The first tape recorder that I remember as a kid was a black coloured BPL Sanyo. It was a pre-satellite channel era and all we had were two television channels, Doordarshan 1 and 2. They used to telecast only for a few hours in those days. It was before the telly started growing into a constant energy and time sucker that it is today. The radio channels and the tape recorders were the default pastime for my mom. She used to mix and match various songs that she liked into one custom recorded cassette with three or four songs on each side. Naturally, I also picked up listening to the songs. Many times, I would press the red coloured record button and would leave my voice to overwrite certain sections on an otherwise awesome song.
The first cassette that I bought after pestering my parents was that of A.R. Rahman’s debut album Roja. I was 10 years old. I immediately took a liking to all the songs. I don’t know how many times I have played the entire album. But there was this one song, ‘Kadhal Rojave’ which I know I have re-winded the tape and listened to till the quality of the tape started degrading. The song had an amazing musical quality and still sounds fresh after 25+ years. The highlight of the song was the soulful singing of the male singer. He was none other than S. P. Balasubramanyam (SPB) fondly known as Paadum Nila (Singing Moon). This was my first conscious introduction to SPB.
As I grew up and started listening more and more, I realized SPB has been in the industry forever. I have listened to numerous songs of him even before Roja without realizing it was him. In fact, I have heard about his breathless singing and acting in the 1990 movie Keladi Kanmani. But my mind did not register that it was him. As I further listened, I could literally feel the emotion he is putting into each song whether it is love or sorrow or anger. He used to sing the introduction song of almost every movie of Rajinikanth.
The more film songs that I listened to the more I was in awe of SPB’s versatility. Back then, I was not able to recognize different voices like Hariharan, Malaysia Vasudevan, Unni Menon or even Yesudoss. SPB’s voice was the first one that I was able to instantly identify. Few years down the line, I also enjoyed his acting performance in Kadhalan and later in Thiruda Thiruda. He also has composed music for the movie Sigaram and a few others.
In recent years, I have enjoyed his appearances in reality singing competitions. He always enjoyed the performances of all the competitors, gave them good feedback and shared his stories about those songs. I thoroughly enjoyed those episodes. He is very humble and down to earth without an iota of arrogance. I also remember him distinctly for using the Sanskrit phrase sarve jana sukhino bhavantu for greeting and blessing others which translates to Let all the people of this world be happy. I don’t think anybody else has contributed as much as him for the spirituality and happiness of the people.
The legendary S.P. B who is a Guinness record holder for singing over 40,000 songs in 16 different languages and amassed plenty of awards and titles including Padmasri, Padma Bhushan and six National Awards left this world due to post covid-19 complications.
May your soul rest in peace, Sir. You will be terribly missed.