The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Agony and the Ecstasy

Search for ‘Innale mayangumbol’ on Google, and this is the first result that comes up. The song from the movie Anueshichu Kandethiyilla in the golden voice of Yesudas. It has 238,790 views as of today and 462 Likes. Certainly well-deserved, and I would have given it a thumbs up too if I hadn’t come across this by accident: the original song sung by the music director himself, MS Baburaj.

This little-known video has a grand total of 484 views and 3 Likes. But it has been haunting me since the day I heard it first.

The story of MS Baburaj has always fascinated me. His rise from an orphan singer in trains to a musical stalwart, his colourful personality, the music that flowed down the streets of Kozhikode, the days as a wedding singer to eke out a living, the friend circles that he chaired initially and which eventually spurned him…for anyone interested, you can piece together his story from here and here.

I have loved his songs for as long as I can remember, but hearing him in his own voice left me speechless. His voice is not golden or flawless. It is crude and unfettered. It is like honey with grains of sand in it. There is sweetness and gentleness, but there’s also a roughness that leaves scratches on your heart.

In this song, when he sings “Omane, neeyente arikil vannu…“, when he says omane, I become his beloved. I hear the man behind the words in the way he pronounces certain words, in the way he lets the naked emotion show as he sings… MS Baburaj has put his soul into every song he’s ever composed – I think that is what is making the difference. When he sings, you hear his pain and his love and his want.

Each time I listen to his voice, I am left drenched and shaken. Compared to this, the sheer perfection of Yesudas’ voice is too much for me.

Just this once, I tell myself, I want something less than perfect.


The scent of loss

  1. Will you not tell me your pain?

An empty hall. My stroke-stricken grandmother sleeping in the other room, with her home nurse dozing by her bedside. Neelu had come home crying, limping, her leg bandaged from knee to ankle. She’d had a bad fall, and my uncle and aunt had dropped her off here for a while. I didn’t know what to do to cheer her up. So, I sang this song instead, accompanied by a ridiculous dance routine.

“Manikyaveenayumayen manassinte thamara poovilunarnnavale, paadukille, veena meettukille, ninte vedana ennodu chollukille?”

You who took form in the lotus of my heart with your magical veena, will you not sing? Will you not play the veena? Will you not tell me your pain?

Dressed in nothing but a petticoat and with my hair standing on end, I would have presented an absurd little figure. She sat on the window seat, laughing so hard that tears rolled down her cheeks. Every time I sang “Will you not tell me your pain?”, she would take swipes at me from her seat, shouting “Yes, come here, I will tell you!” and I would dance out of her reach…

I can still hear the laughter.

2. Daisy

“Ormathan vaasantha nandana thoppil…”

In the garden of memory, only one flower remains.

It was Achan’s cassette. He used to play these songs on Sunday mornings on our old, fat two-in-one that sat on the bench in the terrace outside our bedroom, while he shaved, and Amma oiled our hair.  Daisy sounded like a happy song to me. I used to sing along, shouting “Daisy… Daisy…” along with the chorus.

Years later, Amma, Nandu and I lay in the dark, night after night, listening to this cassette. Somewhere along the way, I stopped wondering who Daisy was and listened to the lyrics instead. It was a song of love and loss. Funny how I’d never noticed.

To this day, I cannot listen to the happiest song in Daisy without feeling disturbed.

3. The fragrance of memory

“Ormakalkkendu sugandham… en atmavin nashta sugandham…”

Oh, the fragrance of memory! The scent of my soul’s loss!

Something was choking up my nose and throat, pricking my eyes, threatening to spill out. Thankfully, I was squatting on the floor with my back turned away from everyone. I stared blindly at the screen, scenes flashing through my head. I wanted to whimper, but I didn’t. I just sat unmoving, my hands clenching my knees…

And then abruptly, the song changed. The jingle of an advertisement for soap or biscuits came on. When I eventually turned around, I saw Amma disappear behind her paper, her cheeks wet too.

4. Gold, not mud

“Chandrakantham kondu naalu kettu, athil chandanappadiyulla ponnoonjal!”

A naalukettu (house) built of moonbeams, in it a swing of gold with a sandalwood seat…

I was sitting on the Hero Honda, in front of Achan, a trophy clutched in my hand. We were returning triumphantly from a painting competition conducted by Nirmithi Kendra. I had won the third prize.

As a filler during the prize distribution ceremony, they had played this song and it was stuck in Achan’s head. On the way back home, he kept humming it.

“Chandrakantham kondu naalu kettu, athil chandanappadiyulla mannoonjal!”

I interrupted him, laughing, “Acha, mannoonjal alla, ponnoonjal!” (The swing is made of gold, not mud) He shrugged it off, smiling.

Nearly fifteen years later, SR and I were listening to this song. And as SR hummed “mannoonjal” instead of “ponnoonjal”, I burst into tears.