Saturday, February 09, 2013

Hitting the Right Notes

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COLUMN: Spouse's Turn

Sashila Sugathan talks about life with noted playback singer Unni Menon 

By Shevlin Sebastian

In March 1982, Sashila Sugathan, who was doing her first-year English literature course at St. Teresa’s College, Kochi, went to Chennai for a study leave at her uncle, K.M. Vengilat’s home. While there, the singer, Unni Menon, who was Vengilat’s neighbour, dropped in. 
When Sashila saw Unni for the first, she drew her breath. “Unni was so handsome, in his white kurta and mundu,” she says. “There was a serene look on his face. I liked him immediately.” 

They started chatting, and, over the next three weeks, Unni would drop in, as and when he had the time. “I had heard of him earlier,” says Sashila. “In fact, I would listen to his songs on the radio. I thought Unni would be a senior person like K.J. Yesudas, so I got a shock when I realised he was so young.” 

Anyway, Sashila returned to Kochi and they stayed in touch through letters. Once Unni wrote that after Sashila’s education was complete, they could get married. “Somehow, my father got hold of this letter,” says Sashila. “There was a showdown at home. My parents restricted me from going to my dance classes. They ensured that I returned home immediately after college.” 

Sashila told Unni about this. “I was scared about how to go ahead,” she says. “We did not have the freedom and liberty that the children of the current generation have. There were so many limitations.” But, luckily, she had her dance teacher, Shyamala Surendran, who offered moral support and encouragement. “Shyamala was in touch with Unni and told him it would be difficult to get family approval,” says Sashila. “The only way out was a registered marriage.” 

During her second year, Unni wrote a letter in which he clearly stated the day he would be arriving, and the time the registered marriage would take place. Somehow, the letter was read by Sashila’s parents. “They told me I could no longer go to college,” says Sashila. “But Shyamala and Unni planned a way to get me out of the house.” 

On October 13, 1983, Sashila managed to step out. Soon, her parents came to know that the couple was going to register their marriage. They gave chase, but it was too late: the registration had already taken place. “So, it was like a runaway wedding,” says Sashila. “But within a day my parents cooled down and conducted a marriage with all the proper rituals.” Later, a reception was held at the Bharat Tourist Hotel. 

Today, the couple, the parents of two sons - Ankur, 25, and Akash, 18 - live in Chennai. 

And Sashila continues to be enamoured of her husband. “He is a very lovable person, not only towards the family, but to all,” says Sashila. “And that is also his biggest problem: he trusts everybody. As a result, he has been taken for a ride by a few people. Unni has lots of friends in every nook and corner of the world.” 

If there is one drawback, it is that Unni is reticent when it comes to canvassing for assignments. “To get good songs you have to meet all the important people, but he has never done that,” she says. 

On a normal day, when Unni is at home, he gets up at 6.30 a.m. and reads the newspaper, along with a cup of tea. Thereafter, he will do an hour of yoga. Following a bath and breakfast, he will sit in the bedroom with a harmonium and start singing. “He will do so till lunch-time but will take breaks in between to check his e-mail,” says Sashila. “After lunch at 1 p.m., Unni will watch TV till 3 p.m. Thereafter, he will take a nap.” 

In the evening guests will come including programme organisers to book Unni for concerts. “From 6.30 to 8 p.m., he walks on our terrace,” says Sashila. “Then he will sit on a chair and practice his singing once again.” 

Asked about tips of having a happy marriage, Sashila, who has a master’s in English literature, says, “A woman should always be 10 per cent lower than a man in all aspects. This talk about equality is creating so much of problems in a marriage.” 

Another issue is the ‘party’ lifestyle. “Young girls and boys are drinking and smoking,” she says. “They move around freely with others which lead to jealousies and conflicts in a marriage. They are all working and these late hours make it difficult to lead a normal life. There is too much of an influence of Western culture on our youngsters. Trying to prove that girls are better than the men is counter-productive. A woman should be soft and lady-like.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)


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