Monthly Archives: November 2013

Not safe anywhere?

The verdict is out now. The parents did it. Or did they? That’s what the court believes. The recent verdict in the Aarushi Talwar murder case, that rocked the nation five years back, raises even more questions than there are answers for. Shoddy investigation,  no eyewitness, trial in the media – it’s like a B-grade whodunnit that remains unsolved in the public’s mind. Yet the court has pronounced the parents guilty of murdering their only daughter. Did Aarushi get justice and are we any safer today in our homes?

Aarushi – all the television news channels flash the picture of a pretty young girl smiling at the camera. A thirteen year-old stepping into an exciting phase of her life and who by all accounts seemed a cheerful girl. The media coverage was relentless when she was murdered in a macabre fashion. Several people including a celebrity journalist was quick to lambast the mother who appeared on national television. “She was too cold, didn’t show any emotions when speaking of her daughter,” they said. If the verdict is overturned and it turns out that the parents didn’t do it, what then? Not only were the Talwars not allowed to grieve for their daughter but were convicted of the crime – once in the media and now by the court. A double whammy and of the cruellest kind. The denouement came none too quickly and only revealed how judgemental our society is.

Even as the Talwar case judgement was being anticipated and then played out, it had to share the front page with news of sexual harassment of a young journalist. The editor of a national daily, whose sting operations exposed several under-the-table shenanigans of politicos, is the accused at the center of this latest scandal. You have a fifty year old man, much revered for his candid views and zeal for justice on one side, and a young woman who worked for him, on the other side. What is wrong with this picture? It’s wrong on so many levels and once again raises the question how safe are we in our workplaces? What are we doing about safety for women?

In Bangalore, the weekend came with terrible images of a woman being attacked at an ATM in the heart of the city. The CCTV footage sent shock waves through men and women alike. Despite the early hours of the attack the sheer nature of the crime caught everyone unawares. Are we safe anywhere in public?

As a woman and a mother of young girls every one of these cases affects me at some level. Can we or should we just stop using ATMs, hesitate to step into a lift with men or not let our teen daughter out of our sight? Is this the nation we’ve become?

I know that when my teen comes back home from college today, I’m going to give her an extra hug and likely watch my phone and front door a little more anxiously.

Jonpuri – Raga Ruminations

When Tamil poet Mahakavi Bharatiyar despaired that he’d forgotten the face of his beloved (Kannan or Lord Krishna in this case) his words left a deep impression on his fans. Bharatiyar’s imagination resulted in the epic song, Aasai mugam marandhu poche in raga Jonpuri. The first time I heard the song on stage by Carnatic vocalist D.K.Jayaraman I was transfixed by the lyrics, the melody and the singer’s presentation.

Jonpuri is a melody that takes you on a jaunty ride. It’s heard in lighter classical pieces towards the end of a concert. In another popular Tamil song Eppo Varuvaro set to the same raga, the composer Gopalakrishna Bharathi describes a yearning for Lord Shiva (Nataraja) to appear before him. I cannot think of anyone but Carnatic vocalist Madurai Mani Iyer when I listen to this song and the flair with which the maestro concludes the finishing notes.

This raga has been heard in several Tamil movies. In the movie “Ashok Kumar”(1941), the actor/singer M.K.Tyagaraja Bhagavathar sings Sathva Guna Bodhan  in raga Jonpuri and the notes are similar to Eppo Varuvaro. The actors then were also trained in classical music.

The song “Inji Iduppazhagi” by Illayaraja from the  movie “Devar Magan” is loosely based on this raga.

For Hindustani music aficionados, Jonpuri belongs to the Asavari thaat. I did find traces of the raga in an old rendition by Gangubai Hangal. Do listen and let me know what you think.

For those who want details, raga Jonpuri is a derivative of the 20th Melakartha raga Natabhairavi and the notes are SR2M1PD1N2 SN2D1PM1G2R2S.

Kathanakuthuhalam – Raga Ruminations

When you hear the raga Kathanakuthuhalam, the first song that comes to mind is Raghuvamsha Sudha, a composition of Patnam Subramanyam Iyer. The song and the raga have almost become synonymous with each other. The song Raghuvamsha describes Lord Rama in different ways. Listen to Raghuvamsha sung by the legendary MS Subbalakshmi.

What’s interesting about this raga is its structure and the unexpected twists and turns while singing the notes. The quirky nature of the melody adds to the allure. The varnam by Mysore Vasudevachari in Kathanakuthuhalam is a wonderful piece – listen to the rendition by Sikkil Sisters on the flute.

As a musician and a rasika, I feel this raga is more suited for an instrument than the human voice.

The raga makes a strong impact in dance programmes when the tillana by Lalgudi Jayaraman in Kathanakuthuhalam is presented.

For those who want the technical details, Kathanakuthuhalam is a derivative (janya) of 29th Mela Raga Dheerashankarabharanam and the scale is as follows. SR2M1D2N3G3PS SN3D2PM1G3R2S

I fully expect to hear Kathanakuthuhalam in movies one of these days.

Learning life lessons – the mommy chronicles

I used to scoff at William Wordsworth’s lines ….”child is the father of man” when I read his poems in my youth. Truer words were never spoken!

As my daughters make the transition from teenage to adulthood, they constantly amaze me with their insights. Whether its dreaming big, or letting go, I get these little nuggets of life lessons from them.

If you have ever felt the empty-nest syndrome do share your experiences. I’m still having a hard time coping with it. Click here to find out why.

Click here to read my post on how I learnt to hold onto my dreams and not just stand on the sidelines.

Thodi – Raga Ruminations

Carnatic vocalist Madurai TN Seshagopalan has a long history of presenting a Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi (RTP) in Thodi at his Mylapore Fine Arts concert during the annual Chennai music festival . A RTP is an advanced musical concept presented by experienced musicians that can feature  complex swara patterns, intricate rhythmic beats,  and of course the deeply enaging lyrics of the pallavi. 

Here is a recording of TNS singing a Tamil viruttham and song in raga Thodi.
I have a vintage recording of Thaaye Yashoda by two giants in the Carnatic music field – Musiri Subramania Iyer and Madurai Mani Iyer.   Thaaye Yashodha is a Tamil composition of Oothakadu Venkatasubba Iyer that describes the interplay between Lord Krishna as a child and his mother Yashodha. Even though Musiri Subramania Iyer and Madurai Mani Iyer had different styles of singing, both made an indelible impact on the listeners when they sang this song. Musiri Iyer’s voice was high-pitched and his music stood out for its simplicity and emotive appeal. Madurai Mani Iyer’s music was full of joie de vivre and his songs were presented at a snappy  pace.
When Mani Iyer sings the phrase “kaalinil silamba konja” in the charanam or latter part of the song, the words are like a caress to my ears. The rendition echoes the meaning of the phrase which describes the anklets adorning the legs of the child Krishna. A family favourite, Mani Iyer had given a concert at my parents’ wedding reception. I grew up hearing his songs on the gramophone and tried not to cringe when my dad and uncles sang with gusto (off-key of course) along with the recording! There was never a dull moment while listening to him!
Click here to listen to Madurai Mani Iyer singing raga Thodi followed by the song Thaye Yashodhai.
For a traditional raga such as Thodi to make a successful crossover to movies says something about the producers. Watch onscreen how actress Shabana Azmi presents the same song Thaye Yashodhai in Carnatic vocalist Sudha Raghunathan’s voice (with a bit of fusion thrown in) in the movie Morning Raga.
For those listeners who like details, here is the scale for the raga – SR1G2M1PD1N2S SN2D1PM1G2R1S
With all its complexities the raga is a benchmark for students of Carnatic music. Every note, except for the two flat notes pa and sa, is suitable for gamaka (oscillation). The phrase GMDN (jeevaswaras or the notes ga, ma, dha and ni which are the essence of the raga) is used in different ways to bring out the subtle nuances of the raga. Almost every composer has dabbled in Thodi. The songs in this raga can be sung in different tempos ranging from the slow Kaddanu variki (Tyagaraja), Shri Krishnam Bhaja manasa (Dikshithar), Ninne nammi (Shyama Shastri) to the medium paced Thaaye Yashodai (Gopalakrishna Bharathi) and the rarely-heard Ramachandraya namasthe (Dikshithar). 

Even today, when a Carnatic musician presents a good Thodi, it’s like passing a litmus test.

Sama – Raga Ruminations

It’s not often that I think about what a raga makes me feel. Yet to explain to someone else the feeling of tranquillity that arises within me when I listen to raga Sama is not easy. When I’m stressed I find myself humming a few notes of the raga in my head. Raga Sama is meditative, devoid of fireworks and helps me calm down.  The raga is usually presented at a gentle pace without much fanfare and shorn of embellishments such as gamaka. The beauty of the raga is embellished by the use of long pauses and appropriate turn of phrases by experienced performers and allows the listener to easily experience the essence of this melody.

Carnatic songs in this raga include Annapurna Vishalakshi (Dikshithar), Santamu lekha (Tyagaraja), Manasa Sancharare (Sadashiva Brahmendra), Narayana Nalinayatha lochana (Papanasam Sivan).

For those of you, who like details –Raga Sama is a janya of the raga Shankarabharanam, the 29th mela (parent) raga. The scale for this raga is as follows SR2M1PD2 SD2PM1G3R2

I don’t think there is a Hindustani raga that corresponds to the raga Sama.

The best way to understand a raga is to listen to different musicians presenting it in their own inimitable style. For newbies, it serves as a basic exercise for identifying ragas.  After a while you can pinpoint the name of the raga when the first few notes waft through the air. 

Listen to Vani Jayaraman sing Manasa Sancharare in the movie Shankarabharanam.

There has been a lot of research on the therapeutic role of ragas but to me it’s simple. In the words of Carnatic great Tyagaraja from his song, Santamu lekha – “without peace of mind there is no comfort and joy.” Raga Sama makes me appreciate all the finer things in life.

Click here for a playlist that I’ve collated for the raga. Listen. Feel. Rejoice.

Sindhubhairavi – Raga Ruminations

Sindhubhairavi is a raga that appeals to a wide range of listeners from the die-hard classical fan to the casual listener. Known as Bhairavi in Hindustani music this raga is often heard in the latter part of carnatic concerts.  Music producers have used it extensively in Indian movies. Here is an example of this raga heard in the song Enna Sattham for the Tamil movie Punnagai Mannan.

How does the raga sound in Carnatic music? Listen to guitarist Prasanna playing the raga in the video below.

Several years ago a short musical video appeared on television highlighting the theme of national integration. The booming voice of Bhimsen Joshi kicked off the song. It went on to showcase other famous Indians from nearly every part of the country. The song Mile Sur Mera Tumhara presented in multiple languages also featured several musicians, actors, sportsmen and others from different fields. It was based on the raga Sindhubhairavi. To me the song appealed on several levels. It not only kindled feelings of patriotism but illustrated the diverse nature of this melody. It showed that music has no boundaries. You can see the video below.

Sindhubhairavi is considered (by many) to be a janya of the 8th Mela Hanumathodi. The reason being that it is similar to Hindustani raag Bhairavi. The scale reads as follows SR1G2M1G2PD1N2 SN2D1PM1G2R1S