on ETV for many years. The soft-spoken Balu always used to encourage the budding performers by subtly correcting them in a friendly manner. It was a great quality of this iconic personality. I can never forget the moment when I presented the centenary award to Balu at the inauguration of the 47th International Film Festival of India in Panaji, Goa 2016.
It will be difficult to me and millions of his fans to accept the fact that Balu’s voice has fallen silent. Om Shanti!
(M. Venkaiah Naidu is the Vice-President of India)