Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Paying Tribute to PBS

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I met P B Sreenivos. I was a child and I like to imagine that my parents were buying me ice cream that evening in balmy (then) Madras. We were at the beautiful drive-in Woodlands Hotel, just off Mount Road. PBS was a regular there. A portly man behind the cash counter told my dad that the owner of the place was a huge fan of PBS and he was allowed to eat anything he wanted there for free. The man who was born with a golden voice came there everyday to eat a piece of sweetmeat and have a cup of coffee; as a diabetic, he wasn’t allowed to eat sweets at home. My parents went up and said hello to him.

This is how I remember this story. Maybe it is partly imagined memory from a faded evening some 20 years ago. But I do remember seeing him; he looked small, with that same crinkled face that I somehow imagine he always kept, even when he was younger. Did he crinkle his face along deep lines when he sang the romantics for Rajkumar? Why are voices as ethereal as his given shades of yellow and called golden? In retrospect, I wonder these things.

I am a PBS fan. In a loyalty contest, I would join his camp rather than side with Rajkumar, who gained popularity in later years and usurped PBS from his high-backed throne in playback singing kingdom. I am fan enough to be able to sing along most of his major Kannada songs. Yet, I was never fan enough to be aware that he sang in seven other languages; I never followed his career, so to speak. His most famous golden oldies were from my parents’ younger days, yet, the poetry of those lyrics and the mostly flawless manner in which he rendered them make those songs, clich├ęd as it may sound to say so, evergreen.

For me, the memory of PBS’ songs will be entrenched with my memories of watching films in the two derelict cinema halls of Madikeri. Before one of them was demolished and the other went Dolby sound and fancy, every show would begin with PBS singing Kodagina Kaveri, from the film Sharapanjara. The record was scratchy from overuse and would get stuck in places. That was the cue for people to lower themselves down gingerly on the broken seats and attempt to recline just so. P B Sreenivos’ voice was the precursor for our entry into the magic of the movies in those smoke-filled halls. I miss that song before every movie elsewhere now.

There are stories you want to write and there are stories you have to write. This was the former. A version of this story appeared in Talk magazine here.

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