There are some people who are indescribable. They shine like a beacon in our lives, giving us infinite joy, and offering solace during our dark days. That's the closest one can describe K S Chithra! That divine voice has brought so much joy to our mundane life, evoking a roller-coaster of emotions in us. For Malayalis, not a single day passes without listening to her voice. Today that angelic voice turns 60!
For Malayalees, she will always be their personal pride, the magical voice who put them on the map of India. K S Chithra is grateful for the love and is hopeful that it will be there till her last breath. Excerpts from her interview with Manorama Online.
You have turned 60. And you have been in the field of music for over four and a half decades. Are you satisfied?
How time flies! I didn’t realize it was this long. I haven’t even taken many vacations as I was always busy with work. And most of the travels were for work. So I never realized that it has been so many years. I can’t bring myself to think that I am 60. Life’s like that. I am going to take each day as it comes.
I have never felt the need to take a break from music. I am someone who likes to completely immerse myself in music. I prefer not to sit idly at home. I want to be busy all the time and my husband is always with me during my travels. I am incapable of travelling alone anywhere. Before marriage my dad used to accompany me, now it is my husband, who had to quit his job to be with me. It is only because of his support that I am able to sustain myself in this industry.
Why did you decide to take music as your career? It wasn’t really a secure job financially as well. And it was difficult to survive for a long period of time as well.
It was unexpected. More than me, it was my father who wanted me to be a singer. He made sure I made use of every opportunity that came to me. Even when his health had deteriorated he used to take medicines and accompany me for recordings. I hadn’t really decided that music would be my career. I was studying for post-graduation and my mother was not keen on me bunking classes to attend recordings. But my father stood by me.
When I started singing, I had to bunk a lot of classes. And I couldn’t write the exams as well. I remember telling my mother that I could always finish my studies later. But music kept me so occupied that I had no time for studies. It was also important for me to get established. Having said that I haven’t really faced any competition. Even my seniors used to be very sweet and encouraging towards me.
You have fans all over the world. Which singer do you admire the most?
Personally, I am very close to Janakiyamma (S Janaki). I love her songs the most. Similarly, I love P Susheela as well. But I don’t have a personal equation with her as I have with Janakiyamma. Perhaps you can say that I didn’t get enough opportunities to get to know her better. But I know that she loves me a lot. She would always hug and kiss me whenever we met. For Janakiyamma, I am like her daughter, and I am very emotionally attached to her.
We heard you once broke down while recording with Ilayaraja...
You can’t really blame anyone for that. It was when I was getting ready to record a song I had already agreed that I got a call from Raja sir’s studio. I couldn’t say no to both. So me and my husband met Raja sir and explained our predicament. With the promise that I would be back by noon, he agreed to let me go. Call it bad luck but the power went off in that studio and I had to wait for the power to come back. So the recording started late. At the same time, SPB Sir and others were waiting for me at Raja sir’s studio. When Raja sir expressed his displeasure at my delay, I broke down. Seeing this, SPB sir scolded Raja sir. During the recording, there were instances when I had to laugh while singing but I felt like crying. After the recording, Raja sir gifted me a photo of Thyagaraja Swami which he had kept in his composing room. “Your tears should never stain any other recording studio ever again,” he told me. That gift still adorns my pooja room.
There have been several double-meaning lyrics from Vayalar and Girish Puthenchery. But since they are written with such poesy, it doesn't sound too vulgar. These days, such songs are criticised on social media. What is your opinion?
I am not wise enough to interpret double-meaning words wrapped in such poetry. I have sung such songs. Let me tell you about my experience that involves a famous lyricist in Tamil cinema. I was recording a song that was written by this lyricist whom I don't wish to name. As a woman, I felt uncomfortable singing a line he had written. I asked the music director if that line could be altered. But the lyricist was displeased. So the poor music director was caught in the middle of this issue. The recording was postponed for another day. One day Raja sir called and told me— “Your job is to sing. The lyricist's job is to write. And he would be using certain words according to the situation in the film. It isn’t for his personal joy or satisfaction. So please don’t interfere in other people’s business.” After that, I have never interfered.
A song only becomes a hit when the composition, lyrics, and rendition blend well. In that regard, who has real ownership of a song?
The music directors and lyricists are called creators. But then it is a singer who brings that song into the audience. M S Viswanathan sir has said that you can’t really say that they have no ownership over the songs. There are also songs that require the character to be emotional. And during those instances, it is the singer who is bringing out those emotions. No one is briefing them. So yes, in that respect, a singer has every right over a song.
During the days of ONV Kurup and Vayalar, songs were more meaningful and poetic. But there is a criticism that today’s songs lack meaning and poetry.
You can find a lot of lyricists among the current lot who write beautifully poetic lyrics. And such songs are also there. But then a song is composed according to the requirement of a film. Cinema is a collaborative effort. So you might have to make changes accordingly. Sometimes the lyricist might have to compromise and that’s how such songs are created.
The use of technology in music is rampant today. Earlier, the singers had to assemble in the studio to sing duets. But now each singer sings his/her portion and leaves. You have experienced both. Which worked for you personally?
I liked singing a duet in the presence of the other singer. You can improve your singing by listening to the other singer’s version. But now you have to imagine how the other singer might have sung. And technology made things easier. I can record a song at home and mail it. I have sung so many songs like that during Covid. At times, I think such an updation in technology is definitely beneficial. Now even non-singers can sing thanks to this technology. Earlier it was unimaginable.
Do you follow any special diet? K J Yesudas is known to follow such strict diets. S P Balasubramanyam is known to be the exact opposite. Do you think such lifestyle changes are necessary for a singer?
It depends on your body type. When I accompany Dasettan (KJ Yesudas) for concerts he wouldn’t allow me to eat certain things saying it would cause throat issues. His body tends to get cold easily, while mine gets warm. He drinks lukewarm water. While I always carry hot water with me. SPB Sir drinks cold water. He eats everything and would advise me to go easy on my diet as too much cautiousness can weaken my immunity. True, I used to get sick very easily. So everything depends on your body type and habits. And no matter how cautious we are, singing is a blessing. People are paying money to watch you sing, so there is nothing wrong with making small sacrifices for them.
I heard you still have stage fright. If such an experienced singer like you can has that issue, imagine the plight of young singers.
Yes, I am still anxious when I get on the stage. And it got worse as I got older. I am tensed till I sing two or three songs. I have to make sure my throat is fine; my voice is cooperating with me. So many such issues. Dust can make my throat uncomfortable. And if I don’t get positive reactions from the audience, I get tense. I think the new generation singers are very cool that way. They are super confident, and I think reality shows and such platforms are helping them get accustomed to the stage. They are also well-trained. I just got a small training from Omana Kutty teacher. And I was lucky to get an opportunity to sing with Dasettan and SPB sir. I could learn a lot from them.
Does music act as a balm?
There is no respite from unhappiness. You can never forget those traumas in your life. But then life has to go on. I am grateful to God for bringing me to this world of music. Malayalis have always been with me during my good and bad times. And I am always grateful to them. I am only praying that their love will remain constant till my last breath.