Here’s a link to Part 1 in case you missed it.
Appa sang lullabies to us when we were growing up. Later, we would hear them as he held one of the other of his grandchildren in the crook of his arms and stood, legs slightly apart, rocking them from side to side while gently singing these beautiful lullabies.
I recall Amma and my grandmother Andamai would sing them too from time to time, but when Appa sang, all of us were silenced into becoming listeners. They have become so much a part of our soul that every one of us sisters too can sing these lullabies, all stanzas included without missing a beat or a word.
He even had a particular sequence in which he sang them. He always started with “Mannukku Maram Baarama” from the movie “Thai Piranthal Vazhi Pirakkum” (1958). The lullaby’s words speak about the efforts a parent takes to bring up a child, while at the same time stating these efforts are not a burden, but rather born out of a primal need to protect, nurture and love our offspring. The first lines of the song ask a rhetorical question – Is the tree a burden for the earth, are the leaves a burden for the tree, are the fruit a burden for the branches, is the child a burden for the mother? The two stanzas of the song are also full of depth and emotion. In the first stanza, the mother laments about how society shunned and labelled her in a very derogatory manner until her child was born (a condition that may have been true in the 1950s and sadly continues to be true in some cultures even today). The second stanza describes how the child’s laughter as well as tears evoke so much emotion in the mother, and how a parent’s duty doesn’t just end at giving birth to the child but rather starts at that point.
He then moved on to “Kanne Kanmaniye“, a lullaby in which a mother is putting her child to sleep, all the while extolling the virtues of her brothers who she foresees will pamper her child and fulfil every want and desire. It is a lullaby that focuses on an uncle’s love for his niece or nephew. The song is from the hit movie “Parasakthi” which was released in 1952 and attained cult classic status among Tamil movies. The movie and the song stand testament to how families were destroyed post World War II, separating parents from children, siblings from each other. The yearning of the sister for her brothers and the affection she has for them comes out in every word of the song. Her loneliness and helplessness in the face of events beyond her control are hidden by the words of the song that spin dreams of what her brothers would gift their nephew and in how many ways they would have shown their love.
The third lullaby he sang was “Neela Vanna Kanna Va Da” from the movie “Mangayar Thilakam” which was released in 1955 and was another hit movie of that era. The song is sung by a mother who has lost her own child and finds solace in bringing up her nephew and caring for him. She valiantly tries to cope with the loss in her life by focusing on her nephew and showering all her affection and adoration on him instead. The movie itself is a tragedy, as many movies of those times were and the title means “a gem among women”.
All the children in my family grew up to these tunes, and all of us have sung these at some point or the other in life. I went through several health issues over time and have fond memories of Appa singing these lullabies to me even in the hospital, because I demanded it. But I never expected the roles to be reversed. That I would be the one singing to him.
In December 2008, when Appa was at the worst point of his battle with cancer, there were many times I stood by his bed, gently stroking his head and crooning these very lullabies that I grew up on, in the hope that they would calm him down from the effects his hallucinations were having on him.
Appa’s playlist would not be complete without one singer who died at a mere forty-three years of age after leaving behind songs that are famous to this day, and a couple more of his favourite heroines. He admired one of them for her extremely expressive eyes, and the other for her singing skills.
Neither of them can beat Suraiya though for one reason. It was one of Suraiya’s songs that brought him back from the brink of a coma.
But that’s a story for another day.