Cutcheri at 8
Jayalakshmi decided that she would sing Shanmugapriya for her ragam-thaanam-pallavi. It was sashti –the sixth day from Amavasai and Lord Murugan would approve of her choice of ragam.
Jayalakshmi sang the notes in the ragam, her voice echoing around the tiny bathroom. It was a miracle that her voice still retained its youthful ring. She sounded only mildly different from how she did 33 years ago when she gave her first kutcheri. Today people queued up to listen to Jayalakshmi Nagarajan. But how many days had she spent singing to the reflection in the bathroom mirror and wishing that the echo she heard was the resounding applause of her audience.
She let the notes slide into each other luxuriously as easily as if they had been greased with rich coconut oil. One did not get to her level by pure chance. It was all hardwork and struggle all the way. She has earned every bit of fame that she now wore so proudly around her shoulders. There was a time when her husband was the biggest hurdle in her path.
Chee! Why do you want to go and show off in public like that? He once demanded of her.
But, it’s only my music…that I want to share…she had protested meekly.
Why this whorish need for attention? He had barked and she had gone silent for years after that. But in June1992, he had suffered a minor stroke from which he never really recovered. He dribbled all the time and his speech was slurred. He quickly lost his teeth and almost overnight all his hair fell out. It was around that time that Jaya got a call from the trustee of the local pillayar temple one day. He had asked her if she would like to be one of the singers during the year’s Vinayaka Chaturthi celebrations. He had demanded a immediate response as he had to give the flyers out for printing. She had said yes without thinking.
On the day of the kutcheri, she had pretended to go to the temple for an abishekam. Her sons were grown and were no longer interested in what she was upto as long as she had cooked their dinner. She hurried out of the house, only pausing at the doorstep to announce to nobody in particular, “I’m going to the temple. I should be home quite late. Dinner is in the kitchen…”
If you had seen her scurrying out of the house, dressed in an arakku-maroon silk saree that evening, you would have thought she was hurrying for a clandestine meeting. Soon she was being approached by others in the local town. There was going to be a Mariyamman kovil kumbabishekam. Would she be able to sing at the festival? The local girls’ school was organising a music competition. Would she be interested in judging it and giving away prizes? Sakthi-Saradha Sabha was going to hold a 10-day celebration to mark their 50th anniversary. Would she like to be among those performing at the event?
She cannot now remember how it happened. But one fine day, she just stopped hiding. She waited for her husband to ask her about the kutcheris. But he never confronted her and she never bothered to explain. She however overheard him telling his sister about “the changed ways of his family members”. But by then she no longer cared for his opinion. Plus, it was not as if she neglected them. She made sure they got their idlis and dosais on time and only then, did she really step out of the house.
This evening’s kutcheri was in Trichy and Jayalakshmi would have to leave home soon if she had to be there on time. The car would be here any moment. As Jayalakshmi readied herself briskly, she caught sight of her husband lying limply in his ease chair in the corner of his room. His dribble had wet the top of his vest. She wiped his chin with a cotton towel and held his face in one hand.
“I’ll go and come back, okay? I’ve told Geetha to give you your dinner at 7 o’ clock. Don’t wait for me, I’ll be quite late returning.”
She turned and left his room not waiting for him to respond. A car was waiting for her at the entrance when she reached there. Jaya settled into the seat, closed her eyes and brought her hands together in a prayer. Muruga…she called out softly as her head sank into the head-rest. They should be in Trichy in 3 hours' time.