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Susheela Raman redux

October 3, 2008
Susheela Raman

Susheela Raman

When I met Susheela Raman in 2002, she was not yet a star. But everything that would make her one was written on her face and in her demeanour. She wore an honest, direct gaze. Her husky, slinky voice wrapped itself around you like a convivial boa constrictor. And when she spoke, she spoke the words of her heart.

Susheela Raman - Salt Rain (Narada World, 2001)

Susheela Raman - Salt Rain (Narada World, 2001)

I met her to interview her for India Abroad in the wake of her first visit to India following the launch of her debut album Salt Rain (Narada World), which had been nominated for the 2001 Mercury Prize and won the BBC Radio 3 Award. She was staying in Mumbai at the artist James Ferrera’s picturesque little villa in Kotachi Wadi, one of the little gems of Portuguese legacy in India tucked away behind Charni Road’s angry traffic snarls.

It must have been August or September, I am not quite sure. The rain had let up since the previous evening and the trellised balconies were lit by a hazy forenoon glare. Sparrows chittered around us, and someone from Mr. Ferrera’s kitchen brought us giant glasses (more like beakers) of water. She led me to a little nook in the balcony that was unusual in that it was both quiet and offered a good view of the street through the curtain of creepers and money plants.

What I remember about our conversation was that it was inordinately comfortable and intense – I wrote an article based on it many months later. Susheela is a serious person for the most part, and not given to giggling – a trait that earned my respect immediately. She conveyed an earnestness that her ensuing celebrity would not wash away. She wrote to me many times after that interview and always with serious questions – “Would your relatives like this music?” and “What do your friends listen to?” and suchlike. I like to think I gave the best answers I could.

Her music has travelled great distances since. She made Love Trap (which I reviewed in India Abroad), Music for Crocodiles (which she worked with Didier Weiss to produce) and 33 1/3. She performed in Auroville along with Thermal And A Quarter. But I have never watched her in concert – something always kept me away.

I have a gift from her that I still cherish – the Salt Rain album, one I asked her not to sign. Perhaps boorishly, but then I used to make a point of not collecting autographs for a fetish.

When my wife and I drove to Pondicherry for our first honeymoon (yes, we’ve had a few more), I played the title track of Salt Rain on the car stereo. Something about the landscapes around Tiruvannamalai and Gingee and the bilingual Tamil and English lyrics of Salt Rain mingled to form a music video that unspools in my head every time I listen to the song.

Salt rain falling quiet
Your eyes are streams of sorrow
You stood silent
Why are you still silent?

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