In Memory of Malaysia Vasudevan

“What is left in this life for me to celebrate? My life has become totally bleak my friend” was what Vasu Anna told me when I called on the phone to greet him on last Deepavali. He has been living a painful life physically and mentally for last many years. Many times I felt that he has lost the will to live.

Within minutes of his passing away news flashed, many who had ignored him for years hastened to pay their customary farewell to him. In this crowd of celebrity grievers there were master composers, prominent singers and super star actors. None of them were to be seen when Malaysia Vasudevan, who lived and worked with them for over 30 years, yearned for nothing more than a courteous telephone call, a friendly meet or a caring word.

Readers know of the great welcome that my recent article on Malaysia Vasudevan received. Immediately after the article the attention of popular media of Tamilnadu turned to him. Both Ananda Vikatan and Kumudham competed to publish his interviews in the same week. This was followed up by other English and Tamil periodicals with their write-ups on him.

It also happened that Director Maniratnam honoured him at a function held for the release of my book. A.R.Rahman had e-mailed to me that he had learned of Malaysia Vasudevan’s dire health and financial conditions and it was Malaysia Vasudevan who had helped him with the opportunity of his first music album. When Malaysia Vasudevan had come for the cremation of the singer Swarnalatha, media people mobbed him as though he were a popular contemporary star. He might have felt consoled a bit by such small recognitions that came after 20 years of neglect. But apart from some fan mail and telephone calls he did not receive any material help that could have made a difference.

Years ago a brain stroke had paralysed his limbs leaving him unable to move around on his own. But his mind remained sharp. He remembered most of his songs with the lines. His memory had preserved even the smallest of incidents from the time he was three. But these memories also pushed him to grieve. It was his memory that put in perspective the slights he experienced in his later life and made them unbearable to him.

He was struggling with his loneliness in the constricting atmosphere of a small rented house in a narrow lane behind Saligram bus stand in Chennai. His wife was his only companion. His days were very long and his moments passed ever so slowly. He spent time speaking to and playing with street dogs around his house.

“What did he do with all the money that he earned?” This is a question commonly asked when the rich and famous persons fall into financially strained circumstances. It is not an easily answered question. Being a great artiste is one kind of talent. Collecting the remuneration and rewards duly for his art is another talent. Spending that money carefully is a different talent. Saving a good deal of it and investing wisely is a completely different talent. Persons who have all these talents are a rare few.

Most of the artistes are extremely emotional and sensitive. They are not the stable persons who can plan carefully. They are extremely gullible and commit the kind of horrendous financial mistakes that ordinary people find difficult to believe. Their errors of judgement often lead them to trust fraudsters and alienate their real well-wishers. The list of such emotional fools is very long starting from Mozarts of the West to our own M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and T.R.Mahalingam.

This leads us to the next question. “How do you explain the great and famous artistes who lived well?” There are indeed many such persons. But these are people who were willing to be guided by other non-artistic persons on their assignments, finances and investment plans. They are people who have no problems in being guided by their wives, friends and knowledgeable and reliable managers or assistants. But it is rare to find such people in the world of cinema and entertainment.---

Many of the artistes in the film industry, on finding their fortunes and career sliding, begin to think that they can restore their finances and fame by producing a film. Most of such foolish attempts have ended in disasters. Film production is world’s biggest gambling arena. Chance of a financial success in film production is less than 5%. A film production by a person already in trouble is most of the time a sure-shot loser of everything he has.

There was a time when Malaysia Vasudevan had everything like name, fame, swank cars and a big bungalow. As the trends in cinema changed drastically towards the end of eighties, he found his singing opportunities getting scarce. His acting career did not reach any great heights. His financial position was declining. At that adverse point he produced the film Nee Sirithal Deepavali. The film was a disaster. Bad planning of production meant borrowing of money at appalling interest rates. He lost everything including his house in the deal. He never recovered from that loss.

I believe that he suffered a stroke because of his continuous disappointments. The paralytic attack led to loss of speech. He stayed in intensive care unit for months. Neither the industry that he served for decades nor those who were beneficiaries of his help enquired after him. At the height of his fame, his residence was swamped by relatives, guests and fans and the celebrations and feasts were endless there. With his decline they all simply vanished leaving him in the endless space of loneliness. Nobody cared enough to enquire after the once-a-superstar-singer Malaysia Vasudevan.

He achieved a semi-recovery in his health with the money raised from whatever could be sold and borrowing from wherever feasible. Continued treatment and exercise therapy restored his speech and walking with some difficulty. But he could not sing a single note. What can be more sorrowful to a person who had dedicated his entire life to music? He could have achieved a complete recovery with more and better medical treatment. But he did not have the money for it. And nobody came forward to help him.

A singer who is famous today asked me: “Why should Rajnikant help Malaysia Vasudevan? Why should Ilayaraja or A.R.Rahman help him? It is Malaysia Vasudevan who has benefited from them and not the other way around.” One can go a step further and ask questions like: Why should anyone help anyone? Is it not just one life for everyone to earn wealth, name and fame? We hardly have enough time to amass more and more. We live a life of ultra luxury and have earned the keep for the next five generations dose not mean that we have to help others. We can go ahead and delete such irritating words as ‘compassion’, ‘kindness’, ‘help’ ‘empathy’ et all from our dictionaries.

Vasu Anna had once told me: “I had always followed my heart. I had not expected anything from anybody. I had never agreed for an opportunity snatched from others. I arrived in India with a dream of singing just one or two songs in films. But I have sung more or less five thousand songs. I have acted in over 85 films. Success, fame, money, I have seen them all. I have never counted the money given to me for recordings or stage shows. I believed in people. May be it was my biggest mistake. Nobody has anything great to be highly proud of in this life because there is nothing very great about human life.”

Two weeks ago as I was preparing to go out of station, I received a call from Vasu Anna. He asked me to meet him if I were otherwise free. I assured him that I will definitely meet him after I come back from the trip. I received the message that he was admitted to hospital when I was out of state. When his admirers went to see him in the hospital they were not allowed in as he was in ICU. On the same day that I came back to Chennai, he had departed for that unknown world where he will not need the help of anyone.

I have not gone to see his dead body. I did not have the heart to see him lifeless. His child-like smile and talk will always stay in my heart. His soulful songs will console me in my moments of sorrow. I only have a silent tear drop to place at the feet of my dearly loved Vasu Anna.