One day, in 1988, Lekha Sreekumar had gone to the Sastha temple at Thycaud, Thiruvananthapuram, with her sister, Sheela. Outside the temple Sheela pointed out a man to Lekha and said, “He is the one who has sung all the hit songs in ‘Chitram.” At that time, the songs were the rage. When Lekha looked at playback singer, M.G. Sreekumar, she realized he was an ordinary person.
“He was wearing a khadi mundu, and a printed shirt, with red and white flowers,” she says. “I felt amazed. Was this the same person I saw on the cassette?” A few years earlier, Lekha had seen a video cassette of Sreekumar singing in a concert at Dubai. The performance was in the evening, but the singer was wearing sunshades. “I thought, ‘What’s happened to this guy?’” she says. “He looked so funny.”
Of course, it would be years later that she would understand the reason why. Sreekumar had an allergy and his eyes had turned red. Hence, he was forced to wear sunshades. Meanwhile, at the temple, they exchanged glances.
A few days later, Lekha attended a concert by Sreekumar. “I was attracted by his voice, which was different, as compared to the singers I admired in that time, like Dasettan [K.J. Yesudas] and Unni Menon,” she says. “Sreekumar had an original voice. He never imitates anybody. His silent message is this: ‘This is my style. It is up to you to like it or not’. Since I am a person who has my own individuality I appreciated this quality in him.”
Following the concert they were introduced and spoke for a while. One evening, Lekha went for a walk in Jawahar Nagar. On that same road, Sreekumar was driving his Ambassador car, which he just bought with the Rs 26,000 payment he got for singing in ‘Chithram’.
“We talked and exchanged phone numbers,” says Lekha. “Soon, we developed a good friendship and talked on a variety of topics. We spoke about music a lot: his programmes, career and composing. Slowly I fell in love.”
Then the couple did something which was unthinkable in conservative Kerala at that time. They began a live-in relationship which lasted for several years. “There was a lot of opposition from society,” says Lekha. “But I don’t blame people because they were not used to the flouting of social rules and regulations. Many people spoke ill about us. There were restrictions on Sreekumar from seeing me.”
So, the singer was forced to take some desperate measures. One night, he wore a red saree over his trousers and covered his head with a shawl and went to Lekha’s apartment. “The watchman thought he was a woman,” says Lekha, with a laugh. “Then the next morning, he left in the same way. And nobody recognised him.”
The couple eventually tied the knot on January 14, 2000 at the Moogambika Temple at Kollur.
So what are the plus points of Sreekumar? “He never interferes in my life,” says Lekha. “He will never say, ‘Don’t do this or that’. He gives me a lot of freedom. I can drive the car or go shopping whenever I want.”
Even in sartorial choices, there are no restrictions. “Sometimes, I wear pants, or shorts, or sleeveless blouses” she says. “He does not worry about it. Even though Sreekumar was born and brought up in Thiruvananthapuram, he is not a typical Malayali. I know of certain husbands who will put restrictions on the type of clothes their wives can wear. They will demand a cup of coffee when they return from work. My husband will never behave like that. He is a good-hearted and romantic person, who buys me gifts all the time.”
Nevertheless, it must be difficult to live with an artiste. “Yes, like any creative person, Sreekumar has mood swings,” says Lekha. “When he is in a low mood, I don’t go and tell him about my problems.”
On the day of a concert, Sreekumar will not talk much. Instead, you’ll see him listening to music the whole day. “I don’t bother him during this time,” she says. “He is completely focused. In our house, there are no other activities. From morning till night, it is music, music, and music. It is a passion for him.” Lekha pauses and says, “The art always comes first, but I am a close second.”