NEWS of the passing of S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, India’s iconic singing legend, broke the hearts of millions worldwide, including Malaysians, who since early August had been praying hard for him to beat the deadly coronavirus.
But, God loved him more, and SPB, as he was fondly called, reportedly died due to cardio-respiratory attack at a hospital in Chennai, India, on Sept 25.
His son Charan had said that his father was initially responding well to treatment and was declared Covid-19 negative in early September despite remaining on the ventilator.
But, his lungs did not fully heal, which is said to have resulted in medical complications.
SPB, 74, who held the Guinness World Record for recording over 40,000 songs in 16 Indian languages, was in Penang last December for the ‘SPB & Chithra Live in Penang Concert’ at USM Penang.
I had the privilege of joining a meet-the-fans session with SPB and Chithra in Little India, George Town, as well as attending the fully packed concert, which was his last in the country.
The first thing that impressed me was his humility. Despite being a huge public figure with 54 years of experience, fame and accolades to his credit, he was friendly and casual with everyone he met.
During the session, he sportingly replied to questions from the young and old, gave valuable advice and opinions, and obliged to sing a few lines and pose for photos.
He even blessed a couple in their singing career and family life with a song that he coined impromptu.
SPB had a great sense of humour and enjoyed making people laugh.
He poked fun at the bashful Chithra over allegedly ridiculing him for not shaving before attending the session, asking her if she dared to do the same to Indian superstar Rajinikanth.
He was a man full of gratitude, often thanking his fans, family, composers, musicians, actors and not forgetting God for blessing him with bountiful opportunities in life.
The composer, actor, dubbing artist and film producer looked out for many others at various segments in the industry, including the boys supplying tea to the film crew and orchestra members.
Even the ponnaadai (golden shawls) that he ceremoniously received by the thousands over the last 25 years, he would get his driver to help blanket the homeless sleeping by the streets.
Besides live concerts and recordings for movie tracks, SPB actively took to Facebook by posting self-recorded video clips of songs, personal updates, song reviews, and advice to fans apart from encouraging budding talents including little ones on reality TV singing competitions.
His first Tamil song, Aayiram Nilavae Vaa, was for the M.G. Ramachandran movie Adimai Penn in 1969, while his last number recorded is said to be for the Rajinikanth-starrer Annaatthe, which is slated for release in early 2021.
Just before falling ill, he joined fundraising events and recorded songs, Nandri Paadal, thanking frontliners, and Corona Song, a personal composition.
He was blessed with a melodious voice and God-given talent that could turn even the simplest of songs into instant hits.
He creatively did voice modulations for movie playback songs that called for such distinctiveness to suit the different characters.
SPB was a perfectionist in his singing, a genius who could take on any song, from the highly challenging Carnatic tunes to Western music styles with ease.
His commitment and dedication to his work are highly admirable, while his determination and positive energy are inspirational.
Sitting in the concert hall listening to SPB belt out his hit songs, felt like being in a live recording studio – with his flawless magical singing and music accompaniment.
Malaysians were supposed to have watched him perform at the ‘SPB Live in Concert Kuala Lumpur: Mettu Podu 2’ originally scheduled for Aug 22, but that did not happen as he was still hospitalised then.
SPB was laid to rest at his farmhouse at Thamaraipakkam village in Thiruvallur district in Tamil Nadu on Sept 26.
The extraordinary talent dubbed ‘Paadum Nila’ (Singing Moon) for recording numerous songs with lyrics about the moon, never failed to lift spirits when they were down.
He may have left us physically, but he has given us a legacy of melodies and beautiful memories that will live in our hearts forever.
Farewell, SPB sir, rest in eternal peace with our Maker.