A long line of young and old people, unmindful of the scorching sun, extends all the way to the gate of University College in Thiruvananthapuram. Violinist musician Balabhaskar’s body is kept at the entrance of the college he studied in. Familiar faces come and go, paying their tribute, some too emotional to talk.
Tear-stained faces crane out of the windows. Balu had meant a lot not just to his batchmates but to the generations that followed. One can hear murmurs of Balu chettan from juniors who came to see him one last time.
Jassie Gift, a musician who studied with Balabhaskar in the same college, was at a corner, standing quietly by his friend.
“We were rivals in school,” recounts music composer Ronnie Raphael. “I was in Christ Nagar and he was in Model School. But we came together for our pre-degree at the Mar Ivanios College. And there began our friendship. We used to have gigs together. While he would be on the violin, I would be on the piano, and our friend Nandu would compose songs. We were not looking for money but opportunities. We’d get about Rs 250 for a programme and half of it would go for renting the instruments, the other half for our food.”
Ronnie, Sivamani and Balu
They would go to Shanghumugham beach and talk of music. After completing pre-degree, Balu went off to do his degree course at the University College. He would go to Ronnie’s house in Palayam. They would sit together and compose music.
“There used to be a group called Golden Talents at his college then, started by professor MNC Bose. It is from there that he began his music band Confusion.”
Ronnie was not part of Confusion. It comprised Shaan (now Ishaan), Anoop, Rajesh and Vinod.
Some of the band members are at the college to pay their last respect, but again feeling too emotional to talk about the good times they had with Balu.
“The Youth Festival of 1999 was something else,” says Arun, a batchmate, who is now a journalist. “That was the year when we first took the champion trophy, which Mar Ivanios College would retain for the following years. Balu and his team brought it to University College. He not only led the music team but helped raise funds for other teams with a music concert on the street. Manoj was the union secretary and Anil was the Arts Club secretary,” he says, pointing to two quiet men.
Jassie Gift and Ishaan played with Balu at the music concert on the street. The three went on to be known musicians in later years. Balu, however, was clear about what he wanted.
Film music did not interest; he only composed for films when he would receive an offer. It could be something to do with his sense of independence and a craving for perfection, singer Rajalakshmy recalls.
“His music would always have that promise of perfection,” says singer Rajalakshmy. “I knew him through my husband Abhiram, who used to accompany him for Youth Festival from the University College. Balu had a circle of friends; they would have informal gatherings, simply to talk about music.”
Devotional songs formed a part of his compositions, little known to others, says singer R Ravishankar, who sang some of his first songs that were composed by Balu.
“We knew each other from Youth Festival days. I was in Law Academy and his senior by years. We would often see each other’s names in newspapers after winning at the youth festival. I would take part in light music, while he would play the violin and be part of orchestras. When I sang for my first movie, Saphalyam, he told me people from our generation should reach new heights. He was so energetic, so positive. Music loved him as much as he loved music.”