Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Having the Right Pitch

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn

Priya Devadas talks about her life with singer P. Unnikrishnan

Photo by P. Ravikumar  

By Shevlin Sebastian

Family friend Nalini Damodar told the parents of Priya Devadas whether they would be keen for a marriage with singer P. Unnikrishnan. “My father had a lifelong interest in Carnatic music and so he said yes,” says Priya. In fact, sometime earlier, Priya had accompanied her father to a Carnatic music concert at their hometown of Kozhikode . “Unni was singing,” she says. “I was impressed by his talent.”

Meanwhile, Nalini confirmed that the horoscopes matched. Unnikrishnan's family was keen to have a girl who knew about the arts. The meeting took place between Unnikrishnan and Priya at the latter’s house in July, 1994, and they chatted for a while.

Unni was worried, because I was born and brought up in Kerala, while he grew up in Chennai,” says Priya. “He was working as a marketing executive at Parry's Confectionary, and was doing his music on the side. He told me he was confused about whether he should become a full-time singer. I listened to him silently because I did not know what to say about his predicament.”

But Priya liked Unni. “He came across as a humble and soft-spoken person,” she says. “There was a look of peace on his face.”

Unni also liked Priya. To indicate that, Unni's mother, Harini, instructed him to present a small purse, which had a pair of earrings inside it. He promptly did so.

The marriage took place at the Suryakanthi Kalyana Mandappan at Kozhikode on November 9, 1994.

Thereafter, for their honeymoon, the couple went from Chennai by train, to Madurai , to pray at the Meenakshi Temple. From there they took a bus towards Thekkady. On the bus, the hit Tamil film, ‘Kadalan’, was being shown.

Unnikrishnan’s song, by composer A.R. Rahman, called ‘Ennavale Adi Ennavale’, was being shown. “We laughed because nobody recognised Unni on the bus,” says Priya. (Incidentally, Unnikrishnan won the national award for the best male playback singer for this song). At Thekkady, they stayed at the exclusive Lake Palace hotel and later moved to Kodakanal, before returning to Chennai.

Barely two weeks later, one evening, Unnikrishnan came back from office and presented Priya with a bouquet of flowers and a garland. “He told me he had resigned his job,” says Priya. “Unni said he was not able to concentrate on his music. He looked so happy when he made his decision.”

Unni has had a stellar career singing in films, doing devotional songs and Carnatic music.

Like most artists, Unni lives in a world of his own,” says Priya. “After a concert, it takes time for him to calm down. So we end talking late into the night or watch a movie.

Priya is an unusual wife in the sense that she has always accompanied Unnikrishnan to his recordings. She remembers sitting in Rahman's studios several times. “The recording sessions would last the whole night,” says Priya. “I used to love the process and never got tired. Music is enthralling to listen.”

Priya was also enthralled when she gave birth to her children, Vasudev Krishna, who is now 15 and her daughter, Uthra, 9. “Unni is a gentle father,” says Priya. “He is like a friend to them. On the other hand, I am the disciplinarian.”

The boyish-looking Unnikrishnan is a child at heart. He still has the toy cars that he had collected as a child. “Unni is very possessive about them,” says Priya. “Many children ask him whether they can take them, but he will say, 'I collected these cars when I was three years old.' To pacify them, he will buy other toys.”

On most days, when he is at home, Unnikrishnan gets up at 5.30 a.m., and, instead of a cup of tea, has a bowl of fruits: papaya, apple and bananas. “This is good for health,” says Priya. Thereafter, he will go to his studio, 'Mahamaya Audio Visuals', which is on another floor of their apartment building in Chennai to do some practice. He will return at 9 a.m., and have his breakfast. 

Then he may have a recording or set out for a Carnatic music class with his veteran teacher S R Janaki Raman. “There is no end to learning Carnatic music,” says Priya. Unnikrishnan returns for lunch. In the afternoon, people will drop in. This will include event organisers, CD producers, students and fans.

And all the time, Priya, who is an accomplished dancer, will be there looking after her husband's needs. “Sometimes, I tease him that in our next life I will be a singer and he should accompany me all over the place,” says Priya, with a laugh. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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