Monday, August 18, 2014

A state of musical quandary...or, is it?

A highly learned gentleman told me today that even if the legendary singers of yesteryears were to audition on any of the current day music competitions, they would be 'disqualified'. Only because they'd only be immaculate singers. "They'd be told 'oh you aren't performing' 'Why aren't you moving..?'... also what they are wearing how they look is more important than how they sing, he said. 

At the Mirchi Music Awards in Mumbai earlier this year, Mr Sonu Nigam demonstrated how a 'non-singer' could be made to sound like he sings really well. He asked Manish Paul to hum a few lines and a sound engineer was called on stage to demonstrate how he corrects flaws (Manish was asked to sing as bad as he could.. I am sure he can hum decently like most of us) and ....voila! A singer is born. 

In the same event I heard Mr Sonu Nigam and also Sri Udit Narayan sing and couldn't but help feel joy that I get to hear perfection. 

We are in a time when anyone is told he can sing and it is definitely cool. The listeners hear a badly sung song on a sound track but they like it anyway, because I am told, they feel like the singer they are hearing on the radio/CD sounds as good/bad as they do. Is it like identifying with the boy-next-door characters in films?

I sometimes question, why aren't learned musicians saying anything? Is playing to the gallery so important that the concept of good singing, drastically compromised? Songs which would until a decade earlier classify as 'scratch' tracks (in recording parlance) now find limelight on the official track-list of a film. 

Have people stopped respecting the talent of a trained singer? I remember when I hosted Super Singer, a special guest on the show said it is not necessary to learn singing to sing in films. "Paattu hit aana porum" they said. I was worried wrong advice was being given to aspiring singers but in less than 5 years, I saw it play out. Terrible singing is being celebrated. A layman perhaps doesn't know/care if something is sung well or not. He just needs to identify with some emotion in the song or lyrics as I have been told. 

Many say, songs don't 'last' like the used to. Its always about the next catchy number. "We still listen to Viswanathan Velai Venum and Dum Maro Dum without getting bored, don't we?" they ask. And they say, they can't remember the dance number that was popular 5 months ago. 

(Let me tell you here I love tracks like Kaasu Panam Dhuddu ... It is fun. It is quirky. Makes me smile and shake a leg. Such songs have existed through time)

I don't know if I should be worried as a musician because of the film music the next gen is listening to. Or I can just switch it off and go. 

But not just as a professional singer, but as a listener I would like to listen to good music, to be honest. 

The emperor walks naked. And he will be celebrated until perhaps a child .... plays a fiddle brilliantly, I guess.

P.S.: A lot of comments have been asking if it is about actors who sing. This post wasn't about actors who choose to/are asked to sing by the producers for the sake of a film, really. I am talking of bad singing in general and how bad singing is encouraged / not critiqued. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Of friendships that 'used to be'

I recently ran into someone who introduced themselves to another friend saying "I used to be a good friend of chinmayi's".
Every relationship I have forged has always started out on implicit faith and trust in the higher good. And not so surprisingly I have been proven wrong, more often than not. And these have ended up to be the said learning experiences that have changed me which was necessary for the path that I have taken. As long as one is naive and trusting they are loved by everyone, simply because they are easily taken for granted. However these experiences usually rekindle a fire that may have simmered down. But I do ask this question to myself, do we go along life as a warrior, waging wars emotionally, mentally and at times verbally with ourselves or with others or do we placidly go about life observing everything dispassionately? However one probably needs to be a spiritually evolved soul to be like the latter. Remembering the wrongs of others is a burden that we carry in our own minds spake the Buddha. But what if such burdens are voluntary. What if there are people who need that burden as some sort of an impetus to achieve a personal milestone (in the right manner and ethically, i.e.)

One of the things that is more difficult to comprehend is the inability to forgive. Why is it tough to let go?

This concept of forgive, but dont forget seems like a paradox sometimes...

As of now, in several cases I have been unable to do either. And in some, it's like I have had some episodic amnesia. Now I dont know if thats a good thing or a bad thing. One thing is for sure. It'll leave the other person confused.

But would I personally liked to be worldly wise or worldly dumb? I'd choose the latter sometimes coz its a happier space. As for worldly wisdom, I am getting wise with each passing day :) Not there yet. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Mom has been prepping away for months, researching every vaideeka ritual, remembered and forgotten, for my wedding. It is going to be a no-ritual-omitted 5 day traditional Iyengar wedding. 
I have always believed in fasts and poojas and sahasranama parayanas each day that I took a fancy to and I did some through this month and the some days of the last.
Each invite is simple, but personalized as mom wished and I know now that the longest time is invested in inviting people. We are nowhere near completing the drive :) Especially because it was split between only my mom and I. And when I began my fast mom did it alone.
I have always been piqued about the reasons some rituals are done and the wedding rituals are fascinating, especially because our purohit explained every detail. 
Right from planning the songs that will be traditionally sung during the wedding, to personally designing and ordering the madisaar (and every other sari that I will wear) and Rahul's muhurta veshti (she wanted his veshti to be grand as well, since she believed somehow the girl always ends up looking good and the boy's cotton veshti ends up looking quite sad by the end of a couple of hours), to the manner in which people will be invited for the muhurtam and top it all off, the rituals will involve a bullock cart and a horse drawn carriage. And let me tell you, it's not for the Janavasam :)
I wanted to follow every bit of the aachaaram and the 'madi' and the fasting that is done during a wedding. Until all the rituals associated with the wedding is over the bride and the groom are to eat only certain foods.
Mom is documenting every bit of the processes running upto the rituals and the rituals itself. I just got to know that there is a sweet ritual associated with Pon urukkardhu meaning melting the gold for the thirumangalyam.
I also knew during this time that the Thaali is bought (or preferably made specifically by a goldsmith) only on a muhurtam closest to the wedding. A thali is never bought months in advance and stored, because there is a belief system that a Thali should not be 'made to wait'. There is another belief system that no unfortunate event (like the demise of a close/distant relative) should happen while the Thali is kept in the house and this is another reason why the it is bought as close to the wedding as possible. Thereafter the purohit threads it in a prepared 'charadu' at a time before the wedding. Changing this charadu into a gold chain is another small ritual done a few weeks after the wedding apparently. I don't know the details of this yet. 
Nonetheless I have used this time to pray and fast more than anything else. And mom is enjoying herself documenting the process :)
The same time last year I had no idea I would end up being married. It was not even the closest thought in my mind. In a way, I'd decided to remain single. Mom kept lamenting I must marry while I'd categorically argue that there is no point and I hadn't met anyone who was a vegetarian, a non-smoker and a teetotaler I'd like to marry. Rahul ended up being all that. :)
I haven't decided if I'll change my name to Chinmayi Chary after the wedding or remain Chinmayi Sripaada. For practical purposes changing my name would mean confusion with audio labels. 
Life is good. And I am grateful for another wish coming true. :)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Of being still...

I remember the time I was bullied terribly in school. Sometime in my 4th and 5th standard. There was a constant fear for some people. That point in time finds a list of worst times in my personal history. 

Have you been discriminated against vis-à-vis other siblings? If yes, did you get over it and how?

If you were bullied in school, did you ever come across the bully later and if yes, how did you deal with them? (as for my accounts of bullying I made peace with it, because as an adult, we understand a lot of things in retrospect and I can figure out why some kids were so aggressive)

And finally, are children by nature selfless or selfish? Are concepts of empathy inborn or taught in some children? Why do some children seem kinder than others? 

On a random tangent, I was stuck at a traffic signal today because the free-left was being blocked by motorists ahead of me and I noticed two men right behind me shouting for blocking the road. I yelled back to see if he could understand I wasn't the one who made the mistake…. Somehow I was wondering right after, why was I looking for some sort of a reassurance from a random jack on the road, who was anyway in no position to listen? Could I have been silent instead? 

Many a time do I wish I realised the fine art of detachment from the emotion that results from actions, both by oneself and by others. People will be manipulative but one has to choose to tell the truth anyway. People will be dishonest but one has to choose to trust anyway. And people may be mean but one has to choose kindness anyway. People may wrong us but one has to choose to do the right thing anyway.

A friend said, be still. Be silent. Maybe we can be glad that we didn't sully our thoughts and our tongue by saying things we did not mean. To not react to dishonesty that plays out right in front of us. To not react to unkindness or any sort of a situation that we may deem unpleasant. Easier said than done, to not react to an accusation. I can say that and still react the next moment if something irritates me.

But for now, maybe the answer is in being still. Being silent. 

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Mauni Amavasya and a whimsical trip

Sometime last year, I had tweeted that I would take up unplanned trips as and when possible. I did. And I started with the Maha Kumbh Mela. :) 
I decided, since it was a once-someone's-lifetime (or maybe not) sort of an opportunity and because this special maha kumbh is happening during my lifetime, why let go of the opportunity I thought. And I wouldn't have it any less than landing at Allahabad on Mauni Amavasya, the most special day of them all for the sadhus. 
Mom, as usual was quite petrified with how we will manage and all that, but somehow I made sure I got what I wanted. We were advised to take the train but thankfully we didn't (and hence avoided the stampede at the railway station that killed a few... else mom and I would have been soil now).
Tickets to Varanasi/Allahabad were selling at 20k one way. Airlines knew they could strike gold with the Maha kumbh I guess. We decided to fly to Delhi and take the road route instead. 
Divine romance. That's what this trip was. I thought I'd run into Saadhus or something and have some sort of an other-worldly experience (you know the kind I'd read in Paramahansa Yogananda or Swami Rama's books) but I didn't. I was very disappointed. 
We slept in the car for a little while at the parking lot organized (the entire city was having a holiday for 3 days) in a school I suppose and we took the slightly long walk to the Ganga at 3 AM in the morning. The paths were marked out, army and police personnel were deployed all along the way.
Things were tougher once we started getting closer to the Ghats. The real pushing and shoving happened there. But inspite of all that, the people were forever aware and kept shouting out to everyone to go slow. And somehow inspite of the millions that landed on the banks of the Ganga on mauni amavasya, there was no untoward incident on that day.
Mom stepped into the Ganga first, did her prayers and got out shivering. The beginning of February is still quite cold in those parts.
I am the kind that switches off the A/C wherever I go. Even in peak summer, in Chennai, I can't take the A/C for too long. 
And for me, stepping into water when it is that cold is nothing sort of torture. I did anyway. I think I dipped into the water several times. Stood right there, teeth chattering away, praying with all my might looking at the sun. I think I stood there in the water for quite a long while.We changed right there on the banks. Like all the millions of others. 
The walk back was the mistake I made. I followed (and told mom to follow even though she told me the route is wrong) a lot of others and the route ended up being longer than the one we took to reach the ghats that morning. Mom was dead beat with exhaustion as she didn't want to eat or drink anything before taking the dip. And she couldn't walk anymore. It was 10 AM by the time we reached the car and for her it was 7 hours of starvation. Sometimes I don't understand the romance she has with starving. But she does. She loves doing that.
Somehow an experience like this is a great leveler. And it made for a wonderful memory. 
One life. And sometimes it is quite short. 
What are we if not for the memories. That's all we are left with, sometimes.

Monday, January 27, 2014


I am lately hearing my mom say, a lot more than often, that having a man in the house makes a major difference. Though I'd rather beg to differ, it does leave me thinking. 

In all these years the only thing that I have heard my mom say was that she found herself one day, with 2 rupees and a 1.5 year old on hand. It was right after the monsoons in Mumbai and there were almost no groceries. It seems at that time, they had habit of clearing out the entire kitchen right after the monsoons and buy everything afresh. I have had random people asking me why my father left us. I tried asking him myself to which he said "some things in life don't have answers". There was a point in time when I was in despair. But then I realize in retrospect that as long as my (maternal) grandfather was alive, I really didn't worry too much, nor did I have a care in the world. I was quite the happy child, except for the occasional scolding I'd get from my mother about working harder. 

Mom always said she had the most blissful married life. And that my father was one of the most soft-spoken genteel men she'd ever known. He was classy, good looking. And that he was a tremendous singer who sincerely believed he'd never get anywhere. Maybe that was his destiny. 

The day I started singing Ghazals my mom wrote to my father asking him to spend time with me and when he did visit us, my landlady happened to mention that he seems like a man who has returned home from office in the morning. "It doesnt seem like you have been apart for 10 years... Ennadhu idhu Bathma" she asked. Mom never had the answer. My father apparently remarked in court that she'd have had a glorious life if she had married anyone else and that it was her misfortune that she married him. God knows what he meant by that. 

I haven't heard one complaint about him from my mother. Or one complaint against my mother from my father, the few times I was forced to meet him because my mom told me so. I made my resentment very clear. I'd go into a shell. I briefly went to his house where he lived, with their father, his brother and his family.. and ran back home as soon as I could thinking my mother would never take me back home because she believed I would have a more comfortable life living with my father. 

I met him two more times. Once when I went to receive the All India Radio gold medal for Ghazals, to which my mother requested my father to take me, all the way to Jammu, since "I have seen you grow as a singer.. he has not had that joy, he deserves to be there since he is your father". I didn't talk much to him. Except when I wanted to eat or drink or sleep. We went to Vaishno devi, where I lost him on the hill. I found him after a very long two hours. I went crying, asking how to find my father. And then I saw him sauntering toward me, hands in his pockets, smiling and coolly asked me, "Where were you?". We got back to Delhi. I called my mother's friends. And asked them to pick me up from the station. I refused to go back to Chennai with my father thereafter. My mom's friends had to pick me up, they were highly embarrassed and finally my mom came to pick me up from Delhi.

I met him once again, at my mother's behest, as my father's father was 96+ and was ailing and that it was my duty to go meet him as there is a "soul relationship". After his monologue for an hour about music he left me with a solid piece of advice. "Artists should not marry and I advise you too, to not marry". He then turned over to the other side and went to sleep. He lived on for 5 more years, God bless his soul. But I never understood him. Nor did I understand the entire circumstances. 

Our neighbours in Mumbai apparently told my grandmom that it was definitely 'voodoo' And my grandmom and mom believed how can anything go wrong in a house where Vishnu Sahasranama is recited? (my grandmom told me this once, when she was randomly saying a lot of thing.. apparently there were anonmyous letters that would land up at home, one every other day, with kumkum or strange drawings and curses which would say 'your child will die.. you will die..' and things like that. We still have those inland letters. They never found out who sent those letters. All the stress during her pregnancy took a toll on my mom.. mine was a very difficult birth. She didn't recuperate fast either, post the C-Section.)

Well, things did go wrong. And there are never going to be any explanations. I now have sudden relative-claims from my paternal side. Which I refuse to acknowledge. I don't think anyone bothered how I was clothed, what I ate, how I was educated. And I truly understand the battered old saying, "how success is relative - more the success, more the relatives." Not that I am really close to relatives from my maternal side either. We chose to stay away, lest someone think/fear that we'd ask them for help.

Would we have lived in better houses, had better landlords if I'd had a father around? Perhaps.

Had a better life itself? Perhaps.

Would people who worked with me treat me better if they dealt with a 'father' than a 'mother'? Maybe (Though I don't really have any complaints. I somehow believe that those who have issues having a professional dialogue with my mother must have something slightly weird going on, especially event organizers)

But yes there are several times that I feel that my mother was shortchanged. In some cases, so was I. And I really don't know if it had to anything do with having a father around. Though many people said that is a reason.
Actually I know other women too treated divorcees differently in the 90-s. I had a friend whose mother was genuinely mean to single women.

However mom says hers was a 'kaarana' kalyanam. A marriage that had to happen because I was supposed to be born. She came to terms with things as they were.

As a child my forehead used to be a multi-color space. Neighbours would make fun of me. Sindhoor (from a hanuman temple), vibhooti, sandalwood paste, kunkum and all that. God knows how I fit it all in. But I did. I loved doing that. I loved the concept of devotion and faith. And now, I am questioning all that. I am questioning God and the 'divine plan' and 'divine games'. I sometimes feel like telling God, if you want to play, go and play somewhere else and stop bothering me. Maybe tell him off like how sometimes, Calvin's parents tell him off.

Each day, hour in and hour out, is a learning experience. And that's all there is to it. 

My mom said I used to say each night before sleeping "Parda bandh!" and say "Parda Khol" each time I woke up. I guess I was wiser as a 4 year old. This entire life is a drama. :)

There was a time when my blood was on a constant boil, because I sought answers. Why? Why? Why? I'd storm about in my mind. And weep in despair. And then I came to know that neither life, nor people, nor time give us the answers we seek.

To you, the reader, all that I wish you now, is happiness that radiates from your very being. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Listening and etc.

Of late, I have been hearing and listening to a lot of things. And observing people and their listening styles.
There are some who listen and as they are listening to you they have thoughts running in their head - a mental reaction to everything you are saying, passing either judgments or answering them in their head, which some of us can perceive at some level, which is perhaps why we think some people are busy listening to their own voice in their head than listening to us. 
There are those who listen and interrupt you every once in a while finishing your sentences for you. 
There are those who pretend to listen but actually don't care a damn about what you are saying ;)
There are those who have listened to you but are way off the mark from the actual meaning of the words you utter or your intentions.
And then there are some who listen to you silently. Taking it all in, all that you are saying and intending. The verbal and the non-verbal. Without judging, without interrupting even in their minds. Letting you speak whatever is on your mind and offer an opinion if they are asked. Because they are blessed with the wisdom to differentiate between a rant and consulting for advice. 
And I strive to take lessons, as usual, from observation. 
One of the first things that I learned as an RJ while I trained all of two days under Niladri Bose was this. When you interview someone, do your homework. And listen to every word. Listen sincerely. Don't formulate your next question in your head and think about how intelligent you can be while they are talking. People know when we are not listening.
Perhaps one day, I can evolve to be the perfect person that I wish to be in my mind's eye. Someone who's extremely perceptive, wise (not just intelligent), deep, achieving a stillness of the mind and to someday achieve this state of inner peace that radiates and touches the people around me. 
I am able to sense this peculiarity in some people whose mind is constantly in motion, constantly mildly agitated at some level. 
And I wish with all my heart that I be that person who is at peace, within and without. And perhaps that day, my music would take up a different dimension.