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She sings to conquer

Vaikom Vijayalakshmi did not let blindness come in the way. Fate, she thought, could always be changed, spirit willing. HAREESH BAL lists her achievements.

THERE are so many who do not make full use of the five senses. It is only when you see the many unfortunate ones, fighting to survive, even scaling great heights, despite their disability, that we pause to think of our blessings and also of our lack of drive, perhaps.

This is a story of a young girl's triumph over her disability, of her innate musical talent and most of all, a story of coping graciously with a cruel life.

Born on October 7, 1981, on Vijaydashmi day, Vaikom Vijaylakshmi was blessed with the gift of voice but deprived of the pleasures of vision. Living near the Udayanapuram temple in Vaikom, Vijayalakshmi is the only daughter of Muraleedharan and Vimala. It was only after her parents came to terms with the fate of her incurable blindness that they moved to Chennai. Here the young Viji grew up listening to Tamil movie songs by the likes like Ilayaraja and M S Viswanathan. She was spotted with the talent of catching a tune at the first hearing and reproducing it exactly in all its subtle nuances. Later, her parents bought classical music tapes of Jesudas, which Viji would listen to, most ardently. In a matter of less than a year she learned more than a 100 ragas and made her own compositions. Till now she has had no formal training in music.

Music discipline insists for training from a knowledgeable teacher. But her effortless raga `alapana' and `swara' delineation, surprised the most discerning of `Vidwans'. Her `arangettam' was conducted at the Chathamkudi temple in Vaikom. In 1987 she met her `manasaguru' Jesudas who was amazed by the childs `jnanam' in identifying the most complex ragas and her mastery in rendering ragas like `Todi' and `Bhairavi'. The following year Viji held a performance at the prestigious Shanmukhananda Hall in Mumbai.

Viji, in the last 10 years, has performed at more than 400 stages in all the major `sabhas' in Chennai, Tanjore, Madurai, Coimbatore and other major cities of India.

Meanwhile, another significant achievement was her mastery over a one-stringed instrument. The `gayatri tampuru' , presented to her by a connoisseur, was electrified and modified by her father Muraleedharan. The kulapati of Carnatic violin Sri Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan was mesmerized by her veena recital and gave it the name `Gayatri Veena'. She has performed several concerts with the instrument.

For the past 7 years Viji has been playing it at the Chembai Sangeetotsavam at Guruvayoor .She played at the prestigious Soorya Festival last yearHer preoccupation with music has unfortunately not been encouraged by the State and her college and Vijayalakshmi's parents plan to move to the bigger city of Chennai or Thiruvananthapuram for greater exposure and for more training facilities.

As temple performances are hardly rewarding financially, Viji has had to sing and play film tunes to keep her going. Today she has a repertoire of almost 300 ragas and double the number of compositions. Viji loves listening to concerts of MS, Madurai Seshagopalan, Balamuralikrishna and Maharajapuram Santhanam. Her favourite ragams are-Hindolam, Shubha Panthuvarali, Sivaranjini, and Madhyamavati. Of late Viji has turned to Hindustani .

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