Balu’s violin gently weeps as he takes a final bow

By Juidin Bernarrd

tribute to Balabhaskar, the violin virtuoso who passed away in a car crash, can be emotional with strains of his music lingering in my ears. How can I write a mere tribute through my angst and welling tears when the master violinist and a dear friend lives on through his music? This piece is a celebration of his life and work that inspires millions all over the world.

A man can live to be 50, 100, or more, but Balu was different. He may have tragically passed away at such a young age, but he leaves behind a rich legacy that few can match.

Much has already been written about this prodigious talent, and his mastery over the four strings to which he was first initiated at the age of three by his uncle. By 17, Balu became the youngest music composer in Malayalam cinema, but he decided to go solo to pursue his passion and create his own niche.

He may have gone but his compositions are still fresh in my ears, and I see his disarming smile as I write this piece. The accident that killed him also snatched away his two-year-old daughter Tejaswini. His wife, Lakshmi, is battling for her life. Balu remained a fighter till the end. It was as if he wanted to express so much more through his compositions.

When he was fighting for his life, I remember praying with his friends from college.

The Mar Ivanios College WhatsApp group was updated by the second by Prathap Nair. We prayed, others expressed shock as they held on to the hope that Balu would somehow ‘come back’ and create his magic again. Alas, that did not happen.

On October 2, at midnight, the group was woken by a message from Pradeep Pillai, the political editor of a news channel in Kerala. “Guys, looks like there is bad news.”

What followed was silence. Adarsh Rio George, now a media professional in Dubai, confirmed that “Balu is gone.” Darshan Shanker said: “Stephen sent a message last night saying he had met him at the hospital and he opened his eyes and smiled at him. I went to bed feeling hopeful…”

Sunil: “Can’t stop crying… literally. The pain is really hard….no words…an eventful life. An early departure.” I was too numb to react. Decades of memories poured in as I choked with emotion as the news sunk in.

I remembered our first meeting when I was backstage at a college function, with Balu holding the audience in a thrall. I hovered around with my first camera trying to get the best shot of him.

We spoke little but I remember keeping the focus on him. He was the rising star and capturing him as he was transported to another world through his music gave me great joy. His eyes were closed as if he were in a trance. For the audience it was the closest to watching a genius at play though we didn’t realise it back then.

Many years passed and we would meet at various events. He made some lilting tunes on his violin while I captured his performances for posterity. We didn’t share many words but had formed a bond.

Later, it was an honour hosting him in Dubai when he performed on several occasions in the city I now call home.

I have still not recovered from the loss and I often think that death is the great leveller and strange are its ways. You never know when it creeps up behind you.

So I tried hard to remember my last meeting with Balu. What were our parting words? Nothing came to mind. It wasn’t a dramatic goodbye after all.

He just passed away. His death was cruel and heart-breaking to those who knew him. I can imagine his smiling face while he plays the violin for his little one in that beautiful place way up yonder.

Watching him perform on stage and clicking him as he rose to greatness is the memory I will cherish for the rest of my life. That image remains etched in my mind as the haunting strains of his violin fills my senses.

Juidin is a senior photojournalist with KT

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