Nanchiyamma shares fond memories of her husband, says he adored her songs

Nanchiyamma recalls the day when Nanchappan took her to the theatre in Goolikadavu to watch a movie. File photo

Nanchiyamma has enthralled the entire nation with her unique voice and heartfelt rendering of a tribal song that reflects the ethos of her community. The controversies that followed the announcement of the National Film Awards hasn’t ‘reached’ her remote settlement yet. Meanwhile, she is happy and can’t stop singing. Even though Nanchiyamma is excited about her achievement, she misses her beloved Nanchappan who used to accompany her to the hills and the meadows of Attapadi, grazing sheep. She is sad that Nanchappan is no more to see her incredible success. Nanchaappan bid adieu to the world ten years ago, leaving Nanchiyamma alone.

Nanchiyamma had come to Attapadi as a young bride. She was born in Alankandi Puthur in Tamil Nadu and came to Attapadi Nakkupathy after marrying Nanchappan. She was only 18 years old and Nanchappan was 20 years old when they tied the knot. The couple grazed sheep and cattle to make the ends meet. They used to take their flock deep into the woods. Nanchiyamma would sing as she would graze the sheep.

As she was illiterate, she didn’t write down the lines of the songs; instead, she wrote them in her heart. The songs had lines in Tamil, Malayalam and the tribal language making it unique and special. Nanchiyamma says that she would have studied had there been schools in Attapadi when she came here. However, through hard work and perseverance, Nanchiyamma learned to write her name and sign too.

Nanchiyamma was a thirteen year old girl when the song ‘bug’ bit her. She would express her thoughts and feelings in the form of songs. However, it was only after she came to Attapadi that she became a real singer. Her husband Nanchappan who adored her songs used to dance when Nanchiyamma sang. Her songs became inevitable for the festivals and celebrations at the hamlet. Gradually, she began singing at temple festivals and other programs outside the settlement.

Nanchiyamma had first sang in front of a wider audience at a program organised by the Attapadi Hills Area Development Society. With quivering fingers, she touched the mike and sang with all her heart. It was Pazhani Swamy, a noted tribal artist, actor and official of the forest department who introduced Nanchiyamma and her songs outside her settlement. She became the lead singer at the Asad Kalasangam. She performed in her first program in Wayanad when her youngest child was just a year old. Then she sang in Idukki and all major cities and villages across Kerala. This was followed by awards and recognitions too.

Nanchiyamma recalls the day when Nanchappan took her to the theatre in Goolikadavu to watch a movie. That was the first time that she had watched a film. Even though she loved the movie and the songs in it, she hardly understood a word. She says she never felt like singing popular movie songs. Despite this, Nanchiyamma was destined to sing one of the all time hits of Malayalam cinema.

Nanchiyamma had first sung in the movie ‘Agged Nayaga’, a short film directed by Sindu Sajan, a teacher at Agali Government Higher Secondary School. In 2015, she won the state television award for this song. Nanchiyamma sang five songs in the movie ‘Velutha Rathrikal’ directed by Razi Muhammad. This movie had won state film awards in 2016.

It was through Pazhani Swamy that Nanchiyamma became part of ‘Ayyappanum Koshiyum’. Director Sachi was so impressed by Nanchiyamma’s singing style. She was accompanied by 14 people when she came to Kochi to record the song. Even though she knew that she had a role in the film, it was only later that she stood in front of the camera. Nanchiyamma recalls that Sachi had promised to visit her at the hamlet. When he last called, he had told that he would visit Nakkupathy with his family. He asked her what she would give him when he visits her house. Sachi felt the innocence of her motherly affection when Nanchiyamma told him that she would make millet puttu for him. However, Nakkupathy was shocked by the news of Sachi’s sudden and unexpected demise. That day, Nanchiyamma came to see her favourite Sachi sir, for one last time. Her eyes still well up when she speaks about Sachi.

Nanchiyamma and her family had watched ‘Ayyappanum Koshiyum’ at a theatre in Kalladikotta. Her family from Tamil Nadu too had come to watch the film. They stayed at the hamlet and enjoyed a grand family time. However, after the grand success of ‘Ayyappanum Koshiyum’, Nanchiyamma hardly got any time to stay at the hamlet. She gave up sheep grazing when she became busy with singing in films and programs. Even though her programs got cancelled due to the pandemic outbreak, she continued singing in films. Meanwhile, she even sang for a Tamil movie. Nanchiyamma is eagerly awaiting the release of that song. She has also sung in Malayalam movies like 'Station 5' and 'Chekkan'.

Nanchiyamma recently flew to Dubai to entertain the audience there with her songs. Besides, she is often invited as guest in many television programs too. Meanwhile, she is all set to fly to Dubai next month to attend another show. Her settlement is bustling with excitement ever since the news of the National award came. People are swarming the hamlet to congratulate her and express their admiration. Many eminent personalities including celebrities called her to congratulate her. Even though no one had taught her how to sing, Nanchiyamma is ready to pass on her songs to the next generation. Her son Syamkumar and sister Maruti accompany Nanchiyamma in her trips these days. However, Nanchiyamma remembers her beloved Nanchappan every time she sets her foot out of the hamlet. She always carries his memories in her heart as they are incredibly special and motivating. 

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