29 October, 2012
Sethalapathi Balasubramaniam (Balu Mama) was fondly remembered and recalled when his "Ninaivu Naal" was observed at Ragasudha Hall on 11th October, 2012.
Baby Sreeram was all emotion as she tapped her memory to tell us stories and stories about this unique personality. She had, some years back remembered him in an interview with Kairali TV. Viruththam singing was an art that was fading, she said. That was Balu Mama's forte'. The viruththam would be appropriate to the song and would emanate from within, with an ineffable grace.
This writer was fortunate (?) enough to be with him during Balu Mama's last two years. (I never did know that the end would come soon). I remember two incidents about him, though I can recount many to bring before you this endearing-to-all personality.
One was, when he was a judge at a competition that was held in the same Ragasudha Hall. A young lad had attempted "Dharini Thelusukonti" (Suddha Saveri). He had, unfortunately commenced at a break-neck speed. Any other judge would have dismissed him right away. Not Balu sir. He summoned the boy. He guided him, asking him to standardize his kalapramanam and then begin singing all over again. That was the man. Balu sir had thus created that comfort zone for the competitor.
On another occasion he started the Virutham of Auvvayyar - "Paalum Theli Thenum". The very word "Paalum" as he uttered it, was Kharaharapriya personified. Need I tell you that I was all in tears. Permit me to mention another, where he gave me an exclusive Saraswathi. The song was Sivan's Saraswathi Dhayai Nidhi and the Viruththam was KumaraGuruparar's "Pannum Bharathamum". The way he imparted bhava to the phrase "Kadai Kannazhagum" while delivering the song, should be heard to be believed. And to be felt.
He was most open to criticism but was a silent critic. (Parama Rahasiyam).
Gayathri Venkatraghavan who said she was inspired by Balu Mama sang some lilting numbers, some of them less-heard, that Sethalapathi had made his own. Poonkuyil Koovum Pooncholayil Oru Naal is a gentle melody of Kalki had become Sethalapathi's all-time-favourite. It wafts across and ushers in a serenity, something akin to the reading of Gitanjali. People used to insist on an encore whenever Balu sir sang this particular song. Gayathri truly captured the spirit of the composer and the original renderer (Balu sir) when she sang this on that day. Mysore Srikanth was on the violin and Poongulam Subramaniam was on the mridangam as accompanists.
Special credits are due to Ms. Jaya of Nada Inbam, for having arranged this concert that was dedicated to Sethalapathi Balasubramaniam.
(Someone, somewhere, had written about this outstanding musician, years back and you are free to have a look at it:
But still no prizes if you guess the author right)