On May 31, 2022, renowned musician Krishnakumar Kunnath, also known as KK, passed away after falling ill while performing for his fans. I feel like my childhood died with him on that stage, and here’s why.
As a child in Karachi, I grew up around music, with my amma listening to classical Hindi songs on the radio. She would hum to the tunes of Lata, Rafi, Noor Jehan, Nayyara Noor, and Roona Laila while cooking her famous korma, and I would watch her with inquisitive eyes, standing at the door of the kitchen.
Slowly and gradually, music became a part of my life too. But unlike my amma, my playlist would include songs of contemporary singers as well, so if songs like 'Dekha Ek Khawab' by Lata gave me butterflies every time I developed a crush, 'Sau Dard' by Sonu and 'Tadap Tadap' by KK became my go-to melodies after every heartbreak.
During my childhood, I only listened to songs, without thinking too much about the person behind the voice. But as I grew up, I developed a strange fascination for real-life stories. I used to spend days and nights digging through articles and videos to get information about my favourite singers. This habit has persisted to this day and thus my subscription list on YouTube includes channels like Sureeli Baat and Bollywood Hungama, which have featured interviews of many of my favourite singers, including Sonu, Sunidhi and KK.
Over the course of many years, I have followed the stories of several singers and listened to many songs, but now when I look back, I realise it was KK's music that proved to be the most therapeutic for me through all the significant and most emotional phases of my life.
Whether it was my first crush or the sudden demise of a friend, KK's songs consoled me through every part of my journey. If 'Yaaro Dosti' made me cry at my school farewell, 'Pal' made me realise how to make and cherish good memories, and now that KK is no more, I feel like my childhood has died with him.
To explain better why I feel this way, I have to tell KK’s story, to tell you all about his journey and how I not only fell in love with his songs but his journey too. I have to tell you how he built himself from the ground up, how he made bold moves in an industry that was very resistant to new people and new sounds. How he made a name for himself and won the hearts of the people. His songs were my friends, but his journey became my mentor and guide.
KK started his career in sales to marry the love of his life. He worked there for three months and then left to pursue a career in music. He started off as a jingle artist in Delhi and worked there for a few years before shifting to Mumbai in 1994 with a desire to release his own album.
He reached out to several music labels, including Magnus and Crescendo, but nothing panned out as they were not interested in his kind of music. There, he met popular playback singer Hariharan who introduced him to Indian singer and composer Leslee Lewis, who called him for his first gig as a jingle artist. From 94 onwards, he sang around 3,500 jingles in 11 Indian languages.
KK was eventually approached by a fellow music composer and friend Vishal Bhardwaj to sing a few lines of the song 'Chor Aaye Hum Woh Galiyaan' for a film called Maachis in 1996. However, his first breakthrough in Bollywood was the song 'Tadap Tadap Ke' from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999), a movie that developed a cult following years after its release.
This was the era of music albums. Sony Music had just started out in India, and they were looking to launch a new face. KK rightfully became their debut artist and his much-loved album Pal was released. With its release in 1999, KK's dream of releasing his first music album was fulfilled. The album soon became a hit, with songs like 'Pal', 'Yaaron' and 'Aap Ki Dua' ruling the hearts of youngsters in the 90s. This was the time when KK decided to try his luck as a playback singer. His calculated risk paid off as his songs became instant hits with the public, cementing his position as one of the most versatile singers in the industry.
Over the course of a career spanning more than two decades, KK sang many timeless songs, including 'Alvida', 'Hai Junoon', 'Zara Sa', 'Tu Jo Mila' and 'Ankhon Mein Teri', but what established his reputation in the industry as a singer was his kind and humble nature. He was focused on his work and had no insecurities the public could see.
KK worked with many music directors such as Pritam, Ismail Darbar, Vishal-Shekhar, Shankar Ehsaan-Loy and Amaal Malik and they all loved him for his down-to-earth personality and musical talent. In an interview, Amaal Malik appreciated him for his excellent sense of pitch and intonation. In fact, famous lyricist Mehboob also admired KK for his unique quality to "emote notes at a higher range".
Standing by his words
KK had a larger-than-life persona. He firmly believed in his abilities and didn't shy away from taking risks.
''[I knew] the day I get a chance, I will not falter,'' he said in an interview to Bollywood Hungama. And he didn’t. In an interview, talking about the struggles of his early days, he said, 'Kuch pehle kar lete hain, phir milenge. Kyonke tum aise chale jao na kisi kay paas tou tumhari qadar nahi hoti [Some people do it earlier. Because if you go to someone like this, you have no standing left].''
This statement has resonated the most with me. As a writer who's trying to make ends meet with her poetry, I can completely relate to what he said. He believed, ''Your work should speak for itself. You don’t need to socialise to get work.''
In a competitive showbiz industry like that of India, where a major part of your success depends greatly on the kind of social circle you have, it takes confidence and will to make difficult choices and KK had the audacity to not only make these decisions but to also stand by them.
More than a singer
For me, KK was not just a singer — he was a friend. His songs and his words helped me understand aspects of life that I otherwise would not have learned due to a lifetime of helicopter parenting.
His confidence in his work taught me to have more confidence in mine. His words taught me to focus on personal betterment rather than the negativity that surrounds you as you branch off into the unknown. He taught me to have more faith in myself and to believe in my abilities, while his songs kept me company throughout, giving me emotional strength where needed, or a shoulder to cry on when I met with failure.
Now that KK is not among us, I will live vicariously through his songs with the immense satisfaction knowing that he died doing what he loved the most. Even in death, he has given me goals to aspire to. But that doesn't change the fact that my friend is gone now and will never come back.
I think everyone can relate to me, not just in mourning KK's demise but in the realisation that our childhood songs are dying with the death of these amazing singers and composers.
We will miss you KK. “Ab kehna aur kya, Jab tu ne keh diya alvida [What else is left to say, when you've said goodbye]!"