The Background

“If Pattammal akka can’t sing at my wedding, then I won’t get married till she is free to sing!” young Radhamani declared firmly to her parents in 1947. And she stubbornly waited.

The only daughter of Smt. and Sri. Koman Nair of Palghat, Radhamani, my mother, adored Smt. D. K. Pattammal who was a dear family friend and frequent visitor at my maternal grandparents’ home in Kerala.

Smt. D. K. Pattammal, could not immediately oblige Radhamani, as India’s Independence movement was at its peak. She was touring the length and breadth of the country singing inspiring compositions. Finally, in November 1949, my mother had her wish granted after a wait of two long years. Such was her love and devotion to the musical genius!

Her performance during the wedding reception was so thrilling it was the talk of the town for days after, filling the hearts of family members and music connoisseurs with immense joy and delight.

The Friendship

After the wedding, whenever Pattammal maami visited Kerala, she went via Palghat and stayed with my mother and father, Sri. K.C. Unni Nair. It became a bond that lasted a lifetime. She enjoyed our Kerala food especially the ubiquitous ‘avial’ and my mother made sure Pattammal maami was served the tastiest meals possible! After a day’s rest, they used to travel together as a family to the famous Sri Guruvayoor temple sharing a lot of laughter, warmth and togetherness.

Whenever we visited Chennai, spending a day with Pattammal maami was mandatory. Besides their close friendship, the uncanny resemblance between my mother and Pattammal maami stirred many to ask curiously, “Is she your younger sister?”

The Respect

Music was part of our family tradition. All the stalwarts of music were part of our lives and used to visit my grandparents and stay at our home regularly. It was but natural that my mother took to music with much energy and passion. It was also equally natural that she revered the divine richness of Pattammal maami’s music. So singing in Pattammal maami’s style of music was an instinctive progression under the tutelage of late Sri. Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar. In pronunciation, expression and rendering of kirtanas, the ‘vani’ was identical. Pattammal maami’s favourite song, ‘Ranga Pura Vihara’ was always part of my mother’s kutcheri repertoire. No performance went without that number!

Immersed in the company of enlightened music enthusiasts, like Pattammal maami and her husband, Sri. Eshwaran, my father set up the Palghat Fine Arts Society in 1959. Their constant support and guidance was a source of immense pride and strength to my parents. My father remained its Founder-Director until his passing in 2006 and the Fine Arts Society continues its exemplary work even today.

The Family Bonds

In 1957, my mother again wanted only Pattammal maami to sing at my grandmother, Smt. Ammukutty’s ‘shastiabdapurthi’. This time, there was no need to wait two years! Pattammal maami sang to a spellbound audience in the lawns of my grandparents’ family home. I was only seven years at that time, but still recall the buzz and excitement her music created.

Another close family friend was mridangam masestro, Sri. Palghat Mani Iyer. My mother knew his daughter, Smt. Lalitha personally. It was an occasion for great celebration when Smt. Lalitha was to be married to Pattammal maami’s only son, Sri. Shivakumar. Our trip to Chennai for the three-day long function remains etched in my memory for the musicdrenched events that filled it. There were marathon kutcheris by all the stalwarts of music and nobody wanted to miss even one moment of the functions!

Gayathri and Nithyashri, Sri Shivakumar and Smt. Lalitha’s two daughters, grew up under our eyes and were part of our annual sojourns at Chennai for the Marghazi festival. When Nithyasri started public performances, my mother became an avid member of the audience. No performance of hers in Palghat went unattended. In fact, even when mother was struck down by debilitating arthritis, she refused to stay away from Nithyasri’s concerts. Once, she was carried in a chair by four assistants into the hall, because she could not climb the stairs and would not go back home without listening to Nithyasri to her heart’s content!

The Inspiration

Pattammal maami took our family into her heart like her very own. “Shivakumar enge?” she used to tease me with tender affection, calling me after her own son. Her gentle words of advice to learn classical music alongside my deep interest for film music, spurred me to action. I had just completed my M.B.B.S. and decided to train for the next five years under Shri. Semmangudi maama’s sishya, Sri. Pala Ramachandran. A new door opened in my life.

When my daughter Shweta, decided to learn classical music, we knew she needed to be inspired by the legend of legends. My wife, Sujatha and I went with our eleven-year-old to Pattammal maami’s home at Kotturpuram. And Pattammal maami initiated Shweta into the classical traditions with infinite grace and devotion.

We pray that her blessings live on…

Smt. Pattammal and Sri. Eshwaran with Smt. Radhamani and Sri. K.C. Unni Nair after singing at the latter’s wedding reception in November 1949 at Palghat Dr. Krishna Mohan, son of Smt.Radhamani and Sri. K.C. Unni Nair with wife/singer Sujatha and daughter/singer Shweta

Dr. Krishna Mohan, Chennai