Monday, June 30, 2014

The raga trip

My paati (dad's mom) was a trained Carnatic classical singer, her eldest daughter and her youngest twin-daughters (my aunts) learned Carnatic vocal for over a decade.  My dad is keen listener and has boxes full of tapes and CDs of Carnatic music - he never got a chance to learn, though. So, I've been listening to Carnatic music growing up - one way or the other.

When I was about 10-11 years old, I was promptly enrolled for Carnatic vocal classes - just like every kid in a TamBram family. There is possibly a one-percent chance of these kids taking up music as a profession (I don't think any TamBram kid I grew up with became musicians - most of them are, understandably software engineers ('bayeri-ya') and MBAs('neewyarkk') who live in the United States). I promptly decided to join the latter crowd - I rebelled, threatened and cried at the though of class and practice. But, somehow I was cajoled, convinced and bribed, into sticking to it for a whole year. Up until my father got transferred up north. On not being able to find a 'paatu mami' (literally means 'aong aunty'), I happily while away time playing with my Hotwheels and Gi-joe and 80486-IBM-PC. That fried some particular part of my cerebral tissue and left me with a permanently positive disposition towards Carnatic music.

Carnatic music (and a lot of classical music in general) is somehow comforting and pleasing (refer Vidwan T.M Krishna's excellent book 'A Southern Music: The Karnatik Story' - the first section is description of music in terms that is simply one stellar expression of love for music). Through my mid-teens and late-teens I listened to pop, rock and metal - having pretentious discussion about the movie career of Nick Carter, Jimi Hendrix's addictions and Cliff Burton's epic bass skills with friends. At the same time, I'd now voluntarily try to learn violin, mandolin, mridangam, but none of them lasted. First it was 'study for JEE', the next was 'get placed/admitted in US' and then 'the job'. I still have my mandolin.

All through these year my 'paati'  never gave up - she'd encourage me. And she'd tell me stories about Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar's sister lived next door, and how Chembai would sit in the veranda with her father and father-in-law and would break into song. Of how my twin-aunts would try to bunk their music classes to spend their weekends with me when I was a baby. Every morning, before I went off to my JEE tuition, I'd sit with 'paati' and listen to concerts on the TV. By the time I was in the third-year of my engineering I was able to identify a handful of ragams, I had my favorite songs ('Alaipayuthey', 'Vaatapi Ganapathim' and 'Endaro') and I could occasionally identify songs that had the same ragam ('Nagumomu' and 'Kannodukanbadelam' - same ragam no, paati?).

Then after 'paati' passed away somehow that interest waned - I tried to learn mandolin again briefly but it did not go very well.  Life revolved around work and I moved countries and jobs. All the while listening to Carnatic music. I wanted to still learn to play an instrument but I never found the time.

The past year has been pretty much the same. Between  a new job, a strange city, old memories and a fair-bit of travel, I was finding just about enough time to sleep. I could have stopped working, worrying, wishing and winging a little and carved out a time, but every software engineer's deadliest vice is procrastination. It just didn't happen despite a ugly self-created reminder that would ask me to 'friggin'-go-learn-violin'.

But then again, the software engineer is, a human being. A member of species that has survived extinction in the evolutionary race and come out of the top. It is the ability of this species to think and imagine, to break barriers and opposition, to survive, and, to overcome his weaknesses. Procrastination is mine, and true to my species' credo I went a joined violin classes. I got myself a violin, and plan to dust-off and retune the mandolin. I can squeak out a few notes that vaguely sound like 'Mayamalavagowla'. And, I practice whenever I find the time - sitting cross-legged for over ninety minutes a day. And, I shall continue to be determined to this practice ...

... till my neighbours ask my owners to get a new tenant - preferably one does not play the violin or has at least had 5+ years training. Learners, please be excusing.

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