11.12.06

My Maharaja!

A subliminal effect was mounting into that mass of nerve tissue inside my cranium. 5:20 bus – i-pod plugged into my ears… ‘On-the-go’, loaded with a set of very special kritis from a very special singer, was performing the DJ’ing for me even as my tympanum was relishing each auditory impression that came its way. Stalwarts of the carnatic tradition often imprint their signature on certain kritis and make them their own just like Maharajapuram Santhanam made ‘Thunga theera viraajam’ his... the first song in my playlist…

I tried to pierce those foggy memories of my 6th grade days when that cartridge of magnetic ribbon inside our ‘Sanyo’ tape recorder played this voice for the first time. Those were the days when the ‘sophisticated’ stereo recorded cassettes were introduced. Appa, a connoisseur of this great classical tradition that is carnatic music, made sure that his almirah housed a rich collectible. Madurai Mani, MSS, Chembai and a host of other such exponents embellished the amplifier of that HMV record player (electric gramaphone) which appa had bought sometime during the early seventies. We still have those black vinyl record discs and the record player as well. (if someone reading this blog and who is knowledgeable about this equipment can give me pointers as to where I can get playing needles for HMV, it’ll be great.). The 80s saw the emergence of magnetic tapes and Appa started converting all these LP records into tapes. MSS, DKP, Semmangudi, Balamurali, Yesudas – the illustrious list appended one more great to itself in the form of Maharajapuram. Maharajapuram was an instant hit in our home, so much so that I remember appa buying a Maharajapuram title every fortnight or so during one particular phase - ‘Maharaja sings for you’, ‘Oothukkadu venkata subbier kritis’, ‘Mellifluous’, ‘Gracious’… Of late I’ve also been involved with the preservation act by converting these tapes to MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, mp3 in short.

‘Raaghavendraaa…’ – the beautiful strains of Maharaja’s voice were testing the higher octaves even as he effortlessly flaunted the gamakams with élan. Every now and then the captivating effect that his voice exuded pushed my follicles to stand upwards. I’ve started liking Kambhoji immensely after listening to Maharaja’s rendition of ‘Maragatha vallim’. His unique approach in aalapanai, the method of building up a raga, has, over the years, enthralled many a soul and this song – the second in my playlist and my personal pick - is a perfect showcase of this aspect of his music. Whenever I hear this piece my cousin Prabhu, who sings this so very well, comes to my mind. In fact, ours is a family of good singers and my relatives will be quick to point out that appa and periathai (my aunt) can in fact render a quick katcheri.

Saint Thyagaraja can’t stay out of action for too long and in ‘Nannu Vidachi’, like many of his compositions, he pleads for his Ramayya’s grace. Maharaja’s recital of this kriti, my third one, brought out a kind of poignancy and beauty that I felt like crying when those words “Raamayya raama.. kodhanda raamaa.. kalyaana raamaa..” flowed from his larynx like silk. “Aadaadhu ashangaadhu”, the fourth and last for my day, kept me guessing till the end… what is so appealing about this song? Is it Oothukkaadu’s words or is it Santhanam’s voice? The combination maybe! Maharajapuram infused so much life to Venkata kavi’s words that one could in fact visualize the Lord as the narration unfolded. “Un aadalai kaana thillai ambalathu iravanum than aadalai vittu inge Gokulam vandhaan” - the ultimate compliment to Lord Krishna’s dance. When he sang with that subtle anxiety in his voice “Kann pattu ponaal manam punn pattu pogume” – I was WOWed!

Maharajapuram Santhanam burst into the scene very late and his early exit meant that the music world has lost a portion of ‘genuine classicism’ from its pie. His enchanting voice that communicated profound expressions and which was further embellished with his natural melody will linger in the hearts of his rasikas forever.

Maharaja is for sure the uncrowned Maharaja of carnatic music!

24.10.06

How far would you…

D10 – I was seated alongside my pal Kartik (D9). Studio – 5 was filled to capacity with 78 other nocturnes. That irritating model (?) in the Nalli Silks ad was standing between us and Nagesh Kukunoor. After 10 minutes of agony, the censor board certificate flashed!

The first few frames, toggling between the lush green valleys of Himachal to the vast desert expanse of Rajasthan, both aesthetically captured, sets the context for the narration and introduces the main characters – Amir, Zeenat, Shankar and Meera. Himachal - Amir marries Zeenat the day before he leaves for Saudi Arabia in search of greener pastures. Rajasthan – Shankar, married to Meera, too leaves for Saudi to earn good money. Few months later, Meera receives the news that Shankar is dead and Zeenat is informed that Amir is jailed for allegedly killing Shankar and awaits death penalty very soon. Zeenat has only one option to save her husband – get a signed letter from Meera that her husband is innocent. The rest of the narration deals with how Zeenat traces Meera to get her work done.

Gul Panag and Ayesha Takia – the protagonists - play Zeenat and Meera respectively. Shreyas Talpade of Iqbal fame plays the Behroopiya while Girish Karnad plays the typical Rajasthani house head and Ayesha’s father-in-law. Nagesh Kukunoor makes that customary brief appearance as a lecherous factory owner who opens shop in Jodhpur.

“Dor” – another non-formula Kukunoor film is truly world class. The director has grown in stature right from Hyderabad blues and Rockford to Iqbal and now Dor. This intensely captivating narrative, capturing the underlying emotions in each and every frame, conglomerates with the artistic direction, fabulous photography and evocative music to present a feast to the connoisseur. The characters have done full justice to their roles and stay etched in the minds of the audience with some sterling performances. Surely Kukunoor’s best creation till date, Dor belongs to world cinema!

One noticeable thing about such films is the genuineness they bring with. Be it the portrayal of Zeenat and Meera as local women looking natural without make-up or the unceasing hooka smoking Rajasthani family head or the emotional and intense yet ‘no-senti, no-nonsense’ dialogues throughout the film, everything about this two and a half hours piece of entertainment is authentic. The Behroopiya’s imitation of movie stars, Meera’s dance steps to ‘You are my sonia’ and the three of them dancing in the dunes to ‘Kajra re’ provide some lighter moments to the otherwise serious plot but without disrupting the flow of events. Shreyas is one actor to watch out for in the years to come. The director has compensated for the zero-dialog mute Iqbal with a diametrically contrasting cast – the Behroopiya. The Behroopiya, who first entertains travelers and then cons them, has been crafted as a tool, a means to guide Zeenat to her destination. Though he cons Zeenat also at first, he later befriends her and accompanies her journey across the desert. The various guises he sports and his imitation of Bollywood with terrific ease provides justice to his characterization. But the scene when he returns home drunk and expresses his love for Zeenat was uncalled-for. Overall, Shreyas is an actor who can do serious as well as commercial cinema with equal élan. Shreyas – Dexterous!

Gul Panag looks beautiful sans make-up. The strong willed, self-assured woman that she plays, she handles her character with ease. She knows what she wants and how to get it. Her suppressed yet strong emoting in various scenes like when she hears about Amir from the external affairs ministry and when she is being pushed out by Meera’s in-laws and also during the last few closing frames add lustre to her character. But the real revelation is Ayesha Takia. I’ve never believed that Ayesha can go beyond her glamour doll image. Right from the initial frames where she plays the colourful innocent village girl to the subdued widow in dark blue robes who is being stripped of all her joy and independence, she reinforces Kukunoor’s faith in her acting abilities with a first-rate feat. Her subtle expressions when she is left alone with Shankar’s suitcase and during the closing scenes when she starts raising questions within herself about the patriarchal setup of the society around her are noteworthy. The innocence that she exudes captures the heart of the audience. Ayesha you won’t get such roles too often! You’ve made the most out of this golden opportunity. Ayesha - Award winning!

Dor is a photographer’s delight, frame by frame. The picturesque valley in Himachal in the opening scene, the lone temple in the vast expanse of sand, the panoramic view of Jodhpur painted blue – the camera work is captivating. When I first watched Hyderabad Blues, I felt as though the entire film has been shot with one damn handycam. From there, Kukunoor has traveled quite a distance. Art is another fascinating facet of Dor. Art direction doesn’t encompass constructing heavy extravagant forts or bungalows that are in no way connected with the plot. On the contrary, it involves setting up the environment for each frame in the film such that the underlying narration and screenplay is augmented or enhanced. Dor excels in doing this. Artwork – exemplary!

‘Yeh Honsla’ – my lips kept humming for the next two days. Music is an integral part of every facet of Indian culture and the film industry is no exception. Over the years, music in films has become increasingly pathetic, playing no constructive role to the plot as such, but just to add that extra bit of ‘masala’ so as to commercialise it more. So much so that very few directors today believe in using music as a tool to enhance direction and screenplay. Our director fortunately falls into this category. Two very strong songs – ‘Yeh honsla’ and ‘Kesariya baalam ’ - that add a lot of value to the undercurrent called script, coupled with an exceptional background score fortifies the director’s intentions and helps him hurl his thoughts towards the audience better. The director has also proved that one can in fact do away with two or three songs already in market (‘You are my sonia’, ‘Kajra re’ and ‘Lambi Judaai’) if these can really supplement the narration better. Music – Moving!

The director has succeeded well in putting forth his motive of depicting the strong bonding between two women both of whom have been challenged with a different yet related predicament in their lives. The poignant weaving of the sisterhood between Zeenat and Meera with a tinge of subtlety adds a magical touch to the film. The female bonding between Meera and her dead husband’s grandmother boosts the director’s cause. The curtains close with an exceptional display of the intricate softness of humanity and compassion transcending hatred and dumb societal beliefs. Kuknoor- Victorious!

Dor – aesthetic!

2.9.06

Pallaandu pallaandu....

“Archanai will be done in Tamil” I read as both of us were standing in the long queue, waiting to get a glimpse of Arjuna’s charioteer. The Parthasarathyswamy temple, Chennai’s oldest surviving temple, situated in Triplicane, once‘Thiru Alli Keni’ (‘The divine Lilly pond’ is the literal translation), has withstood the challenges that time has thrown on it for centuries, witnessing everything that has happened in Chennapatnam, Madras and Chennai. For many years a Brahmanical stranglehold, or rather a Sri Vaishnava stranglehold, Triplicane has retained its traditional charm and flavour even as modernisation has, for many years now, slowly invaded its territory. The narrow alleyways between rows of ancient Aiyangar houses and shops doesn’t seem to hinder, even a wee bit, the unceasing traffic of bikes to cars to cycles to tricycles to cows to what not. The temple is hailed as one among the 107 ‘Divyadesams’, that every follower of ‘Visishtadvaitam’ has to visit in his life so that he clears the basic entry criteria into the 108th Divyadesam which is ‘Sri Vaikuntam’ – the abode of Sri Narayana. Kartik was eagerly eyeing every single soul that passed by, hoping to have some good Saturday time pass. Triplicane lifestyle has evolved around the Parthasarathy temple over the centuries, much like how Sri Ranganathar has defined Srirangam life.

The archakars, sporting big Sri Choornams on their foreheads, were chanting Tamizh pasurams (Divya Prabandham I guess) aloud as we entered the ‘Garbha Graham’ or the Sanctum Sanctorum, where the Perumal has been installed. I have, right from my childhood, been enticed by the beauty of the ‘Thiruman’ or ‘Sri Choornam’ or ‘Naamam’. The ‘Sri Choornam’ is a mark of the Vaishnava who undergoes ‘Pancha Samskaaram’- the five tasks that the ‘Ai’yangar (Aindhu – Five in Tamizh) is entrusted with. The mark gives an intellectual look to the individual who sports it. In fact, I have, over the years, met many intellectual ‘Aiyangars’ which generates a certain kind of natural respect towards this community in me. Apart from their Vedic mastery, ‘Aiyangars’ have distinguished themselves in various fields all over the world. The ‘Thiruman’ comes in 2-3 different colours which, I learnt, signifies the ‘aachaaram’ or intensity of orthodoxy of an ‘Aiyangar’.

And I noticed that there were ‘Aiyangars’ with different levels of ‘aachaaram’ inside that mini hall in Sarojini street as well… A week earlier…

‘Sri Oppiliappan caterers’, read the badge on the white and white dress of the boy who greeted me with a ‘Fruit squash’ as I entered the mini hall. The hall was almost full, with every eye awaiting the arrival of the ‘Nichayathaartha ponnu’. I went and sat in the front seat beside a big bare bodied ‘mama’ who had tattooed the Sri Choornam all over. The ‘payyan’, a ‘US mappillai’ crossed us and the mama asked me “Is he the mappilai?”, his resounding tone enforcing authority. I nodded. Arthi had already sent the photo of her ‘would be’ through e-mail to me. There were many such bare bodied ‘mamas’ in the front rows, chatting with one another and awaiting the start of proceedings. Sitting quite and witnessing Brahmanical conversations is something that I had loved doing always. One ‘mami’ greeted another ‘mama’, anxiety written on her face: “How’s your amma? Is she doing fine now?”. The confused ‘mama’, after a brief pause, replied “No mami. That is not my amma. It was my appa who slipped down in the bathroom. He is recuperating well.” Betrothals and marriages are functions that bring a complex network of relations together and such errors are common given the fact that one is expected to remember a huge amount of multifarious information like the state of one’s ‘akka’s mattu ponnu’s appa’s health’ or ‘athai’s peran’s baarya’s delivery date’ etcetera. People meet after long gaps that they have volumes of matters to discuss and gossip upon. A set of youthful guys, the 20-25 age group, were standing near the entrance, discussing something, I guess, about the latest case study in IIM – A that one among them had worked on, or about how the repetitive yet unchallenging Infosys coding work had eroded another’s weekends… Two girls ,6-8 year olds I guess, clad in traditional ‘Paavaadai chattai’, their oiled hair adorned with ‘kunjalam’ (an ornamental embellishment meant to beautify the tresses), were competing with each other and taking turns to distribute the threaded jasmine to the ‘mamis’ in the hall. There was a sense of pride in their execution of the work that has been assigned to them. A set of ‘mamis’ were discussing a host of happenings ranging from how much of progress has one’s daughter made in her ‘paattu class’ to which stream of engineering is the state first son of another ‘mami’ would opt to how yet another ‘mami’ enjoyed the Lord’s darshanam during her recent temple trip. All these conversations are generally interspersed with examination of the pair of new diamond earrings from GRT or the new shade of ‘Pattu pudavai’ from Rangachari. The ‘Shastrigal’ announced the agreement of both the parties and the marriage date and went on to recite verses from the Vedam and Divya Prabandham. Arthi was in un-uniform (I mean Saree ;-) Courtesy: Ravi) and Srini (the US mappilai) was ‘Bhavyam’ personified. The myriad hues people were attired in, the smell of ‘Puliyodharai’ emanating from the kitchen, the ‘Aiyangar bhashai’ – everything conglomerated to give me a sense of inexplicable delight. The Aiyangar bhashai….

“paacha”, “nochu”, “rangu”, “thambu”, “varadha”… “thaligai”, “unchavruthi” - Sujatha’s ‘Sreerangathu Devadaigal’, a collection of short stories, which I had read recently, gave me a taste of ‘Aiyangar bhashai’. All short stories are set up in Srirangam, the Divyadesam that houses ‘Sri Ranganathar’ in full splendour, posing the same way he is believed to in ‘Sri Vaikuntam’. I was amazed by the author’s narration of the various facets of Srirangam in the 50s and 60s – the huge temple in the middle of the town surrounded by lanes on all sides, the Aiyangar households, their lifestyle, their unique ‘bhashai’ that has over the years faded to such an extent that there are very few Aiyangars in the Dravidian mainland who speak this slang today – all this woven as part of the larger fabric of each of his remarkable storylines. Thank you athimber for introducing me to ‘Srirangathu…’ (My athimber had culled out this compilation from desikan.com when he was in Saudi some months back.) Sujatha’s potent descriptions of the Aiyangar characters in the stories enticed me like iron filings towards a powerful horseshoe and I sat non stop for a day to complete the entire collection. The RSS movement in Srirangam, the reach of the Dakshin Bharath Hindi Prachar Sabha to places like Trichy during those times when information didn’t travel as fast as it does today, the Periyar movement and its effects in such a Brahmanical throttlehold, the various festivities of the temple and how ‘Chakkarathaazhvaar’ formed an integral part of the Srirangavaasi’s existence, the never ending gossips when people unite at places like ‘rangu’s shop’ – the sights and smells of an entirely different milieu…

I have to admit that I’ve been ferociously bitten by the ‘Aiyangar’ bug nowadays that my inspirations have come out as this piece of writing. I can write about Triplicane, Arthi’s betrothal or ‘Srirangathu…’ for the next four days non stop. But then there will be no one to read such a long piece. So I stop here.

“SrImathE RAmAnujAya Namaha”

6.8.06

Masti da Shaniwaar

“Kuch to log kahenge…” I was humming Kishore, thanks to the all-morning Hindi nostalgia, as I walked back home. I was looking at the moon. I love the sight of her shyness as she tries every now and then to hide behind the veils of nimbus. I looked at my watch.. 15 minutes for Sunday to take over… It had been a wonderful meal, thanks to Ajith. More than that it had been a superb Saturday. A very fulfilling one!

‘Sachin Ka Dhaba’ is one place in Chennai that can declare with authority that they serve ‘bona fide’ dhaba food. Might be that name they had kept has a lot to do with their class I guess:) . With every eat-out in town claiming “We serve Punjabi too” (“Naanum naan serve panren!!”) authenticity becomes the key differentiator. No wonder Shyam chose this place. After all, he is my cousin which means that I need not elaborate too much on the tastes he has. I had been to this place 3-4 times already. And the waiter, I guess, will automatically pen down “Ek Pudina Paratha aur ek Bindi Masala” the next time he sees me around. There have not been any changes to my preferences with regards to ‘Sachin ka…’. Arthi had come with Shyam in his RX135… the same RX135 that had kept Shyam ‘Lucky’ sometime back :) Ajith and Kishore joined us shortly even as I was gulping down my ‘Bhangra Pepsi’ (I was having this for the first time). I strongly oppose the fact that we Indians have got westernised in more ways than one. Rather we have ‘Indianised’ every western concept that had come our way… be it reducing the thickness of pizza crusts so that it resembles more like our dosai. (Italians must be startled to know that there are now pizzas whose thickness can give a real competition to our ‘paper roasts’!!)… be it dancing wild in Bangalore discs but to pure Daler tunes only.. be it flaunting our English in crowded MTC buses, not with undecipherable accent but with our vocabulary. The accent has always been our (read ‘awar’) very own… and be it fizzing off with cola but with all flavours of our land injected into it - ‘the Bhangra Pepsi’. And Ajith will be contributing his 0.005% in Indianising Thames too very shortly. ABN Amro’s acceptance testing requires Ajith’s presence in the UK and that is why he was treating us. All of us were happy for him.. all of us were happy that we had a wonderful meal.. he was happy for that Indigo Nation shirt (‘Split AC’ was the name of this particular series signifying the extent of coolness the shirt will provide for our body!!) we had gifted him. The tag on the shirt read “Best before 30”.

Earlier in the day… Morning 9:50... Isaiah woke me up. My friend Sankaranarayana turned Enoch increases Airtel traffic every now and then with messages from Jesus. “Fear thou not; I am with thee; be not dismayed” – Isaiah 41:10. Good thought to get out of my blanket. ‘Israel bombings; Natwar Singh and Volcker report crap; an article on Dhoni’ - there was nothing new in ‘The Hindu’. I switched on my iPod... connected it to my Sony music system… proceeded to brush. For the next two hours, Rafi, Lata, Kishore and Mukesh competed to push me into nostalgia… ‘Inhi Logon ne..’, ‘Chingaari..’, ‘Musaafir hoon yaaron..’, ‘Tere mere Milan…’, ‘Mera jeevan kora kaagaz…’ – music was flowing faster than the fastest of rapids. Before I could finish reveling in one piece, the next piece pushed me into awe. Two hours passed by… I, the gulabjamun was immersed totally in the ‘jeera’ of those classics. Timeless they are. Thank you ‘Madhava mama’!! (I was in my II year of B.E. Madhava mama, our neighbour in Tambaram gave me ‘50 years of Independence’, a compilation of evergreen classics organised into a set of 4 cds. This was when I got interested with the likes of Kishore da and Pancham da.)

When I stay at home everything is special. And the meal is no different. ‘Bisibela bath’, ‘Vadaam’, ‘Thayir pachidi’, ‘Bahaala bath’ – that list reads delicious right? After my meal it was time to train my niece Sandhya. Her ‘Vishnu Sahasra Naamam’ recitation competition is fast approaching. So too is her ‘Bhagavad Gita – VI chapter’ competition. “Atha shashtodhyaayaha… Shree Bhagavaan uvaacha: Anaashritha karmapalam…” I took a rewind to my school days even as my lips kept reciting and Sandhya repeating after me. Egmore Sanskrit school, Chinmaya vidyalaya, Ahobila mutt… I would be attending one competition or the other every Sunday. My amma’s eagerness and enthusiasm would increase every time I come home with some prize. Monday morning, the school principal would give the prize during the prayer assembly. Sri Sankara Vidyalaya had indeed given me a lot. May be I will dedicate a piece for my school in this space sometime.

Sandhya’s pronunciation is too good for her age. Her sharp and loud voice can give her that extra bit of mileage required in recitation competitions. And the speed at which this generation picks up things is amazing. Had I belonged to this generation I would’ve sat in a corner, demoralised for life!! These kids are into everything – music, sports, creativity and what not. This place has become competitive… very much competitive! Sai Charan, my nephew, is in LKG now. And he is also participating in these competitions. This essay would become very very lengthy if I start narrating about this 'awesome twosome'. So.. Sandhya and Charan! A separate essay reserved for you both!

Evening… Some good ‘Ulundhu vadai’ for tiffin. Some music again… this time from my guitar.. I was on the top floor of our apartment playing the ‘aarohanam - avarohanam’ of 'Desh' for Nanganallur to hear. I tried reproducing that guitar bit in KK’s 'Pal' for sometime. Then my mandolin class. Sir declared as I entered “I’ve scheduled a programme on the 24th of September… You are playing ‘Chinna china kannanukku…’.. solo mandolin piece…” Some quick tips ensued on tremolo. That will be quite a challenge I guess!!

As I keep writing, Sunday has already greeted me. So much more to do today also... I have this peculiar habit of smelling my right palm every now and then when I had had a real sumptuous meal. And my hand still smells pure ghee… the dhaba ghee… And my day still smells pure joy… Masti da Shaniwaar, can I say?

13.6.06

Life outside the pressure cooker..

Things were too pressurising for the past two months. I was literally sitting inside a cooker. I won't say that the work load was huge. But I had to do too many things. Filling innumerable spreadsheets, plan & track, code, test, deliver, boost team's morale, withstand every rotten egg and tomato that my boss & onsite co-ords throw... throw some back as and when you get a chance.. Well being a project lead is afterall not that simple.. 'With power comes responsibility' :)

Now that the BIG release is over. Am out of that cooker... to see more pleasant things... scribble things like these, read Bourne Identity, be with my ipod, guitar and mandolin more often.. missed tasks during the past 60 days...

Just now completed an Adv Java e-learning course and typing this aaraam se... God! Let life be like this for some more time........

12.6.06

Buddhi heena tanu jaanike… sumirow...

As I entered the hall, ‘Hanuman Chalisa’ flowed into my ears. ‘Sanskar’ was telecasting the usual 6 PM prarthana… an animated visual depicting the greatness of ‘muscular Hanuman’… real good stuff… that too amidst a dozen TV channels that telecasts nothing except Ms.Sherawat, smooches & Mr.Hashmi.. (oops! Sorry for those synonymous repetitions.)

Those animations pulled me into a flashback......

Hanuman to the rescue (adapted from Kirttivasa Ramayana)’ was the title of that comic book. Publisher: Amar Chitra Katha. It was a gift from ‘Bala athai’ (athai - Aunt). I was in III – ‘C’ then. I utter a ‘Thanks’ to her for this book till date… my first handshake with Hindu mythology. I read (read studied) that book cover to cover almost everyday… so many times that each description, each dialogue, got imprinted in my mind. I would be fast asleep and appa would ask: “What does Hanuman say when he meets the physician Sushena?” And I would spring from my bed with the answer. This was one ploy he deployed to wake me up from my otherwise lazy slumber. I soon got into action with my favourite’s costume – a mace (a branch from the neighbour’s tree), a tail (‘sanal kayiru’ - a thread made out of coconut fibre) & a monkey's mouth (no costumes needed for this!!). The bed and almirah served as my Ram & Ravan. My dialogues were adapted from ‘Hanuman to the…’ initially. As time went by and I gained more experience, I started framing my own dialogues (and situations as well!!). I still remember that evening when I stood on that writing desk laid upside down and tried jumping (like how my idol does from hilltops :)), only to end up losing some haemoglobin.

My parents recognised my inclination towards mythology instantly. Volumes of Mahabharatha and Ramayana started flowing, from ‘Bhavani book centre’, West Mambalam. ‘A comic a week’ was the scheme. I don’t know how much Aruna my elder cousin struggled explaining each line for me from a Mahabharatha volume, answering each crappy question of mine, when I was vacationing at my aunt’s house in Thambiah Reddy Road, Mambalam. I thoroughly relished reading those, book after book, competing with Shyam & Vijay, my cousins as to who will finish reading first. Bhima’ was my instant favourite. Soon I became well versed with every dynasty that had some remote connection with ‘Hastinapura’, so much that I became a ready reference for doubt-stricken Mamis. ‘How is Satyaki related to the Pandavas?’ Off runs my memory reel…. ‘Satyaki belonged to the Yadava dynasty and was devoted to Krishna. He trained under Dhrona and was a good friend of Arjuna.’ I would not stop with that. Extra information also I’d give… (freebies for the main product u can say) ‘He was one of the very few Maharathis left alive after the war.’ ‘Ambi kalakkarai po!’ – showers of praise. But there were more probing Mamas who will get into the technicalities. That drove me to learn more. ‘An ‘Akshouhini’ consists of over a lakh of infantry plus an additional one lakh elephants, horses and chariots combined.’ ‘The Pandava army comprised of 7 Akshouhinis as compared to 11 under Duryodhana..’, ‘Hanuman was the only monkey who can jump over hundred ‘Yojanas’ – a measure of distance.’ And thus grew my fascinations…

I was reading an article in ‘Young World’ some time back about how much reading as a habit has shot up among kids, thanks to the Blytons and Rowlings. Great to hear… Wait! If you try sampling a group of children, you’d find that this pie doesn’t have much space reserved for the likes of ‘Bhoorishrava’ or ‘Jarasandha’. Might be I’m wrong. Might be I’ve started thinking like an old man. But with whatever sample I have at hand, I’m right. Not many kids who are nuts about Harry Potter know about Hari Puttar. Today’s curriculum that aims at preparing kids for IIT-JEE from the I grade seldom covers moral sciences (of course barring few exceptions like Bhavan’s, Chinmaya etc.,). Inculcation of values through mythology is slowly getting phased out. There is not much emphasis on the core values of this great religion. With the last generation of knowledgeable paattis remaining and with working parents who care more about the client for whom they work for than their children, the situation sees no amelioration.

10 years down the lane… will my kids have any inclination to learn who this ascetic Veda Vyasa is or why the hell did he write such a voluminous book with an elephant's broken tusk? I am left with questions alone!

‘Rama lakhan seeta sahita...’ - as the animation piece closed with ‘Pavan putra’ tearing open His heart to reveal His Lord with Lakshmana and Sita and a pious looking Goswami Tulsidas prostrating before Him, I took a last sip of filter coffee placed on the ‘Teepoy’.

15.4.06

Radhe Krishna

The conductor shouted “Thennangur” as the three of us alighted. She also got down with her suitcase. We exchanged looks as I started casually “How long is the temple from here?”, wanting to strike a conversation with her. “Not very distant. But normally a bus will ply till the temple. Seems like it will not today given the road’s condition”. We smiled at each other. Mission accomplished! “I’ve been coming here since 1989, the year when Guruji established the temple. By His grace I’ve attended every ‘utsavam’…”. “What about your accommodation mami?”. (Mami is the Brahmin way of addressing an elderly woman.) “Since I belong to the mandali I won’t have any problems. You guys can also stay with me.” ‘Lakshmi is safe’ – we smiled again. Detailed introductions filled the next five minutes of our walk. Pallavaram to Infosys to Haridos Giri… She then directed us to the Pandurangan temple and said “Have darshan. Come to the cottage. Vishalam mami’nu kelungo. Solluva!”. ‘Vishalam Mami…’

The Lord looked awesome. I was amazed to see Tirupathi sans crowd! Yes the Lord was decorated very much like Venkatachalapathy (or Lord Venky in short) of Tirumala. There was one more difference from Tirumala in the form of Goddess Padmavathy accompanying Him in all her splendour. I learnt that the Lord Pandurangan has a distinct decoration or ‘alangaaram’ everyday. The silver ‘sannidhi’ (sanctum) door and the frescos on the wall and ceiling depicting ‘Rasleela’ and ‘Dashaavatar’ were inviting. The entrance in south Indian style and the vimanam in typical Jagannath style with a flag atop, Srikanth explained, symbolises the confluence of cultures and how the Gurus have persevered for such unification.

In the distance we could hear ‘Guru Vandanam’ already starting to fill Thennangur air thanks to some amplifiers. Lakshmi made acquaintances with ‘Subbulakshmi Mami’, another mandali member, inside the premises of ‘Sodasakshari Amman Koil’. We then followed the sound waves into the ‘Ramar Koil’, the venue for ‘Seetha Kalyanam’. Ladies on one side and the Bhagavathars on the other, music was going on full swing. The mridangist and the ‘dolak’ist (!!) were seated in the centre of the ‘not-so-big’ hall. This was the opening session, Srikanth explained, in which praise is bestowed upon the numerous saints who’ve treaded and spread Bhakthi over the ages - the trinity of Carnatic music, Kabir, Sur, Gnananda Giri, Jayadev, Brahmanand, the trinity of Namasankeerthanam, Purandara Das… - the list was illustrious. One of the bhagavahars present there identified Srikanth and rightly so for the next song… A peppy abhang and 'Srikath Infosys' had already become ‘Srikanth Bhagavathar’ in five minutes of glory. “You are too good da. I’ve never heard you sing like that”, I exclaimed even as the maroon mouthed Bhagavathars (courtesy: some vigorous pan chewing!) complimented this new singer amidst them with a nod of their heads. I smiled at Lakshmi. We were proud.

“Ungala madhiri youngsters dhaan pa engalukku venum”. Balu mama (IOB Balasubramanian) that was. Any painter who wants to create a typical Brahmin in canvas can find his ideal model in Balu mama. ‘Palichnu irundhaar!’… He was our guide to the dining room. The lunch was stupendous – the typical Brahmin way. He then led us to Guruji Namaji’s ashram. The news about the new singer in Srikanth had traveled faster than light. As we were entering the ashram, Guruji’s driver came out asking “Balu mama! I learnt that some new boy sang so well today.” Cool!!! We were introduced to a Sanyasin surrounded by devotees. Namaji he was. After Sri Haridos Giri’s ‘jalsamadhi’, Namaji had taken the reins of GA trust.

Every devotee in Thennangur uttered ‘Radhe Krishna’ to greet fellow devotees. They also displayed a ‘V’ by stretching the index and middle fingers of their right hand in typical MGR style, which I learnt, symbolises the convergence of Radha and Krishna or Jeevatma and Paramatma. The ‘Namasankirthanam’ school of thought stresses on liberation through constant chanting of the various names of God accompanied by music and dance. This, expounds the school, is the easiest way to 'mukthi' or salvation in Kali yuga. There are no restrictions on the genre of music that constitutes this form of worship - Keerthanais to Abhangs to Slokams to folk - you name it…

(previous paragraph – Courtesy: Srikanth Bhagavathar!)

We unlocked room no 104 with the key Subbulakshmi mami had given us. With zero amperes flowing and mercury ever rising, I thought of checking with the people next door and stumbled across ‘Intel mama’ and his ‘barya’ from Bangalore (their son works in Intel). ‘Intel mama’ was curiosity personified attacking me with a questionnaire that included many items that you normally don’t dare ask someone you’ve just met. The manager of accommodations, another chatty mama, joined us as the conversations lit up. The manager, going by my first impressions, can talk non-stop no-nonsense on any topic. After 20 minutes I escaped Intel mama’s room (Room no 106) to reach 104 again. ‘Current pathi kekka poi current affairs ellam kettutu varen’ I exclaimed as Laks and Srikanth giggled.

(to be contd…)

17.3.06

An apple everyday...

70 odd days since I had penned into this space… Lots of interesting things already happening in 2006… Everyday I think of writing something. And as usual my laziness takes over. But not today… this ‘Small Wonder’ has made me sit up and scribble some lines…

‘Konjam Nilavu’ has always been THE song. It has got everything. Everything. I had tested my sub-woofer and music system and my Sister’s as well with this particular song. If you cry for ‘effect’, this is the song. I always get ecstatic when I listen to this piece of Rehman. But this time I didn’t. I didn’t know how to react. Speechless I was. Ear phones into my pinna… the other side of the wire connected to iPod video!

When Srikanth plugged those white little buds into my hearing organ some ten months back I decided instantly – ‘this is MY gadget. I’ll buy one soon!’. That was a ‘Mini’. Patni and Hitachi made sure that Sathish smells some Nippon air. I made sure that he gets me one of those amazing small pieces that Apple makes everyday at some plant in China.

iPod 30GB… I’m now holding something that can hold 15000 songs! Thanks Sathish. And thanks Srikanth!

In an era when electronics eclipses its own achievements everyday, there is no place for complacency. If Bose and Sony thought that Music is THEIR sphere, they were wrong. When I read in some issue of BW a year back that iPod won the award for the best gadget design, I was not surprised. Fidelity, the measure of the quality of music, is her forte. The precision of reproduction of every detail in a music clip amazes me. She is robust. I’ve seen Srikanth handle her not so kindheartedly. I’ve even dropped her accidentally once. Function overloading is another noteworthy point. Play, Pause, Stop – you can do all with one press. Volume control, navigation and rewind/forward at the rotation of the dial. Not too many features... yet packaged perfectly. Welcome to the world of hi-fi music.

I’ve not heard ‘Hamma..’ like this before. Rehman is a genius. His orchestration inspires awe in me. And iPod brings the entire thing into your sphere of experience, undistorted. Be it bass levels or surround or the treble, you’ll love it. ‘Fanaa..’ heard though the iPod amplifiers is so different. My latest crush RDB drives me nuts. Rehman hasn’t made such extensive usage of strings till now as he has in RDB. My cochlea likes it more when the source is the bitten apple. Let me tell you ‘Bitten apples are the tastiest!’… “Khoon se kelenge holi…”… ‘Lalkaar’ and ‘Lukka Chuppi’ succeeds in raising every follicle on my skin. Words are not going to do enough justification to this creation. I tell you this is something that needs to be experienced! Simply out of the world! I remember telling Srikanth in typical Mastercard style “There are some things money can’t buy. An iPod - yes. Music - yes. The iPod experience - NO!” To everyone who read this blog I reiterate.. “There are some things money can’t buy…”

“Some dance to remember… some dance to forget…” – Boy those lines are wow! Standing outside our apartment at Nanganallur, Friday evening, street dogs, a Shiva temple and some garbage in front… Hotel California into your ears.. a different experience. I’ve not been particularly drawn towards western but those closing guitar strums makes me jealous. I’ll play those leads in my ‘Givson’ guitar one day!

Desh and Sahana sound sweeter. The Nadam that emanates from Babu’s Mridangam when KR sings Gopalakrishna Bharathi’s ‘Varugalaamo Ayya’ is inexplicable and iPod’s reproduction of the sounds does perfect justification to the artist’s skills. O.S. Arun and his rendition of ‘Baso Morey..’ captivates me and ties me into raptures. When Aruna sings ‘Unnai Allal’, I repeat “iPod.. Unnai Allal vere gathi illai!” Gone are the days when HMV gramaphones and record players (Electric version of the Gramaphone) captured some substandard recordings of stalwarts like M.D.Ramanadhan and Madurai Mani. A black magnetic plate rotates but you hear nothing much out of those amplifiers of HMV. Gone are the days when ‘good-but-not-so-great’ music from Sanyo and Philips tape recorders play Coney magnetic tapes of MS and DKP. Today is the age of digital music – crystal clear music! And iPod is all set to rule this epoch!

Worries, noise, boss and yes the doctor… A half-bitten apple everyday keeps everything away. You are left with ecstasy... full time...