Voice of Vani

At the age of two “My older sisters would sing ragas and ask me to identify them. That is when my music master told my mother that I was gifted and began teaching difficult compositions of Dikshitar and other rare ragas which I still remember,” says Vani.

With the release of the Hindi film Guddi, a fresh voice immortalized the songs, Bole re papi hara and Hamko man ki shakti dena. It catapulted, the singer, Vani Jairam to ‘number one’ place on the popular Binaca Geetmala for 16 weeks in row. For Vani it was a dream coming true. “As a girl I was crazy about listening to Binaca Geetmala regularly. In fact I was so devoted to it that my family would tease me and say, ‘It’s time for Bhaktiranjani, go listen to it.’ I would always dream of my song topping the popular charts. So when it actually happened, I cried with joy,” she recalls.

Today it’s truly time for bhaktiranjani as Vani Jairam, to a large extent, has integrated devotional songs in her concert repertoire. Her extremely busy schedule takes her from Chennai to various cities in India. Each stage concert is a ‘meditative process’. Prior to the opening, she arranges with care the different photos of various gods who have showered her with ‘blessings and luck’. At the end of each concert, unaffected by the adulation, she has a word for anyone who approaches her. Popular as Vasanthakokila, Vani Jairam is a woman who revels in her career as much as she enjoys the simple pleasures of domestic chores and exploring her multifaceted talents.

Born in Vellore, she pursued music at her mother’s persuasion. At the age of ten when Vani moved to Chennai, it was once again her mother’s desire to expose her daughters to a better training in classical music and the finer arts. According to Vani she has ‘inherited’ her ‘talent’ from her mother who was a very good singer and had learnt from Vid. Rangarajaramanuja Iyengar.

Not many of us may know that the extremely talented Vani was actually named Kalaivani. She recollects, “This is an unusual name for a girl from an orthodox family. I’d like to share the reason behind this, which I normally don’t disclose. I belong to a large family of six sisters and three brothers. I was the fifth daughter born to my parents and my mother was a little disappointed. My father consulted an astrologer who predicted: ‘Of all your children this child will emerge as a great singer since she has done a lot of panchamrita abhisekha to Palani Muruga in her previous birth. So give her a name connected to Goddess Saraswati, Kalai, and everything will be all right. She will bring name and fame to your family.’ My parents laughed and wondered how anybody could forecast a ten-day-old child’s future.”

Fame and name have never been strangers to this singer from the South. A regular broadcaster on All India Radio, Chennai, she was popular as a child prodigy who recognized ragas at the age of two. “My older sisters would sing ragas and ask me to identify them. That is when my music master told my mother that I was gifted and began teaching difficult compositions of Dikshitar and other rare ragas which I still remember.” says Vani.

With her shift to Mumbai after her marriage to Jairam, she gravitated more and more to the field of music as this years passed. Looking back she recounts, “My husband loves music and was learning sitar from Shambhu Das. He felt that since I had a good grounding in classical music, I should learn Hindustani light classical and introduced me to Ustad Rehman Khan. I sang a Dikshitar composition and Ustad agreed to come home and teach me.” Since Vani worked in a bank, the practice sessions were either in the morning or evening. So when Ustad saheb gave her an ultimatum, “Make a choice. Either you work or practise the whole day”, Vani chose music full time. “That kind of teaching attention is rare and I am very grateful for the training he gave me.” After six months, Ustad told Vani, “You are on your own”.

A regular participant in the Sur Singar Samsad’s Bhajan and Ghazal Sammelan, her course of life changed when she met Vasant Desai. And this led to a string of music directors from Hrishida to Gulzar, Naushad, Nayyar, Kalyanji and Jaidev. As Vani expresses, “I was thrilled to sing with my idols like Kishoreda, Rafisaheb, Mukeshji, Mannadeji, Talatji and Hemantda. I have worked with the best of music directors, but my only regret is that I could not work with Shankar Jaikishan and S.D. Burman.”

Just when there seemed to be a lull and a change in the music industry, she got an offer to sing for Sampoorna Ramayana. Originally in Telugu, it was being dubbed in Hindi. While recording in Chennai, she renewed her ties with South Indian languages and sang Kannada, Tamil and Telugu songs, besides singing in other regional languages like Bengali, Marathi, etc. With many becoming ‘super hit songs’ and the workload increasing, Vani finally took the decision to move to the South. Having had the opportunity to work with music directors such as Vijaybhaskar, Kodandapani, M. S. Viswanathan and K. V. Mahadevan, Vani has no regrets in moving away from the Mumbai film industry.

Critics might have queried her accent or her pitch, but Vani’s play back singing put her on a path of incessant achievement and popularity in her own right. In overcoming inconveniences, she confirmed a professionalism that spelt a message of confidence and hard work. Her sincerity for thorough preparation and deeply embedded values always stand-out. Even today before stepping out of home, Vani prays to her parents, Vasant Desaiji and her ‘gods’. On stage, she always places photos of Muruga, Shirdi Baba, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Sharada ma, Vivekananda, Kali ma and Hanuman. It’s Vani’s belief that, “For artistes like (her) it is only the blessing of God and mentors that helps.”

National awards, State awards and Filmfare awards have constantly acknowledged her talent. After a long spell as a playback singer, Vani is now specializing as a bhajan singer, giving live concerts and bringing alive the immortal lyrics of Tulsidas, Kabir, Surdas, Meera, Jayadeva, Tukaram and many other poets.

According to Vani, a lot of talent is neglected in a world of hungama, albums and videos. “I do not condemn, but our youngsters should be aware of our culture. As responsible citizens, we should not allow our youth to forget our rich traditions.” So Vani has begun traveling to schools across the country and teaching schoolchildren songs that reflect Indian traditions. Content in her mission of popularizing Indian saints and regional songs, she reflects in a touching voice, “Khuda mujko aise khudai no de ki apne siva kuch dikha na de.” She explains, “One should never be self-centered one should recognize talent in others and should always look beyond oneself.”

By Pramila Lochan