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RIP SPB: Humble to a fault and hungry for real conversations, he was my Balu sir

I was in Dindigul, and it was early in the morning. I had silenced my phone, and somehow missed three calls from a very special caller. He had even left a voice note in that “voice of God” of his. With his characteristic half-joking, half-serious inflection, he added towards the end of the message: “Brother, this is Balasubrahmanyam.” As if any of us need to be taught who that voice belonged to!

He had called me to enquire if he could help me with a fundraiser I was engaged in then to build a school on the outskirts of Chennai. As always, I had no idea where he got that information from, or indeed how he ensured he got through however many calls it took. I remember coordinating with Mr Sampath, the representative of the SPB Fans Association, and being given a small booklet that encapsulated the amount of charity work the legend did. It was mindboggling. Like many of you reading this, I had no idea he had done all this. 

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That was the sort of person he was. Humble to a fault, and hungry for real conversations. I don’t recollect a single moment off or on stage with him where he wouldn’t get into an easy banter. Cricket, food, state of affairs or indeed, music, he would have an eager audience in the room and we would be hooked to his point of view. For me, mostly it was the absolute love for that voice – I loved its inflection, its gravity and its inherent kindness.

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I don’t think anyone needs me to reel out details of his record-breaking treasury of songs. Like many who are reading this, I was born into his music, grew up with it, and continue to live with it till this day. As someone remarked to me, for a time we thought that the law of life is that Maestro Ilayaraja composes all the music in the world, and SPB sings it. And it made eminent sense – after all, it was hard to find an alternative that was better. 

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Of course, SPB sir ended up singing for everyone before and after. There used to be heated family fights on whether his MSV songs or ARR songs were better, and someone would then play Kadhalin Deepam Ondru or some such on a record player and we would all just shut up and listen. 

But unlike many reading this, I was blessed especially. To work with him, perform on stage with him, and be a willing recipient of his advice, mentoring and unfailing generosity.

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I refuse to cry, because the body of work he has left behind for all of us to enjoy will last us several lifetimes, and I have his messages, voice notes and written notes to keep me company. I refuse to cry, because someone like SPB does not pass away. He lives as long as we live, and as long as we vocalize our emotions through that rich bouquet of lovely music he has left us. Fragrant and varied, these songs will forever be the soundtrack to our lives. 

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But I will miss his humor, his ability to goad younger people like me into being simpler without ever sounding patronizing, and his gentle chiding when we made a mistake. I will miss him holding forth on some anecdote involving him and Raja sir or MSV sir from aeons ago. I will miss his avuncular manner when he heard me out patiently for something that was troubling me. I will miss his unerring memory when it came to his music.

ALSO READ: For many grief-stricken fans, SPB’s death is like that of a family member

I feel intensely for his family, for Chandru – his trusted lieutenant – and for his army of zealous fans. We have lost our anchor and our compass, and finding directions to the rest of our lives is going to be extremely difficult.
  
I will leave you with my personal favorites to mull over – I am sure you have your own – Mannil Indha, Nilave Vaa, Paadu Nilave, Idhazhil Kadhai Ezhuthum and Shankara.  This is perhaps what we will all do – fight over favorites, quiz each other on details of these recordings or simply just hum them or play them.

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And every delectable note will bring him back to life again, vividly and as dearly as we hold them.  He is magic, and he is love. And those things do not die.  

The writer is a well-known pianist and has worked with the legend on many occasions.

Source: The New Indian Express