Song of Surrender

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Surreal Raga, Interrupted

By MV Swaroop

It isn’t December yet, but the music season is settling down on my life. Relatives and friends from outside Madras call me with their travel and ticketing plans, my teacher and I discuss and re-discuss his concert schedule every time we meet, there are emails in my inbox with offers for live and recorded webcasts of concerts, I find a link to this blog on my facebook feed, and the strains of a nagaswaram playing a surreal Nattaikurinji wafted through the air at a friend’s wedding.

When Vyasarpadi Kothandaraman played Nattaikurinji yesterday, oblivious to the indifferent audience, from a neglected corner of a cavernous hall, the celebratory cacophony of the wedding melted into irrelevance. I sat in a corner and found myself drowning in a deluge of beauty.

An idea is thrown into the air, a ma ga sa phrase for instance. A contemplative silence is succeeded by development of this same phrase - a sa ri ga ma ga sa. Variations on this theme come in a torrent - twisting, twirling notes coiling around one another, only to untangle themselves at the original ma ga sa. He wasn’t building a structure brick by brick; he was a painter drawing rough outlines and filling in the details with an assured hand and vibrant flair.

The alapana proceeds for a while, ten minutes, or perhaps twenty, I don’t really know. Time becomes fuzzy by now. I wonder if I should request him to play my favourite Nattaikurinji song, Ekkaalatthilum, but I don’t want to disturb him.

He starts a song I don’t recognise, and barely gets past the second sangati of the pallavi when my trance is broken by a sudden, heavy, unmindful pounding of the tavil and a loud, continuous tara sthayi sa from three nagaswarams in unison. Wagging his finger from fifty metres away, the priest has cruelly transformed the nagaswaram from a musical instrument to an alarm-like device that attracts people’s attention to the stage.

The Nattaikurinji never reaches the same heights again, and the tussle with the priest becomes the theme song of the morning. Surely there are better ways to attract people’s attention?

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