There are some very special people who’ve made a huge impact on my life. I dedicate this to one special person who came into my life – unannounced, a total stranger, and made such a deep impact on me that long after he has gone I still think of him, miss him and wish I could see his smiling face again!
As a teenager, growing up in Chennai, going to the temple was a regular routine. I was in the temple one day when this handsome old gentleman called out to me and asked me – ‘Can you sing?’ I nodded to him and said ‘yes’. He then said to me – ‘why don’t you come and learn some bhajans from me? I teach at the temple everyday.’ My friend who was with me at the time said yes and I said yes too. And so our relationship started.
I was told his name was Mr M. O. Srinivasan and that he was a cricketer of some repute. In fact, he played for the Indian cricket team! A keen cricketer himself, my dad was in awe of my new teacher and I was actively encouraged to take lessons from this gentleman.
Now I have to confess that when I said I could sing that was a blatant lie because I was the most reluctant student ever. I had no motivation to learn music, was a terrible performer. I was tone deaf and out of tune 9 times out of 10! I only started music lessons because grandfather thought music was a more fulfilling pastime than dancing (dancing was my real interest because of all the pretty costumes!). I was not naturally musical but my grandfather thought I was the next best thing to MLV. He would make me ‘perform’ and smile proudly as I sang. How he could do it I will never understand because in those days I was pretty close to being totally AWFUL! My parents of course were my biggest fans after my grandfather passed away.
So, my lessons with this handsome old man started at the temple. I wasn’t his only student as I found out on my first day. He had a big group of students which included kids, adults and senior citizens of both genders. It was an unconventional set up and a quaint group but I enjoyed the madness of it all. A group of people, of varied musical capability learning from an old man who totally enjoyed his music and was totally oblivious to the imperfection around him! We fondly referred to him as MOS mama. MOS mama taught us beautiful bhajans and introduced to rare and exotic ragas. I gradually transformed from a hesitant student to a keen student. As my interest in music gradually grew, MOS mama started giving me personal tuintions. He invited me to his home every morning for extra lessons. I became a part of his family and his home became like second home to me. I enjoyed chatting to his family for hours after my lesson. As I grew as a singer he took me on stage to perform alongside him. I became a regular performer in his troupe and started accompanying him on interstate tours! He gave me three things that I treasure most in my life – my love for music, the best days of life and my friend Usha! Those interstate trips with him and his entourage which included Usha, Y G Sundar mama and some of the most fun people I’ve ever met have to go down in my book of special memories as the best ever days of my life!
Now, what makes MOS mama so special is his passion for music. Every time the topic of his fees came up he would say – ‘when you grow up and start earning money, send me donations of Rs.1000. For now just learn from me’. He refused to take any money for teaching us. He printed books at his own expense and gave it to all of us; he paid for our interstate trips and treated us like his own grand daughters. In an era where making money is the sole focus of many people’s lives, he shrugged off money and his reputation as a cricketer to pursue a dream, a dream which involved imparting the treasure of music to anyone who cared to learn! He was special and I am truly privileged to have known him.
MOS mama, I think of you everyday as I sing the songs you taught me. You aren’t with us in person anymore but the times I spent with you are in my memory for life. I am sorry I spent all my time arguing with you on just about anything rather than telling you how special you really were to me. Wherever you are now, please know that I adore you and to this day, you are the best teacher I’ve ever had. I miss you, wish I could go to your house in Thiruvanmiyur, see your happy handsome face and fight with you again.