Sathguru Swamiki @ Singapore!

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From the crop of disciples that Patnam Subramanya Iyer seems to have had, Mysore Vasudevacharya and Ramanathapuram ‘’Poochi’’ Srinivasa Iyengar have indelibly carved their names in the 20th century composers’ realm of Carnatic music.

Apart from being a brilliant, versatile and visionary composer, Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar is also credited with the current format of the Carnatic ‘’cutchery’’, which was further refined and polished by his superstar disciple Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar.

What makes Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar a force to reckon with as a composer, as a vaaggeyakaara?  His creations span all types of compositions in the spectrum of Carnatic music – tana varnams – both adi and ata talas, a brilliant pada varnam in Vasantha in the slightly offbeat misra jhampa tala, kritis of all kinds – fast paced, of medium tempo, a few of them being magnum opuses imbued with reposefulness leading to almost meditation in true Muthuswami Dikshitar style, one inspired from Western music modelled on the lines of Raghuvamsa Sudha of his guru albeit with a different raga he himself created, javalis, tillanas, kavadi chindus and a ragamalika.  He doesn’t seem to have left any genre untouched!

Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar is fortunate to have his own descendants who have taken it upon themselves to pay homage to his memory and highlight the compositions that are part of the wonderful corpus he has bequeathed to the Carnatic music world.

Foremost among the current generation is R.Sreenivasan who has settled in Singapore.  His mother Padmasani Ramaseshan, was an active performing vocalist based out of Madurai till the late 1980s after which circumstances forced her to give up everything for the sake of her family.

Despite having to give up music, the blessings of the illustrious lineage of Poochi Iyengar ensured that she kept in touch with music and the musical values she had garnered through her own journey as a musician, remained with her throughout.

‘’Do you know,’’ she said to me the evening we landed in Singapore, ‘’the family considers the Todi heavy weight Sri Venkatesam akin to something much more than the evening Pooja.  After the lamps were lit in the evening, Poochi Iyengar would sit in the Pooja room and render this kriti with intense devotion.  Perumal is said to have appeared in front of him…’’

Listening to her, one got the impression that this wasn’t mere family sentiment or a hagiographical recalling of an incident deliberately created to add a dramatic element in harikatha expositions.  She stated it quietly and most matter-of-factly.

‘’Every kriti has a history – a story by itself’’, she continued and proceeded to tell me the story behind the creation of the well-known saraguna palimpa (which is common knowledge in the Carnatic music fraternity) and satbhaktiyugalga (Ananda Bhairavi).

Padmasani Mami’s enthusiasm was truly infectious and it was fascinating to listen to her account of the Poochi lineage.

Padmasani Mami – here with Harshita.

Organizing any festival involves complete dedication and commitment and Sathguru Swamiki was no exception.  Well-known SIFAS was the venue and the officials from the respected institution especially the president Vidhya Nair responded with great enthusiasm.

The audience response was highly encouraging on all the three days.  The sound system professionals of SIFAS ensured that the microphones were well-balanced in order ensuring optimal and high quality output.

The first day’s celebrations were swung into motion with the President Vidhya Nair, lighting the kuttuvilakku along with veteran S.Kasinathan and the principal of SIFAS, Shankar Rajan.  Sreeni’s mother Padmasani Ramaseshan rendered the kriti ”varam ondru tara vendum”, an evocative composition of Karaikudi Rajamani Iyengar in the raga Aarabhi, set to adi tala, as the prayer.  After delivering the welcome address, Sreeni called upon Sampath Sundararajan to highlight aspects of Poochi Iyengar, and his merit as a composer.

Vidhya Nair lights the Kuthuvilakku along with Kasinathan sir and Shankar Rajan sir. Krithiga Sreenivasan facilitates…

My concert was scheduled on the first day and I started with the super well-known varnam in Mohanam – Ninnukkori.  While it’s now mainly regarded as ”a varnam for kids or beginners” (and never mind that the likes of GNB and then later KVN have revelled in singing this varnam), as I revisited it, one thing made itself amply clear to me.  Ninnukori is a varnam that does have its own unique weight and certainly cannot be dismissed as just a beginners’ varnam.  Additionally, one remark made by Sreeni’s mother was significant – she said that Poochi Iyengar and his descendants would always, without fail, sing a few avartanas of kalpana swaras for whatever varnam they began their concert with.  Hence if one concludes with a few rounds of swaras, this adds an additional bonus to an already sparkling Ninnukkori.

Other kritis that I included were the Todi heavy weight Sri Venkatesam set to Rupaka Tala, 2-kalai, Saraguna Palimpa (Kedaragaula), Raghunatha Nannu (Swararanjani) and Neepaadumule gatiyani (Navarasakannada).

It would not be out of place here to mention how I learnt Sri Venkatesam many years ago.  It was the late Smt. Kanakam Subramanyam (wife of my revered guru Shri TRS) who suggested that I learn this from him.  She had learnt this masterpiece in her childhood in Salem and remarked on the highly unusual beginning – how the syllable ”ven” of venkatesam leaps up to the dhaivatam of the middle octave from the lower shadjam.  She had her own notation of the kriti in a beautiful handwriting…

Coming back to the concert, I was well-supported by my team which comprised of Nellai Ravindran (violin), Tripunithura Sreekanth (mridangam) and Mahesh Parameswaran (ghatam).

Concert pic – with Nellai Ravindran (violin), Tripunithura Sreekanth (mridangam) and Mahesh Parameswaran (ghatam)

Pics post concert:

 

 

The 2nd day saw V.Navaneet Krishnan, student of the one and only Palghat K.V.Narayanaswami, rendering some of his guru’s concert staple items.  Navaneet started off with the brilliant Varali varnam (set to the very unusual chatusra ata tala).  Ably support by Naveen on the violin, Navaneet’s main item was an evocative rendition of the Poochi masterpiece Paramapaavana Rama in Poorvikalyani.  True to his guru’s style Navaneet dispensed with long and involved korvais and wound up his swara segment concisely.  Subramaniam Radhakrishnan and Mahesh Parameswaran’s neat and succinct taniyavardhanam deserves special mention.

One of the highlights of Paramapaavana Rama is undoubtedly the beautiful chittaswaram, especially some of the panchama varja phrases that add their unmistakable charm.  Similarly the chittaswaram of his other magnum opus Saraguna Paalimpa is simply outstanding!  I personally have a yen for chittaswarams and naturally Poochi’s compositions are a joy to sing!

Other items of Poochi Iyengar that Navaneet included were neekelanaa (Devamanohari – again with a brilliant chittaswaram!), Samaja varada (Suddha Saveri), Satbhaktiyugalga (Ananda Bhairavi) and the tillana in Todi.  Incidentally the Todi tillana I was told, is often performed by Kalakshetra.

One highlight was Navaneet’s rendition of the popular Kapi kriti of Tyagaraja – ”intasoukhyamani”.  The addition of the bhaashaanga notes of Kapi for this kriti is attributed to Poochi Iyengar, a fact I didn’t know earlier.

V.Navaneet Krishnan with Naveen Kumar (violin), R.Subramanian (mridangam) and Mahesh Parameswaran (ghatam) and with KVN’s grandson Chandru on the tambura

The third day’s concert by talented youngster S.Harshita, a student of her father and P.B.Srirangachari, brought the three-day festival to a fulfilling closure.  Harshita rendered the Kanada ata tala varnam, Sri raghukula nidhim (Huseni), Anudinamunu (Begada) and Satguru swamiki (Ritigaula).  She sang a dwi-nada ragam, tanam and pallavi using the Mohanam varnam’s pallavi line ninnukori yunnaanura as the refrain.

Harshita in concert with Pavan Sughosh (violin), Muthu Subramanian (mridangam) and our host R.Sreenivasan (morsing)

The concerts ended around 9:30 PM, after which, all of us would troop to the nearby Sri Lakshmi Narasimhan Restaurant, Serangoon Road, for dinner.

A word or two about this rather unusual restaurant – the women who come to the tables to take orders and serve, might be our elder sisters, cousins or aunts.  Looking extremely unlike the conventional ”waitresses”, the way they take orders from each table makes us feel that we are not dining in a restaurant at all – we might be having dinner at a close relative’s place.  Moreover on the second day, after Navaneet Krishnan’s concert, we were served the Kerala ada pradaman (one of my mega favourite paayasams), as a bonus.

 

Coming to know that we were in the midst of the Sathguru Swamiki festival, they requested us to sing in front of Mahaperiyaval’s photo that adorned the billing counter in the restaurant.  Navaneet Krishnan rendered Periyasami Thooran’s Punniyam Oru Koti, with Padmasani Mami joining in with gusto.  Since it was almost closing time for the restaurant, there weren’t many diners and there was an atmosphere of calm and reposefulness with Navaneet along with Mami singing sonorously the Keeravani kriti.  The owners of the restaurant listened to the rendition in rapt attention and expressed their deep gratitude.

‘’Due to the running of the restaurant, we just don’t have the luxury to go out for these kind of events in the evening,’’ they said, delighted and touched by the impromptu rendition. ‘’So, thank you so very much!’’

For me – a unique experience!

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Office bearers of the Sri Lakshmi Narasimhan Restaurant. This was after Navaneet rendered Punniyam Oru Koti…

A word of profuse thanks to my hosts – to Subramaniam Radhakrishnan (Prasad), who incidentally was on the mridangam for Navaneet’s concert and is a student of the formidable maestro Guru Kaaraikkudi Mani, his wife Aarti and Prasad’s mother.  I was peacefully allowed to do what I liked, and this included badgering Aarti for endless cups of tea, which the latter most graciously provided me with.

Travelling outstation with fellow musicians has multiple bonuses.  We get to interact and get to know one another at a much deeper and personal level.  It’s a no brainer that discussing music makes time go SO quickly.  Sampath sir shared his experiences as a student of the one and only Madurai T.N.Sheshagopalan – it was wonderful listening to him talk about his guru.  Later in the flight, when Navaneet came and sat next to me and when we started discussing his guru KVN’s music, ragas – especially Geyahejjujji (Navaneet would know what I mean!!!) and several other musical ideas, it was quite a shock to realize that the 3 hours 45 minutes flight was coming to close as the stewardess asked us to fasten our seatbelts and prepare for landing in Singapore’s Changi airport.

With Harshita, Sampath sir, Navaneet and yours truly at Chennai International Airport

One word about the airline we travelled.  Yes, it was by the much-maligned Air India and our journeys to and fro were, I have to say, EXTREMELY comfortable!  There’s enough leg room in the aircraft, the food was excellent and the service was prompt and courteous.  Air India, it is quite evident, seems to have undergone a massive makeover, definitely for the good.  Long may it last.

In conclusion, I would say that it was an honour to participate in the first edition of ‘’Sathguru Swamiki’’.  Credit obviously goes to my Guru the one and only TRS and his blessings.  He taught me several of Poochi’s kritis including the outstanding Sri Venkatesam and Saraguna Palimpa.  While one of TRS’ early gurus was a disciple in the Poochi lineage, I was really gratified to know that Kotiswara Iyer, whose direct sishya parampara I take considerable pride in belonging to, was also a student of Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar.

Sreenivasan Ramaseshan worked very hard to make the first edition of Sathguru Swamiki a success.  Kudos to his family, especially his wife Krithiga who has been his constant support and encouragement throughout and it was so heart-warming to see her enthusiasm right from the way she received us at the airport.

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Arrival at Changi with Krithiga, Sreeni and Sampath sir’s brother in law (at the extreme right)

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On the way to Punggol – a delectable dinner by Krithiga awaits!

In conclusion, my biggest takeaway by participating in Sathguru Swamiki has ensured that Poochi Iyengar will always be an active part of my concert repertoire with me including his compositions much more often.

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Shertalai K.N.Renganatha Sharma @ Music Academy

With a high-voltage full-bench stellar team comprising:

Violin – T.K.V.Ramanujacharyulu

Mridangam – B.Harikumar

Ghatam – Trichy S.Krishnaswamy

Morsing – Srirangam Kannan

”viyadAdi bhUtakiraNE vinOdacaraNE aruNE’’

I had plenty of take-aways from this great concert yesterday.  The pièce de résistance without doubt, being the kamalAmba navAvaraNa dhyAna kriti kamalAmbikE in tODi, after an expansive alapana.  The kAlapramANam was simply exquisite – slow and unhurried, deliberate yet not meandering and most of all, the steadiness and tautness that was maintained throughout.  Renganatha Sharma’s rendition was truly meditative and it was sheer delight to listen to.  His rendition was accentuated by superb and supportive playing by veterans TKV Ramanujacharyulu and B.Harikumar.  Especially Harikumar sir when he embellished the rendition with his playing as Renganatha Sharma sang ‘’kamalAlaya tIrtha vaibhavE…’’ and stood in the taara sthaayi shadjam.  Nothing short of wow!

Niraval was done at a different place – in the charanam ‘’viyadAdi bhUtakiraNE vinOdacaraNE aruNE’’ and was as evocative as it was expansive.  For the tani, keeping an eye on the time, B.Harikumar quickly moved to the tisra nadai and his skill and experience in execution was amply evident.  Likewise with veteran Srirangam Kannan on the morsing.  Youngster Trichy Krishna who’s easily one of the best ghatam players we have today, was simply outstanding in his round.

mAhuri!

Other take-aways were the very attractive and delectable rarity – mAmava raghuvIra in the raga mAhuri.  The swara combination of the Arohana and the Avarohana ostensibly seemed like a take-off on the better known Yadukulakambhoji, but the kriti and the rendition had nothing to do with Yadukulakambhoji at all, and truly held its own.  This kriti in my opinion is a typical example of Dikshitar’s true genius to explore the unexplored, and verily striking gold in the process.  Sometimes for us musicians and rasikas, unknown ragas could seem to appear as a mish-mash of known ragas, but Mahuri didn’t seem like that; it definitely had its own identity.

These were the thoughts running in my mind as Renganatha Sharma proceeded with the rendition.  Serendipitously, as if to emphasize my thoughts and to consolidate the identity carefully built up through the kriti, Renganatha Sharma sang a few rounds of swaras for the pallavi line, to which T.K.V.Ramanujacharyulu responded with enthusiasm and aplomb.

There was this slightly elderly couple seated in the row in front of me; and it made me smile and feel good to see the gentleman immediately take out his smartphone and search for the kriti’s text online and on coming across it, showing it to his wife.  I also observed that the gentleman also searched Wikipedia for the arohanam and the avarohanam and showing that as well to his wife.  Long live such rasikas! 🙂

Purandara Dasa’s parAkumADada

Two other take-aways (actually that should be three) were the inclusion of Purandara Dasa’s parAkumADada after a quick sketch of Kharaharapriya.  This song was tuned in Kharaharapriya by my revered guru Shri T.R.Subramanyam (TRS) – his rendition of this kriti in his prime, along with expansive niraval at the line nararoLagE pAmaruDa for the album containing devarnamas will always remain etched for its truly electrifying effect.

Rasikapriya!

The second take-away was the expansive alapana of Rasikapriya.  With his voice in great form, Renganatha Sharma made full use of full-throated singing along with generous akaarams and fast phrases.  The result was a very charming and scholarly alapana.  TKV’s response was equally good, and he included a dhATu prayogam section in his alapana by jumping two notes that enormously added value overall to his alapana.  This was followed by the kriti that Rasikapriya is synonymous with – Kotiswara Iyer’s aruLSeiyya vENum ayyA.  A few rounds of swaras were also sung at the pallavi line.

Finally, the emotively expressive and rare ‘’kai viDalAmO’’ of Lakshmanan Pillai in the raga kApi set to Adi tala 2-kaLai sedately rendered, brought the concert to a close after Lalgudi’s Pahadi tillana.

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Rail-fanning Trip: Mandaveli-Park Town-Basin Bridge-Tiruvottiyur-Mandaveli

Note:  I had posted this a few weeks ago as a result of a rail-fanning trip.  For some reason, this post didn’t appear along with the rest of my blog posts and appeared alongside Home and About .  I took recourse to deleting the post and reposting.

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”Appa, I want to go on a ”new line” this time!” declared thirteen-year-old Dhananjay.  “Let’s go to Tambaram.”

“Dhananjay, there’s no point in going to Tambaram during the day!” I replied.  “I’ve told you many times that the best time to go rail-fanning on that line is either early morning or in the evening.”

”I don’t want to go to either Avadi or Villivakam like the usual”, said Dhananjay with his jaw set.

“Arreh babaa, why don’t you go to Tondiarpet then?” asked my wife.

“We’ve already BEEN there!” protested Dhananjay.

So as a compromise, we decided on Tiruvottiyur this time.  Parking my bike at Mandaveli  station (I noted and took some comfort in the fact that one of the attendants from Orissa was still working there), Dhananjay and I bought a return ticket for ourselves to Tiruvottiyur.  The MRTS journey to Park Town was pleasant as always.  On reaching the Moore Market complex, we realized with dismay that the next train on the Gudur line was not due for another hour.

”Dhananjay, what do we do?”

”Let’s wait!” he replied promptly.

”Wait?!” I exclaimed in disbelief.  ”Wait for ONE WHOLE HOUR?  Where will we wait?”

”Here.”

”Here? In this sweltering Moore Market complex?  No way!  Let’s go to on the Villivakam –  Avadi stretch,” I ended up suggesting.

This didn’t find favour with my son at all.  “No Appa, I would rather wait for the Gummidipoondi local”, he said flatly.

”How about buying a platform ticket at Central and going around some of the platforms?” I asked him.

He didn’t seem terribly enthusiastic about that either.  I think the reason for that is that we end up frequently Chennai Central quite a few times a year and hence going there didn’t present him with any novelty as far as he was concerned.

”Allright,” I conceded.  ”Why don’t we take one of the Avadi locals, go to Basin Bridge and spend some time there, till the Gummidipoondi local arrives?”

This seemed to find favour and we proceeded (rather, ran) and managed to get into the last coach of an Avadi-bound EMU as it honked and then started moving.

Alighting from the train on platform 1 at Basin Bridge, Dhananjay suggested we immediately make our way to the platform 4 which is designated for trains bound in the direction of Gudur.

The first train to give us darshanam was the Sri Sai Nagar Shirdi Chennai Express. My first impression (which remained unaltered) was that this train is definitely not one of the popular trains.  Which is obvious as it passes BSB at around 11:00 AM, it therefore would NOT be a preferred train.  (inserted note: the train was running about 90+ minutes late)  With hardly any passengers (quite a few of the sleeper coaches were empty or with just a couple of people in them), I thought the train would be a good contender for being a ghost train.

This brings me to the question – what really is the purpose of such a train?  If for instance I would want to go to Shirdi and if I needed to travel by train, definitely the best way would be to go to Pune or Daund and then take a cab or a bus.  Also, this train departs from Shirdi for Chennai at 8:25 AM, which means that one would be needlessly forced to spend a night at Shirdi for no reason, if the visit to the temple is over during the day.  Does a convoluted route through the precincts of Bangalore help to get more patronage for this train?  A moot point.  A quick look at indiarailinfo.com gives us the information that this train serves Yelahanka and Krishnarajapuram but at slightly unearthly hours of before 4:00 AM.  Does Indian Railways really expect passengers to patronize this train?  Probably – when the passengers are left with no choice.  But in the meanwhile, there definitely can be NO profit generated – I am probably making a sweeping statement here but I can say with emphasis that I for one will think ten times before I decide to travel in this train with such ridiculous and inconvenient timings.

The second train we saw was the good old Coromandel, unsurprisingly packed to capacity and beyond.  The unreserved and (to a lesser extent) the sleeper coaches in this train never fail to make me shudder.  In my opinion these coaches of the Coromandel and for that matter any of the trains bound for the eastern part of the country from Chennai, definitely give us a glimpse into what the Lahore-Amritsar trains must have looked like during the partition.  Departing from MAS at 11:15 it was a full two and a half hours behind schedule, due to the signalling system at Chennai Central developing a snag, which subsequently took a good number of hours to rectify I believe.  I came to know this the next day from the newspapers.

After the Corro had glided away slowly but surely due north, it was the turn of the Santragachi – Chennai Express to stop at BSB.  By this time, I noted that the Shirdi Chennai ghost train was trudging out towards its final destination.

The next one to stop at BSB and this time for a good thirty minutes (or even more) was the Trivandrum Chennai Superfast.  And to me it seemed as if Basin Bridge was this unfortunate train’s final destination – it showed no signs of moving!

As Dhananjay and I waited for the local to Gummidipoondi that was due at 11:44, I saw several passengers alighting from the Trivandrum Superfast and making their way towards the exit of Basin Bridge, some even stopping and asking me for directions as to where the exit was, where could one get an auto, and so on.  I didn’t blame them – to me perhaps the MOST annoying thing is for the train to stop indefinitely at BSB just before reaching MAS.  On a couple of occasions (a decade or so ago) I’ve even got down at Perambur and taken a bus home to Mylapore just to avoid getting imprisoned after Vyasarpadi and at BSB.

The Gummidipoondi local finally arrived.  We got into the vendors’ coach and seated ourselves comfortably after albeit firmly prodding a couple of supine and ostensibly asleep male passengers to sit up and make space for us.  We passed the lowly regarded Lucknow-Chennai Express standing morosely at Korukkupet.  Alighting at Tiruvottiyur, we made our way to platform 1, and settled down to wait for the return local – which was due only after about forty minutes or so.  Dhananjay wasn’t bored of course – he was given the darshanam of two goods trains (one in each direction) plus the passing through of a lone WAP7 loco on its way to the BSB yard presumably.  For my part, I settled with my notebook to write down some music notation for an upcoming recording with All India Radio on Friday.  So I wasn’t bored either – I seldom am for that matter!  Also Tiruvottiyur station I realized was much better in terms of some basic infrastructure – the station had a good supply of fans that were actually working and served up a cool breeze which was balm in the not-so-hot but extremely sultry and humid weather.  Basin Bridge on the other hand is pretty bare – no fans or anything and the weather that day was oppressive.  This is probably because BSB is just an ‘’interim’’ kind of a station I guess.

A word about the WAP7 loco which stopped at Platform 1 at Tiruvottiyur for a red signal.  I saw not without some envy a couple of people boarding the loco-pilot’s cabin and the loco resuming its journey after getting the green signal.  How did they manage to get on to the loco, I wondered?  Is it as easy to get into a loco (that too a WAP7) like that? Dhananjay’s comment later that people did ‘’foot-plating’’ made me think and I continue to think….

The return local which was announced initially to the time of 12:25 PM was rescheduled to 12:50 PM.  I don’t know if the 12:25 one was cancelled or merely rescheduled.  The train, without any surprises was packed and Dhananjay got the taste of what the Mumbai locals would be during peak hours.  Of course, there was no pushing or jostling but this was his first time in such crowded conditions.

He didn’t complain however, and even in those packed conditions, he tried his best to bend down and look out of the windows as best as he could.  The crowd obviously didn’t lessen till we alighted at the Moore Market complex and rapidly made our way back to Park Town.  As soon as we were on the platform, hurrah, the EMU for Velachery was sighted.

Travelling by the less crowded MRTS is always a pleasure and so it was a fitting final lap of a journey!

A couple of points – after the Beach-Tambaram section, the section of MAS – Avadi has a fairly good frequency of local trains.   The Chennai – Gummidpoondi section is woefully neglected by comparison.  Even the MRTS has better frequency.

Rail-fanning in the forenoon is perhaps not the best of times but it was nevertheless an enriching experience as always!

To the next rail-fanning!

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Double Decker!

Finally got an opportunity to travel by the much maligned and vilified Double Decker from Bangalore City (SBC) to Chennai Central (MAS).

Reaching SBC from where I was staying with my in-laws in Bannerghatta Road, was a bit of a separate mini-adventure that almost resulted in a photo-finish arrival at the back gate of the K.S.R.Bengaluru City station.  The cab ride took us through areas of Bangalore that were completely new to me (not that I’m ultra-familiar with the city I must admit).

“The entire Bannerghatta Road is blocked sir!’’ informed the cab driver in Tamizh as we loaded our two bags and a back-pack into the boot.

Well, so what?  We were starting sufficiently in time – and it was a Sunday afternoon so hopefully the traffic would be relatively lesser.

(Note: I realize that the above line sounds like a forerunner to us catching the train by the skin of our teeth or that we had altogether missed the train.  No such high-tension drama happened – we managed to catch the train with about five minutes to spare).

The ride to the City station took us through all the phases possible that J.P.Nagar consists of (starting from the 9th), Basavanagudi, the back lane of Lalbagh (or so it seemed) and finally New Tharagupet.  The last was particularly interesting – to me it resembled New Delhi’s Paharganj of the 1970s.  New Tharagupet seemed to be a wholesale market for pulses, lentils, groundnuts – with and without their shells, and even raisins, and dry and wet dates.  All of them piled up separately on the roads in the shape of mini-pyramids.  The most surprising part was that the traditional படி and the ஆழாக்கு seemed to be used for measure and NOT the normal metric weights!

Exiting new Tharagupet, and crawling inch-by-inch through some extremely high-tension bottlenecks near the Bangalore City Metro Station (they were re-laying parts of the roads and we know what THAT means), I realized we were passing the back gate of SBC.  I asked the cab driver to drop us at that gate itself.

‘’No sir, I will drop you at the front gate.  That will be easier for you to board the Chennai-bound trains’’.

‘’No,’’ I replied very firmly.  We had been in that cab for the past one and a half hours and I was heartily sick of the drive and the forced ’Bangalore darshan’.

‘’It will take you at least a minimum of 20 – 25 minutes before you are able to take us to the front gate.  The three of us are perfectly capable of walking across to the platforms if necessary using the foot-over-bridge.  Please drop us here.’’

And it turned out that the Double Decker was stationed at platform 6 at SBC which was just a minute’s walk from where we got down from the cab.  Talk about serendipity!

Headed by a regal WAP-7, the Double Decker departed smoothly and noiselessly on dot at its scheduled time of 14:30 hours.

The Double Decker (DD) in my opinion is surely one of the most reviled trains possible on the Indian Railways (IR).  Right from the way it’s designed (all faulty as I’ve heard), to the lack of amenities plus the constant coming and going of food-vendors which makes the air in the AC coaches stale – complaints about this train would fill the proverbial book.

During a very brief halt at Katpadi…

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • The seating definitely is a bit cramped no doubt. It *could* have been better laid out in order to give the passengers a wee bit more space.  Especially in the triple seater section, the middle passenger perhaps has it the worst if he’s seated amidst people who aren’t quite size zero.
  • However, the train, given its timings, was fast, efficient, kept good time and arrived at MAS about 5-7 minutes before time.
  • I have also heard numerous complaints about the loos being far too less for so many passengers packed into one coach but as far as I could see, people really weren’t exactly queueing up to go to the loo (my coach was full) unlike how it happens on long distance flights where people literally DO queue up. No one seems to complain then!
  • The luggage racks do pose a problem but people adjusted anyway and it was NOT as if one had to swim through various suitcases to reach one’s seat – which is the impression I got after hearing people’s opinions.
  • The AC worked very well, and to me the air didn’t seem go stale with the food vendors trying to sell cutlets, vadas, samosas and dosas. So overall it was definitely not a bad experience for me.
  • Though nothing to do with the train, one high-point in the journey was the sight of the bone-dry Palar River just before Katpadi having furiously gushing waters! This was the first time in my four+ decades of existence that I’m seeing water (and that too in copious proportions) in the Palar.

Bottomline – the Double Decker will always ensure that one is able to travel between Chennai and Bangalore – seats will mostly be available. Personally, it’s a great alternative to bus-travel (shudder) and definitely a less polluting alternative anyway. For people who keep complaining can jolly well travel by the Executive CC in the Shatabdis. You can’t eat your cake and have it.

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HFM REWIND – Music, Time & Happiness

“You should definitely join for the next webcast!’’ urged Suresh, calling specifically from Las Vegas to tell me this.

I smiled as I recalled previous interactions.  ‘’I sure will!’’

‘’I’m sure you will really enjoy it and have lots to say,’’ went on Suresh.

I was sure about the enjoyment part.  But…lots to say?

‘’Are you sure?’’ I said doubtfully.  ‘’You said Shankar is hosting it, right?  Well, he is pretty much an ocean with his encyclopaedic knowledge of Hindi Film Music.  I doubt if I will have anything much to say myself.’’

(For those who don’t know, Shankar is Suresh’s brother and I have often been taken by surprise by the siblings’ sheer depth of knowledge and especially Shankar who seems to have even the minutest of details on his fingertips.  Of course, that is what passion is all about.)

‘’Of course not!’’ Suresh was quick to respond.  ‘’Just be there – and you won’t be disappointed!’’

Suresh was right, of course.  I wasn’t disappointed – far from it.

I was delighted.

Before I proceed further, here is the link to the teaser for yesterday’s webcast:

 

‘’And that brings us to the end of today’s session on the Cloning Effect in Hindi Film Music…’’ wound up Archisman Mozumder who effectively co-hosted the webcast along with Shankar.

And I realized with a shock of pleasant surprise that 90 minutes had passed without me realizing it.  Wow!

Starting with an introduction to the selected theme, the hosts said they would be focusing this week on three pioneering HFM giants – Shankar-Jaikishan, OP Nayyar and RD Burman.  They would present how their work had been repeatedly “Cloned” during their times – underscoring the fact that each of the three was a truly a trendsetting archetypal thinker.

Presenting numerous examples, both popular and interspersed with a few not-so-well-known, Team REWIND HFM lucidly explained how other music directors took inspiration from these three.

The hosts in the beginning added the necessary disclaimer that while the subject may be ‘’cloning’’, on no account was this meant to be any disrespect to the directors who modelled some of their songs on the styles of Shankar-Jaikishan, OP Nayyar and RD Burman.

The webcast was packed with various nuggets of information.  The fact about Dattaram (intrinsically part of the Shankar-Jaikishan team) and how his style came to be known as the ‘’Datta Thekha’’ and how he incorporated this into one of the songs in the 1958 Raj Kapoor – Mala Sinha starrer Parvarish, was definitely a revelation.

Numerous other examples were demonstrated – how Madan Mohan, Roshan, Sardar Mallik, Sonik Omi, Khayyam (a *huge* surprise for me), Bappi Lahiri, Sapan Jagmohan (it was pointed out that Sapan Jagmohan was quite different from R.D.Burman’s assistant Sapan Chakravarty), Bhupen Hazarika, Hemant Bhosale (the redoubtable Asha’s son) and Jaidev have borrowed these styles.

Personally for me, the biggest surprise was the title song sung by Asha Bhosle in the film Yeh Nazdeekiyaan.  I was ready to swear it was R.D.Burman when my jaw dropped on being told that the music was by Pt. Raghunath Seth, a Hindustani Classical flautist of great repute.  I have heard Raghunath Seth’s concerts broadcasted by good old All India Radio as part of their much-awaited annual series of concerts – the Radio Sangeet Sammelan.  In my childhood, never would a Radio Sangeet Sammelan concert would be missed be it Hindustani and definitely Carnatic of course!  My father would be glued to the huge radio set all ready for the two concerts that would be broadcasted from 10:00 PM to Midnight.  On Sundays additional concerts would be from 10:00 AM to Noon.  The Radio Sangeet Sammelan fortnight during the latter half of November and the beginning of December was definitely an annual event much looked forward to.

Consequently I did initially have some difficulty in accepting that this seductive Asha number was done by Raghunath Seth!  Especially when I recall the slightly bold posters of Yeh Nazdeekiyaan featuring Marc Zuber and gorgeous Parveen Babi! 🙂  My cousin Neeraja would hum this song back then, all starry-eyed thanks to Marc Zuber’s appeal!

The webcast ended with the hosts Shankar and Archisman (affectionately he is naturally Archie to all!) introducing the rest of the Team REWIND HFM – comprising Suresh (Subramaniam Vaikuntam), K.V.Ramesh, his wife Sandhya, Subramanian Iyer and Balaji Ramachandran.

The punctually begun webcast was effectively and efficiently moderated by Shankar’s brother Suresh sitting across the world in Las Vegas.  Every effort was made to make the session smooth and as interactive as possible and happily the audience participated with great enthusiasm and gusto.  Everyone in the audience was given a chance to voice his or her feedback and some constructive suggestions were made and acknowledged.

Such a concept cannot be conceived without an overweening passion and to actually put it into action and execute it, calls for an extra high level of dedication quite different from the former.  Team REWIND HFM definitely needs to be encouraged, complimented and commended for this wonderful effort and knowing the sheer knowledge and depth of understanding and the devotion the team members have, it can be said with a great deal of satisfaction that there is a LOT to look forward to!

As Shankar and Archie said it yesterday, Hindi Film Music is truly an art form by itself.

Amen!

 

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kaddanuvAriki kaddu kaddanImOrAla nIDu!

Concert Photo – Trichur Ramachandran with M.Chandrasekharan, Thiruvaarur Bhaktavatsalam and B.S.Purushottaman

Trichur Ramachandran’s concert on Saturday, June 24th for Madhuradhwani was easily a class apart and one of the most satisfying of concerts I have heard in recent times.  The veteran had a stellar team comprising virtuosos M.Chandrasekharan on the violin, Thiruvaarur Bhaktavatsalam on the mridangam and the relatively younger star B.S.Purushottaman on the kanjira.

Ongoing whitewashing and repair works at home unfortunately ensured that I was late to the concert.  As I entered and settled myself sufficiently in the front, I realized that extensive niraval for the pallavi line marivErE dikkevvaru (Lathangi, Khanda chapu) was in full-flow.

Not without some dismay, I thought that this in all probability was the third or the fourth item in the concert.

What did I miss???

What did I miss?  Definitely a GNB composition… Was it the Gavati varnam (oh no!), perhaps a varavallabha ramana (Hamsadhvani), or nAkabhaya (Natakurinji)…

Trying to shut out such thoughts seemed impossible at first for a few minutes.  However the compelling niraval in the pallavi line drew my concentration to the concert.  Having always heard and having myself sung niraval in this kriti of Patnam Subramanya Iyer in the anupallavi line, niraval at this new place (for me) was refreshing.

Quick-fire rapid swaras followed to which M.Chandrasekharan responded with alacrity.  Trichur Ramachandran rounded off the swara segment with a short but delectable kuraippu by having the ending swara on M, P and D in succession, enhancing the interest considerably.  True to his wont, M.Chandrasekharan replied with his own imagination, proving yet again, that the maha-vidwan with an experience of eight decades (or more) behind him, is as fresh, alert, precise and agile as ever.

A brief but very attractive alapana of Begada followed and the kriti was the Muthuswami Dikshitar masterpiece tyagarajAya namastE.  For me the different pATHAntaram made the appreciation all the more keen.  My revered guru T.R.Subramanyam’s version, I realized, was quite different and as Trichur Ramachandran befittingly rendered the kriti in a calm and unhurried manner, I was taken back to the year 1990 when some of us students of TRS had had the fortune of sitting behind him as he sang the kriti at the sanctum sanctorum at Thiruvaarur.

It was evident that the kriti was very much a part of Thirvaarur Bhaktavatsalam’s musical system.  The way he played lovingly for each line especially in the charanam and in the madhyama kaalams of both the anupallavi and the charanam, accentuating the saahitya bhaavam ensured that the overall effect of the kriti was showcased in full glory.  A short swara segment at the charanam’s madhyama kala line ‘’sakalAgama mantra tantra’’ was a fitting closure.

After that involved Begada, personally for me, the bonus was the item that came next.  A very sweet raga sketch of Khamas by Trichur Ramachandran had me wondering as to what kriti it could be.  Probably sujana jeevana, but no that couldn’t be, we’ve just had a rupaka kriti, so maybe seethapathe?

Bonus – Mysore Vasudevacharya!!!

He started off in the taara sthaayi, ‘’Indiraa ramana…’’ making me sit bolt upright with delight.  Mysore Vasudevacharya!  And that too, the extremely rare and the third Khamas kriti of the peerless composer from Mysore!  Wonderful!!!

Khamas is synonymous with Mysore Vasudevacharya, thanks to brOchEvArevarurA.  If rendered in a concert either by vocalists or instrumentalists, the audience’s interest is sure to be pepped up.  A true ‘’kacchEri song’’ as my guru TRS would say.  The sheer charm, beauty and appeal of brOchEvArevarurA with its wonderful chittaswaram, remains as fresh as ever.

Vasudevacharya has composed two other kritis in Khamas plus two jAvaLis and a tillAnA.  One kriti is upEndramAsrayAmi santatam, a kriti that my guru TRS would revel in singing.  He is said to have started his concert in Tuticorin with this kriti since that day the mridangam vidwan was Tanjavur Upendran!  This was actually corroborated to me by vidwan M.A.Sundareswaran recently.

The third kriti of Vasudevacharya is indirAramaNa, also set to Adi tala.  As Trichur Ramachandran rendered the kriti and I listened enraptured, the realization yet again, what a fertile imagination and genius for composing Mysore Vasudevacharya had been endowed with.  All the three kritis of Vasudevacharya in Khamas begin on the taara sthaayi shadja and yet there isn’t an iota of similarity between any of them.  As Trichur Ramachandran ended the short kriti, I could only sigh in contentment and happiness.  Another kriti to learn!  The obsession with his creations became only stronger!

Todi – Infinite, Inexhaustive, Bountiful

A neat EmanipogaduturA in Viravasantam (a favourite of GNB and MLV) set the stage for the main item.  As Ramachandran began his Todi alapana, sitting as part of the audience I didn’t quite know what to expect.

As musicians and rasikas, we hear Todi quite often.  It’s perhaps one of the most commonly rendered ragas, so much so that a few rasikas actually feel that it could become an overdose.  I have personally had an organizer telling me before I began my concert, that if I dared to sing Todi, he would switch my mikes off !

Having said all that, the true reality is that Todi is a raga that can never EVER sound stale!  Trichur Ramachandran’s Todi was an attestation to this.

As he unravelled Todi in his presentation, it became quickly evident that this was not going to be a superficial presentation of the raga.  On proceeding to the portions above the Madhya sthaayi panchamam, a few phrases rendered with the plain gaandhaaram won spontaneous appreciation from M.Chandrasekharan.

I would like to think that that was the catalyst!  There was no looking back after that in my opinion – Trichur Ramachandran literally unleashed sanchara after sanchara, replete with plain gaandhara and nishaadam notes and took Todi to an astonishing and exalted level.  As I have written in some of my previous experiences of listening to concerts, words are truly inadequate to describe the glorious exploration of the Todi that evening and the effect it had on the audience.

As Thiruvaarur Bhaktavatsalam joined Trichur Ramachandran when the latter commenced with the scholarly kaddanuvAriki of Tyagaraja, it was evident that like the previous tyAgarAjAya namastE, this kriti is also part of the mridangam maestro’s being.  As Ramachandran executed the myriad sangatis that this kriti is replete with in all the three parts – Pallavi, Anupallavi and the Charanam, Thiruvaarur Bhaktavatsalam literally made the mridangam sing along by perfectly joining in with all the sangatis.  It was sheer delight and pleasure to listen to the veterans.

After the niraval at the customary ‘’baddu tappaka’’, and the corappu at ‘sa’ was also executed at the ¼ eduppu as the entire kriti.

Before commencing his tani, magnanimous as ever, and completely mindful of the fact that the super-senior doyen M.Chandrasekharan was in full form that evening, the artist and the rasika in Thiruvaarur Bhaktavatsalam made him deferentially request the violin ace to play the korappu segment.

M.Chandrasekharan, initially hesitated citing, ‘’nAzhi AyiDuttE’’ to which the mridangam maestro promptly responded with his broad characteristic grin, ‘’ungaLukku ellamE exempt!’’

Voila! And then we fortunate audience were treated to M.Chandrasekharan plunging into his version of Todi through swaras and korvai.

Thiruvaarur Bhaktavatsalam in his taniyaavardhanam went straight into a wonderfully executed Tisra nadai (it was nearing 9:00 PM and so he probably dispensed with the chatusra nadai) and his kuraippu with B.S.Purushottaman, when the latter responded precisely to his challenging one avartanams, half and then quarter avartanam teermanams was truly thrilling.  This thrill continued seamlessly through the entire kuraippu that finally ended with the mridangam and the kanjira exchanging just one aksharam with one another in the last segment.  The synchronization between them was marvellous – akin to an edge-of-the-seat denouement.

Post the main item, the GNB-MLV staple Kaaranam kETTu vADI (Poorvikalyani) and Muralidhara Gopala (Maand), ended the concert.

In Conclusion

To me this concert was a representation of what Kuccheris must have been a few decades ago.  It was verily the representation of another era.  However, the significant fact to be noted, as I’m sure the audience overall would have taken back with them, is that such concerts are STILL possible to be provided, savoured and talked about.   Life may have become fast; however good, aesthetic, non-fast food fare can definitely be enjoyed even today, depending upon the artists and provided it is presented well.

And most of all, provide inspiration for us.

Trichur Ramachandran’s concert for Madhuradhwani was definitely that.

 

 

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Shyama Sastri & Natakurinji

Facebook prompted me to post this as a memory. The actual fact is that Natakurinji and Syama Sastri’s Maayamma are so much part of me that I thought instead of merely posting this as a memory, why not reblog it! 🙂

Mohan Santhanam

Note: this article was published in the February 2014 issue of the bi-lingual journal Naadhabrahmam (www.naadhabrahmam.com)

Though Natakurinji is a very popular raga with instantaneous appeal, yet it isn’t characterized by a corpus of well-known kritis.  If a musician renders or plays a Chakkani Raja or an Endukupeddala or an O Rangasaayi or a Meenakshi Memudam, a reasonably knowledgeable rasika of Carnatic music would immediately identify these compositions with their respective ragas.

Natakurinji unfortunately doesn’t enjoy this luxury, so to speak.  Hence it can be said that it is a raga that has survived on its own intrinsic charm and attractiveness.  From a concert standpoint, it is more or less accepted that the more number of compositions that a musician knows in a particular raga, the better is the musician able to handle the raga in terms of raga-alapana elaboration in particular.  Examples of such ragas are all…

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