Updated: Mar 11, 2022
Consonance and dissonance
Thunderbirds Babu is the brains and brawn of the first Popular music troupe, rather Ganamela troupe in Trivandrum. He named it Thunderbirds, and hence he came to be known as Thunderbirds Babu. His name is familiar to most senior musicians in Kerala. He preferred to render the old Hindi melodies of Kishore Kumar, Muhammed Rafi, Mukesh, Manna Dey and Saigal. But, more than his singing abilities, his acuity in introducing ingenious ideas and his efforts to implement them is what I admired the most.
It's a fact that most musicians are tender-hearted and Babuchettan, as I called him, is no exception. Despite being a humble, loving, poor soul, many people despised him for unknown reasons. I realize that he lived at least 25 years ahead of his generation. Those jealous of him taunted him openly and in hiding. He often got blamed for others' mistakes, and the gentleman turned out a reprobate to many people who had only heard about him. Though I found him cheerful and lively, I have noticed that he often appeared lost in thoughts. I suspected his 'hyperactivity' to be his way of dealing with some problem or difficulties that occupied his mind, which probably kept bothering him.
I met him when he formed 'The Rubbish Orchestra'. Rubbish is the name suggested by the great Indian sculptor Kanayi Kunhiraman when we approached him seeking a name suggestion for a music troupe that sings Indian language songs and plays Western instrumental music. Without a second thought, he quipped, " Rubbish", and it got stuck. Being active and dynamic, Babuchettan had the knack to approach the right people the right way, so there was no shortage of programs.
I was one of the two tenderfoots in the team, and I met most of the senior artists of those days through Rubbish Orchestra. Being very elder to me, probably my father's age, he considered me a child and yet regarded me like all the other artists. Still, I have noticed that he was a bit careful and seldom reserved when communicating with me.
Once during a rehearsal break, when other artists left for refreshments and smoking, I asked him why he couldn't try Mere Naina Sawan Bhado, which is one of my favourites. With a mischievous look and a smile, he turned his head to gaze outside through the window. I thought he either ignored my question or got distracted by something when he suddenly started humming to set the correct pitch. He sang it beautifully without any accompaniment as I listened and watched in awe. Once over, I shook his hand, and he said that it was the first time he was singing it for a 'listener'. As he rendered it superbly, I requested that he add the song to his song list. He refused as he considered his rendition of that song not up to the mark.
'The Rubbish' slowly disbanded following an album release, on which some members of the band suffered substantial monetary losses. Being the production organizer, he was blamed for that too, and he slowly vanished from the scene. I thought he would soon rise like a Phoenix, but while travelling on a bus, somebody hurled a stone that hit his eye, and he lost vision in one eye. He stopped singing, and the bright, vivacious man lived a detached, secluded life consequently.
Later in life, when he badly needed someone's care, a lady less than half his age fell in love with him, and they started living together. Of course, he was ridiculed for that too. Eventually, he died without making headlines. Nobody cared.