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Vani Jairam — accolades as a way of life

Vani Jairam, the multi-lingual playback singer who has proved her prowess in many a genre of music from films to ghazals and bhajans to classical, was recently honoured with the Kamukara Award, in Kerala. MALATHI RANGARAJAN in conversation with the veteran ...

Vani Jairam ... soaked in music.

ROLA, THE young musician from Lebanon, was stunned. "How did you do it?" she kept asking. Moments earlier she had requested Vani Jairam to teach her a few lines of a Hindi song. "Yes, provided you teach me one in your language," had been the singer's reply. Rola obliged — it was her own composition in Arabic, and Vani as is her wont, could sing it almost at once — with melody, diction, intonation, stress and rhythm intact. It was not for nothing that Vani was acknowledged as a prodigy, who at the age of two could recognise ragas with ease and at four could sing them with ιlan. The three-time National Best Singer awardee was recently honoured with the Kamukara Award for her `outstanding contribution to film music in general and in all the four South Indian languages in particular.' Veterans like Adoor Gopalakrishnan and M. S. Viswanathan have been recipients of the prestigious award instituted in the name of Malayalam singer Kamukara Purushottaman, by the Kamukara Foundation.

Vani may not be singing in films these days but she is busy as ever as she continues to blaze a glorious trail as one of the best bhajan singers in the country. "From a very young age I have been singing bhajans and ashtapadis, abhangs and ghazals. As early as 1969 I participated in ghazal sammelans, which had singers like Purushottam Das Jalota and Hari Om Sharan Brahmachari. Even at the peak of my career I was simultaneously recording devotional songs ... so the genre is not something I've taken up recently," smiles Vani. The ace singer is constantly travelling to all parts of the country for bhajan and other concerts. "I'm leaving for Andhra this week and from there it will be Kerala ... " Vani reels out her itinerary.

A musical session

Can an interview be described as scintillating? This one can. Not because the person opposite you is a singer par excellence but because every time she wishes to make a point about a particular number, she sings it for you. So whether it is a Gujarati twang that transports you to the region of Kutch she is touching upon, or the idiom of Classical music she is referring to, music just flows out of Vani, that you can only sit there mesmerised.

"It's God's gift ... Ilaiyaraja would call me a computer ... and the Oriya film composer Prafullakar, whose innumerable compositions I have sung, would always be amazed at the way I could pick up the tune, pronunciation and diction all in one go ... " Vani reminisces as she sings an Oriya number for you. It is not for nothing that she was the top singer in Oriya cinema for 11 years. "And how can I forget MSV or Shankar Ganesh who have encouraged me so much here, or L. Krishnan or Jwala Prasad in Delhi?" Again composer K. V. Mahadevan would often state that Vani could handle any kind of song, however tough, with absolute ease. That Kannadasan had placed her on a pedestal is there in his book for all to see. "I was touched when he told me that I was the only singer he devoted a whole chapter to," she recalls.

The home lover

S. P. Balasubramaniam presenting the citation to Vani Jairam at the Kamukara Award function.

The awesome statistics of having sung 8,000 film songs in 14 languages, beginning with "Guddi," the recognition on the highest platforms and the compliments that continue to come from many an eminent quarter, sit lightly on Vani. "I take care of every thing in the household myself," she says, as she takes you round her aesthetically done up apartment on Haddows Road. The art pieces on the walls, the various awards adorning the racks, the old black and white photographs of people who have been close to her and the neatly arranged books on the rack, convey a lot about the persons occupying it. Jairam, her husband, is a connoisseur himself and a solid and silent support, you could make out. Unobtrusively he takes care that no one disturbs our conversation. "I cook and keep the house myself," she says and suddenly lets out a small cry ... "Oh ... I just forgot the `sabji' I had kept on the stove," she says, runs into the kitchen and returns relaxed. "Jairamji has switched it off ... " she laughs.

Jairam is a well-trained sitar player himself. So it is only natural that he has helped nurture Vani's innate musical talent. "Jairamji wanted me to train in Hindustani light classical music and there was a time when my riyaz under Ustad Abdul Rehman of Patiala Gharana would go on for 18 hours a day," she says. Vani's skills, you realise, extend beyond music and the culinary, to areas as wide as painting, writing poetry (in languages that include her mother tongue Tamil) and composing music. "Lord Muruga is my God, god father, advisory board and my recommendation committee ... If one area of my musical activity dulls even slightly He opens another. And each avenue is an enriching experience." From the top composers in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu Kannada, Malayalam and Oriya, to maestros like Pandit Ravishankar, Vani has worked with nearly all of them.

Vani insists on making tea for you, while you sit there enraptured, because even as the aroma of "Pudhina" tea brewing in the kitchen reaches your nostrils, the wonderful music that floats out alongside offers an aural feast you will not easily forget.

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