Chennai: The galaxy of Indian cinema mourns the loss of S P Balasubrahmanyam, one of the greatest and brightest playback singer, with a Guinness record for having sung over 40,000 songs, spread across 16 languages, in the last five decades.
But one of the lesser-known facets about this singing sensation is that he himself had not aspired for a career in music. He once said that all he aspired for was to qualify as an engineer and work as a Gazetted officer, with a handsome salary and a jeep.
In various interviews, SPB has opened about his youth, his music icon and about his lifestyle as a singer. Speaking in a very affable tone, he is seen recollecting how a big fan he was of Mohammed Rafi. He had once said that there was no bigger Rafi fan than himself, adding how Rafi’s music had a deep influence on him. “We could visualize the scene, by just listening to Rafi,” he said.
Recalling his youth, he said that he used to sing well as a college student and that his parents, sisters also encouraged his singing talent. However, he himself had not thoughts of playback singing as a career. “In the 1960s and 70s, my dream was to become an engineer and a Gazetted officer…One would earn a salary of Rs 250 and have the privilege of a jeep and driver,” he had recalled in an interview with popular media personality Bosskey.
Speaking about his lifestyle, SPB said that he did not maintain discipline like various others in the profession. “Because singing is important to me and I’m passionate about it, I don’t want to be a saint… I love my life… If possible I don’t want to die,” he had told the interviewer. SPB candidly revealed that he had been a smoker for over 35 years and also had been a social drinker, as opposed to many singers who followed extreme discipline.
Despite his stellar achievements and seniority, SPB admits openly that he didn’t have formal training in music. “I don’t know music, the ‘swaras’ and notations I write slowly… and do it mathematically. For 50 years music directors made me sing classical songs in languages I did not know and did not understand,” he had said.
Referring to a reality show that he had judged, he said, “Kids come very well trained and sing on stage, but (as I don’t have formal training) I can’t comment on the nuances such as ‘aarohanam’ and ‘avarohanam’, I only suggest to them how it could be sung in a more expressive manner. Sometimes I ask the children which Raga it is, as I am trying to learn from them,” the legend had said, in what is probably one of his last interviews.
He also touched upon instances when he had denied singing certain songs, as he thought it wouldn’t be possible for him, thus revealing his humble nature.
SPB had also taken a significant risk in his prime years when he was suffering from singer’s nodule–a condition that clogs one’s voice and adversely affects speaking and singing. They are hard, rough, non-cancerous growths on the vocal cords. This had rendered him unable to sing for nearly a month and he kept postponing his projects.
But finally, he took a call to undergo a surgical procedure to have it removed. SPB recalls that Lata Mangeshkar had warned him against going in for surgery, as she feared that it could take a turn for the worse. However, SPB did not wish to postpone his projects and went under the knife to have it removed.
This was a surgery so risky, that in SPB’s own words, “maybe if one tissue goes off.. singing will be in jeopardy”. But all went well and he was back to do what he did best and did it all his life–enthral audiences with his divine gift.