Hema talks about life with the musician Ramesh Narayan
Photo by Kaviyoor Santosh
By Shevlin Sebastian
Hema was living with her aunt and uncle, while she was doing her pre-degree course at the Krishna Menon Memorial government women's college in Kannur.
“My aunt and uncle were very interested in music,” says Hema. Both of them knew the musician Ramesh Narayan. “They would keep talking about how he was not getting any marriage proposals, because he was lame, and had no proper job as a musician,” says Hema. Ramesh, at that time, was earning his living by giving music classes.
“I kept hearing about this,” says Hema, a singer herself. Over a period of time, Hema began to feel a sympathy for Ramesh, although she had not met him. One day, she told her aunt, “I am willing to get married to him.”
Her aunt and parents were happy with her decision, but her relatives were against the idea since Ramesh was physically challenged. Anyway, in August, 1990, Ramesh came and and met Hema at her home in the village of Kalliasseri in Kannur. He wore a coffee-coloured kurta and had shoulder-length hair, apart from a rudraksha around his neck. “He looked more like a swami,” says Hema.
Ramesh asked Hema to sing a song. She opted to sing a devotional song called 'Thiruvaranmula Krishna' from the album, 'Thulasi Theertham'.
Ramesh liked her singing and complimented Hema. Soon, they decided to tie the knot, even though Hema was only 17, while Ramesh was 30.
The marriage took place on December 30, 1990, at Ramesh's home town of Koothuparambu. There was no honeymoon, but the couple went to the Moogambika Temple and prayed there.
Ramesh's mother, Narayani, a widow, had one request. “She told me that the only thing she wanted from me was that I should look after her son, and she would do the rest,” says Hema.
Which Hema followed to the letter. “In the initial years, I would be with Ramesh all the time,” she says. “He would play the sitar a lot. I would carry his instrument to all the concerts. It was a nice time.”
But Hema had to make a lot of adjustments. Sometimes, students would come home late at night to learn music from Ramesh. Inevitably, they would sleep over. “I found it difficult to adjust to this loss of privacy,” says Hema. “But, as time passed, I got used to it.”
She also got used to Ramesh's absence because of his busy recording career. When family events, like a wedding, would come up, he would not be able to attend. “I would get upset about it,” says Hema. “But then I realised that it is not possible to stop a recording all of a sudden.”
Asked about her husband's qualities, Hema says, “Ramesh is always helping me, especially in the kitchen. He knows how to make rice, sambhar and vegetable curries. When I got married, I did not know cooking.”
In fact, much later, Ramesh told Hema he had three children to bring up. One was Hema and the other two were their daughters.
The couple's two children, Madhuvanthi, 21, and Madhusree, 14, are also singers, like their father and mother. Incidentally, Hema has done 15 years of training in Carnatic and Hindustani music, perhaps the only woman in Kerala to do so. The children received training from their parents from their early years.
“In fact, whenever there is free time, we spend it by singing together as a family at home,” says Hema.
At heart, Ramesh is a homebody. “There are many artists who, after their work, will go to bars or spend time with friends,” says Hema. “But Ramesh comes home directly.”
One reason is that he does not like to eat or drink from outside, not even a cup of tea. “At home, he likes to eat dal and chappatis,” says Hema. “He takes very little rice. Chappatis are his favourite. He also eats lots of fruits. At night, it is usually dosas.”
Meanwhile, husband and wife sometimes have tiffs. But it is always Hema who steps forward to have a compromise. “Even when I feel that Ramesh is at fault, I cannot bear not to speak to him after a while,” she says.
Hema could also not bear the tension when, on October 8, 1994, Ramesh decided to set a record of singing non-stop for 30 hours during the Soorya Festival at Thiruvananthapuram. “I suffered a lot when he was singing,” says Hema. “He hardly drank or ate anything. I was scared about what would happen to his health, although a doctor was doing regular check-ups. At that time, my eldest daughter was only two years old.”
And yet when Ramesh set the record Hema was happy. “I was actually thrilled beyond words,” she says.
Then, on January 18, 2013, at the Film and Television Institute at Pune, to celebrate 100 years of Indian cinema, Ramesh sang non-stop for 36 hours. This achievement was later included in the Limca Book Of Records. “This time I did not feel nervous at all,” says Hema, with a smile.
(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)