A day before the so-called doomsday ( 21-12-2012) as per the Mayan calendar, it was the end of the world, metaphorically, for Carnatic musician Nithyashree Mahadevan and her two daughters.
Around noon on Thursday, her husband, Mahadevan, jumped off the Kotturpuram bridge, which is barely a kilometre from the flat the two lived in with Mahadevan’s father. The bridge was also a stone’s throw away from the late DK Pattammal's house, Nithyashree’s grandmother and guru.
The local media rushed to Pattammal's house as social networking sites were abuzz with rumours that Nithyashree had attempted suicide as well, and was fighting for her life.
The converging media was met with the heart wrenching sight of two young school girls, obviously in primary school, getting off a white car, and rushing into the house with loud sobs. Their mother did not come out to greet them, as she had probably done on countless other days. In fact, Nithyashree who shot to fame in popular culture with the ‘Kannodu kanbadhellam’ always had a smile for everyone. But on this day, there was not even a whisper of Nithyashree in the compound.
Three years ago, in July 2009, when Pattammal passed away, the media camped in the same cul de sac ending in Pattammal’s sprawling compound on Velaiyan Street, in Kotturpuram. Along with MS Subbulakshmi – who also lived in Kotturpuram — and ML Vasanthakumari, Pattammal was part of the trio of the legendary exponents of Carnatic music.
Although I have spoken to Nithyashree on several occasions, 2009 was the first time I was visiting her at a distressing time, to file a copy for the Times of India. That day, she was gracious, patient with the numerous media queries and requests for ‘family’ photographs. She even allowed us to record her grandmother’s finest moments.
“She taught me hundreds of kritis,but I learnt a thousand more things by observing her approach to music and depth of knowledge of every song that she taught me,” Nithyashree told me then.
There is a stark contrast between the mood then and now.
The quiet dignity with which everyone had assembled in honour of the departed soul, was replaced by un-describable sorrow. The very fact that no one from the family is interacting with the media — or even visible — speaks volumes about the horror that has befallen on the family due to this untimely death.
Vocalist Vijay Shiva, Pattammal’s sishya, who had paid rich tributes to her in 2009, was present in the compound on Thursday, the day Nithyashree’s life did a flip. He informed the media that the social networking sites have got it all wrong, and that Nithyashree was not hospitalised because she attempted to take her own life.
Even as Shiva spoke, a steady stream of artistes made their way to the Pattammal compound, including electric veena exponent Rahjesh Vaidya, vocalists TM Krishna and his wife Sangeetha.
Unlike in 2009, none of them stopped to speak to the media. There is no eye contact or hint of recognition even though most of us know one another.
If in 2009, the media fraternity exchanged notes on Pattammal, in 2012 the press is staring bleakly at the images of a white car, in which Mahadevan had left home, for as mundane a household chore as changing a battery.
It was this very car that he was driving, sometime before noon on Thursday, when he jumped into the slushy Adyar river, with Nithyashree’s visiting card stowed away in the pocket of his shirt.
Why did he do that? Why did he play the abhaswaram tune?
According to his neighbours in the apartment block in the quiet Kottur Gardens locality, he was depressed after his mother had passed away in April this year, and had not fully gotten over his grief. One neighbour told a few of us mediapersons, who were trying to make sense of the tragedy, that he had been to the Adyar Boat Club, before returning home in the chauffeur driven car.
Some said that the man, in his mid 40s was not employed full time, but was a consultant for an engineering firm. Some others may speculate on what it is like to live under the same roof as a famous woman, also his wife. Nithyashree, a Kalaimamani awardee is a familiar name in both popular culture and the high echelons of Carnatic music.
No one can know for sure what the trigger was, which prompted this young man to jump off the bridge - least of all Nithyashree, who Like most musicians had a busy concert schedule this Margazhi music season currently underway.
One can only hope that she hits the right notes in the coming days.