Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A Concert in Indraloka

Sruti fiction

By V Shankaranarayanan

Date: 10-Aug-2024
Place: NASA Headquarters, Washington DC
Project: Historic Manned Mission to Mars

Only a few hours left for the launch of Voyager XX. The chief engineers are visibly anxious in the control room working on the last leg of the mission, a simulated trial run before the final launch of their space shuttle to Mars. The entire world is eagerly looking forward to witnessing a historic expedition, the most ambitious project in the history of mankind, a manned mission to Mars scheduled in three months. The entire team ranging from astronauts to project delegates to directors to government officials has been working relentlessly to make this happen.

Among them, is Vicky (Vignesh Ramanathan), a software architect for the launch control systems. Vicky like his other determined project-mates has been leading a life of a recluse, with hardly any contact with the outside world.

Today he looks visibly tense sipping away from his cup of black coffee from time to time. He is constantly checking the monitors to ensure all systems are working well and as planned, while in sync with his teammates for updates.

In all this commotion, he is seen periodically on clandestine phone conversations.

Date: 10-Aug-2024
Place: S’cape Corporation, NYC

Today is S’cape Corporation’s fifth anniversary. Situated along the busy hub of the New York Trade Centre, the office paints a gleeful picture. A leader in the virtual tourism business, this relatively young company comprising a small but enterprising team has enough and more reasons to feel insouciant. “Virtual Tours” that the company had launched allowed registered users to be transported to a virtual world that would allow them to see, feel and interact with the new world as if it were real. High Speed internet based on fiber optics allowed tourists from different parts of the world to share their presence and interact with one another in the same way as they would in the real world. The realistic appeal of the advertised programs made it an instant hit in the market making S’cape Corporation a major player in the area of Virtual Reality.

Sandy’s (Sandeep Ram) interest and experience in the areas of virtual reality, tele-presence, and virtual presence landed him a job as a chief design architect here. A cherished resource, he has pioneered and implemented a program that would give virtual tourists an experience of touring the Martian landscape. In some ways, this latest scenario put the firm ahead of NASA in the race to Mars.

As the team is busy putting together the final specs in place to pull together an immaculate event for their annual celebrations with the participation of who’s who, the business tycoons to the big players in the field, Sandy is strangely missing in action.

Sandy and Vicky go back a long way with one deep rooted, strong passion - Classical Music. Even with an active work life, if there was one thing that they never missed, it was singing and listening to Carnatic music. They had been drilled and soaked with almost three decades of music.

Tracing back their childhood days, when they were brought up in the same neighborhood with the grand mansions of the Railway Colony in the heart of Chennai, the boys practically grew up together. They had so much in common - their School, University, Masters were all destined to be together, probably one of the reasons they even chose to sing as a “duo”. They were great fans and devotees of their Guru Shankar Subramaniam, a peak performer those days and a legendary musician today. They were always spotted on tambura support in their guru’s concerts.

Shankar Subramaniam on the vocals, Sriram on the violin, Mahesh on the mridangam, BVG on the Khanjira was an electrifying combination during those days that the hardcore rasikas would yearn for. It was a team that gave the other performers a run for their money! As time went by, their guru like all other popular musicians preceded his name with “Kallidaikurichi” indicating his birthplace, with immense pride. Eventually Kallidaikurichi Shankar Subramaniam (KSS) became a sought after, respected name among Carnatic music aficionados.

As the duo’s careers diverged and took a huge toll on their time, their concert performances started to wane and so did their experience of listening to live kutcheris. Having achieved so much in their respective careers, they always felt a void, a longing, an unexplained feeling of incompleteness. And they knew the cause was lack of music in their lives. They hardly listened to any live concert these days, leave alone give their own performances. Even when they did perform a few years ago, it was to a meagre audience, who always considered them the NRI “NASA Scientist” or the “Chief Design Architect” who sang for a hobby in December. Some rasikas even walked up to them and remarked “A NASA scientist performing in a concert...that’s so cool!”.

However to the musically ingrained duo, a performance meant serious business. They realized that people would accept them as professional musicians only if they were seen or heard performing often. And to be a good performer, one has to have a regular tonic of listening and attending live concerts. With their unpredictable, professional commitments and the distance factor, this sounded like a dream. They were torn between music, inherent in them, and their career, which gave a sense of them professional accomplishment. Not easy, and certainly not a situation that anyone would want to be in.

It was during a casual lunch at Sangeetha’s Restaurant in Manhattan couple of years back; they laid foundation to this long-discussed project about hosting concerts virtually. When technology advancement can facilitate virtual tours, why not virtual concerts, was their reasoning. They both were focused and strong willed to make this happen. They also decided that it would be a secret project that Sandy would meticulously work on over the next two years. It was agreed that Vicky with his massive commitments would only chip in as and when required.

The artists for maiden concert were unambiguously decided, and it none other than their revered guru Shankar Subramanian (Vidwan KSS now), and his usual team of accompanying artists - the same team which saw them grow! The date would be exactly two years from now. Vidwan KSS agreed to be a part of this project after some persuasion. It would be a 1 hr concert titled “A concert in Indraloka”.

Thus was the beginning of a project that would make history in the field of Carnatic Music.

Date: 10-Aug-2024
Project: “A concert in Indraloka”

This was the day both Vicky and Sandy looked forward to, a day which had the possibility of opening up endless avenues to rediscover the hidden yearning in them. This was the day their dream project was going to take off.

Sandy had worked very hard on this with a freelance team, while trying to balance his official commitments. Just like his alter ego, he has been leading a pointed life with single-minded focus to roll this out. Though Vicky’s contribution was more on the financials than the specifics, he never skipped important project discussions or milestones. They knew that this would get done only with such commitment. They brainstormed design ideas, kept themselves abreast of the evolving technology, and even discussed finer details like the stage decor and seating arrangements.

Their involvement in the nitty-gritty was so intense that one could not but help notice their flavor even on the invitation card design that was being sent to handpicked, select group of 100 hardcore rasika representatives from all parts of the world!

A couple of hours before the project kick off, Sandy was running past the final details with his bustling team, while on parallel tele-conferences with remote team of artists on one line, and the rasikas on the other line. As he diligently runs through the checklist, he spells out clear instructions asking all of them to sign-in to the system with their head gears on, specially repeating “head gears on”.

Back in NASA headquarters, Vicky heads back right to his seat after ticking off an item on the trial run sheet. It hits him even harder now that he is not a part of this long-awaited, dream project. He quickly grabs the phone to check out on the happenings!

Sandy is running short of time now. He quickly connects Vicky to the on-going conference with a hotch potch of voices in various decibel levels. No sooner he understands the issue that the program crashes whenever the 73rd user joins, which means it can handle only upto 72 concurrent users. While fixing the issue, Vicky finds Sandy persuading the artists and the rasikas. Everyone is anxious that the “test run” was not successful.

Meanwhile, Vidwan KSS calls Sandy on his hand phone to ask “yennnamaa aachu”, and Sandy pleads for an extension of 20 minutes.

After much digging, the issue is spotted by the geeky trouble-shooting team, and is related to one looped statement which initializes the values after the 72nd loop. Sandy is caught nail biting while the adept developer fixes the code and updates the server.

Back at the NASA base, its 75 minutes before launch. The leads are in a “weather briefing” going through the latest weather reports to make sure they can go ahead with the launch. Vicky has just kicked off the Auto-Check program that will now run a complete check on all the launch systems before they go into the “ready” mode for the actual launch. This is the single most important preparatory step before the launch.

At Indraloka, the program is refreshed and the users are asked to sign in again. The first ones to login are the artists along with Sandy. What the artists see in the Virtual world stuns them. “What a magnificent sight!” exclaims Vidwan KSS. The accompanying artists nod in affirmation. They can see and communicate with each other just the way they do back stage before the concert. What a wonder, they all wonder!

Sandy, though still anxious, feels more encouraged now to take the next step. As the rasikas log in one by one, they cant help but revel in this jaw dropping experience. The beautiful auditorium akin to the court hall of kings, the lotus shaped stage; the near real images of Gods including Lord Indra himself make them “feel” heaven. A truly spectacular sight!

As the screens open up, audience who check-in to Indraloka start to appear in the auditorium. Since it’s the first experience for most of them, they are caught unawares in the virtual world. One can see only delight in each other’s faces.

And Sandy is relieved that 99 users have joined in and the system is working fine. Noticing that Nagarajan Mama is missing, he calls them at their home in Mylapore. Mama casually tells him that there is some issue with the BSNL connection that will be fixed in the next 10 minutes!

Finally, Sandy’s and Vicky’s dream is about to come true! Countdown 3-2-1 and the screens go up, to thunderous applause by the audience. Sandy welcomes the artists of the evening as well as well as the audience to the first ever virtual concert. Without much speech, he hands over the stage to the artists - a gesture that’s always appreciated by the rasikas!

Vidwan KSS begins the concert with the traditional varnam in Bhairavi followed by Vatapi Ganapatim bhajeham in Hamsadhwani. He launches a special new korvai, presenting it with immaculate precision and ease. TRS mama goes “ Bale pa, bale”. Vidwan KSS, who is by now on a roll follows it up with the main piece - Syama Sastri's Sarojadala netri in Sankarabharanam. Sankarabharanam falls into place majestically and draws several ahas from the audience. After a Bharatiyar composition set in the raga Vaasanti that brings tears to the eyes of the listeners, the legend launches into a tillana he composed in a new ragam Mayam.

The audience laps up this piece, and Sandy misses out on a few popping administrative alerts, while blissfully decoding the scale for the new ragam.

Back in NASA, the mission director has the final countdown to the launch 10,9,8,7....1. This is the moment Vicky has been looking forward to for all these years. This moment will determine whether all that toil and sleepless nights spent will ultimately bear fruit and result in the actual launch three months later. The simulated run was designed to be very close to the actual launch, and success here almost meant a cake walk during the actual launch. T-0 and the solid rocket booster is ignited and the shuttle lifts off with a massive blast. It's a clean lift off and the shuttle gains height and speed going through the separation stages in perfectly 9 min and 22.2 seconds into flight. Voyager leaves the atmosphere and reaches outer space and eventually lands in Mars. Everyone in the launch center go completely euphoric... clapping and greeting each other. Vicky just cannot believe what has happened in the last 3 hrs. Everything seems to have happened so fast and he still cant believe what happened is indeed true. The simulation run took off perfectly, which meant a close to perfect launch in 3 months.

Without further delay, he quickly gets back and logs into Indraloka.

Just then, vidwan KSS concludes the concert with the traditional mangalam. The audience goes into raptures and breaks out into a never ending applause. They give the team a standing ovation.

Back at Nagarajan Mama’s home, Pati doesn’t understand why mama is wearing a mask, and has got up all of a sudden clapping violently.

She asks Mami, “Enna ma achu ivunukku?!!”

Sandy genuinely acknowledges and thanks everyone who has been a part of this unique concert, while affirming that such concerts will become the order of the day going forward. The strong willed, tough Sandy chokes, and his voice cracks as he hopes that this concept will set a new trend in breaking distance barriers, and rediscover the artists and rasikas in many like Vicky and himself! It was an emotional moment for everyone.

An hour later, Sandy calls Vicky.

Vicky: Fill me in with the whole thing, dude.

Sandy: ‘Twas awesome da, but for that small glitch. Sankarabharanam was main. What’s with the simulated trial launch?.

Vicky: Went off well bud. Now for a small break before the biggie in 3 months! How about driving up to 24x7 Sangeetha’s for dinner?

Sandy: Long drive, but yeah sure!!!!!

3 comments:

  1. Amazing.....I am quite in the same boat ....handling the job as Deputy Controller of USAID in India; but I hope to get back to my music soon........Just that I do not have friends like this... and no one so dear to share and talk music all the free time I have ....

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  2. Nice concoction!

    From NYC to Washington DC is a long drive (4 hours or so) to have dinner at Sangeetha's. However, the duo could have a virtual dinner together in a Space Needle in IndralOkam.

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  3. Do post the signup link; we rasikas are ready to join the next Chandraloka Concert :)
    By the by is KSS the surprise artiste who is to featured in this year's virtual concert at Cleveland? :)

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