Sunday, 28 October 2012

When the planets came to a cutcheri

By MV Swaroop

Last evening, I accidentally found myself in a TM Krishna concert at the Music Academy. When I walked in, Krishna was wrapping up a languorous Kalyani alapana. But the fact that it was Kalyani, and that it was an alapana, that he was wrapping it up, and well, even that I was in a Carnatic music concert did not register immediately. The backdrop looked like outer space as imagined by a Tamil devotional serial set director on hallucinogens. The light thrown on the backdrop changed colour ever-so-subtly every now and then, as though there were occasional solar flares. Some of our solar system’s planets were pasted on the backdrop, and some were suspended from the ceiling.

Krishna sat at the centre of it all, beaming. I don’t know if he was meant to be the sun around whom these papier-mache planets revolved. I must, at this stage, reveal that there is a strong rumour that, just as it does on the surface of the sun, thermonuclear fusion occurs on some of Krishna’s flashier tops (they’re sometimes shirts, sometimes kurtas, sometimes short kurtas, and often suffer from an identity crisis) which explains their shimmering brilliance. I’m told that he sometimes drapes a contrasting shawl around himself to create a solar eclipse effect. His solitary earring is a nearby planet that becomes visible only during such an eclipse. However, yesterday, he was dressed in a staid beige shirt and veshti, perhaps in a move to underplay the solar metaphor. He also avoided another cliche -- he did not sing any of the navagraha kritis.

Krishna was flanked not only by his accompanists, two students on tamburas and two other students who were observers of some sort, he was also buried in an avalanche of advertising hoardings. Behind him, “Radiance Realty” radiated, with some other businesses proudly announcing their existence. There were two large screens on either side of the stage which had friendly messages for the audience goading them to buy a new cell phone connection, create an account on a website that gets 200000 hits a day, buy an apartment in some obscure locality that is still magically close to every conceivable amenity that a decent urban lifestyle would require.

Each seat was provided with a bagful of advertising pamphlets and a bottle of Bisleri water. I wonder if Bisleri was also a sponsor. The lobby looked like a trade fair, the outer walls of the Academy were decked up like a Pondy Bazaar shop. The volunteers had all sorts of logos on their shirts. It seemed incongruous that Krishna was still singing a chaste Srinathadi Guruguho seated amidst all this promotional carpet-bombing.

But then I thought, Virat Kohli can bat -- and we can watch him bat -- when every inch of the stadium and one-third of our television set are covered with advertising. So, surely Krishna can sing, and we can focus on what he has to offer. The difference, one would argue, like Ed Smith so eloquently did on ESPNcricinfo recently, is that sport is not art. And that art is harder to enjoy amidst commercialisation.

But then rock concerts usually have a sponsorship overdose, and the backdrops are hogged by all sorts of sponsors. No one complains of advertising coming in the way of enjoyment of art there, do they? Is the difference, then, because of the solemnity associated with a classical art? Would consumers of western classical music or ballet be equally miffed by something like this?

The concert was good, but nowhere near any of the artistes’ best. Krishna himself was uninspired, and Shriramkumar seemed to be going through the motions. The Mayamalavagowla yawned along, a Yadukulakambhoji lacked smoothness and bite. Krishna sang his usual long, winding niraval in Bhairavi that generated generous applause, but it was still a way off the kind of musical insight he has shown in the past. Shriramkumar’s composition in Bhairavi was the high point, really, for the lyrics and the music did convey delightfully wide-eyed wonderment at the natural universe around him. Pity it was rendered in the most artificial setting.

The percussion support from KV Prasad, BS Purushottam and N Guruprasad—all top-class performers—was merely steady. Their tani avartanam was in fact unusually cluttered; they are all known for the cleanest strokes.

Did the setting have a role to play in the concert turning out like this? Or was it just an off-day?

Some of the best Carnatic music concerts I’ve heard have been, funnily enough, at run down venues. Distractions at these venues are not from advertising, but from amplification systems being possessed by sundry spirits, fans groaning from the boredom caused by their monotony, sabha secretaries whose speeches rival the main raga in their vastness, and audiences who remind you time and again that their souls are stuck in concerts they heard decades ago. In fact, one of the best TM Krishna concerts I have ever heard was at Odakathoor Mutt in Bangalore. There, on the best of days, the sound system is only passable, armies of mosquitoes make regular visits for bloody feasts and the audience mill around as if they are at a wedding. Many students of N. Ramani will agree that his best concerts in recent times have been at the Astika Samajam in Thiruvanmiyur, in a hall whose ambience is unsuitable for almost any kind of cultural activity.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we should ensure that venues remain dilapidated. I’m only saying that we are so used to all these things that they don’t come in the way of our musical enjoyment anymore. Who knows, one day we may even learn to ignore ambient solar systems and flashy advertisements!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Oli Chamber Concert

By Vivadi

Alamelu Mani

Organising the Oli concerts has thrown up peculiar challenges for the team. At Alamelu Mani’s concert, we needed to find an electronic tambura after reaching the venue. The artistes’ box was on its way from Kalakshetra Colony with musician Aruna Ranganathan, who was stuck in the cruellest of traffic jams in Adyar. While the Oli Team was stumped by this problem, Padma Shankar, the violinist for the day, led a running expedition to a nearby musician’s house from where one was sourced. The concert, as usual, began on time.

Alamelu Mani’s was the third out of the last four Oli concerts to start with the Kedaragowla varnam, after Vijay Siva and OS Thiagarajan, but we did not mind, for they brought different flavours to the same composition. The warmth Mrs Mani breathed into the tarasthayi rishabham in the last chittaswaram was a glowing start to what would unfold into a lovely concert.

After a bustling Saraseeruhasanapriye in Nattai, she launched into the rarely heard Sri Manini Manohara in Poornashadjam, with its lilting use of the double kaishiki nisadam. This was followed by an expansive Vasanta alapana that still revelled in minutiae. Sangati-s were woven around one or two notes, often going back and forth between them in various gamaka glides that changed shades with each sangati. Yet again, Subbaraya Sastry’s Sri Kamakshi was a pleasant surprise. The kriti is a treatise on the raga, and the swara-sahityam, true to the Sastry tradition, was pure genius.

After the concert, Alamelu Mani said, “Brindamma used to say that when the Sastry compositions come with a swara-sahityam, there is no need to sing any swaraprastaram for it. Whatever ideas there can be, have been covered by the composer.” After listening to her sing Sri Kamakshi, it would be hard to argue with that statement.

The main raga for the concert was Bhairavi. Yet again, the artist’s ultimate comprehension of the spiritual nucleus of the raga came to the fore as she went almost note by note developing the raga with precise phrases, peppered with expressive silences and stirring karvais. Padma was clearly influenced by the kind of sangati-s the senior vocalist sang, as she built on those themes, and created what looked like an image of Alamelu Mani’s alapana seen through a convex mirror. It is a testament to her ability that she can so spontaneously morph into the main artiste’s image, anticipating and understanding every single nuance, all the while keeping a little smile on her face. The composition chosen, again, from left field, was Swati Tirunal’s Palaya deva deva.

The Oli team does not choose the accompanists; we leave it to the main artistes. The fact that six different artistes of varied styles from K. Gayatri to Alamelu Mani have asked B. Ganapathyraman to play for them is a testament to his vidwat, and to how comfortable he makes the artistes feel on stage, both with his expert accompaniment and his disposition. The tani at this concert, for instance, was perfect for the way Alamelu Mani and Padma Shankar developed their niraval and swarams -- building on similar ideas and patterns. Another day, another artiste, and the tani would definitely have taken a wholly different flavour.

After the tani, came an almost dreamy Niddirayil Soppanattil in Pantuvarali, the raga’s reflective dhaivatam and rishabham and the sentimental pratimadhyamam bringing out the nayika’s distress beautifully.

There were murmurs before, during and after the concert that Oli should have made an exception and introduced amplification for this concert. The team considered it, and debated it at length -- one of the team even being in favour of introducing microphones. But we decided to stick to our founding principle, our USP, if you like, and kept the concert amplification free. Yes, it required closer listening to pick up on all the nuances -- and those nuances are aplenty in the Brindabani. One of the aims of the Oli movement was to encourage more intense listening, and if that means more concentration and more silence from the audience, we think we have achieved something.

Sami dayajuda - Kedaragaula - Adi – Tiruvotriyur Tyagayyer
Sarasiruhasanapriye – Nattai – Adi – Patnam Subramania Iyer
Sri mani ni manohara – Poornashadjam – Adi – Tyagaraja
Sri Kamakshi Katakshi - Vasanta –Adi – Subbaraya Sastry
Mamavaminakshi - Varali – Misrachapu – Muttuswami Dikshitar
Parvatininnu - Kalgada – Adi – Syama Sastry
Evaricichira – Madhyamavati - Adi - Tyagaraja
Palaya deva devagopala - Bhairavi – Adi – Swati Tirunal
Yalapadare - Begada - Tisratriputa - Kshetragna
Nittiraiyil soppanattil – Pantuvarali – Adi – Ghanam Krishna Iyer
Samayamiderara – Behag - Rupakam – Patnam Subramanya Iyer
Kadimodi - Saranga - Tiruppugazh - Arunagirinathar
Ni namarupamulaku - Saurashtram - Adi - Tyagaraja

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Ragas and me

By V Ramnarayan

The first song I learnt in Todi was the varnam Eranapai, which my sister and cousin had to sing over and over again until their teacher, the pattu vadyar who came home, nodded his approval. Kalyani was of course Kamalambam bhajare in my mother’s lovely voice, as she sat before the family deities on Friday evenings.

Soon I learnt to recognise Hindolam through Bhajare Gopalam, and its Hindustani equivalent Malkauns through Man tarpat, the Mohammad Rafi song from Baiju Bawra. Chalamelara in Margahindolam was a favourite as Amma sang it regularly, but I did not know the name of the raga then, nor did I know that Vijayambike was in Vijayanagari, though I knew both songs backwards. I was all of nine or ten. I knew of Tyagaraja and Dikshitar, because Tyagaraja signed his songs with his name and Dikshitar gave away the name of the raga within the song (Guruguha did not enter my consciousness yet), but Syama Sastri and other composers were strangers to me still.

I knew Mohanam and Bhairavi through varnams in the ragas, and Hamsadhwani by Vatapi Ganapatim bhaje, but also a strange assortment of compositions in Ramanannu brovara (but had no idea it was in Harikambhoji), Munnu Ravana (I knew it was Todi, because I already knew the varnam), Saranam, saranam (I knew it was Asaveri, and could vaguely identify songs in that raga on the rare occasions I heard them in concert or on the radio, Sangeeta gnanamu in Dhanyasi and Sarasijanabha sodari (I could recognize both ragas thanks to these two songs; they made such a strong aural impression that a couple of years ago I was able to correct a senior vidwan who mistook a Nagagandhari alapana for an exploration of Jaunpuri during a concert, purely on the basis of my memory).

I knew some other ragas, too, but on the basis of film songs, not necessarily of the uplifting kind. For instance, I recognized Arabhi from Erikkarai mele poravale pennmayile, Suddhadhanyasi from Brindavanamum Nandakumaranum and Shanmukhapriya from another film song I cannot recall right away now.

I also managed to learn ragas like Surati and Chenchurutti through some Tiruppavai songs my periappa Sundaresan tuned for us youngsters to learn for a competition at the Balasubramania Swami temple at Teynampet. Eventhough the field was not very competitive, I managed to do badly, thanks to a violent attack of nerves.

The famous ragamalika Bhavayami Raghuramam was doing the concert rounds in the 1960s when I was entering college. I was always drawn to the Nattaikurinji segment of the song, but for years did not even know the name of the raga, and even after learning it, tended to forget it all the time—somewhat like a besotted young man unable to recall the face of the object of his affections. Whenever I heard the raga again, I was always reminded of the words Dinakaranvaya tilakam while struggling to recall the raga’s name.

Surprisingly I could tell Anandabhairavi and Reetigaula apart without much effort unlike some of my more knowledgeable friends, but Purvikalyani and Pantuvarali always posed a few problems, as did a whole host of Shanmukhapriya-like ragas. Latangi and Kiravani, I was glad to learn, can stump at least one famous musician—by his own admission.

Just in case I have impressed the reader by the use of the past tense in the foregoing paragraphs, let me confess: I still practise good old hit and miss when it comes to raga identification, but happily, I can enjoy any raga, lose myself in any raga, even if I can’t put a name to it. There are few that I dislike, in fact none, thanks to the sheer beauty of raga music and the marvellous way good musicians treat ragas. Listening to lec-dems on ragas, ragalakshana and ragabhava by the likes of R Vedavalli, RK Shriramkumar and Sriram Parasuram has enhanced the raganubhava severalfold for me.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Oli Chamber Concert

By Vivadi

OS Thiagarajan
When OS Thiagarajan sang three phrases of Kedaragowla to start his concert, each phrase, short, simple and stylish at once, oozing the raga’s essence, we knew he meant business. The Kedaragowla varnam was followed by another businesslike Hamsadhwani, laced with a spicy swaraprastaram. The swara designs—as they were throughout the concert—were intelligent without being clever, perfectly interlocking within the scheme of the raga and the kriti without sounding planned, and rendered with a spontaneous ease that belied their knottiness.

On the best of days, Athana is a ragam that defies clear definition. Musicians over the years have relied as much on lakshya as lakshana to bring out its flavours, for its lakshana is elusive and, perhaps, continuously evolving. Thiagarajan’s swarams for Narada gana lola, thriving on the raga’s eccentric nishadam and its relationship with the dhaivatam, panchamam, shadjam and rishabham, found that lakshya core. S. Varadarajan’s responses on the violin—shadowing the kriti, improvising sangatis, jamming on the swaras, probing the vocalist’s ideas—were thrilling.
A peer often understands an artiste’s art better than a rasika. When N. Ramani, who was supposed to play on this day but could not due to illness, asked the Oli Team to invite OS Thiagarajan, he specifically requested Thiagarajan to sing Ekamresa in Shanmukhapriya. “His Shanmukhapriya is special,” Ramani told us. And he was right. Thiagarajan invested the raga with abundant rakti. Spinning a raga alapana as if it were a story of the journey of the panchamam through Shanmukhapriya’s contours, he sang with verve, simmering intensity and imagination.
Mysore Vasudevarcharya’s Sankari in Pantuvarali was an exercise in saukhyam—a word for which there seems to be no exact English equivalent. Arun Prakash’s ideas while following Misrachapu talam can be special, and when he played for the niraval, Thiagarajan and Varadarajan seemed to be feeding off his rhythmic patterns, developing them into round after round of measured fireworks. The connection—perhaps subconscious—between the raga and the patterns Arun Prakash uses to underline it, was revealed by a close scrutiny of his playing for Athana, Hamsadhwani, Shanmukhapriya, and the Kharaharapriya that followed.
The concert until this point was a build-up to a grand Kharaharapriya. Toying with the raga’s many shadja-panchama intervals—like the shadjam and the panchamam, the rishabham and the dhaivatam, the gandharam and the nishadam, the madhyamam and the shadjam, the panchamam and the rishabham—Thiagarajan made the alapana a sumptuous feast. Varadarajan, in complete command of the emotional core of the ragam, provided a response brimming with emotion. Fittingly, the composition chosen was Tyagaraja’s Mitri bhagyamu. After all, it was the bard who shaped Kharaharapriya’s distinctive identity.
When he accepted to sing for Oli, Thiagarajan admitted that he had never sung without amplification, and that he would take this as a challenge. If this was a challenge for him, it didn’t show. He sang with such effortlessness—his voice didn’t strain in the tara sthayi, or struggle to be heard in the mandhra sthayi either—that the audience did not miss the microphone one bit. It was a supreme performance by a master who, we feel, is a little underrated.
Varnam - Kedaragowla - Adi - Tiruvotriyur Tyagayyar
Pahi pahi - Hamsadhwani - Rupakam - Chidambara Bharati
Narada gana lola - Athana - Rupakam - Tyagaraja
Ekamresa - Shanmukhapriya - Adi - Muthuswami Dikshitar
Sankari - Pantuvarali - Misrachapu - Mysore Vasudevacharya
Mitri bhagyamu - Kharaharapriya - Adi - Tyagaraja
Viruttam - Sahana
Vandanamu - Sahana - Adi - Tyagaraja
Naadupai - Madhyamavati - Khandachapu - Tyagaraja
Mangalam - Sourashtra - Adi- Tyagaraja

Remembering Pattabhi Raman


Sruti enters its 30th year in the same month as its founder-editor Dr N Pattabhi Raman’s 80th birth anniversary. To salute his memory, we are happy to announce a three-day programme (19-21 October) celebrating our cultural heritage.  During the occasion, Sruti will be honouring two outstanding individuals in Natyacharya K Kalyanasundaram and Vidushi Suguna Purushottaman respectively with the E Krishna Iyer Medal and the Vellore Gopalachariar Award. The event will take place at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mylapore, Chennai.  All are cordially invited to attend.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi

Keynote address at Sruti awards function
80th Birth Anniversary of N Pattabhi Raman, 30th year of Sruti, Chennai, October 20, 2012
Sruti is 30.
It reads like it could be a hundred. It has the freshness of that which is young and the mellowness of that which has known ageing. It is a shoot, a twig born with a respect-inspiring coat of an agate’s moss or grey-green lichen. It is a panchaloha icon fresh from the casting fires at Swamimalai but with a patina already filming it. It is a new image, just printed, just minted but with a natural sepia giving it the distinction of age.
Of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, it used to be said, he was born old.

Likewise, of Rajaji that he must have attended school already equipped with a walking stick and dark glasses.
Those remarks were not, nor is mine about Sruti, meant to be ageist; they are just so.

Some are born wise, their minds developed beyond their brains.

And they become wiser and wiser.
Sri N Pattabhi Raman came into this world eighty years ago with the seed-pearl of musical appreciation already firm and growing in the oyster-clasp of his brain. In today’s lingua technologica we might  say Pattabhi Raman was born with a fully loaded microchip embedded in his mind. Loaded not with the raga-s of Carnatic music, not with musical phrases nor textual ones but with the striations of musical encounters already pre-drawn and waiting for Time to but ink them. And so in a sense, Sruti was born with him.

We are celebrating Sruti30 in Pattabhi80 and all of Pattabhi80 in Sruti’s 30.

We are celebrating the fluxion of concept and design, imagination and accomplishment. We are celebrating an idea in its progression from seed to a canopied tree in one organic continuum.

Sruti will therefore remain fresh even when it turns , chronologically, 80 and  100.
It will also, let us not forget, continue to be regarded as a very Senior Citizen of the world of journals though it is far from that condition. Sruti is therefore young and old, fresh and ancient, its veins gnarled, its blood new.
It has the dilemma of being young and sounding old, being new and seeming ancient. It wants to be neither, of course. It wants to be fair and objective if also frank and forthright.  But when have those lofty aims been reciprocated with understanding? Sruti’s comments can and will be taken by senior vidvan-s as cavilling, by yet-to-be-senior vidvan-s as carping. It can and will be  thought of as presumptuous by the old, patronizing by the young. Its comments, if appreciative can and will be thought of as being uncritical, if critical as being ungenerous. Its evaluations if not all-praise can and will be seen as catching at small faults  (carp) or as making trifling objections (cavil).
And it will always be obliged to, expected to, asked to balance between vocal musicians and instrumental musicians, between the main artist and the accompanying artist, between Carnatic and Hindustani music and – why not –  between Indian and western music, between the art and the craft of music, between the users and the makers of musical instruments, between music and dance, theory and practice, rasa and rasika, why, between rasika and rasika, the true rasika and the philistine, the expert and the dilettante, the serious and the superficial, the digger and the dabbler, the knower and the pretender, the self-effacing svara-palakas-s of Carnatic music and its  self-esteeming  dvara-palaka-s.
Sruti will want to be true to itself and false to none, but it can and will run the risk of having to defend itself and offend many. The ‘many’ include not just practicing artists but practicing connoisseurs as well, each of whom has clear preferences, predispositions, even prejudices. And yet Sruti cannot be in the business of being all things to everyone. It has a mandate and that is to hear and see with discernment and reflect that judiciously though not judgmentally.  Felicitously, its chosen niche is not some random corner formed by the accidental coming together of walls but a recognized recess, a grotto, if you like, on a great flank of aesthetics, with a well-defined grammar, syntax and vocabulary of its own. Sruti therefore works in a glyptography in which the channels and flutings, each mark, is carefully sculpted or carved. Sruti in other words does not work in a vacuum. It works out of a code, allowing for the subjectivisms of individual appreciation and the autonomy of individual anubhavam.  In Sruti’s discriminating readership lies Sruti’s greatest strength. ‘Iti sruteh’ or ‘Iti srutih’ (‘So says a sacred text’) is how the journal’s comments are taken by its readers.
All this requires Sruti, especially in a major anniversary year, to re-evaluate its identity, ask of itself what Ramana Maharishi proposed to persistent querists – ‘Naan yaar?’ Am I a journal to be read under a library desk’s lamp or a magazine of  thirty-two highly readable sheets double-stapled neatly at the infold to be  savoured after a meal, mukhete tambulam ?
Am I meant for research or for recreation ? Am I a critical review or a kutcheri guide ? Am I impossible to pick up or impossible to put down? Impossible to preserve or impossible to throw away ?

Am I a time-pass or a keep-sake ? Am I so serious as not to manage a smile, provoke a laugh especially at myself? Am I touchy ? Am I, dare I say it, scared?
Whatever be the several answers to these, I am sure that in the name of  greater accessibility,  Sruti will never dumb-down. Let reader-discrimination climb, even heave itself up, but Sruti stay on the high perch the late N.Pattabhi Raman placed it on, K V Ramanathan kept firm on and Ram preserves on.  

Pattabhi may not have been the easiest of persons to get on with. Sruti cannot, should not, I believe, and will never be a facile publication. One should not have to get on with Sruti. One should need, value, savour Sruti. I would suggest that it considers reducing its frequency. That will release the pressure on its makers.  Sruti should live in the hour, not the minute.
For one as illiterate in classical music as I, Sruti’s discussions on a particular raga being a janya of a particular mela or not ricochet. But Sruti is not meant for the likes of me. It is meant for the kind of people that are gathered in this hall. I can see the vital importance of rarefied discussions to Sruti’s scheme,  such as those on D1 and D2 in a particular raga and composition. No journal other than Sruti that I know of, can combine so recondite a theme with so fluent a discussion on it as successfully as Sruti does. In which journal other than Sruti  can we read one of the world’s most acknowledged experts on rivers, Ramaswami Iyer, on the hits and misses of a particular rendering in Carnatic music? 
For  me, it is a joy no less than an education to read Sruti’s personality profiles, invariably triggered by an anniversary.
The issue on the late Ramnad Krishnan, recently, and the one on Vidvan Sanjay Subrahmanyan were treats, no less. I have not had the privilege of hearing Semmangudi Srinivasier speak, say, on M D Ramanathan but reading Vidvan T M Krishna’s moving tribute to Vidvan Sanjay Subrahmanyan was a marvellous experience. Only Sruti could have made that possible.
Nothing less can be expected of a journal which, in the post-Pattabhi Raman phase  has had Sri K V Ramanathan guide it and which now has the benefit of V Ramnarayan’s sensitive and energetic  editorship. Sruti is frequently about the past, the living past, for the present, the pulsating present.
But let us be aware of the fact that each issue of Sruti  time-capsules the past and the present for the future. Each issue is an archive-in-the-making.  Each issue, like Pattabhi Raman, is born senior, born wise. Each issue opens a pair of new eyes upon an old, if not ancient, sight.
At times when about the only classical legacy that survives and in fact thrives in India is its classical music along with its classical dance forms, Sruti  is a flagship journal. May it hie strong of staff and swift of sail on the shoreless seas of rasa.

Oli Chamber Concert 13

By Vivadi

Ranjani Hebbar: Master of her voice

Ranjani Hebbar comes from the musical backwaters of Udupi, a place more associated with a kind of fast food. She isn’t alone though -- violinists Vittal Ramamurthy and the young K.J. Dileep, ghatam artistes Giridhar Udupa and Udupi Sreedhar, vocalist Kuldeep Pai, to name a few are from those parts. Despite its relatively minor status as a Carnatic music kshetra, music is a way of life in Udupi. Its proximity to the royal palace of Mysore meant music regularly trickled down from there.

South Canara was under the Madras Presidency, and many musicians in the area learnt from teachers in the presidency. Amongst the Haridasas, Kanakadasa and Vadiraja have an intimate connection with the area, and Udupi holds a rich heritage of compositions of these dasas. The temples in the area are supporters and patrons of music (one of its high priests even left priestdom to become a full-time musician!) Hindustani music, travelling from the northern districts of Dharwad and Belgaum, is more popular in Udupi than its South Indian counterpart. Even Yakshagana music is based on the Hindustani system.

These influences have combined in Ranjani Hebbar’s case with inputs from stalwarts such as Chingleput Ranganathan and S. Sowmya to produce a style that is entirely fresh. It showed in a Ranjani alapana that was both original and traditional at once. Unafraid to tread new waters by bending swaras in unfamiliar ways or holding long karvais at odd swaras, and doing this from within the broad boundaries of the raga, either gliding around the rishabham and nishadham omitting the shadjam, or holding a plain, almost weightless madhyamam, using jumps, drifts and curves, she cajoled a spectacular variety of sangatis.

The theme for Ranjani’s concert was, fittingly, “Mysore Darbar”, a cultural melting pot, if ever there was one. Ranjani chose her pieces for the concert to showcase these influences. Kanakadasa’s Kannada poetry, which definitely rang through the halls of the Mysore palace were represented by a royal Kedaragowla kriti, Tanu ninnadu (Kanakadasa) and the sprightly Idu bhagya (Purandaradasa) in Bilahari.

Ranjani’s voice is her greatest asset. Traversing two and a half octaves with ease, power and perfection, she showed no sign of stress or strain in her voice. It is smooth, but never light. Despite its high-pitch, it is not overly loud or screechy, and at the same time it isn’t crooning or light.

The central Saveri, Sri Kamakoti (Mysore Sadashiva Rao), was a serious affair. The mood of the raga alapana was pensive, even pondering. While there were brigas, and Ranjani’s pliable voice lends itself to that style, they were interspersed with rest. V.V. Srinivasa Rao responded with the poise and √©lan of a veteran. The mark of Ranjani’s maturity is how much time she has to present her music. Even in a torrential niraval and swaraprastaram in Saveri, she never seemed hurried. Her music has a clarity of expression beyond her years.

Ganapathyraman, whom the Oli Team has started to describe as its “staff artiste”, as usual provided heart-warming mridangam support. It was restful or restive as the mood of the kriti demanded. It was breathtaking in its vision and breathless in its execution.

One of the high points of the concert oddly came in the post-tani phase. It was a three to four minute masterly exploration of Maru Behag -- a tricky raga defined by its quirky pakad-s -- that would have done her North Indian counterparts proud. While the audience responded with repeated “Bhales”, one felt “Kya baat hai!” was the apter response!

Shri Jalandharam - Gambhira Natai - Adi - Mysore Jayachamarajendra Odeyar
Sada Saranga Nayane - Ranjani - Adi - Yoga Narasimha
Idu Bhagya - Bilahari - Khandachapu - Purandara dasa
Thanu Ninnadu - Kedaragowla - Mishra Chapu - Kanaka dasa
Shri Kamakoti - Saveri - Adi - Mysore Sadashiva rao
Nudidare Muttina Hara - Maru Bihag - Adi - Basavanna Vachana
Pranatharthi Hara - Janjutti - Kanda Triputa - Mysore Vasudeva Acharya
Baro Krishnayya - Ragamalika - Adi - Purandaradasa
Thillana - Janjutti - Adi - Veene Sheshanna

Monday, 22 October 2012

Train House

By MV Swaroop

“Park your car in that corner, you won’t be able to take it inside the street,” the old lady said, hauling a mridangam from the back seat on to her shoulders. I parked the car, picked up the other mridangam, the heavier one, and followed her. With a sprightly gait that belied her age - she was seventy-two - and unmindful of the weight of the mridangam on her shoulder, she turned into the most invisible of gullies that led to this sprawling network of narrower gullies.

“They really should fix that streetlight,” she said, pointing to this dark pole. It was eight-thirty in the evening, and it was too dark to even tell if there was supposed to be a light on that pole. Then she realised, “Oh, there’s no power!”

She shined a torch from her phone, and took a right turn into a gap between two buildings only wide enough to admit a small motorcycle. Even a malnourished Royal Enfield wouldn’t make the cut. The buildings on the street were locked in a tight embrace, covering every inch of space, almost growing into one another, sharing walls, terraces, balconies and doors. Compound walls were forgotten as a concept, breathing space was given a go by, and the view from any window was only another one. Even in near darkness, I could sense that I had stepped into another age. I had to remind myself that I was still in Central Madras.

She stopped at a narrow iron gate leading to a long, tapering, snaking corridor lit by two tired bulbs and lined by three worn out motorcycles. “We have a small generator - I can use one light and one fan when the power is gone,” she said. At the end of the corridor was a dull blue door that had surely seen happier times. When she opened that door, a new world unfolded behind it. I didn’t realise that there was so much space behind that iron gate. Her torch light revealed more iron gates next to the one we entered, and I wondered if all of them hid worlds like this.

“I used to live closer to the tank, but the owner wanted the house back for his daughter’s family,” she said, “But this is not too far from the tank. I walk down, sometimes, but I’m growing a little old, no? I am looking for a house closer to the tank, though.” I smiled. Civilisations grew around water bodies, I had read in my history classes, but I couldn’t believe that proximity to a tank was still a prime consideration for choosing where one lived.

On the ground floor was another blue door, of the same construction as the one outside, and the indistinct hum of a Tamil serial - that mix of pounding background music and thundering melodrama - floated from behind it. I thought I heard a child scream, but that might have also been the serial.

In the corner of the corridor was a closeted flight of stairs that had been standing for half a century at least. I didn’t ask her how old the building was, but the stone stairs had a particular kind of construction that suggested that era. “Thank you so much for coming. You see how difficult it would have been for me with two mridangams up these stairs.” The stairs were steep, and the mridangam I was carrying was boring into my shoulder. If the walk were a little longer, I might have needed a little break. “You’re carrying the big one,” she said, “I can’t even lift that anymore. It’s that heavy. But that nadam...

We reached a landing that was almost cruelly taken over by a large and incongruous asbestos door. She unlatched it, and led me into what used to be the landing - it had a tap in one corner, a chair and two pairs of slippers on a tiny wooden shelf - now converted into her sit-out. She kept up the chatter, as she fumbled through her handbag for the keys to the inside door. Her nephew, a well-known mridangam player himself, lived in the next street, she said. The neighbours here kept to themselves, she hardly knew who they were, she complained. “They don’t even come and talk, you know,” she moaned. She still gave me a fairly detailed biography of the family living in the house watching the Tamil serial.

The inside door said, “Mridangam and vocal classes” in a scribbled Tamil handwriting. No one could see this board when the asbestos door was shut. I wondered if the door was a new addition.

She found the key, finally, and opened the door and led me into a room that was not much wider than the door itself. On one side of the room was a wooden bench with two pillows on it. The other side of the room was a thin shelf that held a bewildering assortment of things. She put her mridangam on the bench, and I followed her. There were two more mridangams in that room, both standing proudly on their toppis. I walked up to one and struck it. “Tom!” it rang across the house. I was quietly proud that even though I hadn’t played one in three years, I could still get a clear tom out of it.

The narrow room ended in another door, beyond which there was a columnar kitchen, about two-thirds the length of the first room. “That’s about the entire house,” she said, proudly, “The first room is where I sleep and take mridangam classes. This is the kitchen. And there,” she said, pointing to another hidden door on the right side of the kitchen, “is a bathroom.” The entire house was built like two coaches of a train with a toilet and bathroom in the vestibule.

A thought struck me - it would be nice to disappear into a house like this, in a gully like this for a few months. It was hidden away from the madness of mainstream Madras, but it was still right there, in the centre of it all.

“Sit down,” she said, “I’ll make coffee.”

I had to go back to a friend’s concert, I protested. I’ll come back another day, definitely, I promised. “It will take me five minutes to make you the coffee,” she insisted.

My friend would be most upset if I missed her concert, I said. Another day, one-hundred percent, I assured her.

“At least have some kali,” she said, “Today is a special day for Nataraja. You know that, no?” My grandmother had mentioned something in the morning, and so, guilelessly, I nodded. She hurriedly put some kali on a steel plate and handed it to me. Suddenly, she said excitedly, “Oh wait. I wanted to show you. I have Anna’s photo here on the wall.” I looked. It was her famous older brother, and it was the photograph most widely released to the press. “A very nice photo. He looks so happy!” She attended almost every one of his concerts in Madras, “I am not able to travel too far these days. You know, Anna plays in places like Madipakkam and Annanagar... Then I can’t come. But otherwise, I come, somehow or the other.” And she always sat in the front row, and enthusiastically kept talam for the stage.

Next to her brother’s, was her own photograph. She was with our dark-glassed leader in it, receiving an award. “Kalaimamani,” she said, as I finished my kali and handed the plate to her, and added, “You can wash your hands in that sink,” like the two were a part of the same thought. I looked closely at the photo. I had heard strange things about that particular award, about when, why and to whom it was given, but she didn’t look like she could pull any strings.

There was another photo next to it, a still from a popular Tamil film. I remembered that scene well - a bunch of mamis reinterpreting a popular Hindi song Carnatic style at the behest of a man dressed as a mami. There she was in that still, in the left-hand corner, playing the mridangam. I remember being amazed by the fact that they had actually found a mami to play the mridangam.

I smiled, as I bid her goodnight and walked out the door, but I couldn’t help wondering, if, given her talent, she would have led a different life as a man.

Who’s who in Indian classical music

By V Ramnarayan

Vishnu Narain Bhatkhande (1860-1936)

(Continued from blogpost dated 20 October 2012)

Bhatkhande and Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, another great pioneer in the propagation of Hindustani music, did not come together to collaborate in this pursuit, and but for great efforts on the part of music historian BR Deodhar, a disciple of Paluskar (and an admirer and follower of Bhatkhande in his pathbreaking work), they might have stayed apart all their lives. According to Prof. Deodhar, Bhatkhande and Paluskar once discussed the idea of working together, with Paluskar teaching students and Bhatkhande lecturing on the science of music, and distributing books on music as well, but the two giants perhaps had serious differences of opinion on the manner in which the project was to be carried out. It never took off.

In addition to studying south Indian classical music and applying his understanding of the melakarta scheme, Bhatkhande studied Urdu and Persian with the help of assistants he employed for the purpose. In addition to republishing old and forgotten treatises, he invited senior and expert singers from different gharanas to perform in Bombay to be recorded for posterity. Though deeply religious and a daily performer of rudra parayana, he was above religious affiliations when it came to learning music or discussing it, often becoming the disciple of Muslim ustads. He was a model of financial discipline, spending institutional funds with even greater care than his own money.

A shy, retiring man, Bhatkhande had a few trusted friends whom he shared his thoughts on music with. One of them was Shankarrao Karnad. Whenever In the words of Deodhar, “Whenever Panditji came across a particularly rare cheej, he invariably made three copies of it: one for himself, another for his closest disciple Principal Ratanjankar, and the third for Shankarrao Karnad. Not only was he averse to pushing himself forward, he was almost allergic to publicity. He never craved for riches.”

Vishnu Narain Bhatkhande died on 19 September 1936, after a yearlong illness. In the words of Prof. BR Deodhar, he “formulated the scientific laws of music. The entire world of music owes a permanent debt of gratitude to Panditji for his unique contribution.”


Sunday, 21 October 2012

Sruti Awards Function 20 October 2012

Text of Sruti editor-in-chief V Ramnarayan’s welcome speech

Ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me immense pleasure to welcome you all to Sruti’s twin awards function this evening, when we honour two eminent artists and gurus in Sri K Kalyanasundaram, of Sri Raja Rajeswari Bharatha Kala Mandir, Mumbai, and Smt Suguna Purushothaman, musician and composer—each of them a torchbearer of a great artistic tradition.

Though they really need no introduction to this audience, they will be formally introduced later this evening.

I extend a warm welcome to them both and our distinguished chief guest Sri Gopalkrishna Gandhi.

Not everyone who goes by the name of Gandhi is a Gandhi. We all know however that our chief guest today is a true Gandhi. His is a rare pedigree. With two of India’s greatest sons for grandfathers, Gopalkrishna started with an almost unfair advantage.

But look at what he has done with that silver spoon—in the ultimate alchemy that an individual can possibly accomplish, he has turned it to platinum: all by his own effort and diligence.

Outstanding scholar, civil servant, diplomat, author, poet, translator, columnist, public speaker non pareil,—doesn’t he seem too good to be true?

Very briefly, Gopalkrishna Gandhi studied English Literature at St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi, and qualified for the Indian Administrative Service in 1968, joining the service in its Tamil Nadu cadre.

He has held several important positions as high commissioner, ambassador, and most recently as Governor of West Bengal.

A reference to him in Outlook magazine says:

“A discreet, highly competent IAS official for much of his career, Gandhi is also the gifted and formidably multi-lingual scholar who translated Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy into Hindi, wrote a novel, Refuge, on Tamil plantation workers in Sri Lanka, and a life of lost Mughal scion Dara Shukoh in verse (in iambic pentameter—my learned wife informs me).

“He was an extremely popular High Commissioner to South Africa, even more because of his endearing personal style than his lineage. Typically, he went off quietly to do earthquake relief work in rural Gujarat before taking on that assignment. As a Governor of West Bengal who often travels incognito into the countryside, Gandhi has earned great respect for deploring state violence in Nandigram. Of course, he has also earned great flak, from critics ranging from liberal apologists for the CPI (M), to the right-wing pro-SEZ camp.”

Gopal Gandhi’s latest literary effort has been to edit My dear Bapu: Letters from C Rajagopalachari to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Devadas Gandhi and Gopalkrishna Gandhi.

Allow me to read from a couple of letters in this wonderful collection:

My dear Bapu,

“Like the scientists that discovered truths and gave weapons to the warmongers you have given Satyagraha to the world, to the curers of social and political diseases, as well as the mischief-makers. We cannot help or even regret it, any more than we can blame science for the poison gas or the bombs.”

Love, Raja.

My dear Gopu,

Amma brought the three beautiful Mussoorie group pictures and showed them to me. It was an infinite pleasure to see the happy faces of the young administrators gathered together. The pleasure would have been complete if I could bring myself to foresee a happy and successful administration.”

Love, Anna

At this point, just to reinforce the impression all of us have of this truly admirable Indian, let me quote from Ramachandra Guha, author of India After Gandhi.

“Unlike scions of other freedom-fighters, they (the brothers Rajmohan, Ramchandra and Gopalkrishna) never exploited or abused the name of their grandfather. Where the direct descendants of other famous Indians have acted as if they were owed something—or a great deal—by India, these three brothers always asked themselves what they could do for India. Their lives have been marked by an exemplary devotion to their country, and to the principles of its founding fathers.”

Known for his courage, principles and ethics, Gopalkrishna Gandhi is also a man of humour, sensitivity and keen appreciation of the finer points of the arts. He is a steadfast friend and supporter of individuals and institutions engaged in the arts. While remaining firmly anchored in his core beliefs in stressful situations, he also stays cool and understated.

It is our proud privilege to welcome in our midst Sri Gopalkrishna Gandhi, and his wife Smt. Tara Gandhi.

I stand before you today as the editor of a unique magazine as it enters its 30th year because its founder-editor Dr N Pattabhi Raman took the foolhardy step of plunging into serious performing arts journalism in October 1983, amidst many a dire prediction of its early demise.

He and his devoted band of colleagues and successors have kept it going against heavy odds for nearly three decades, without sacrificing the commitment to quality writing with which it started.

Pattabhi was able to collect around him a whole lot of talented people devoted to writing on the arts.  I shall briefly mention a handful of these associates past and present and salute them for their contributions to the magazine over the decades.

His two brothers and co-founders PN Sundaresan and PN Venkatraman.

Sangita Kala Acharya S Rajam whose paintings and columns on music have enriched Sruti.

Cartoonist Sarathy.

Naturalist, photographer and columnist M Krishnan.

Music expert T Sankaran.

Musicologists Dr N Ramanathan and SK Saxena

Critics, correspondents and editors VS Sundararajan

Gowri Ramnarayan, Sunil Kothari, Leela Venkatraman, S Krishnan, Manna Srinivasan, Sulochana Pattabhiraman, Deepak Raja, V Sriram, Lakshmi Devnath, KS Kalidas, Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, Nandini Ramani, Gayathri Sundaresan, Vamanan  and many others who have contributed from time to time.

Finally a big thank you to The Sanmar Group and our trustee Sukanya Sankar for their quiet, unintrusive support, and my colleagues S Janaki, Sudha Narayanan, Sumathi Viswanathan, Kalpana Muralikrishnan, S Riswan, and C Balu.

Welcome one and all to what promises to be a rewarding evening.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Who's who in Indian classical music

By V Ramnarayan

Vishnu Narain Bhatkhande (1860-1936)

(Continued from blog post dated 15 October 2012)

It was through Jeevanji Maharaj that Bhatkhande started studying musicology, the training that led his making serious contributions to the theory of Hindustani music.

In 1884, Bhatkhande joined the Parsi Gayanottejak Mandali and became involved in conducting music classes. He too learnt a large number of songs in the dhrupad and khayal traditions from some of the leading lights of the day. (Years later, he was to emphasise to Prof. BR Deodhar the vital importance of dhrupad training to grasp the real forms of ragas). During the period 1900-1915, he got some iconic musicians of Jaipur to record a large number of traditional compositions. He was also studying several music texts like the Natya Sastra and the Sageeta Ratnakara in depth and listening to great musicians all the while.

Bhatkhande's first published work, Swar Malika, contained descriptions of all the ragas then prevalent. In 1909, he published Shri Mallakshaya Sangeetam, in Sanskrit, under the pseudonym Chaturpandit which meant a clever scholar. As he was averse to publicity and self-promotion, most of his writings were published under two assumed names, the other one being Vishnu Sharma. 

Bhatkhande's Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati in several volumes is often considered the last word on Hindustani music and the thaat system he developed equal in importance to the melakarta scheme of the south, which he studied in depth on his travels to the south. He arranged the ragas of Hindustani music across ten musical scales, which he called thaats, which cover the vast majority of ragas. This was Bhatkhande's vital contribution to music theory. 

His disciple S N Ratanjankar,  Dilip Kumar Roy,  Ratanjankar's student KG Ginde, SCR Bhatt, Ram Ashrey Jha 'Ramrang', Sumati Mutatkar and Krishna Kumar Kapoor were among the scholars who followed in his footsteps. His notation system became standard until  Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, Vinayak Narayan Patwardhan and Pt. Omkarnath Thakur introduced improved versions. 

In 1916, Bhatkhande reorganized the Baroda state music school, and later, with the help of the Maharaja of Gwalior, established the Madhav Music College in Gwalior. He prepared the course material for the the Marris College of Music that opened in Lucknow in 1926.  The college is now a deemed university with the name Bhatkhande Music Institute. 

Bhatkhande prepared the Hindustani Sangeet Karmik Pustak Malika as a series of textbooks. He also started the tradition of the All India Music Conferences to provide a common platform for discussion between Hindustani and Carnatic classical musicians.

Bhatkhande suffered paralysis in 1933 and died in 1936 on the auspicious Ganesh Chaturthi day, just as he was born on Gokulashtami day.

(To be continued)

Thursday, 18 October 2012


Nivedita Narayanan

What kind of job does a gold medallist engineering graduate with an MBA, who is also a Carnatic vocalist, co-author and editor of books, popular hostess of TV shows and public events, wildlife enthusiast and writer of articles on wildlife, music and musicians, opt for when she completes college? That of a project editor in Oxford University Press, of course. Stands to reason, doesn’t it?

That was Nivedita Narayanan’s choice of day job when she graduated from business school a couple of years ago, though we at Sruti tried to tempt her to join us as a correspondent. As we were aware of her background as a musician, TV anchor and freelance journalist with a reputation for meeting deadlines without fail, we were quite surprised with her decision to become an editor, though her all round qualifications should have really prepared us.

Nivedita started learning Carnatic music at the age of 14 from prominent Carnatic vocalist KN Shashikiran, to whose mentoring she attributes both her musical proficiency and theoretical knowledge. She says, “When I went to Shashi sir, I had already learnt for seven years, but I could barely identify swarasthanas and disliked Carnatic music to the extent of hating it.” She has also been the popular hostess of such TV shows as Puduppunal and Nam Virundinar on Podhigai TV, Maithreem Bhajatha on Sankara TV and Doordarshan’s National Programme of Music.

Nivedita who has had a brilliant academic record—has received awards for outstanding performance in school board examinations, a gold medal in her BE (Electrical and Electronics Engineering) from Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering and best outgoing student awards for all semesters in both her engineering course and MBA (Finance) from the ICFAI Business School.

Nivedita has been contributing interviews and articles for Sruti magazine for the past few years. Her writing is thoughtful and well structured.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Spirit of Krishna: A confluence

By Rajesh Garga

On a rainy day you may want to eat some hot vadas with sambar. Or if you are in the mood, you would want to go North Indian and go for some naan and navratan korma. But what would be your reaction if someone offered you vadas soaked in navratan korma? And a generous dollop of Rajasthani churma on top? That was precisely how I felt when I saw the poster of Flute Maestro Shashank’s programme The Spirit of Krishna - A confluence of Indian Classical and Folk Music.

I love listening to Carnatic music and enjoy Hindustani music once in a while. But when they are presented together in the form of a jugalbandi, I always feel that they are full of compromises and that the beauty of neither system is brought out in full. So I tend to avoid jugalbandis and stick to classical presentations.

I love listening to Shashank play the flute. I had missed the last few performances of his in the North East. So, when my friends Divya and Ashvin of Nadasudha invited me to this event, I decided to take the plunge. The fact that this was an ensemble of Carnatic, Hindustani and Folk music and seeing the choice of the words - unique, different etc. - to describe the event, I did go to the concert with much trepidation. But if I have to describe the musical treat that Shashank, Manganiyar Brothers Anwar Khan and Feroze Khan, Purbayan Chatterjee and Patri Satish laid out that evening in one word, it would be: Brilliant.

Carnatic music was by Shashank on the flute with the mridangam as accompaniment and the sitar took care of the Hindustani side. On the other side we had an artist singing folk with support from a dholak. I had not experienced this set-up on stage before. The way each one came in and went out without stumbling and the changing of the lead from one person to another during a song were well orchestrated but retained the flavour of on stage improvisation.

Shashank kicked off the concert by announcing that he would perform a sloka in the raga Ahir Bhairav. It was a pleasant surprise when he started singing Vasudeva sutam devam. That set the tone for the entire concert.

The concert continued with Radhika Krishna, a folk song set in the raga Sauraj before the main item of the evening began. This was a ragam-tanam-pallavi in Kalyani. The rendering by each of the artistes was magnificent. The tanam played by Shashank and the fantastic responses from Purbayan were the and the highlight. The pallavi chosen was Ganalola Muralidhara Sri Krishna Madhava Sri Venugana Lola. Anwar Khan chipped in with a folk interlude during this rendering and it did not sound out of place at all.

This was followed by a percussion special in which Patri rendered the rhythmic phrases orally before he played them on the mridangam. Feroze Khan responded to him on the dholak in his unique style and they played together to end in an incredible crescendo. The concert ended with two other songs Nandanandana Gopala in Desh and a Meera bhajan in Sindhu Bhairavi. Purbayan started singing Mile sur mera tumhara during the Desh rendition, much to the delight of the crowd.

For someone who went in with absolutely no idea of what to expect, the concert lasting a little over two hours was spellbinding. If I have to get back to the food simile, this was tres leches – a three layered cake!

The author lives in Edison, New Jersey.

Nadasudha, an organization founded to promote Indian classical music and dance in the US and support its propagation across the world, can be contacted on (732) 821 8410; 732 422 6830 and

Monday, 15 October 2012

They Came, They Sang, They Conquered

By Nivedita Narayanan

Whoever says music has anything to do with genes? This Saturday, the 13th of October, I was invited to judge a music competition for special children (many visually impaired, a few autistic), conducted by musician-doctor Dr Sunder’s Freedom Trust. The Trust conducts annual music, dance and painting competitions for special kids, picks the ones with potential and trains them well enough for them to take the art as a profession.

So there were around 30 kids, aged 8-15. Most of them were from poor families, had never taken a single Carnatic music lesson in their life and their parents probably call Carnatic music saami paatu. But in school, these kids learn Christian carols, which they sang in the contest.

Some of the kids were nervous, some confident, others downright jittery. But somehow, they all seemed to like, even love, what they were singing. When they sang, they closed their eyes, a small smile crept on to their lips, they gently swayed to the beat and seemed blissfully lost in another world.

The best was a visually impaired girl named Mariammal from Little Flower Convent. Like most other kids, she sang a Christian hymn—but this one had a fair share of sangatis and gamakams. When her turn came, she sat in a chair in front of us, a trifle nervous. Once she started, the next five minutes went by in a blur. We watched in surprise as she negotiated sangati after sangati with ease. She kept a perfect eight-beat rhythm. The surprise on the judges’ faces caught the attention of a group of people chatting nearby. By the time Mariammal was done, she had two dozen people around her, all listening with rapt attention. There hadn’t been a single off-key note in her singing and not a hint of complacency. ‘Can you repeat these phrases?’ I asked her, and sang a few swara phrases in Mayamalavagowla. She repeated them effortlessly. Had she been trained in Carnatic music? ‘No, miss,’ she said with a smile, for she knew that she had been asked that question because she’d sung well. ‘School-la music teacher kathu tharaanga.’ (I learn in school.)

Kids that refused to speak when asked their names perked up when asked to sing. At least half the kids sang well, but more importantly, music brought about a visible, positive transformation in them. While not many of them may take up music as a profession, it will definitely help make their lives (and their parents’) better. I asked a few parents who seemed sufficiently well-off to afford music classes why they did not teach their children music, and all of them had the same answer—good music teachers willing to invest the amount of time these children need are hard to find.

If you know someone in Chennai who teaches or is willing to teach special children music, please let me know. (