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A genius called PBS

A genius called PBS
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He was like a dewdrop that dances on the leaf but never touches the lake. The vicissitudes of life that regularly engulf the mundane life of people...

He was like a dewdrop that dances on the leaf but never touches the lake. The vicissitudes of life that regularly engulf the mundane life of people like us seem to have never bothered him. He breathed music, lived music and spelled music all the life. That was the secret of life of the genius called PBS.

On April 14, he was given his usual bath and his son set the vermillion column on his forehead as always and his lunch was getting ready as always. He was all set to go soon after his lunch to his usual sojourn at New Woodlands. Before his wife could look back, he had breathed his last. Living nonchalantly and leaving effortlessly is a boon for a yogi. Born in Gollaprolu of East Godavari district 82 years ago, it was his mother Seshagiriamma singing devotional songs while doing her daily chores that inspired the young Srinivas to turn to music. He could not learn classical music as he could not find a proper teacher then.

However, A P B Srinivas was the only singer who touched several genres in music, singing ghazals with Geeta Dutt and Shamshad Begum. He was fluent in eight languages, wrote in twelve.

He sang at least 300 super hits for Rajkumar of Kannada between the 1950s and the 1970s. "Rajkumar used to call me 'Shaareera' (voice) while he referred to himself as 'Sharira' (body)", he said. He was the recipient of the highest award, Kannada Rajyotsava Award of the State. He was always ready with a poem or a song for any occasion; well crafted, well tuned and well copied; sometimes well framed; in any of the 12 languages in which he was an adept. Any delicate nuance took him into raptures and inspired him to yet another creation, making it his own.

His repertoire was astounding. He carried numerous pens in his pockets, any number of books in his hand and scores of bundles in his car. He experimented with all forms of prosody in all languages. But ghazal was his forte.

Our association dates back to four decades when I was transferred to All India Radio, Chennai. His regular sojourn was the 'Drive-in' restaurant in Cathedral Road and, when it was folded up, he shifted to the New Woodlands. Adorning a dilapidated cap decorated on him at some function with a shawl grazing the floor behind him, he always used to totter into a meeting punctually unpunctual, with a ready poem as a tribute to the hero of the evening.

He was kind, generous and humane to a fault, always saw the best in the other man. That was the positive vibe that gave him his elixir to live well.A He had created a rare literary piece and named it as "Maruthirao Srinivas Gayatri vruttam'' with 130 letters in each stanza of the metrical unit of a poem for my sashtipurthi function, a real feat and a rare literary exercise and a precious gift that he alone could offer.

He sang numerous songs in Telugu films, some remembered even today with nostalgia, sang several private albums of bhajans and light songs with the other legend S Janaki. Hearing the news of his demise Janaki lamented that he was a good teacher who believed in quality singing. His humility was what drew people to him.

It was he who introduced me to Mehdi Hasan's and Gulam Ali's music. I vividly remember the evening at the University Centenary Hall, Chennai, when Mehdi Hasan was treating his choicest melodies to the choicest audience that day, with A K V Mahadevan, M S Viswanadhan, Ilayaraja, A G K Venkatesh, Bapu, S Janaki, P Susheela and any number of musicians in the audience; he went into raptures taking me with him.

He used to visit my house always at a very unholy hour and sing those rare ghazals he had just then composed. One small, but a subtle nuance was enough to make a long journey to share it with an intimate friend or a music lover. He was a rare genius who had his own grammar to live and enjoy. His indiscipline was non-negotiable.

When his vocal chords failed him at one stage in the late evening of his life, he slowly drifted to yet another genre, writing, and wrote countless songs and poems in all the 12 languages. He used to have a special flair for pun and verbal jugglery. He was adept at 'chitra kavita'- for instance, the second letter of every line of his composition carries a message- something like 'happy returns of the day for Gollapudi'. It is a tickling, yet mind-boggling exercise.

After returning home late, we used to interact with each other on phone not in words but in poems. I still have any number of them with me. He used to treat me to a soulful lullaby in Neelambari or Subhapantuvarali and bid goodnight sometimes. His mirth and joy was contagious and pain and pathos had no place in his creative parlance. Like a true Urdu poet, he had the genius to translate the pain into veritable pleasure.

It was a cruel nemesis, though, that even after 60 years of impeccable career, P B Srinivas was never honoured by the Andhra Pradesh Government nor was he recommended for any Padma Award, while he was given the highest award in Karnataka.

P B Srinivas is a legend who specialized in adopting his creative skills to make life worth living, never allowing any disillusionments to disturb the solace he had achieved- not as a practice, but as a way of life. I will say this: PBS was a yogi; self-styled, self-taught and unique. It is difficult to imbibe from him, adopt him or even adapt to him. There can be one and only PBS.

(gmrsivani@gmail.com)

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