Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Feeling unseen

By MV Swaroop
I have turned to T Brinda’s music, over the years, in moments of despair and anguish, not because her music comforted or reassured me, but because it shared that sense of desperation, that longing, and revelling in that emotion, as if it were a desirable place to be. When I heard her sing Sakhi prana, I could feel her pouring her life into singing prana at the start of the song. When she sang Dharmapuri vaasudu nannu marachene (She takes some liberty by cutting the line at Dharma, and starting the next one with puri, but we can excuse that), she wailed, almost. When I first heard her sing Mosamaya in Ahiri, I didn’t sing any other raga for weeks. So, when I imagined her singing, my mind pictured emotions running riot on her face, it imagined a face, as a friend put it, “in character”, it pictured a musician consumed by her music.
And then, a year ago, I discovered this video on YouTube.

She sits there, her right hand calmly placed on her lap, staring slightly left of the camera, a slightly distant look on her face. Her saree is a dignified dark blue, nothing striking or flamboyant, draped in the most natural manner. Vegavahini, her daughter, is next to her, in a saree slightly flashier than Amma's. She looks almost bored. Without any warning or change of expression, Brindamma lets out three casual phrases that drown the listener deep in Mayamalavagowla.
Wait, I thought, when I first watched it, where is that voice coming from? She didn’t move her hands, she didn’t close her eyes, she didn’t seem to focus. Nothing. She just sang.
With befuddling ease, she launched into a sprightly Merusamana. Those near-perfect gamaka-s were all there, sometimes filling up even the smallest intervals with a startling twist, a throwaway inflection or a slight quiver; and sometimes leaving a phrase strikingly bland.
I felt that familiar melancholy, that slight longing in her voice. But I didn’t see it. She seemed so unmoved, so untouched by the beauty of her own music, it almost seemed like a still photo with an accompanying voice. I felt cheated. No one can produce music like that and remain so completely unaffected by it, I thought. It can't come so effortlessly, can it? It can't take so little out of the musician.
Maybe she isn’t unaffected by it. Perhaps the emotion is there, but I, not being as perceptive of subtlety, cannot see it. Perhaps she hides it deliberately. Perhaps the music comes from somewhere else - a place so deep within her that even the emotion takes a long time to reach her exterior. Perhaps she cried, as I did when I heard it, on some other day, when no one was looking. Perhaps she did not.


  1. Great article Swaroop. I felt the same way listening to this song. I put it down to sheer training. Singing is ultimately a day job for people like Ms. Brinda and just like anyone she has good days at work when her enthusiasm and earnestness shine through and there are middling days when it does not. But that does not mean that the nuance of her performance falls in any appreciable manner. That is what for me at least constitutes mastery or perfection.

  2. Lively and wonderful article.Beautiful picture of Brinda amma too.
    Yes,I observed that everyone in the video show no expressions.
    The tambura guy is lost,smt Veghavahini looks unintersted,Brinda amma is trying to make sense to everyone there.

  3. So beautifully written!