In the passing of KV Balu, or Hindu Balu as he was better known, the world has firstly lost a wonderful human being. That is the most irreplaceable loss. Among the many who will feel his absence will be the Music Academy of which he was Committee Member for years. He will be missed by his family and of course friends like me.
I got to know Balu as the man who would wear a Mysore Maharajah-like turban on the inaugural day of the Music Academy season each year. I was introduced by someone to him and we became friends. But that was the way it was with Balu, everybody who made his acquaintance became his friend. He kept in touch, got to know your family members and bound himself to your heart with hoops of steel as I believe the expression is. He was a man of limitless cheer and that kept getting him more friends. You never caught Balu grumbling about money, power failures, traffic jams, garbage, corruption or even health problems. He remained smiling through it all and preferred to look at the positive.
As I got to know more of him, I came to realise that he was a legend by himself in the world of advertising. Everyone knew Balu. It was said of him that when he was in service, the advertising department in The Hindu had to just whisper to him that a certain space would be empty weeks from now and he would ensure that it was filled with an ad. A phone call from Balu to some top industrialist would do they would say. It was no wonder that he was sent to Bombay by the newspaper and he spent several years there, making it known that it paid to advertise in it. And when colour was introduced in the paper, he brought in many advertisements as well. Balu for his part, never spoke of all this. He attributed everything that he had learnt in the business to G Narasimhan, father of N Ram, N Murali and N Ravi. Each year, on GN’s date of passing, Balu would at his own expense, publish a photo of the former in the paper, by way of his tribute. Balu cherished his Hindu years and kept with him an album that contained all his precious memories of his time with the paper. This included his appointment letter as well.
In the Music Academy, Balu was to fulfill a similar role. He was responsible for getting the souvenir filled up with advertisements, year after year. And once again he would use his contacts for it, in his gracious, non-pushy way. But my favourite memories of him at the MA are two- Firstly, he was the prime-mover in getting the MA to perform a Ganapathy Homam each year before the season. This was after the MA emerged from its court cases in 2005. He would organise the homam and be there much before everyone on the morning in which it was conducted. Secondly, he would ensure that right through the Season, all the volunteers had had their food and several times feed them at his own expense. The same affection extended to the boy scouts and the staff who took care of the services – the toilets, the back stage, the corridors – matters that the usual concert-goer takes for granted. He believed that keeping the staff and volunteers happy made the MA a happy place. There was another aspect to Balu – he never lobbied for getting his relatives concert slots at the MA. And there was never any dearth of talented people in his family.
Navaratri at Balu’s house was always special. With wife Vijaya taking pains to put up a spectacular display of dolls, some several years old. When he asked me to attend it one year, I was most reluctant and said that it was a ladies function. “Nee vaayya,” he said. “The snacks will be good. Anyway your wife is invited and so what does it cost you to also come?” I went and found that kolus in his house were some kind of high point in the social calendar. I can never forget one year when Vijay Siva had also come. At Balu’s request he agreed to sing and I then made bold to ask him to sing Dikshitar’s paradEvata. It was a wonderful experience. Immediately after Vijay left, we had Balu’s sister and brother-in-law, Charumati and Trichur V Ramachandran singing viruttams from Narayaneeyam, followed by a song on Krishna.
For me, the 2011 Season at the MA did not have its usual gaiety because Balu was absent, fighting his last battle valiantly. The end came on the 18th of January. Adieu Balu! I know you will expect us to keep smiling, but it is not all that easy as you made it appear my friend.