It is really becoming a cliche to repeat that the year 2020 has become a nightmare. It just truncated the glorious run of an invaluable talent that shaped the music sensibilities of millions of people down south for about five decades. SP Balasubrahmanyam passed away on Friday, leaving millions of fans and the world of music in great agony.
On August 5, SPB was taken to the hospital after he tested positive for coronavirus. The 74-year-old singing legend sounded very optimistic in the video he made to inform the world about his diagnosis. He assured his fans that he would be out of the hospital in no time as the symptoms were “very mild.” But, his health took a turn for the worse soon, necessitating the doctors to move him into the intensive care unit (ICU) of the MGM Healthcare in Chennai. And he was put on life-support.
During this period, SP Charan kept the worried fans regularly informed about SPB’s health. Earlier this month, Charan even shared that his father had tested negative for COVID-19. However, his lungs still did not heal from the damage caused by the infection. After battling for nearly two months, SPB breathed his last while still under medical care, leaving a huge void in the world of Indian music.
SPB had sung more than 40,000 songs in 16 languages. But, his contribution to music goes beyond his sheer volume of work.
SPB was the only playback singer whose name I memorised for most of my preadolescence. He was part of every significant aspect of my family and social life. He was on my home cassette player, he was on television, he was on the radio, and his songs were part of the family dinner time. There was an SPB song for all occasions. His devotional songs were constantly played on the cassette player at the neighbourhood temple, Ganesha pandals and he was the top choice of those preparing for the pilgrimage to Sabarimala. His song “Ilamai Idho Idho” from Kamal Haasan’s Sakalakala Vallavan was the mandatory song that was played to mark the beginning of every new year. His voice was everywhere. One can’t complain because his voice had the ability to make even the most unpleasant place or situation feel better. And his television show Edhe Thumbi Haaduvenu (I sing with all my heart) did a solid job of taking music even closer to laymen. He came into our living room by appointment every Sunday for years via our old television set and enthralled us with his singing. He also educated us about music and created generations of informed music-lovers.
I think that is one of his greatest contributions to music.