Friday, 2 December 2011

A stirring Varali, a whispering mridanga

By MV Swaroop

Every now and then, at a concert, you sense that a musician has broken a barrier, that an irksome block between idea and expression has been removed, that creativity is available in a bottomless glass, and the music flows with great vivacity and freedom.
This happened to Tiruvarur Girish yesterday at Laya Madhuraa when he hit Varali’s stirring ga in the mandra sthayi, his voice strong, clear and heavy. A middling concert unexpectedly acquired deep meaning. The audience, restive until then, were arrested.
The raga alapana set up a mood perfect for Tyagaraja’s lament, Eti janmamidi ha, where the bard asks, “What sort of a life is this, Rama, where I cannot see you and talk to you at every turn?” T.K. Murthy’s mridangam punctuated these questions with a profound sort of majesty, as Girish unleashed sangati after sangati of flowing Varali in the niraval. At the end of the swaraprastara, Murthy instinctively launched into a tani avartanam, but was stopped by Girish, who said, “Oru Sankarabharanam paadi vidatumaa?”
When the tani came, at the end of a ponderous Emi neramu in Sankarabharanam, Murthy, only 87, was in his element, weaving beguiling patterns of fours and eights into complicated cycles of rhythm. Tiravarur Bhaktavatsalam, sitting at the master’s feet, kept talam in awe as Murthy reduced him (and most of the audience) to tears with his sorcery. Once, in the middle, he slipped, and laughed, and said, “I’m growing old, no? I forget everything!” B. Sivaraman, supporting him on the mridangam, finished the kanakku, drawing an enthusiastic round of “Sabhash!” from the audience.
What I loved most about Girish’s concert came after the tani. The tukkada-s weren’t “light” or ‘popular’. He sang the most sumptuous Mukhari alapana, and started the padam Ososi. When he took a long rest at namadi, Nagai Muralidharan’s purring violin, the stillness of the tara sthayi ri, that aching purity of sound, and the resounding silence of the mridangam, stopped hearts. Murthy’s mridangam came in whispers through the song – he didn’t strike it or beat it, he petted it – moving even the three cantankerous children in the hall to complete silence.
The Khamas that followed, Jaanaro, was a testament to Girish’s lineage, with the kakali and kaisiki nishada-s competing for attention in a flood of delicate phrases. It was the vibrant yin to the Mukhari’s serene yang. My teacher turned to me a couple of times, as if to ask, “Heard that?”
* * *

Earlier in the evening, N. Ramani added “Madhura Kala Bhushana” to his infinite list of titles. In an intimate speech, his close friend, Cleveland Sundaram said something that brought a smile to my face, “My sons are his students, and I am telling you... You should see how his students get along with him. They are like his best friends, almost.” That is exactly what it is like to be around Sir. He is an extraordinary musician, a legend, and a name Carnatic music will not forget. But he is so affable, he puts you at such ease, that you have to constantly tell yourself this fact to remember it.

1 comment:

  1. Well narrated Swaroop, felt like I was physically there at the concert..!