Parassala B. Ponnammal was only 16 when she got a grade as a singer with All India Radio. That was in 1940, when India had just a handful of broadcast stations and the one nearest to her house was at Trichy by the Cauvery, over 400 km from her village in the kingdom of Travancore. Teenaged Ponnammal went on to perform at weddings as a Carnatic vocalist, before her career took a curious turn.
By 1942, soon as she topped a three-year course from Swathi Thirunal Music Academy in Thiruvananthapuram, Ponnammal got her first job: as a teacher in the city. From then, the artiste pocketed several firsts alongside a rising profile, but all under the shadow of a strange irony spanning seven decades. Tamil Nadu, and its capital Chennai, where Carnatic flourished after Independence, totally ignored Ponnammal after the Trichy milestone.