SINGAPORE - One night in the early '60s, my mother gathered my siblings and me and whisked us to the outskirts of my hometown Kollam, in Kerala. A rich man in the area had built a shrine and had paid for a young singer who was making waves in the Malayalam music scene to entertain the locals.
We got there close to midnight. A sea of people had descended on the scene. I was then in primary school and can hardly recall the concert but I remember the singer was clad in white and that I walked several kilometres to get back home after the open-air concert ended in the wee hours of the morning.
The young singer was K.J. Yesudas who soon became a phenomenon. He had no challengers and was sought after by music directors not just in Kerala but also in the neighbouring southern states. In the '70s, he even ventured into singing for Bollywood films.
Several generations of Indians have since grown up listening to him. He has in his singing career, spanning 52 years, recorded more than 50,000 songs in almost all Indian languages.
He has won the National Award a record seven times and been given the annual Kerala State Film Award for Best Playback Singer an unbelievable 26 times. He got the same award from Tamil Nadu state eight times, from Andhra Pradesh six times and from Karnataka state five times. Yesudas was in Singapore on
Aug 23 after a gap of several years. Naturally, tickets for his show organised by the Singapore Malayalee Association sold out fast.
Would this be his last public performance in Singapore? Yesudas was after all 73 and how long would he continue to sing? These were some of the questions asked by his fans here.
A few days before the concert at the Esplanade, a Chinese friend asked me my plans for the weekend. When I mentioned that I was going to listen to a legend she asked me doubtfully whether a 73-year-old could still sing at his best.