Music & Me – Chellam Devadoss

It’s a story that began when I was a child. Like most of us, I was attracted to music even as a child. My first memories are of the rich mellifluous voice of PB Srinivas singing “Kaalangalil aval vasantham”. It laid such a profound impression on my tender mind that even today, at nearly 70, the strains continue to ring indelibly in my mind.

Later, it happened that language was never a bar. Mohammad Rafi, The Beatles and their contemporaries ruled my heart and ruined my studies. They were definitely a violent distraction to my progress and the family wouldn’t have this happen. I was sternly discouraged and often had to indulge on the sly. This being the case, there was no question of learning music the proper way. Coupled with this my own lack of application and I went through life singing like a street minstrel.

Nevertheless, I never let all these interfere with my indulgence in the passion that raged in my blood. I learnt my favorite songs by heart from the radio. Couldn’t even afford the cheap song booklets sold on the roadside so I had to wait for my favorite songs by the radio (when the elders weren’t around), latch on to the lines and commit them to memory. Little wonder then that I still remember hundreds of the old, sweet melodies.

Soon after my college, I lit out to work. One of the reasons I chose to work outstation was so I could escape the regimentation at my home and watch movies as I pleased. Would you believe I would watch 3, 4 movies a day and even 5 on a Sunday!

I now could afford to buy not only those coveted song books but a stereo cassette player as well. And of course hundreds of audio cassettes. So at any points of time I could sing most of the popular songs of the time.

When I was doing my PUC in Madurai, the American College orchestra was pretty renowned. There were dozens of seniors jostling for an opportunity to sing and impudent upstarts like me were elbowed away. However on one occasion, I begged and convinced the leader to give me a chance. He was none other than the well accomplished lead guitarist Moses Jayakumar (father of famous music director Harris Jayaraj), who went on to play with all the top music directors.

The show was nearly over and the crowd had melted away. Finally, Moses Anna gave in to my entreaties and I hopped on to stage. I will never forget my stage debut, “Paattu paadava”, the evergreen AM Raja number which fetched me weak accolades from the remnants of the crowd. But after that, there was no looking back and I established a notable stage presence in Madurai.

Even after I shifted to Chennai to work in companies as a marketing professional and later on my own advertising company, I continued to sing on stage with leading light music troupes such as Saadhaga Paravaigal. Not only did I make decent extra money but thoroughly enjoyed indulging in my passion. But….., with all this enjoyment there seemed to be something lacking…. Somehow couldn’t put my finger on just what.

And then I joined the Rotary movement. The fellowship we enjoyed was exceptional and the singing continued there as well, but I soon realised that it was the service projects we executed that gave me greater satisfaction. Seeing smiles on the faces of the downtrodden always brought greater joy than fun and frolic. That set me thinking.

You see, although I was not a trained singer and not a patch on many wonderful singers I met in the light music circuit, I had my own little following who thought I sang pretty well. Many said they envied me and wished they could enjoy singing like I did. It struck me that there were so many wannabe singers who were crazy about singing but neither had the training nor the courage to perform in front of an audience. I got thinking maybe there was something I could do about it.

The opportunity presented itself when I became President of my Rotary club. This period was one of the best years of my life when I got to become close friends with over a hundred Presidents of other clubs. I sounded them about an idea to form a musical group in our Rotary District and they enthusiastically agreed. Our Governor Rtn AS Venkatesh gave me the green signal and with the full support of my co- Presidents, I launched FMLR, the Fellowship of Music Loving Rotarians.

This was by no means an easy task. It takes good money to hire an orchestra, rent a hall, get singers to rehearse, invite celebrities to attend and above all, motivate a sizeable audience to attend. And oh yes, there are the attendant issues of difference of opinions, personal egos, politics and so on. But with great fortitude and co-operation from friends we were able to organize some absolutely memorable concerts. And when the year was over, we passed the baton.

Every year, FMLR selects, trains and launches aspiring singers on stage. Over the years, this has grown as a mighty movement and today attracts innumerable passionate singers who join Rotary largely for this purpose alone. The advent of karaoke singing provided a cost-effective alternative. Innovative ideas keep cropping up with the different leaders taking charge and the bar keeps rising every year. The number of longing music-lovers to whom we have offered the gift of singing in public is legion.

The other area where we offer our singing time and effort is at orphanages and old age homes. Yes, and at hospitals, public parks and the jail as well! It is a matter of tremendous satisfaction to the singers to sing to underprivileged people and the listeners too find the experience most therapeutic and enjoyable.

Today I am happy to sit back and watch the new teams and new singers enjoying themselves and doing fabulous projects with music as the medium year after year. I feel extremely contented to have initiated a movement where shy and indrawn singers have been instilled the courage to express themselves and have gone a step ahead in making many others happy.

As I look back, I remember the music-stricken lad who could think of nothing but one golden opportunity to sing to an audience for his own satisfaction. Indeed, much water has flown under the bridge as today, I have discovered that the contentment comes in taking the joy of singing to others and the peace of listening to myriad others.

Oh yes, I got to appreciate the fact that music can most certainly be employed as a fully satisfying avenue of service to individuals as well as to the community.


Share this post