Raja of Roja now rules the O-Zone layer

As A R Rahman tapped his feet to ‘O Sayya’and belted out ‘Jai Ho’for the audience in Hollywood, the transformation was complete.The nervous Dilip Kumar who never spoke, the boy who never looked up, who used to turn out the lights before he sang in front of anyone, had morphed into an international star.

He always knew he wanted to be famous. He dreamt—and told his friends too — that he wanted his music to be played all over the world. But it was a dream that took a long time to realise.

As a boy of 11, Rahman, then known as Dilip Kumar, saw his father R K Sekhar, a music arranger and composer, die of cancer. He didn’t have time to mourn though, he had to pick up from where his father had left off and earn for the family of five. While his three sisters focused on academics, the young Dilip never managed to give books enough time. In the words of his teachers in Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan, the school he went to until the ninth grade, “He managed to scrape through.’’

The young ARR spent all his time after school at the recording studio, playing keyboards for composers (having got the first set of job offers thanks to the goodwill of his father).

There were days when his mother would be seen waiting for him outside school in the morning, uniform and breakfast in hand, according to his teachers. He gave up studies for the keyboard
Chennai:The Oscar honour was a dream come true for A R Rahman,once Dilip Kumar. He used to spend all his time in a recording studio.A studio van would drop off the tired Dilip who would be fed and changed by his mother before being rushed to school. The only reason the school remembers him is that during all the school programmes they needed him to play the keyboard — he was the best in school.

ARR dropped out of Padma Seshadri in the ninth grade, and then out of school altogether, midway through class XI because he could not cope with both studies and work. “When I was a teenager, I was spending most of my time with 50-year-olds and 60-year-olds. They were very sweet people,’’ says Rahman about his early life when he played keyboard for the likes of greats such as Ilayaraja.

“What I learnt from the seniors were values and ethics. And then there were things I learned not to do... I learned not to become complacent.”

A lot has changed in A R Rahman’s life over the years in terms of his personality as well as his music, but the two most important aspects of his life remain constant—God and his mother. He doesn’t just say it every time he is on stage because it seems like the right thing to say. He truly believes that the first is the driving force in his life, the reason he is who he is. The second, quite simply, is the reason he is where he is.

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