The months of May and June are sweet pain for my parents and me. We rejoice my grandfather’s birthday in May (May 20, 1928), and we mourn his departure in June (June 24, 1992). We swing between remembering with pride the great man that he was and remember with horror the way he left us, snatched away cruelly in the wee hours of the morning on a lonely highway. It remains a ghastly incident in our lives. But life goes on and time heals everything.
For music aficionados across the world, the name Maharajapuram Santhanam conjures up the image of a large and handsome man dressed in sparkling white and singing in a voice that made him unique.
As a young girl I remember the scramble for tickets for his concerts, people standing in long queues to enter the auditorium where my maternal grandfather was performing, and young fans waiting for his autograph. His popularity used to intrigue his peers.
My days then were filled with music, not that I learnt religiously, I was simply exposed to it from the crack of dawn to midnight. There was always a flurry of activity — visitors, awardsfunctions, bouquets landing up, interviews and travels which made my childhood and growing up a different experience. All action centred around my grandfather, naturally. He was like a king, enjoying his success and stardom. But did that make him a man only of music and not of family? No.
As a son, Maharajapuram Santhanam’s distinct musical sense was shaped by his father, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, whom he accompanied in concerts and learnt music from in snatches, without formal pedagogy. He was constantly overshadowed by his father, and literally had to claw his way up. His father believed that each one must pave his/ her own path.
As a husband, he was attentive and loving. He knew his success was largely due to his wife Gnanam’s unflinching support. A talented musician herself, she gave it all up to take care of the family, with no regrets or complaints. They had good times and bad times, but they faced it together.
As a father, the singer doted on his three children (Srinivasan, Ramachandran and Brinda), never allowing his popularity to come in the way of their education or upbringing. And the best part is that he allowed them to pursue their own musical journeys. From experience, he knew it was not easy to be the children of a famous father, and so was patient with them.
And he was not just an ace musician, clueless about the ways of the world. From driving to technology, his interests were vast. With his bold approach and amazing social skills, he would have been equally successful in any other field.
As a grandfather, he was an adoring one. I was too young to understand his fame and music. I grew up under his care, accompanying him to award functions and concerts, not knowing I was part of history. I fought with him to take me to cricket matches and introduce me to Kapil Dev, little knowing he was as big a start. He was not Maharajapuram for me, just a loving grandfather.
The writer runs a content and communications company.