Tuesday, July 30, 2013

“My First Impression was ‘Wow’”

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn 

Vinod Sivaraman talks about life with singer Chitra Iyer

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Vinod Sivaraman saw Chitra Iyer for the first time, at a dinner, at the Chennai Gymkhana Club, he was smitten. “My first impression was 'Wow!'” he says. “She was a stunner. I was instantly attracted. I liked the way she talked. Her command over English was perfect. I was impressed. ”

Vinod's parents had arranged for them to meet. At that time, Chitra was an upcoming singer, while Vinod was a pilot in the Indian Air Force. The next day, he took her out on a date on his Suzuki bike. They sat on a bench in a cemetery, because it was peaceful and quiet. Not long after, the watchman shooed them away. So they went to a restaurant and kept talking to each other. After this interaction, Vinod was sure he wanted to marry Chitra, but Chitra took some time to say yes.

The marriage took place on July 12, 1989, at Chennai and the couple settled in Jodhpur, where Vinod was posted.

Asked about her positive qualities, Vinod says, “Chitra is intelligent, open-minded, and great fun to be around. She is an enthusiast of animal welfare. Chitra supports elephant rehabilitation in Kerala and looks after the causes of stray animals.” Amazingly, at their Bangalore home, they have 25 cats and 7 dogs.

Chitra's interest in elephant rehabilitation happened when she went home to Karunagapally and met the elephant, Mahadevan, after a 15-year gap. Mahadevan was gaunt and weak because he was starving. He belonged to the nearby temple. When elephants can no longer generate an income, they are not fed. Chitra fought to save Mahadevan, but to no avail.

That was the spark for Chitra to start a venture to rehabilitate older elephants,” says Vinod. “When Chitra takes a stand, she remains strong-willed about it.”

Vinod gives an example. In 1995, Vinod had got a transfer from Allahabad to Bangalore. So, he booked tickets in a single coupe, since they had two dogs to take along. But when the train arrived, the couple discovered that the coupe was occupied by Swami Prabhuananda (name changed).

During this time, Vinod was ill, running a temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit, and felt weak. So, he could not put up a fight. But Chitra did. She said the train will not start, till they got their coupe.

There was an impasse,” says Vinod. After an hour of three-way discussion, between the Black Cat commando, guarding the Swamiji, the Travelling Ticket Examiner, and Chitra, eventually, the commando and a Muslim traveller decided to give space in their four-berth coupe. As a result, Vinod and Chitra got their seats, while the dogs slept under the berths. 

The next morning, the train stopped at a station. Thousands of people came to greet Prabhuananda. After a while, the District Collector, a young woman, came and met Chitra. She gave the swamiji's personal card and said, “Swami Prabhuananda has invited you to visit the ashram. He was very impressed about the trouble you took over two dogs. He said you are a woman of conviction.” 

In this incident all the attention was on Chitra. But Vinod, who is now a pilot with a private airline, says he has no issues that everybody is aware of his wife, while he remains away from the spotlight. “I understood this very early,” he says.

Once the couple, who had just got married, were sitting on a bench at Kasaragod station. A young man approached them. He just shooed Vinod away with his hand and sat between them and began talking to Chitra. After a while, he asked Chitra for an autograph. “Clearly, he did not know who I was,” says Vinod, with a smile.

Interestingly, Vinod does not know much about music. “I am tone-deaf,” he says. So when he attends Chitra's concerts, it is their musically-trained daughters – Aditi, 20, and Anjali, 18 – who are able to spot mistakes.

Chitra has a large repertoire – Malayalam, English, Bollywood and Tamil, apart from Carnatic and Hindustani songs. “Chitra's only drawback is that she did not study music as long as she should have,” says Vinod. “She learnt Carnatic and Hindusthani music at home, but did not get the academic qualifications that some people said she should have got.”

The same thing happened with her MA in English literature from Calicut University. A week after she got married, the Viva exams were to be held. But Chitra forwent it, so that she could go with Vinod to Jodhpur. “It was a decision that I still regret,” says Vinod.

Nevertheless, what he likes most about Chitra is the way she dedicated herself to be a mother. “That took precedence over her career,” says Vinod. “But today, Chitra has some regrets. Because the music break was as long as ten years, Chitra is not finding it easy now. She is older and people have moved on.”

Meanwhile, when asked about the ingredients needed for a successful marriage, Vinod says, “Before getting married, be sure you are committed to each other. You should not be doing it for the sake of somebody else. With commitment, comes love. In the absence of love, a marriage has little meaning. Communication is very important. Otherwise, you will become alienated. You should be able to talk about anything.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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