BRICKFIELDS: His hair lies in a perfect coif as his gold-framed glasses perch on his nose, quirky and cool. TN Mariappan sighs and shares a pensive moment from the terrace of his quaint and picturesque home in the heart of Brickfields.
Mariappan is an 86-year-old singer who has previously spent decades with the glitterati of the Indian music industry.
Notable names include KJ Yesudas, Jayalalithaa, the ex-chief minister of Tamil Nadu, MG Ramachandran. better known by his initials MGR, also an ex-chief minister of Tamil Nadu), RK Sekhar ( AR Rahman’s father), Gangai Amaran among many others.
Mariappan was born in Ayer Hitam, Penang and started showing an interest in music at the early age of three. He was considered precocious and gifted and liked by everyone.
“Some people are good at many things, but the only thing I could do was music, that’s all,” he told FMT as he smiled warmly.
Mariappan left for India at the age of 23, hoping to further expand his knowledge in the realm of music. He was lucky to have been picked and coached by his mentor.
It was in Tamil Nadu that he was recruited to be a part of a music group under Jayalalithaa, the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu.
“She was as robust as a man, beautiful but intimidating,” he laughed jokingly and added that she was a good singer and dancer.
When asked about MGR, he said: “You will not believe me when I say this, but when I saw him for the first time, it was like looking into the sun, he just glowed.”
Life prospered for Mariappan as his musical endeavours proved to be lucrative. He ended up purchasing six houses in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu.
That prosperity was however short-lived as he was cheated off one of his properties and then made some bad investments.
“God has never given me satisfaction in this life, so no I might have been happy for a short time but I was never content,” he sighed.
Although the loss of his wealth and happiness is palpable, it did not deter Mariappan from pursuing his love of music.
“There is a lot I want to accomplish, there is a whole lot more for me to do. I sing, I write short stories, I compose music, but there’s still more inside me,” he quipped.
Mariappan interrupted the interview by walking over to the corner of the room and picking up a yellow container. It contained bird feed, which he daily took to the balcony to feed the birds.
“They must be hungry, they have been waiting for me,” he said as the grains clattered across the metal awning one storey below.
He stood there for a few minutes, taking it all in, maybe even reminiscing but he remained deep in thought, unperturbed by the construction noises bellowing from across the street.
“Kids nowadays do not take things seriously, they do things half-heartedly and it is very disheartening. Give it your all or do not do it but don’t do things with half a heart,” he advised.
In his free time, Mariappan finds solace in teaching classical music to kids and adults alike. He remains persistent in his belief that it is never too late to learn music.
“I hope that children nowadays will take their studies seriously and stop dabbling in bad habits, they should start taking things seriously.
Mariappan continues teaching and making music from his humble home in Brickfields