Monday, February 28, 2011

Anant Pai

Several months ago I had written of Mr Anant Pai, a man I had never met but whose work has had a profound influence on my thoughts, my love, respect and devotion for this land, my respect for those who laid down their lives for this country. Boring history lessons would have never made me realize the quantum of work by Bhagat Singh, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, Savarkar or of the Tatas and Birlas, of scientists and finally that which I love the most - stories from the Puranas, Upanishads, Jatakas, Mahabharata, Hitopadesha, Ramayana, folk tales and faiths of the world. A man whose team and illustrations and language gave me a command over English far beyond my age when I was very young. Comics which told me faith could move mountains. That God hears our pleas. That all are equal in the eyes of God. In Tales of Yudhishtra, Lord Yama in disguise questions Yudhishtra if a Brahman is made by conduct or learning. Yudhishtra's reply that a Brahman becomes one only by conduct and not by birth was imprinted in my mind. 

The practices at home, the way my grandfather and mom led by example further established these stories and they became a way of life. So many times have I heard my mother say that it is hard to come across a true Brahman today. Only he, she used to say, that walks in the path to know Brahman, the Omnipresent, Omnipotent and the In-dweller of all beings, the Supreme, is the Brahmana. Brahma-charya. To walk in the path of knowing the Brahman. If we had to follow the varnasrama, being classified by what we do in our professions in today's world, we would all be known by different names. When we sit down to watch our thoughts and what we think about, everyone would probably have to wait for a thought on high ideals to come by. Maybe for a long time. Forget meditating on God. We mostly meditate on the idiotic driver on the road or how we got irritated or countless other things. That's the way we all are and that has become the rumdrum now. 

Over the years over and over have I read these comics. I used to have a 100 titles initially, a lot of which are out of print. Out of the initial 100, I have only 30 left. The others were borrowed and never returned. But I built the collection again, scour the website every once in a while and I see they are systematically bringing out titles that were out of print, one by one. And now I have over 300 though at various points in time I have read all their titles. I ll have to wait for the others to be printed and complete my collection. I remember the feeling of blood rushing through my veins as if I were witnessing the Independence struggle myself. Or suddenly praying to Krishna or Vitthal with all my heart after reading the ACK of Kanakadas or Jagannath of Puri. 

Of kings and queens, tyrants and benevolent men, Gods and Goddesses, Saints and Reformers, Thinkers and Industrialists, Freedom fighters and silent revolutionaries. How easily they communicated some of the most complex ideologies so that it could be understood by a child of 8 in those blurbs. And how easily the comics reveal more and more meaning at every read even to an adult.

Legend has it that Anant Pai began ACK when he saw that children could answer questions on Greek mythology during a quiz but did not know who Sita or Rama were. Or maybe the question was who was the father of Rama. And in the ACK titles he went back to the very origin of origins and where it all started. The Gita. The Mahabharata. The Ramayana. Jesus Christ. Zarathrushtra. Mahavira. The various Sikh Gurus. And how in breaking ancient wisdom to speak the language that can be understood even by young child, I knew from then that God is one. But then as I grew the world wanted to teach me different things. Of divisions and castes and creeds. What the ACK team could do in 40 pages or less most exponential books could not. How he taught so many Sanskrit words and simultaneously taught us the meaning of those. Mantradrashta - the seer of the mantra from Shunahshepa as he was referred to by learned sages of that age in the ACK Title of the same name. This title is currently out of print. But should be available at libraries, if someone hasn't already stolen them. :p

As said by Mr Narayanamurthy in his book A Better India, A better world, we seem to be a country where reservation is not on the basis of merit but caste. Someone on Twitter said the other day that no country can prosper by discriminating against its people. And to this day the caste card is played even amongst the educated masses and we fall prey again and again. The light of education does not reach so many sections of the society. While many starve, the immediate thought is to fill this stomach. Who cares about education?

Thinkers like Narayanamurthy ask us to give back to the society. India, once known for its charity is now bereft of charitable people and philanthropists. Perhaps we have given up. Given up on the system, whatever is left of it or the lack of it. Everyone would rather run away from this country and come back when they have children, so that they can grow up in this 'culture'. A lot of others prefer not to do that as well. 

Today we realize more that there is no freedom of speech in this country which is a fundamental right for the citizen of India. So we dare not opine and keep quiet. Even if children do, they are promptly asked to shut up. Informed of dire consequences. And the more I talk to people and the more I listen, the more I keep my eyes open, it all looks as if there seems to be a greater force which seems to benefit if we all decided to be divided on the various reasons given to us. History is refreshed and hate is bred  anew. Suddenly blood will boil and people would be urged to take revenge on ancestors who would have long known the truth that we are all one. We come from the same source and go back to the source. But in between the entire tamasha happens. And we the educated, shall keep quiet. Not even dare to think and even pray that good shall happen to our people. We, however, are trained to say that this country will go to the dogs. Or indha naadu uruppadavae uruppadaadhu. And translations of it in the hundreds of languages and dialects spoken in India. 

I know my limitations as a human being and also know of my strength. Everyday I send out a prayer to the Gods of the Universe, with no name or form, to help my country and its people. To help the people of this earth. If you, the reader, is sniggering here, please go ahead and may you be happy if that brings you the joy. 

But in the words of Anant Pai and all the characters that have spoken to me through his ACK, God does listen and God does answer prayers. And I know there are countless praying similarly in various tongues for the same thing in various parts of the world. And in knowing my limitations and my strength as a single human being I pray to that one God asking for deliverance and a better future for the children. God could turn his back on Brahman priests and turn to face his devotee Kanakadasa at Udupi who was lamenting the fate of not being allowed to see him, at the back of the temple. Now we all have to see the Lord through the very same window. Of Lord Ranganatha refusing to open the doors because a Brahman priest had assaulted the "untouchable" of Tiruppan. And unless the priest carried Tiruppan around the temple and brought him to the Lord he wouldn't open them. Or of the divine trance of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Or the divine love of Mirabai. How God helped the ones that loved him with all their heart and came to them in the form that they wanted to see him the most.

Anant Pai passed on a couple of days back. But his work is Amar. Immortal. 

I wish I could have touched your feet Sri Pai. But it was not to be. I send my salutations to you. You awoke an entire generation from the slumber of ignorance of its cultural ethos. The light shines bright. And it shall continue to. 

Rest in Peace.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dhaivatam in Pantuvarali

"Music colleges of those days had their own advantage of covering a quantum syllabus. But the quantum also had its detrimental value. Like for example “ The 72 melakartas”
I have heard Vaaddiyars (theory masters) (a raga is divided into Purvanga and Uttaranga. Purvanga is shadja to pancham. Uttaranga is Pancham to taara Shadja). having a peculiar way of educating students that “Purvanga of this mela and uttaranga of that mela.. combine them and you get this melakarta”. The students became very happy that they have learnt a new raga just with this one sentence of information. The students would start experimenting with all their half-baked raga knowledge, singing the first half in one chaya and the second half with another chaya. Thus several mongrels of the melakartas happened. I have seen students having such confusions in the musical movements of Pantuvarali and Purvikalyani. First and foremost, in Patammma amma’s class, (D K Pattammal) I realized the beauty of the Dha occurring and how enticing the Panchama varja (varja means absent) prayogas could be.
After the Swara pallavi (known as the miniature varnam, without a sahityam. We have said elsewhere that this is the amanat of Telugudesam) the musical form, Varnam is the real essence of any raga. This particular varnam in Pantuvarali, just brought tears in my eyes while learning. The beauty of the form, the piece, moved me. Immediately after that she taught Dikshitar’s kriti, Visalaksheem Vishweseem. While Pattamma amma sang phrase after phrase, you could see the pristine pure Puryadhanasri prayogas. Afterwards there was no confusion. Each note and its placement in different phraseologies was crystallized. It was a unique experience. When Pattamma amma arrested a musical phrase at Dha. It was a divine experience of how pure a note could be.
Learning from the stalwarts was indeed an experience. Similar experiences on purity of notes and the applications that could move you was with Brindamma or with Sri Vishwa. Every note that emantated from his flute brought a reality of pure naada binding us in an intoxicated thrall. With Yadukula Kambodi or Aahiri or Sahana or even Todi, one realizes how they should sound when you listen to the stalwarts. At this point, I am reminded of Brindammas statements - "Sangeethatha pathi paesaraaahalaame? Paada vaendiyadhudhaane? Paesardhukku enna irukku?” Talking about music was strictly prohibited. No doubt was explained in words. And everything was inferred and sensed by the teachers and clearing of doubts were by way of music alone. Never by words.  'Once the tanpura was on the sound in the room has to be only music and not words at all' was the dictum.  When someone with a theoretical knowledge was flaunted in front of them, they used to politely say “Avuha ellam meththa padichavuha”. It had a tremendous velocity and sarcasm. They also never believed in teaching music resorting to verbal explanations or by means of diagrams and statistics"

To be continued…..

P.S.: This post is in quotes and as dictated by mom.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Untitled - 11

Tuning a Tanpura.

When the Tanpura came to Mangathayaramma's house after servicing and polishing, she was caressing the Tanpura with relish and the incredible wonder at the destiny of my mother getting it. 
She then handed the Tanpura to my mother and said "Here, tune it". My mother's stomach was in knots. 
A thread is inserted between the 'Meru' and the strings to generate additional resonance in all the Tanpuras. This Tanpura was resonating even without the threads referred as the "Jeeva". Its very confusing for a beginner to settle on the basic notes to tune the Tanpura properly. With some struggle, my mother managed to tune the 'Sarani', 'Anusarani' and the 'Pancham' but tuning the Mandra Shadja was beyond her purview. Ammayakka, as everyone fondly called Mangathayaramma, including my mother, laughed, explained how it was tuned. 

The Tanpura was brought home with all the reverential ado and amma tuned it and sang. And all her practices were pompously (her choice of word) with the Tanpura and she was secretly proud of having it in her possession after knowing of the entire history. Shortly after this Mangathayaramma came to our house for a week to take a break and stay with us. She was very fond of my paati's cooking and my thatha's affection and hospitality. She checked my mother's Tanpura during her visit and in her broken Tamil (had its own dialect, accent and she had basic issues in grammar) she exclaimed "Ada Paavi"

An exclamation that came out after she saw that the Tanpura was tuned to C. Without a word she asked my mother to play the Tanpura and start singing one of the Varnams that she had taught. A varnam, which had a lot of movement in the higher range. Mangathayaramma maintained an expressionless face throughout and later, when my mom was quite comfortable in the tarasthayi sancharas of the Varnam, Mangathayaramma stopped her and exlaimed "Ada Paavi!!""8 kattai la Carnatic music paadriye dee! Evan di onakku pakka vaadyam vaasippaan?? Sama sruthi la vaasikka mudiyaadhu. Oru kattai mrdangam dhaan vasikkanum. C string violin dhaan vasikkan"

My mother couldn't understand what she was saying at that point of time. Nor did my mother's family get it as they were practically musical illiterates. When my mother started intensive research in voice culture and training modules she realized the velocity of Ammayakka's statements. Her fundamental experiment was to improve the range of classical singers. She proved it right starting from me to all her students. 

I remember how all her students would come to her singing in G and E and saying "Adhukku Maela ettaadhu" simply because their Gurus decided it was "enough" if they sang classical music in G. Most came to her with a huge complex of "Sa ku maela ettadhu". My would quietly switch on the Shruti box, tell the student that they are singing in G but fix the pitch to A or B instead. They would easily reach the notes with some cajoling. Notes that they were previously told and brainwashed that they cannot reach.

To be continued....

Untitled - 10 (The Tanpura of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan saheb)

'Flute' Mali had a special preference for Mangathayaramma accompanying him on the violin during a particular period. As already mentioned earlier, Mangathayaramma was an adopted daughter as long as my thatha was concerned. As soon as my mother started learning, Mangathayaramma insisted that amma should not sing with the Shruti box. She had no explanations to give but the Shruti box was not her preferred pitching tool. So thatha and amma decided to buy a Tanpura and naturally the Guru was requested to procure one for amma. During one of her visits to Mali's place in Bangalore, she requested him to help her procure a Tanpura for her disciple, my mother. He showed a Tanpura and asked Mangathayaramma to give it to the student. With some mischief in his eyes, he said "Your student is lucky. This Tanpura belonged to Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. I am not using it. Let somebody use it properly". There was only one condition from him that the Tanpura be treasured and maintained well. Flabbergasted Mangathayaramma stammered "She has just begun her Sa ri ga ma. This Tanpura is too much for her". Pat came the answer "Parava Illa. Kondu poi kudu". 

There was an old man in Dwaram house who joined as a student to groom as an aid to Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu and later became a permanent fixture in the house. He used to accompany Mangathayaramma everywhere during her travels and concerts. He transformed to be an aid for Mangathayaramma as well. This Krishna Iyengar went to Bangalore and he brought the Tanpura to Madras and a musical shop in Triplicane serviced the Tanpura at the cost of 40 rupees. This, plus the train fare to transport the Tanpura from Bangalore to Chennai was all that was paid by thatha for getting such a treasure. Of course, there was another condition from Mali. "The moment the music stops in the house that this Tanpura goes to, the Tanpura should come back to me!!!!"

Imagine if such an antique property was given to someone, the natural instinct of anyone will be to not give it a novice but a seasoned Vidwan. What drove Mali to give the Tanpura to my mother is a big question. The honesty in Mangathayaramma to give it to my mother was nonpareil.

Years later, when my mother was in the Carnatic Music College, Mali had married a Westerner and he brought his wife along and visited my mother's house at Alwarpet. He wanted to see the Tanpura and he landed up. Fortunately (Amma laughs here), it was perfectly tuned, he gave a fine nod of approval. But amma was not present in the house. She was away in the library. There was no way to reach her. My Thatha and Mali had a some nice conversation for about an hour during when my thatha's spiritual discussions were so impressive to Mali that he invited him to America. That Thatha did not follow it up is a different story. Mangathayaramma also did not that he was going to visit our house. He had simply asked for amma's address. While Mangathayaramma was wondering what was going to happen, he had landed up at the residence. The Tanpura was reconfirmed to be in my mother's possession after his visit. 

It still remains in my mothers possession. A beautiful Miraj Tanpura. 

To be continued....

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Untitled - 9

So much to ask mom now but work has swallowed a lot of time in the past couple of days. And when I think I ll go ask mom to continue, its too late in the night and she is fast asleep.
Most of my childhood went in my mother teaching me for hours together. Time would fly by apparently until my paatti used to intervene with major drama and say its time to give me some food. 5 hours. 6 hours. Sometimes 8 hours, I have heard my mother would have teach me non stop. 

But very early childhood was a different story. I hear I used to start wailing and bawling as soon as my mother took the Tanpura in her hands to start singing. Maybe I felt insecure about another object taking space in her lap.

Patience was never something I saw when Amma taught me. I had to repeat what she sang, the next instant. Or she would say if you can't repeat after having told you once, you are a rank idiot. I have heard of a lot of anecdotes of the Guru egging the student on with caustic remarks so that they perform better. And be acutely attentive. Somehow she seemed to have copious amounts of patience for other children. She was too kind and patient, I always thought which she never exhibited in me. I also fought with her once for the 'partiality' that she showed to others over me on that. To this day, I believe that some of the students that learned under her during that Gurukula project learned far more than I did in the lifetime I have spent with her. 

Talking of early childhood in Mumbai, I was a kid that only spoke Marathi. Mom went to work. I was in the care of paatti. And during this time she made sure I became a right-hander from a left-hander. She taught me to write அ ஆ and all of that on a slate with a balpam. She took me to school and played with me with my "choppu set" of making tea and coffee and food and everything. To this day I wonder how we managed to communicate. With me bantering in Marathi, she could speak no language but Tamil. How did I ask her what I wanted? How did she know? Even my prayers used to be in Marathi as my "Ajji" who took care of me in Day-care whenever paatti had to be in Madras had taught me a Lakshmi prayer in Marathi. Gharaath Kida Pida Bahar Jao... ____ chi Lakshmi Gharaath aeo. I forget what-chi Lakshmi it was. That used to be the concluding line.

School in Bombay was interesting and to my teachers I was a 'problem child'. A problem because I finished entire text books in one day. English in one day. And every other book and say "Finish". I  once got slapped for it and came home with a swollen cheek. Mother went and politely enquired what the issue was. The teacher was barely 20. She didn't know how to deal with a child who completed an entire year's work in one day. My mother then convinced the teacher to get me new books and send her the bill. I guess this 'disease' continued for quite a while. I still remember doing that with my workbooks years later so that I could sit smugly through class. The only thing that terrorized me was mathematics. It haunted me until my 10th grade. Somewhere some concept was not explained well and everything went downhill from there. I never knew what the problem was. A straight 100 report card until the 6th standard saw a downward arrow in mathematics alone. It was a miracle I passed my 10th math board exams. Thank God. I kicked the subject then.  Pythagoras was my nemesis. I loved algebra and everything else but I hated the concept of proving that a triangle is a triangle. And not anything else. Sigh. I played around with the idea of taking up medicine but they said medicine meant I had to top in mathematics. Figured I'd reach the hangman's noose than the stethoscope and let go of a wish to be a doctor. I could still be a healer. But there is still time for that.

Silently have I watched this lady I call my Mom/Padmhasini/Amma. Silently have I watched the people that she worked with, the people who felt insecure, the parents of other kids, trauma and grief many a times and her swallowing and bearing quite a bit to bring me to where I am today. When I met my paati a couple of years ago and my chinna paatti a few days ago, they had pretty much the same things to say about amma. "Romba Narayya pattuta" (She has suffered a lot). From the family, from others. From more or less a lot of people. And because she remained and remains the same firebrand she is a lot of my colleagues couldn't take it either. Forthright and no bullshit defines her. And if there are people who had issues with that, I figured there was something shady in the first place. Those shades came to light pretty soon.

Several times when Vairamuthu sir met us at events he almost always introduced my mother saying "Ivanga Deivam.. " and pointing to me he would say "Ivanga Deivam thandha poo".

To be continued....

Friday, February 11, 2011

Untitled - 8

By the time my mother was 14 she had listened to 3 of Flute Mali's concerts of which 2 were accompanied on the Violin by Dwaram Mangathayaru and one was accompanied by Mrs T Rukmini. Mom took a great fancy for Dwaram Mangathayaru and wanted to learn music from her. They were living in the same locality, i.e Triplicane, separated by two streets. (Dwaram Mangathayaru still lives in the same Dwaram house on Bandala Venugopala Naidu street. Mom took me to meet her a couple of years ago once again. She also happened to be my first Guru other than my mother. I remember at probably 8-9 years of age, I took a baby violin and went to learn from her. Didn't last long :))
There was stiff opposition in the house for taking up music as a profession. What would one expect anyway, with the kind of varied offices that the elder men in the house held? My mother was supported by her elder sister who volunteered to foot the bill for the music classes. After quite a lot of commotion the determination of my mother made thatha take her to Dwaram Mangathayaru. What impressed Mangthayaramma my mother did not know (maybe I should go and ask her, but the old timers that they are I wonder if I will wheedle any information from her at all!), but then on, Mangathayaru became my thatha's adopted daughter at the very first instance. The question of footing a bill did not arise as Mangathayaramma refused to accept any fee. It was the perfect Gurukula system. But thatha, from then on, made a habit of buying silk saris and jewelry in sets of three most of the time. One set went to my mother's elder sister. One went to mom. The other went to Mangathayaramma - the third daughter. This went on and a couple of years later, Mangathayaramma got a job in Tirupati and later in Vijayawada and had to move from Chennai. Thus the curtains fell on regular classes with Mangathayaramma. Mom refused to go to any other Guru. I have taken after her as I see. However, whenever Mangathayaramma visited Madras, they met, the connections were intact and occasionally classes did happen. Finally, Mangathayaramma personally took my mother to Carnatic Music College for admission.

The application was given for a Pre-Vidwan course. The then Principal Sri T N Krishnan and the other judges Sri K V Narayanaswamy, Kalpakam Swaminathan, after listening to mom, (guess that was a practice for the entrance examination), took her directly into the Sangeeta Vidwan course of the Carnatic Music College.

Two years flew by. She learned under stalwarts like K V Narayanaswamy, B Rajam Iyer, R Vedavalli, B Krishnamoorthy, Tiruppamburam Shanmukhasundaram.... While most others did not pay heed to the classes of Sri Shanmukhasundaram, my mother's alert ears did not fail to notice the difference in his music and the typical nuances of the Nagaswaram. He, being an alumnus of the same college, trained under Brindamma and Muktamma, showed remarkable tinges of their music. This was carefully registered in mom's memories and she sang the compositions taught by him with relish. They were systematic, dexterously constructed in terms of Sangatis, just as the Nagaswaram tradition would have it. With that, the nuances of Brindamma and Muktamma aesthetically sprinkled here and there, she was very careful in taking a lot from him. 
The Dhanamma baani (style) is a classic explanation or embodiment of the real music not being on the notes but anywhere and everywhere in between the notes. (This reminds me of a Bryan Adams quote, where he says music is in between the notes. I am not sure about the theorems and how they go about proving things, but this would probably suffice to say that music is universal)
K V Narayanaswamy would not open his eyes during class. But one student from the 40 and odd group making a mistake, his head will turn, his eyes will open, with a piercing look on the exact person who erred. "Yaar Adhu..!!! Kaezhu (Kaelu)!!" (to be imagined in a low guttaral whisper that can shake the guts out of you). And with a weariness, he would turn his head, close his eyes and resume. 

B Rajam Iyer would make very sarcastic remarks making the class laugh out aloud. 

Sometimes the teachers would say sarcastically "Oh...!! Apdi ellaam kooda irukko.. Anya swaram ellam vardhe?! Pudussa kathukkanum pola irukke.!! " (Mom is laughing now, as she recalls these events and may I say I am louuuuuing this interview process!!)

Having said that, an example that a person learns all the time was Sri K V Narayanaswamy.  Amongst Sri Ariyakudi's disciples, he was the leading. Still, he taught at Carnatic Music College. (Here, I ask Why? Apdidhaan iruppa appo ellam ... cholli kudukkardhu was part of their lives..!!
 Mom sang Nambi Kettavarillavo in Ragam Kalyani for her Quarterly Examination. Rajam Iyer was the examiner. Mom sang a sangati in the Anupallavi which was not taught by Sri KVN. Though it was not a deliberate attempt but it had happened perchance. While Sri Rajam Iyer nodded his head in approval, told my mother that would be all for evaluation, Sri KVN was outside the exam room, listening to this keenly. Mom came out of the exam room, Sri KVN was facing the other direction, turned toward her, repeated the sangati she had just sung and said "Nanna irundhudhu".

Thus her Ramnad connection was reestablished at Carnatic Music college.

There was another example to extol the simplicity of Sri KVN and a message that every music aspirant can take. Sri KVN was a top-notch performer of his times. Mom had already commenced research in voice culture and teaching methodologies. (At this point I feel my mother has wasted a good 10 years of her life on me, especially the past 10 years, like she jokingly says often, being my aayah. Regret.)

She happened to take up this subject and one more, to establish that the music is not on the note. She did this as a demonstration in her special musicology classes. As an ancillary, students had the option of taking either an instrument or Advanced Musicology  at Govt Music College. They used to refer to it as "Musicology Special". Mom had chosen AM. Professor V Balakrishnan used to ask my mother to give student enumerations and demonstrations during the classes. In one such demonstration, she spoke about the musical exercises for expanding the range and some of the herbs which would help the same. 
This was keenly watched by KVN, Parur Anantharama Iyer and a couple of Veena lecturers from a distance where they could easily hear and observe what was going on in the lecture hall. As the class got over and the students were coming out, KVN called out to mom 
"Padmasini chettha inga vaa..!" She shivered in fright thinking she had made a gross blunder in her demo. 
"Pinne orukka chollu paappom. Enna chonnayakkum anga..?"
"Ayyo Bayama irukku sir.  Romba olarittaena? Thappa sir?
"Illa nanna irundhudhu.. Chollu paapom? Adhellam ezhudhi kudu..!"

She then sat and wrote down what she had just demonstrated, names of the herbs et al and within a week also went to Parry's corner and procured the herbs for him. The specific exercises he took was for Mandra Saadhana for improving the volume and tonal quality in the lower register. He said the exercises and the herbs did immense help to him. And after his December Music Festival concert, he remembered to call my mother and ask her "How did you find my voice?" like a child or maybe like a patient would ask his doctor, with all innocence. This is an incredible memory. Which is why he was an all time great musician. He learned from anybody. Even if it were his student. (Again, reminded of the interview that I had with Sri K J Yesudas a couple of weeks ago at Kollur Mookambika temple, where he went on to explain that life is a constant learning process. He sang the first few lines of Harivarasanam and went on to explain "Arivimardhanam" should not be sung as one word but should be sung as Ari-Vimardhanam, accenting the Vimardhanam. As the word Arivimardhanam has no meaning if sung as one word. This, he said he had learnt only a few months ago, from a Sanskrit scholar and explaining the importance of being a constant learner)

Similarly when mom was giving a demo on "The note alone is not important, its the movement that matters". She took a Swara Pallavi in Todi that she had learned from Dwaram Mangathayaru as an example and narrated the Ga appearing in various tonal colours and placement. KVN promptly called her, asked her to specifically sing those phrases. "Nee edho Todi 'ga' pathi demonstration kuduthiyaame? Ennadhadhu.. Enakku paadikaami...?"
Swarapallavi is not a musical form familiar in the Tamilian parts. It is an exclusive amaanat of Andhra Desam. This became a solid foundation for my mother thanks to Dwaram Mangathayaru. She learned a number of Swara Pallavi-s from her. (Making a mental note to learn these from mom, duh on this blog) He didn't pay any heed to her protests. "Sir ongalukku edhuraka epdi paadardhu.. bayama irukku". He said "Nanna irundhudhunnu kaelvi pattaen.. paadu" Sri KVN made mom write the Swara Pallavi and thereafter sing it out to him. "Nanna irukkae..!" He said. He had an enthusiasm of collecting such compositions.

Eventhough Sri KVN, hailing from Kerala, was considered the prime disciple of Sri Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, he had gone to learn from him when KVN was already a performing artiste of repute. Sri Rajam Iyer did Gurukulavaasam under Sri Ariyakudi and therefore he had a lot of narrations about Poochi Iyengar and Ariyakudi, thereby, the Ramnad traditions.

When mom was on a documentation spree, much, much later, when she returned from Bombay, KVN once told her that "Gurukula vaasam panni ore Guru va follow panradhu oru vishayam. Innonnu, pravurthi kaaga praapalyama irukkaravaalta thaedi poi sishyana irukkardhu. Naangallam apdi dhaan" during her interview with him documenting the Guru Sishya Parampara. Not only Sri KVN, but this was repeated by many others, like Sri R K Srikanthan, Smt M L Vasanthakumari., Calcutta K S Krishnamurthi. (Mom had worked on documenting a lot of their work when she had come down from Mumbai. As a child I would accompany her to many of these visits. I still find pictures of me in those pictures taken then. And I hear her steady breathing as she falls asleep)

To be continued....

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Untitled - 7 (The Ramnad Connection)

The Raja of Ramnad - these words itself are very special to my mother and my Thatha. Maharaja Shanmukha Raghunatha Sethupathy was the last who had the kingdom and later it was taken away by  the Zamindari Act. He was also a Minister in the Central Govt for some time. Thatha and the Raja were class mates in Presidency college and were cricket-mates. The royal family of Ramnad, have a great culture. Even though they were royal descendants belonging to the Mukkulathor, members of the royal family would address others with respect. Even a child was addressed with respect by them. Addressing anybody by their first names was not in their practice and as a result nicknames were awarded. One of the great violinists, who used to laugh with a peculiar mannerism was called 'Gubeer' Iyer (The Grandfather of Lalgudi G Jayaraman). Thereafter he was always addressed as 'Gubeer'. My Thatha who, during one of the games, fell while attempting to catch the ball. This entire act reportedly resembled a Korali Viddaikaaran of those times. And from then on my thatha got to be known as Korali Iyengar. Thus did everyone get their own nicknames while the royal family maintaining the custom of not calling anyone by their first names. 

Even though they were friends, the Raja always welcomed Thatha as "Vaanga Korali" and my Thatha in turn always addressed him as Maharaja. The royal connection continues till now. Our family doctor is a descendant of this very family. Dr Prasad, nephew of Shankukha Raghunatha Sethupathy,  is affectionately called by his kith and kin as Pressy. His mother, Ganesha Kunjara Naachiar, the sister of Raja Shanmukha Raghunatha Sethupathy and mom were very close. Shri Kashinath Dorai, her brother together used to narrate a lot of stories about music in the royal durbar. They were all descendants of the great Bhaskara Sethupathy, the great patron of Swami Vivekananda who had sponsored the Swami's trip to Chicago to the Parliament of the World's Religions where he rendered his famous speech beginning with these words "Sisters and brothers of America".

The Ramnad samasthanam patronized great musical scholars like Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer, Patnam Subramanya Iyer and Ramnad (Poochi) Srinivasa Iyengar. Sri Kasinath Dorai used to narrate countless anecdotes and stories about their musical plights to mom. Days and days, hours and hours in the huge patio of Ramnad House in Cenotaph Road, (Now the Russian Consulate), became a platform for improving her acumen in musical history and musical techniques of Ramnad lineage. Incidentally Sri Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar is the disciple of Sri Poochi Iyengar; Sri B Rajam Iyer and Sri K V Narayanaswamy were disciples of Sri Ariyakudi and my mother had the opportunity of learning from both Sri B Rajam Iyer and Sri K V Narayanaswamy at the Music College, Madras. In a way, she was destined to follow the Ramnad tradition. Poochi Iyengar was made to learn from both Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer and Patnam Subramanya Iyer. Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer had a forte on the higher octaves of music while Sri Patnam Subramania Iyer was an exponent in Tanam and had exclusive techniques in Tanam. Sri Kasinath Dorai used to reel of demonstrations of Patnam Subramania Iyer's 'Chakra Tanam', 'Manduka' and 'Markata' Tanams. The same Manduka Tanam when narrated and demonstrated by Swami Shantananda Saraswati during a drive from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru in 1998 was a reliving experience to my mother. But Swamiji narrated as the technique being taught to him by a Sangeeta Swami of Kashi while Kasinath Dorai was narrating the technique as was practiced by Patnam Subramania Iyer. Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar was sponsored by the royal court to learn from both Gurus to imbibe all the qualities of both stalwarts. Learning under two Gurus was next to impossibility in those days. But because it was a royal command, both stalwarts taught Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar who also became a Vaggeyakara. (A Vaggeyakara is a Lyricist-composer).

Dr Prasad's mother, Smt Ganesha Kunjara Naachchiyar avgl, Srimaan Kasinath Dorai avgl and my mother used to have several musical sessions, a lot of which I shall hope to strike down here. 

Mom now holds some of the rarest manuscripts of the Royal family that cover the musical lessons of Sri Poochi Iyengar, Raga Indexes so on. Also in my mother's possession is a 100+ year old Tanpura belonging to Ustad Abdul Karim Khan saheb. How it was gifted to my mother is another story. :)

To be continued.....

**Most of the content here is narrated by mom and is reproduced verbatim.

Untitled - 6

Padmhasini was born the youngest of 3 children to Jayalakshmi and Sudarshanacharya Thirumalai Aiengar in Paramakudi and was brought to the then Madras when she was 5 years of age. I have heard the family had establishments in Madras, Ramanathapuram and in Paramakudi for education and business purposes. 

Mr Aiengar had 3 siblings, the eldest Sudarshanacharya Tirupathi Iyengar, next was my thatha, S T Aiengar (I don't know why he had this interesting spelling to his name. Wish I had begun blogging when he was alive), Sundararajan and the youngest Ramaswamy. Jayalakshmi had two siblings, Sriranga and Srinivasan (alias 'Ambi' the famous nickname!). I hear Ambi died when mom was very young. Sriranga paatti is still alive and refuses to smile when a picture is clicked :p

S T Iyengar or Mutha thatha was the Chief Engineer in the Electricity Board of the Madras Province (Madras Province included Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu and Orissa. He apparently worked in the Pycara dam project as well). My Thatha, Aiengar was Garrison Engineer in the Army. Sundararajan joined Delhi Secretariat as Under Secretary and went on to retire as Deputy Secretary of Atomic Energy Establishment. He had worked with Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai. Ramaswamy served as the Government Printer in Aden during the British Rule there. Apparently every time he came home on holidays every 2 years or so, he would ship his car of the moment and the car would arrive before him at Bombay port. And he would drive down from Bombay to Madras in about a day and a half. I wonder how the roads were then that he could manage to do that!

Now the family had memberships at Brahma Gana Sabha, and Narada Gana Sabha considered the leading Sabhas of those times. They rented out the premises of Music Academy to stage their programmes. Also another reputed Sabha of those times was the Parthasarathy Swami Sabha. It had its own locus standi unaffected by any competition. The family had donor memebership in all these sabhas. The family was more interested in watching dramas and the performances of popular musicians. These concerts and drama visits also was a social exercise where everyone flaunted their latest jewelry or Saris. Mom was famous for her Venkatagiri saris. Talking of these sari I hear they costed between 13 rupees and 200 rupees. Apparently the 200/- sari had zari all over. Hmm :) I hear Venkatagiri had an exclusive position among cotton saris. 

Balakrishna Sastrigal, the great Harikatha exponent was the first major influence on my mother taking to music. Her taste in Carnatic music was in people like Smt D K Pattammal, Sri M D Ramanathan, Brindamma, Muktamma and the like, where there was erudite scholarship and sedate musical flow. While this was going on her attention was drawn toward Hindustani classical music thanks to a certain "Jaggu Mama" (Mr Seshadri) who were occupants of the first floor in the same house my mother's family lived. He was a great connoisseur of Hindustani music and he used to take my mother to all the Hindustani classical music concerts of Chennai. His wife, Mrs Jayalakshmi Seshadri was a Veena exponent, one of the prime disciples of Kalpakam Swaminathan. Since Mrs Jayalakshmi wasn't too interested in Hindustani classical music, Jaggu Mama took along this teenaged girl to all these concerts. He first introduced and educated my mother about the nuances and intricacies of Hindustani music, making her listen to various LP Records of concerts. 

We still maintain a lot of these LP Records even today.

T S Balakrishna Sastrigal was a stalwart of Harikatha Kalakshepam. Harikatha Kalakshepam as such required mono-acting skills, and Sri Sastrigal was a matchless genius. His assistant on stage used to sing brilliant music. Harikatha Kalakshepam in those days always had a very good singer, supporting the Harikatha exponent. In Shastriji's case, he had a fantastic musician supporting him (Will get back to you with the name) and the amazing sangatis he used to reel out in Tyagaraja Kritis or the amazing delineation of ragas he used to hum in the background while Sastrigal narrated some of the sequences was to have been experienced live to know how the  "Background score" was interwoven in a live Harikatha performance. It was like cinema on stage. Sastrigal used to cry. He used to laugh. You could see a woman in him. You could see a child in him. Sometimes he would be the father. You could literally see Dasharatha on stage. You didnt need to imagine what Dasharatha would have been like in front of Kaikeyi begging for mercy for Raghava (Rama). With music, tears, emotive dialogues and finally how Dasaratha fainted was enacted by him. It was something that was etched deep in my mother's memory. He was a genius. And a genius of those times has no parallel in present day existence. Life then, offered the leisure, peace to gradually take in and assimilate to be permanently stored in the subconscious mind. 

Taking to Hindustani classical music of course was the contribution of Jaggu mama (aka Seshadri)

And thus were the first seeds for a life long aspiration to music sown.

To be continued....

**A lot of the content here is narrated by mom and is reproduced verbatim. 

Untitled - 5

What explains this verbose wave? The loss of voice and a viral fever. Being given no better option than to be silent. I don't want to hear myself croak and bleat really.

Only when we are forced to silence and not preoccupied with our own constant chatter do we find other forms of expression. Maybe meaningful. Maybe not.

People who have called the past couple of days ask "Am I speaking to Chinmayi?" "My God!!!" first stunned without a word to say at the voice they hear on their receivers that sounds like a cross between a frog and a donkey and the occasional sheep or a goat. While I am having fun with their varied reactions, words spill in this space.

Untitled - 4

I seem to be on a roll. And I am letting myself be. May the words spill as long as they intend to as right now they seem to have a destiny of their own to make it to this space. Only they found the instrument through my fingers and this keyboard. And yes a million other tech things which I really needn't strike down. 

I have heard a lot of people say why it might not work if your Guru is your parent. I am not sure about other relationships but the most I have heard is that when your mother or a father is your Guru, they say you tend to things easy and maybe take them for granted. I wonder where this notion stemmed from, as most most of the musicians in India have been belonged to a dynasty of musicians. And then there were those whose progeny decided not to take it up and decided not to go through with the rigors of it. I wonder what such Gurus feel. Frustrated? Tired? Sad? that their progeny refuse to take their legacy forward? I would never really know. And I hope, that I don't get to know by first-hand experience. 

For a lot of things, I am thankful that my Guru is my mother. Though I say so myself, I am yet to come across a teacher more sincere than amma. But then how would you know, you may ask, when you haven't learned from anyone else. The thing is, I have. I have tried learning an instrument from another Guru. And the number of phone calls and visits I need to make to another city for a few hours of class is quite something. And that is how my mother learned. The really hard way. Waiting through the day the teacher might probably give a direct class of less than an hour. And through the day, being with the Guru and being in the presence others who learned from the Guru, the concentration was heightened. The urge and the craving to hang on to every note, every word that was spoken and exchanged and played and sung made sure that the individual at the music class was not merely a student. But an aspirant. Someone who had to aspire all day long, day after day, month after month. And in these several days did the sishyas hear the words of wisdom, musical exchanges between their Guru and other Gurus and stalwarts in the field. A veritable Satsang. Something that is absolutely missing today. And something that I am rarely a part of at Rahman sir's studio. When some of the greatest filmmakers, poets and creators converge in a certain space, every word that they have said and the experience thereof reminded me of my mothers words when she spoke about the Satsangs with her Gurus. Mom was a student of Tamilnadu Govt Music College during the time when it was a place of great learning and doyens of Carnatic classical music were teachers. Thus was my mother exposed to a variety of schools, learned personally under various masters. And not surprisingly identified as an intellectual and lauded for her brain. 

Meeting some of the masters later, as I did, I heard them speak of my mother during her younger days and her razor sharp thinking and the injustice she had to later see in various spheres, I couldn't but help admire this lady who just happened to be my mother and Guru.

To you this might be the third post speaking of my mother. But to me this speaks of this individual, Mrs T Padmhasini who is the most profound influence in my life and to a few others.

I know how my mother looked and searched for students that she could teach and owing to my winning a couple of competitions and other parents asking me who I had learned from, it automatically brought some students to my mother. And after Kannathil Muthamittal, some more. But the goals were strange The goals was not to learn music or become a professional singer of merit or a scholar. But to learn music now, sing for A R Rahman six months later, buy a car a year after that and then build a house. So many years of my becoming a professional, we are yet to build ours :)
And strangely some students were pulled out because their parents did not like the idea of their kids idolizing someone other than them. Weird I thought. But that was the way things were. 

Finally my mother gave up on wanting to teach. Even to be a successful teacher, you need to have a certain street-smartness or have to be plain darn lucky. Padmhasini may be a strong, forthright, intuitive lady but street-smart she was not. And luck is famous for having failed her many a times. 

Speaking about my mother and her tryst with musicians in the classical music industry to a filmmaker who gaped for the most part while listening to what I had to say and said he needs to meet my mother. And maybe make a film or two. Twists and turns and several knots have there been in her story.

A lot of the musicians in the Carnatic music field today have been silent observers and still know Chinmayi as the daughter of Padmhasini. If there was someone who has been hounded for most part of a life it would be this lady I know personally and have lived with.

To be continued.

And the picture with Thalaivar

January 3 2011
Le Royal Meridien
Book release of Sri Vairamuthu's 1000 Padalgal

Unaroo - Traffic

Untitled - 3

One of the biggest differences I think between living in Mumbai and Chennai was how they perceived a single woman. With a daughter. As far as I remember, even though I left Mumbai very early, life was easier. Less complicated. People did not judge you every single moment. Because, simply, they were too busy leading their own lives to bother about yours or judge how you should live.

Somehow in 'conservative' Chennai, it became the purview of every member in the society to teach someone else how to live. Especially the single woman. What is the best way to lead a life. What is the best way to do things. And not quite amazingly, each one had a rank different decision. And from there came these random people advising my mother, on how it is 'wrong' to put me in music. Not normally wrong. But morally, virtuously wrong to make a career in music for a 'daughter'. This was in the 1990-s. Which is why I used to joke that it was a crime to be a single woman and easier to be a widow in Chennai, or at that time, I guess I used to say India. (Now don't come back and criticize me for this line). If I had been a son, there would have been no such perceptions. FYI. But on the flip-side I know a lot of parents telling us they are unable to take such 'bold' decisions because their families forbid them to or in the fear of being scandalized by their own kith and kin. So glad that I wasn't 'blessed' with such a family. I have been blissfully away from most of them.

Well meaning advice alright, but this would be from people who had a certain view in life, myopic in some cases, or those who refuse to see a horizon perhaps because the vastness might frighten them. I know not what the reason would be. But then, I will have to also say, that the society then was not kind on innovators, who they loved to call 'rebels' then. You had to do Engineering or Medicine. Nothing else would do. Sad to say that still exists in various parts of India as the right thing to do.

A Senior Fellow with the Govt. of India, Dept of Culture, my mother decided to pull me out of school after 8th standard to train me more rigorously in music and make a true scholar of me.  (Thankfully my grandfather was well ahead of his times too. Toooo ahead for the 1940-s. But seemed more in line with the 90-s. It was imperative for my mother to ask his permission before anything. Even when he was 93. Yep. The people in my family lived closer to 100. All of them. Thatha would give mom a  go-ahead for all her plans).  At that time I remember it was impossible to explain "Documentary Film Maker" or Research and Documentation in music. I know of musicians in the Carnatic field who did not know the difference between Archives and Archaeology. This was when my mother was documenting a musician and his life. My the end of that documentary we got a crash course on the musicians in orthodox, conventional god-fearing Carnatic music field. And the main reason why I refuse to sing Carnatic music today. And in the same breath, let me also tell you, that the Film Industry has perhaps more honest and straightforward people than anywhere else, IMHO. Which includes the Carnatic Classical Music field.

Veering from the topic a bit, my mother was also my first lesson on Why NOT to share your ideas with anyone. Especially in project proposals. She would write innumerable proposals applying for  grants. And from just the synopsis in the proposal, others would poach the idea, with their own limited understanding, pull a few strings and get a grant. A lot of such things happened back then. A dedicated team worked to see what Padmhasini had presented :) Mom took quite a while to find out and as she saw similar projects with the same content as she had presented being worked on by other 'scholars' she saw what was happening and stopped writing to any of these foundations that primarily funded documentation projects in music. And thus did some 'pioneers' come into being.

She had devised a truly amazing syllabus and had even spoken to teachers for various classes.  Traveled to Delhi several times to see if there was an education system that could aid kids like me. Or a certification for that matter that could take me back to mainstream collegiate education if I wanted to. But no one really knew. And Google was not rampant then. No one knew about the National Open School system then. To people like me and those in sports, it was a total boon. I remember the principal of NOS telling me that a lot of classical musician's kids in Delhi studied through this system. Because really, no conventional school had the concept of identifying a talent other than the numbers on the report card. Be it sports or music. Hindu Senior Secondary, in Indira Nagar, and my principal then, Mr Venkatachalam was a class apart. He was a visionary. I remember him allowing a classmate to come late to school every day, because the boy's father had taken VRS and had taken it upon himself to train him in tennis seriously. His special coaching got over only at 11 AM and he would come to school around 11:30 or something. Every single day. I hear he is doing well. And that his brother is a professional player. Forget the names now. 

After seeing the pressure of 10th std and what I went through, we saw there was no option of kicking Mathematics in the CBSE syllabus. And if I continued school the only option would be to battle mathematics and forget music until I finished 12th boards. Which was not an option at all. Thankfully we discovered NOS and during the time between my 15-17th year I finished studying German at Max Mueller Bhavan, had begun French, some courses in E Commerce and Designing from SSI and NIIT, worked at for more than a year (loved this experience as I knew how the corporate world functioned and kept in touch with Carnatic music, which I was otherwise losing touch with as I had shifted to Hindustani classical music), dabbled a while at Student Concepts (they had some project they wanted to work with schools, I forget what exactly now. Manoj, who started SC, was a dreamer ahead of the school educational standards and standardized thinking then) won the All India Radio competitions for Ghazal and Hindustani classical music and rigorously practiced Odissi and learned to play the Tabla. I did some freelance German translation shortly thereafter, for the fun of it and to stay in touch with the language. Blue Elephant was unofficially born a year or so later and officially maybe 3-4 years after this. Given a choice, I would have a pulled out of school earlier. To someone like me, conventional school is a waste of time. The West has woken up to home schooling years ago. Those who dare do it. I am not sure whether India would wake up to it or not, but if my progeny happen to show any brilliant musical inclination, I don't think they will be in a conventional school for too long.

When my mother stepped into Chennai, I think one of her first projects was this Audio Glossary she did for Aurobindo Ashram. Again something she did free of charge, because she was of this notion that a spiritual organization should not be given a bill. She was too good for her own good. 

I remember being a part of all the sessions, her recordings with all the front ranking classical musicians today, directing them, the voice-over sessions with P C Ramakrishna. I wish now, if I can have a time machine and go back to record her working. Sigh. She was a fire brand. And people didn't move a muscle. It was hard to get people to work. Ask some engineers/technicians anything at that time, they will say "Its not possible". It frustrated my mom to no end.  I now hear some music directors of today complaining of the same thing. Whenever a composer wanted to innovate they would get "Its not possible". I would not like to state who, because I do not have the permission to publish that here.  

Whereas in Mumbai they were highly open to ideas. Before the time of music videos, I remember mom discussing the concept of shooting videos for music. And the idea was immediately dumbed down. "Who the hell would watch a music and a video?". And just a couple of years later music videos started, peaked and plateaued. 

The audio glossary mom worked on was released by Times Music as Aalaap. There was another thing here. By the time Aalaap released, which took a really long time between the production in 1990-1991 to its release in 1999, the content she wrote for the glossary was poached by another musician. Who made quite a fast buck even before Times Music or Aurobindo Society could realize what was happening. Somehow the same musicians that worked with mom in the project told her of the duplication. But considering India and Intellectual Property, nothing could be done. And anyway it was the purview of Aurobindo Society. Now however, my mother's work has expanded and swelled manifold, which I intend to bring to publication. May God guide us and bring this plan to fruition. She keeps saying she has so much to give and so much to do. She gave it all up because I had stepped in and become a professional. 

I still remember Sri Vishwa, telling me when I was probably 12 or 13 "You should be very glad that your mother has not pushed you into this prodigy-sagadhi. You won't understand why I am calling this entire thing a sagadhi now but you will, later". I had sung for him then. My mother did take me to a few doyens, ask me to sing and get their opinion. Whatever I heard the doyens telling my mother was one of the reasons I stuck to my guns of not going to a popular Guru. Why should anyone else get the credit for my mother's hard work and sacrifice? A year or so after my meeting him, Sri Vishwa passed on. But what he said rings true to this day. The word prodigy is used even more freely today. On everyone and anyone. Mostly on those who don't deserve that tag. Not only from him, but from several other stalwarts have I known that a prodigy must be safeguarded and carefully groomed for several years before put on stage. Not be on display from channel to channel, stage to stage and show to show.

So many of the doyens my mother knew and has worked with have passed on. Mrs Sulochana Pattabhiraman, Sri K S Krishnamurthi, Sri Vishwa, Smt D K Pattamma (who always saw a daughter in mother. I still remember mom saying I was taken to meet her when I was but a few days old). Somewhere down the line, from being known as Chinmayi, Daughter of Padmhasini, Padmhasini came to be known as the mother of Chinmayi. And now its perhaps time to bring my mother out from her professional sabbatical.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Untitled - 2

One of the stronger memories of my early teens was my mother's Gurukula project. She wanted to reinvent the Gurukula project for the modern times. Its common knowledge that my mother has been my only Guru though she tried a million times to send me to other Gurus for the ISI mark of going to a 'popular' Guru. One class or two I would be back and refuse to go. 

My mom taught a few students during that time. And refused to take fees because she believed that Vidya was for daanam. I know now that giving something for free is not given much respect. Even though a lot of the students come back today and say that they have never been able to learn from anyone else after that.

The Gurukula-styled classes with my mother's students, perhaps 10 of them or perhaps less, landed up at home on Sundays at 6 or maybe 7 AM in the morning. Starting with prayers, pranayama and meditation there was a short recess for breakfast, which mom used to make. I really cannot remember now, what she gave us all. Should ask her. But its better she blog about it herself. Hopefully that will come soon. Thereafter rigorous vocal exercises began until lunch. Lunch would be something exciting soups and main course. It would be a different menu each week. A lot of times, my mom would get us to practice the vocal exercises the 'n' number of times and go into the kitchen once in a while to cook. She always cooked personally because the entire process of cooking the food for all of us was accompanied by chanting of various mantras the process. 

Sometimes we used to peek into the kitchen to know what was cooking. The aromas would be highly distracting.

Mom was a pretty cool teacher. The post lunch session went in explanation of various concepts. Usually triggered by a question. She would ask one of us to ask her something and from there discussions would begin. And during this time all of us could lean back, stretch our legs, even lie down if we wanted to, while listening to her. And no, I don't remember any of us falling asleep. After this began another round of learning compositions, writing notations until tea-time where another round of snacks came through. After some more classes post tea, the Sunday class would come to an end at 6PM. Today, it is a great fad to say food is 'energized' or 'energizing' anything at all is an amazing thing to do. But this has been a part of our culture and living for aeons. I guess, we should have 'packaged' all this way better as is expected these days.

During that time, a lot of the students said they did better in school. Attention spans had become better. Performance was better. But as one student after another hit 10th std, music clearly took a back seat for every student, except me of course.

Guess only my mother had the guts to put me through music. In other cases, the families did not accept. Some uncle, aunt, grandmother or grandfather, brother or sister disapproved with a child in the family taking music seriously. Or maybe, it was a matter of destiny. Or like the famous quote said, "I was fine but education ruined me" and to just tinker with it a bit, "They were fine, but board exams ruined their plans". hehe. 

I somehow remember that my mother was an epitome of patience, taught the other students more concepts, taught them more than I ever had. And no I am not joking. My mother was very impatient with me if I didn't repeat a musical line the next instant. But she was painfully patient with the others. And every time she would say "Illa Kanna" "Illa ma" to explain. If she did lose her cool then one can be sure they had messed up big time with their singing.

And I also remember it was during one of these classes that I got the call to go and record at Rahman sir's studio for Kannathil Muthamittal. No one except my mother knew for the entire period between the recording of the song and its release, that I had met Rahman sir or that I had sung this song. 

My mother's experiment had come to an end by the time Kannathil Muthamittaal released. And thence began my career as a professional playback singer.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Latest in

"Unaru" in the film Traffic my Sri Samson Kottor. A solo in Malayalam after a very long time. This song moved me while I was singing it. And its lovely to hear today from Twitter that Traffic is a major hit. Always good when producers make their money. I wish they always do, but that would be in a perfect world.

A duet with Ranjith after quite a long time in the movie Guns composed by Ronnie Raphael. I love this song. "Thaaja Thaaja Kanasugalu". I quite like the way my voice has been mixed.

And another duet with Vijay Yesudas in Muthukku Muthaaga composed by Kavi Periya Thambi. "Enna Panni Tholachcha"

Realized they all released this week. Tamil Kannada and Malayalam. Quite like this :)

Untitled - 1

Days and days go by. Many a times I begin a blog. Then leave it after 3 lines. Maybe I should make a blog of all the unfinished ones. The things I thought I wanted to say. And saw words stopped mid-way. Words refused to travel the distance from my mind, through my fingers, through the keyboard, to this space. But today, I

Happened to meet my extended family after ages today and met my grandmom's younger sister. There were so many similarities and so many differences. Sitting there and observing all the myriad faces, words, attitudes, expressions its amazing how families stay together. Amazing how families decide to be together through thick and thin, tough times and happy ones. And amazing again how families decide NOT to be together. My grandmom would be quite a sport, learn a smattering of English. Proudly announce the word "Chemistry" and say "Naan Ingleeesh Katthunduttaen di!!" She figured out a way to remember images of English words and every time she looked at the cover of my text books she would say Chemistry or Biology. Ammamma was a lady, that dropped out of school at 10. Got married to my Thatha, a man who served in the Indian Army then, went to jail during the freedom movement, produced a film too, I hear though I wonder what came of it, started a printing press and did a lot of million other things, spoke immaculate English and had a bearing that I hardly find in men of today. For that matter, I found the same bearing in Mr Pattabhiraman, the late Sulochana ji's husband. In a Mr. Padmanabhan, whose son is a journalist of repute. The bearing which I rarely see in men today. Maybe it belonged to the men of that era alone. And didn't pass down with the family heirlooms.

Meeting the younger Ammamma today brought back a lot of memories. She just refused to smile at the camera. But she was amazed to see the picture as soon as it was taken on the phone. "Photo eduthuthtta dee. Gettikkaari!!" Couldn't help laughing. If only she knew the gettikaarathanam of kids wielding IPads today. She had her trademark exclamation. And blessed me with words I usually hear from people her age. And gave me very sound advice. Advice on men which is so in tune with today's 2011. In the few hours that flew, so many memories, so many words exchanged, some remained unsaid, but felt. Holding hands with the lady who is almost 90, a hold that seemed so similar to my own Ammamma's hands, but yet different. A hold that conveys a lot more than words ever could. And maybe it is not supposed to convey anything at all. Its something that is left open to interpretation. Like a blank paper - a paper that allows only beautiful things to be written on it.

A lot of times I wonder how the school-uneducated Jayam had a successful marriage of 80 years with my Thatha. How several different people could live together in a joint-family set up then. But then, I guess people just decided to do the things they did and be with the people they wanted to.

Choices that many refuse to take today. Decisions many refuse to make today. We choose to tread down paths. Attempt and succeed at creating new ones. And when its time to leave, when we look back, what would we be looking back at? Love and laughter, hate and prejudice, tears and anger, joy and contentment, friends and those who could not be friends, family and those who could not be family, friends that became family and family that ceased to be friends. Would we  only see us take ourselves at the end of it all? Or would we even be taking a 'self'? 
What are we supposed to learn from this time we spend here?

And just as I don't have answer to that question, I have no answer to What do I name this post? My eternal search for titles continues.