“Humko Man ki Shakti Dena …” The mind goes back to the 1970s. Yes, pray to God to give enough strength to bear this shocking and irreparable loss to all the connoisseurs of music in general and Vaani Jayaram’s fans in particular. Still unable to reconcile her departure from this eternal world, felt like penning a few words about this Gana Saraswathi who left us all, all of a sudden, creating a void…
Born into a traditional Iyengar family on November 30, 1945 as the fifth daughter of Smt. Padmavathy and Sri Duraiswamy Iyengar, in Vellore, she was actually given the name ‘Kalaivaani’. Since the family had a good musical background, it was natural for Kalaivaani to pursue music – learning Carnatic Classical under the able guidance of Cuddalore Sreenivasa Iyengar, TR Balasubramaniam and RS Mani. Her first recording in the AIR was when she was eight years old. Even as she continued with music, she completed her degree from Queen Mary’s College, Madras (today’s Chennai).
She used to listen to the music director just once and take notes, then when she sang it used to be flawless! On the stage for a performance, she was perhaps the only playback singer who could perform in the same key as was in the original recording
Later, listening to Radio Ceylon inspired her to get involved with Hindi film music, sowing the seeds of interest to become a film playback artiste, memorizing and reproducing all the songs to perfection.
Her educational qualification landed her a job in the State Bank of India in Chennai. In 1967, she was transferred to Hyderabad. One of her colleagues in the branch remembers Duraiswamy Kalaivaani as fair and good looking, but very silent and hard working. One day, during a get-together to celebrate a colleague’s promotion, the other lady employees sang a few songs. The manager requested Kalaivaani also to sing. Her voice left everyone spellbound and awestruck when she sang O sajna, barkha bahaar aayee and Aajaare pardesi. They were amazed also because she sang the Hindi songs to perfection, though she hailed from Tamil Nadu. After this, such instances became regular at office functions, creating a friendly atmosphere at the workplace.
In 1969, she got married to Jayaram, who was with the Indian Chamber of Commerce, Bombay. Thus, Duraiswamy Kalaivaani becoming Vaani Jayaram. On her request, she was transferred to Bombay (today’s Mumbai). Being in Bombay and duly encouraged by Jayaram, she pursued her love for music and started taking lessons in Hindustani Music.
When Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Vasanth Desai were looking for a fresh voice, during a voice test they found her voice suitable for playback singing in Hindi. Thus she came to sing “Humko Man ki Shakti Dena…” and “Bole re pappihara” for Jaya Bhaduri’s debut film “Guddi’ released in 1971. There was no stopping thereafter (for some time)! When Pandit Ravishankar was looking for a fresh voice, he approached Vaani for his music for the film Meera. Vaani Jayaram sang all the songs in Meera, indirectly paving the way for her being sidelined in the Hindi film industry. It so transpired that eventually she had to look to the South.
In 1974, ace music director of the Tamil film industry M.S. Viswanathan gave her the first Tamil song “Malligai en Mannan mayangum” for the film Deerghasumangali, which became an instant hit and a rage all over Tamil Nadu. Later on “Ezhu swarangalukkul etthanai paadal” again by MSV for KB’s Apoorva Raagangal, “Naane nana Yarodaana” for Ilaiyaraja, “Meghame meghame” for Shankar Ganesh and umpteen number of songs in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Oriya, Marathi–over 10,000 film songs in many Indian languages and a lot of devotionals.
In Kannada, she was most favourite to music directors Vijaya Bhaskar and M. Ranga Rao. Who can forget that most melodious meaningful Kvempu’s “Teredide mane O baa atithi” sung by her with S. Janaki ? Usually the first song to be performed on stage by any troupe – “Priyathama” “Sadaa Kannali” “Shraavana maasa bandaaga” “Endendoo ninnanu marethu” “O thangaaliye” “Malnaadin moolenaage” “Haadu haleyadaadaraenu” “Hodeya doora O jothegaara” “Savi nenapugalubaeku” and more… the list is long!
As a musician who has worked with her in studio recordings and shared the stage with her, I can say her talent was awe-inspiring. I used to see her listening to the Music Director only once and writing the song and notes flawlessly to repeat without a mistake… then when she sang, there was hardly any correction to be made. On the stage for a performance, she was perhaps the only playback singer who could perform in the same key as was in the original recording.
Soft spoken and highly dignified, Vaani Jayaram’s husband expired in 2018 and she was living alone in her apartment in Haddow’s Road, Chennai.
She was honoured thrice with National awards and also a few State awards. It’s really unfortunate that she is not here to receive the prestigious ‘PADMABHUSHAN’ conferred on her for her invaluable service to the Music Industry.
My humble pranaam to the departed soul.