'I am still a student'
Indian classical musician and playback singer Dr Kattassery Joseph Yesudas, who turns 70 on January 10, has realised that his biggest asset is the love of the people.
"Everything else is immaterial," says Yesudas says. He has recorded more than 40,000 songs, and is a recipient of three dozen state awards, including 16 from Kerala, eight from Tamil Nadu, five from Karnataka, four from Andhra Pradesh and one from West Bengal. He is also a National Award winner, and has quite a few honours like the Padma Bhushan, the Padma Shri, Sangeetha Raja, Sangeetha Chakravarthy and Sangeetha Sagara for his contribution to Indian music and national integration.
"In the ages to come, people will remember my songs and speak about the person who sang them. What is a bigger achievement than this?" he asks.
Yesudas got his first recognition at the age of nine when he won a gold medal for music at a local competition in Kochi. Looking back at a singing career that began half a century ago, Yesudas says he has no regrets about the way he has lived his life all these years.
"Making money or getting material comforts were not a priority at all. I was satisfied with whatever was provided to me by the Almighty," says the son of noted stage actor and singer Augustine Joseph.
"I have seen both ends of life -- misery and comforts. When I went to Chennai to try my luck as a playback singer, I had no money even for the train fare. I borrowed Rs 16 from a neighbour, who was a taxi driver," he recalls. Yesudas fulfilled his dream of becoming a singer when he got his first break in the film Kalpaddukal in 1961.
'I never tried to impose my views even on my children'
The early struggling years still haunt the singer who says he is not interested in birthday celebrations. "But one has to oblige friends and family. It is for their happiness that I am participating in the celebrations. But thoughts of the hardships I faced have never left me even in the midst of the biggest celebrations," he says.
He says the great singer Thyagaraja Swamy, whom he reveres the most, never sang for money or fame but for God. "People like him never needed material things but mortals like us who live an ordinary life cannot follow them completely."
Even then Yesudas tries his best. "I never tried to impose my views even on my children; they decide for themselves. The only I ask of them is to follow a simple life."
Though one of the top singers in the country, Yesudas says he is still a student. "Looking back, I know that I acquired only a little knowledge about everything, including music. I am still a student. And if I get another life, I want to be born as a musician," he says.
'Only God decides when to switch off the radio'
Yesudas keeps an open mind when it comes to religion. He believes in the messages expounded by the Bible, Koran and the Upanishads because all of them have some truth in them.
"All religious books say that God has no name, shape or other such attributes. In our ignorance, we give a name to God and we quarrel over him. Christ said to love thy neighbour but he never said to love only thy Christian neighbours," he continues.
But the most important thing, according to the singer, is living a life of purity, which he says is becoming increasingly difficult because of man's greed.
Yesudas says he does not want to sing for a 100 years. "Only God decides when to switch off the radio. But a death without suffering like my guru Chempai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar is my prayer too."
Some say that the world will end in 2012. Asked if he agrees with this prediction, Yesudas says that we should think only of the present and not worry about the future. "Whatever is to happen, will happen. When disasters occur, all of us become victims. In such a world one should live according to one's consciousness," is his message.