In Lawrence School , Lovedale where I studied, unlike most other public schools, we had hymns of all sorts in various languages to be sung at assembly – English, Hindi, Bengali (with its share of Rabindra Sangeet) and yes, even one in Tamil. Many of my Bengali friends are most impressed when they find out that I was taught Alo Amar Alo Ogo, Dhanno Dhane Pushpe Bhara and even Tumi Bandhu Tumi Nath Nishi Din Tumi Amar. They now believe I am actually quite cultured!
Hymn no. 22 was the one in Tamil – Oli Padaith Kanninaay Va Va Va. All I remember of it is that practically every line ended with Va Va Va. Apparently, it is an extremely well-known Tamil song. In all my 9 years at school (1977 – 1986), not once do I recall us ever being taught this particular hymn or being asked to sing it and one always wondered what the hell was this Va Va Va song? I must add no help was forthcoming from the Tamils here. Of course, once out of school, out of mind. Even at Old Lawrencian dos, as we got out the old hymn book and sang the hymns of our school days, we never brought up hymn no. 22 – neither the senior batches to mine nor the junior ones. And so gradually one totally forgot about hymn no. 22.
Thanks to my involvement as co-founder and content-in-charge of Upperstall, I see a lot of Indian cinema. And recently, I have been catching up on commercial Tamil cinema of the last few years. I have been quite impressed. Tamil cinema of recent years is doing some extremely innovative work within the mainstream format. Fresher ideas (Kaakha Kaakha, Chennai 600028, Paruthiveeran, Mozhi, Anjaathey, Vaaranam Aayiram, Abhiyum Naanum) are handled with great technical polish and retain their cultural identity unlike the so called pan Indian nature of Hindi cinema that often finds itself in no man’s land. And as part of discovering Tamil cinema, I often watch a channel called Isai Aruvi that specialises in showcasing Tamil film songs of the last few years.
So, 23 years after passing out of school, one day as I am watching Isai Aruvi, I go to the kitchen during a commercial break to fix myself a mug of coffee when I hear a jingle going Oli Padaith Kanninaay Va Va Va! I immediately dropped everything I was doing and came to see what was on the TV. Would you believe it, it was a Banyan (Vest) commercial?! I wasn’t sure I had heard right. I dug out my old hymn book that I have preserved from school and opened the page where hymn no. 22 was and waited for the next commercial break to go over the words. Sure enough, the ad came again in the next break and what do you know – the words were indeed Oli Padaith…
Ok, so I heard the tune of the song finally – I’m presuming what they’ve used in the TVC is the original tune. But can any enlightened Tamilian or any other wise soul explain to me the connection between the hymn and vests? If it helps here’s how the first two lines of the hymn goes:
Oli Padaith Kanninaay Va Va Va
Urudhi Kond Nenjinaay Va Va Va