July 2007


What do these two short audio clips from western music have in common?

Clip 1:

Clip 2: (Note: All rights obviously belong to original artists. The samples above are for illustrative purposes only)

Here are some indirect clues.

  1. This post is a contrived attempt at continuing the “theme” of the earlier Blue Oyster Cult post i.e. Carnatic Music concepts in the Western Music world.
  2. It is ironic that I post this soon after my confessions and presumptions on tani.

Take your time and avoid googling 🙂

If you don’t know the answer and want to know, or you know the answer but still are curious as to what I may blabber about this read on.
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I have had this fancy thought for a while. I don’t know whether I have run amock with it but here it goes anyway…

I think a country, any country, is just like an average human, a single person, a macro human if you will. I find that this applies most to a country’s external persona – i.e. how a country behaves/interacts with other countries, and most importantly how the country wants to be perceived by the “society” i.e. all countries in the world.

How does the external persona of a typical person look? We want others to look at us in positive light. I would say we breathe this thought sub-consciously night and day. For most of us, the thought of being looked down as a fool, a weakling, scares us silly and we overcompensate whenever that possibility could be there. I am not that well versed in psychology, but this insecurity simply seems like a reflection of our ego. Basically, we hate to admit we are wrong. When we are resigned to the fact that we cannot get our away – we would rather quietly slip out rather than bring ourselves to say I am sorry with sincerity. Also, in almost always anything and everything we do, if we look deep enough, we will find that there is some personal benefit to us. And that benefit could be This makes me happy but it is very rarely followed just because it made the other person happy. We also find it very easy to likes others who agree with us, and share our interests. When we come across people who are too different from us – we sorta close our shells.

I think all this can be safely applied to your country’s external persona. And “your country”, does not necessarily mean your current government – i.e. the government you didn’t vote for and don’t agree with and hence feel like disassociating with now. The external persona of your country is a collective (but selective) image of all its citizens, and has developed over generations. It is simply a reflection of the collective pulse of its citizens w.r.t how they want their country to be perceived by “foreigners”.

I wager that your pride in your country, your attachment to it, your patriotism – all sacrosanct things in our society, has the most impact on the external persona of your country. And the result is a self-centered, egotistical, hypocritical person, who likes to look good and strong to impress (even if it means intimidation) others:

  • You country generally finds it much easier to like other countries that “look like it”. This means countries whose people have the same race as your country, and it means countries whose people are culturally “not too different”.
  • Your country only gets along with countries that pretty much behaves like it in worldly matters. If it says something that it thinks is important, it likes countries which agrees with it.
  • You country starts acting cool with other countries that don’t agree with it or act/speak differently from it in wordly matters. If it says something that it thinks is important and another country completely disagrees – generally the voices in the country’s mind start speaking ill of the other country.
  • Your country in general will do things with other countries only if it benefits it. If it is giving charity, there is always some strings attached.
  • Your country hates admitting it is wrong. It never wants to blink first in a confrontation. It’s ego will rather make it prolong a bad situation forever rather than saying it’s wrong or more importantly have other’s say “you lost, you are weak”. If at all extricating in a bad situation has to happen, it is done very quietly and with mis-direction and camouflaged words. There is a saying in my native language which translates – even if I fell upside-down, the sand didn’t stick to my moustache (i.e. i didn’t look foolish). This safely applies to a country.
  • Your country likes to think it is very principled, and of course a “better person” than every other country in some respect or other. But inside it (i.e. via some voices within), it knows that it is hypocritical – and principles are broken as often as they are upheld. But in general, it would be caught dead rather than admitting this in public. In some rare moments, there may be a confession here or there – but fast forward a few months and it is back to Mr. Strong.
  • Once your country develops deep hatred for another, it would rather beat that country up rather than be even open to the possibility we can still work out our differences

It is perhaps not a revelation that a country is simply a reflection of its citizens. But is this the one we want? With this kind of a reflection – how proud should we be about our country and ourselves?

How can I still believe in that God, the God my mind created, the God I think I knew?
How can I still believe in that God, who would have knowingly allowed this to happen?
How can I still believe in that God, who could justify this as punishment for sins in previous lives?
How can I still believe in that God, who loves all but would let the defenseless be violated this way?
How can I still believe in that God, who champions the truth but also allows such monsters to be created?

The above probably reads haphazard and chaotic. I am certainly no poet, and it is certainly not intended as a poem (and neither it looks to be so). It is just a reflection of the raw feelings I had when I happened to run across this news today on cnn.com

Nowadays, I seem as if I run into this kind of news often. Every time, I feel sick inside, my heart feels as it is squeezed hard, my stomach retches and turns, and anger mounts inside, and my eyes cloud. I want a cure, a solution, which will fix this for good. I want to complain to someone powerful – a Don, a Dada, no a God who will make sure this doesn’t happen again – especially to the young. The God, most of us believe in from when we were young. The God society has created. The God who will make sure bad things don’t happen if you are good.

I used to ask why would that God, the one we all think we know, allow this to happen to the young and the defenseless? No justification seems possible and would be satisfactory. Even if that God supposedly will make sure the Truth eventually prevails – what’s the freaking point after all these kinds of atrocities?

Bad, horrible, unimaginable horrific things happen daily to many many people – the strong, the weak, the old, and the young. Yes – especially those little, sweet young ones. We all know this. Most of the time it is like the sound of distant gunfire, or a war in a far away land killing people we don’t know and hence it doesn’t matter as much. However, when it happens to the young ones, it is suddenly very near, very real with the horror of it all very clear. It affects me most and makes me feel weak, hopeless and in despair. I am ashamed, very perplexed, and very appalled as to how devolved humans are.

(PS: I still sort of believe in a God now. Just not the one I inherited, not the one I further developed in my mind, and believed in for many many years. I am not talking about specific religions or switching religions. But the kind of the God that seems to make a teeny weeny sense now is ironically, the true God that the religions always spoke about. But I am not sure He offers instant, permanent solution for the above either. There is no God who will do what I want here. So I feel like throwing up my hand and asking – what’s the freaking point?)

In my last post on tani Avartanam, I had outlined three broad profiles A, B, C for
carnatic music rasikas in terms of their level of appreciation of the tani. To recap:
Profile A: I am outta here Man!
Profile B: Dude, tell you what? I really wish I was outta here.
Profile C: I am in baby! Time for some serious tALam.

Of course, this does not cover the entire spectrum of rasikas as it specifically excludes the ones who do comprehend the inner details of the tani. Let me now call them Profile D. But, my guess is that they form a small minority. If you disagree, you can skip the rest of this blog – but please let me know where I missed the boat!

Now me, eventhough I am a fairly serious carnatic music rasika, when it comes to the tani, my level of appreciation puts me quite well in Profile C. If I say tani was excellent!, but you then ask me what the kOrvai was, what naDais where employed etc. and I would draw a blank. While I have some inkling nowadays, I cannot reliably say when the tani is going to end except from the subtle cue of the violinist picking up the violin.

But I wonder – What if most carnatic concert rasikas fall into A, B, C? What if at best most rasikas appreciate tani only at a peripheral i.e. “not too involved” level? Why? This is the subject of this blog.

But is this possible? I may be being overly presumptuous but for some reason it seems so to me. Yes – this does sounds harsh and damning to a highly refined skill – one that is featured in every concert. But if each rasika were to ask himself/herself honestly as what he/she thinks of a tani, and what makes him/her like/dislike/dont-care-for one particular tani, would he/she be at most only in Profile C?

Now Profile C of which I am part of, is a much much bigger set compared to Profile A and Profile B. With C, a common noticeable sign is that most of us put tALam enthusiastically and energetically. However, the technicalities of layam seems to imply that every beat (akshara) of the tALam is not really that important for the structure of the patterns in the tani. This is more so particularly during kOrvais that span multiple Avarthanams, may switch naDais, and generally do not remain in perfect synchrony with the tala aksharas or even the angas.

Would it then be rash to say that the most of us who actually pay attention to a particular tani (i.e. excluding Profile D) , are really focusing way too much of our attention on something not that integral to the specifics of that particular tani? Isn’t that a bit disturbing?

So I then wonder why doesn’t the tani attract a lot more average rasikas to become a more seriously interested in it? Why does it seem to suffer from a “lack of broader appeal”?

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No, this post is not an ode to the good natured northern neighbour of USA. It is actually an ode to another favorite raga of mine kAnaDa. Like sArangA, kAnaDa is another raga whose melodic nature is such that it instantly appeals to almost anybody, whether they are into carnatic music or not.

When I listen to kAnaDa, every time, it brings a sense of exhilaration. It is hard to explain – I just feel a bit more happy about my surroundings. Yes, this does sounds corny like a bad cliche, but it is true. Also, when I think of the “flavor of kAnaDA“, I can think of only one word – sweetness!

I will try to present my impressions of this sweet raga, with some audio samples explaining the technicalities to the best of my knowledge. I will present this via an approach, which I hope would be somewhat helpful even to people unfamiliar with technicalities of carnatic music, in that they can better understand what a raga is, and what does it mean for two songs to be in the same raga etc. I do not know how effective this approach is and so please feel free to leave comments as to whether this approached helped you or not, and also please offer any suggestions for improvement.

Also, please note that I am not an expert in carnatic music – so apologies for any unintended misrepresentations. This is also by no means a comprehensive presentation on kAnaDa, something which I am not qualified to do.

kAnaDa songs and renditions I love:
So how did I get hooked on to kAnaDa? On retrospective, like with sArangA, there were Tamil film songs I liked which are in kAnaDa but I did not know it was so then.

Act 1, Scene 1: alai pAyudE (what else?): Like most Tamilians even a tad familiar with carnatic music, my first recognized taste of kAnaDa was with the extremely popular composition alai pAyudE kaNNA! by OottukkADu venkaTa subbayyerr (OVK). I think every one in Tamil Nadu must know this song! It is popular in many households with some exposure to carnatic music to begin with. But on top of that, for crying out aloud, we had a successful Tamil Film with the song’s name as the title, and the song also does figure in that movie (albeit not as an “official number”)! Need we speculate on the the reach of the song among the Tamil populace after this?

Anyway, for me, the attraction (to the carnatic song of course), was specifically from a Maharajapuram Santanam’s rendition in a CD on OVK krithis. In fact, this song and other songs in that particular CD were one of the primary reasons that attracted me finally to the world of carnatic music. So you could say that this was one of the songs that “pulled me in”.

SrI nArada: Some years ago, as I was getting hooked into the carnatic world, I decided to check out all the music on musicindiaonline. One day, I ran across a rendition of tyAgarAja‘s SrI nArada by Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar. I was ecstatic! Here was a favorite raga of mine woven with so much grandeur that it seemed to dwarf the previous songs of kAnaDa I had heard until then! These are some of the little things which made me appreciate the genius and wizardry of tyAgarAja in a personal way as I was becoming a big fan of carnatic music.

Needless to say I love any rendition of SrI nArada. Recently, I heard a rendition of it in a recording of a K.S. Gopalakrishnan (Flute) concert – simply delicious!

MMI’s sukhi evvarO: The other rendition of kAnaDa that made a special impression of me is Madurai Mani Iyer’s sukhi evvarO, by tyAgaraja again, and one could say even grander than SrI nAradA! I loved the way MMI intonates sukhi ev…….varO….. I also especially loved his kalpanaswara section where he anchors on a jhanTa (double) prayoga of the gandharam i.e. ga ga (there is an audio sample of this below).

kAnaDa in Tamil films:
There are quite a few and almost all are big hits. The best example is pUmAlai vAngi vandAn, sung by K.J. Yesudoss in the move sindhubhairavi, with iLayarAja (who else 🙂 ?) as the music director. Although there are a couple of instances where song deviates from the true classical kAnaDa, in general it is a very good portrayal of the classical form of the raga. This song is a huge hit.

Another good other example is mullai malar mElE, sung by TMS and P. Susheela in the movie uttamaputtiran with G. Ramanathan as the music director. This one in parts is classic kAnaDa (particularly when TMS does a raga flourish in the middle), but I think in general, it is a bit lighter kAnaDa atleast when compared to pUmAlai vAngi vandAn.

A.R. Rahman has employed kAnaDa in pudu veLLai mazhai in the movie Roja. Like typical ARR style, he takes more liberties with the raga framework and so except for the starting part, the flavor of kAnaDa in the classical sense appears subdued.

Under the hood
Now on to a “under the hook” look at the techicalities of the raga. As indicated earlier, I will try to avoid a dry presentation of the technical details and instead mix it with some context and audio samples.
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It was supposedly a landmark trial. The first one of its kind. A legendary carnatic musician, and teacher par-excellence stood accused for the crime of mutilating the Sahitya (lyrics of a song) of a particularly famous carnatic composition kODu rEDu (కోడు రేడు/कोडु रेडु/கோடு ரேடு), literally meaning Line King in Telugu. The song of course has no relation to Lion King.

The musician was the legendary Curnool Nadhamuni Jessappa Bhagavatar. Although born in Curnool, he was not a Teluguite, and had moved from Curnool to Chennai when he was very young. This actually caused furor after the trial, when a rasika organization from Curnool wanted him to remove Curnool from his name as he no longer deserved it given the nature of his offense. Surviving details about the Bhagavatar are sketchy. It is clear that he was an enigmatic figure in the carnatic world. Before this trial, he commanded respect from all his peers, and had won admiration and adoration from rasikas all over. It was also claimed that he bore a slight resemblance to the acclaimed Hollywood star Jack Nicholson. Whether that was really true or nor is not we do not know for sure, but we know that it did enhance his enigma.

The plaintiffs bringing the charge were some Canatic Music fans (rasikas ), who were particularly fed up with the constant mutilation of Sahitya by many carnatic musicians and finally decided to put an end to it. The prosecution was led by the ace-lawyer Tenali Kasi.

Jessappa Bhagavatar’s prime disciple was Laya Tarangini Chandrika, a lady of solid reputation herself. For numerological reasons, she decided to initialize her titles, and drop the last “a” in her name, and hence went as L.T. Chandrik.

Detailed records of the trial are somehow lost to us except for a small chapter in a book written by a part-English part-Indian reporter Arun. S. Orkin whose family apparently also owned a pest control company in the USA. He is supposed to have witnessed the trial and provides a riveting account of the last day of the trial in his book.
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I love my iMac and I love my iPod. In general, I love Apple products but sometimes I wonder sarcastically That Steve Jobs guy thinks he is so smart, so cool that he has the audacity to decide what I don’t need?

No, I am not talking about lack of real keyboard on iPhone. I don’t really know if I would or not as I don’t have an iPhone, and will almost for sure not have one until it is offered for peanuts with my cellular plan. I am talking about my iMac.

I am a hard-core software engineer. I use Linux/Unix and PC regularly at work, and like certain aspects of both. But my iMac at home – I love! There is no question that the user interface experience on a Mac is truly unique and enjoyable. Every aspect of user interface speaks of style and elegance! Using Unix is like driving a simple, spartan looking car but one that is very powerful and very reliable like say German engineering but in a Yugo body. Using the PC is like driving a car which has some gaudy styling to attract masses, but has reliability problems. Many American cars in the last 20 years come to my mind. But using the Mac is like driving a luxury performance car. You got style, you got power and you look cool showing off to your friends. And its pricey with limited to zero discounts. You know – like a luxury car.

But I have a pet peeve about this luxury car.

There is no $%#@! manual eject button for the DVD drive on my pretty iMac!

(or at least I couldn’t find one. No pin hole either which is supposedly there in some models that I could find. If there is a manual thingamajig – it seems well hidden and not meant to be found.)

No $%#@! manual eject button and so the only way to eject a CD/DVD is from within software. Of course, the folks at Apple probably had full faith in their software. But I suspect that the bigger reason is that they thought the manual eject button would compromise the pretty, minimalistic looks of the iMac. May be the button would have made the side of the iMac look less pretty or may be it made it thicker by 2 lousy microns. As we all know, with Apple (slim) looks and (silky) feel is everything! And yes that magic of course mostly works! After all, I drooled over the iMac for a while and I bought one. But …

There is no $%#@! manual eject button for the DVD drive on my pretty iMac.

Big deal right? Well I would agree except …
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