September 2007


Note: Readers who are not familiar with carnatic music – please excuse me while I indulge in one of my passions yet again. I invite you however to see if you can expand your musical horizons by at least listening to the audio samples. The ones that are marked “kalpanaswaras” may be easy to get into from a pure aural experience – others are admittedly more serious carnatic stuff. Also for non-tamil readers “kuLirchi” in the title is a tamil word which means thrill in this context – as in “what a thrill” (this raga gives me).

On to another one of my favorite ragas – nATakurinji (Sanskrit: नाटकुरिञ्जि) or nATTaikkuRinji (நாட்டைக்குறிஞ்சி) in Tamil.

When I decided to post on this raga, I was wondering if I really should do so given that there are excellent articles already available on the web here (www.sawf.org) and here (www.carnatica.net). So I was thinking What are you, just a rasika, going to say anything that would be worth anything? But, this is my blog, my space, and I have decided to blog on my favorite ragas. And this is one raga that I adore! So I am going to blabber on it – end of discussion. Carnatic aficionados – please accept my apologies in advance for mistakes and misrepresentations. Please let me know of any and I will make the necessary corrections.

Before, I begin the verbal diarrhea, let us just jump ahead an listen to some nATakurinji. Here is an excerpt from an alapana by the late K.V. Narayanaswamy:

(Download by clicking here)

Now, a kalpanaswara excerpt by the late M.D. Ramanathan, one of my very very favorite musicians . In this sample, he is using the word budham (the planet Mercury), which is the very first word of the opening line of the composition (of which this is a small excerpt of) as the refrain. I find his usage of that here to be quite playful, and is a big reason why I love this particular rendition.

(Download by clicking here)

By the way, did you hear the birds in the background? This is from a private, chamber concert – in Chennai probably, I imagine in a house with big trees, birds chirping and cawing – Ah! Takes me to India instantly!

nATakurinji in the Tamil Film Word
nATAkurinji raga is also like kAnaDa in the sense that its basic melodic structure has a lot of innate beauty that makes very attractive to most listeners. However, unlike kAnaDa, it unfortunately does not figure as often outside the Carnatic world – at least in Tamil Nadu. In the Tamil film world, I can think of two examples:

  • The song kavalaiyai tIrppadu nATTiyakkalaiyE from the very old movie Sivakavi. This is a very classical representation of raga as you would find in a carnatic composition. In fact, the composer (and I would wager the tune smith too) is Papanasam Sivan, a prominent 20th century Carnatic composer. So even though this figures in a movie, it is pretty much a regular carnatic song.
  • The other is the song kaNNAmUcci EnaDA from the movie kaNDukoNDEn kaNDUkoNDEn with A.R. Rahman as the music director. This one is on the other end – a way too diluted, watered down version of the raga. It is still very attractive, and the song was a big hit. However, I sort of cringe to call this nATakurinji. The raga nATakurinji‘s melodic flavor is very highly dependent of specific phrases, and specific gamakas and slides (more on this below) – most of them seem absent or at least not very apparent here.
    • In the movie, after the song, an inebriated Mammooty, whom the heroine Aishwarya Rai does not think highly off to begin with, makes a dialog that the song was beautiful, especially how it changed ragas from nATakurinji to sahAna (another exquisite Carnatic raga). The import of course is that he knows more than what his uncouth behavior and rough exterior shows. The dialog is quite effective for the scene and story, but given that specific dialog, in my opinion, ARR could have made a more honest attempt at two very classical ragas! And believe me that the song would still have turned out to be beautiful as those two ragas are true gems in carnatic music which have instant appeal. So I am disappointed that ARR did not take more advantage of the ragas here. There was lot of potential but he chose a different path. Of course, he still succeeded as the song was a huge hit.

I do not know if other South Indian language films employ nATakurinji more (please let me know!), but at least in Tamil Nadu, this gem remains pretty much inside the Carnatic world. Not that it is somehow confining as it shines quite brightly within that world. It is widely recognized as a rakthi raga and thus with high emotive appeal. The term rakthi raga is sort of an enigma with different interpretations. I take it to mean a raga whose melodic character is more established by specific special phrases in which some swaras take different gamakas in different contexts. In any case, rakthi ragas are of high stature in the carnatic music arena.

Compositions/Renditions of nATakurinji I love
You know the best part of having to write and express my love for nATakurinji? That I got to listen to a lot of it! So much so that I was drawn into listening to it more and more instead of coming up with what to write! I listened to many compositions, and I find that I really like all of them. It is hard to pick some diamonds from a bag when each one strikes to you as brilliant. So this list is going to be long:

chalamEla: This is a varnam in the raga, as in the “text book” song, and it is a very popular varnam, which I believe is largely due to the melodic beauty of the raga. I love this varnam and hope to learn it soon!

ekkAlattilum nAn maravEnE: This is a fantastic composition by Ramaswamy Sivan and I like the D.K. Pattammal (DKP) / D.K. Jayaraman (DKJ) version with beautiful, elaborate sangatis (variations) particularly in the pallavi (opening section) itself. I like their version so much so that I am trying to learn it just by listening to it. I think it is a tall order for my level of carnatic training – but it is way too inviting! Here is a short excerpt showing the beautiful sangatis in the pallavi part, and also the anupallavi part.

(Download by clicking here)

The lyrics of the composition are also very beautiful with lot of rhyme built into it. For example: Isanai prakAsanai guhadAsanai kAkkum nEsanai nal pUsanai seiviSvAsanai tillai vAsanai naDarAsanai (ekkAlattilum). As you can see the same/similar suffix is used as rhyme throughout the metre (naDarAsa is colloquial tamil for naTarAja – i.e Shiva). Similar concept is seen in other paras too. Very poetic, very beautiful.

mAyamma nannu brOva: A brilliant, and masterful composition by Syama Sastry. Among all the compositions in nATakurinji that I have heard, this one has the most elaborate, exquisite sangatis. It is indeed a majestic composition. Gayatri Venkatraghavan has sung it in a commercial CD janani released by Charsur, and her rendition is simply beautiful! Would love to learn this composition someday – but that day is probably very far away!

budham ASrayAmi: This is a composition of muttusvAmi dIkshitar, and is perhaps the one you are most likely to run into in a carnatic music concert. It is set to a leisurely pace typical of dIkshitar’s compositions. I love this composition, have listened to renditions by many artists, and I especially love M.D. Ramanathan‘s (MDR) rendition.

jagadISa sadA: This is a popular composition by Swati Thirunal, the king of Travencore. I have renditions by MDR and Sanjay Subrahmanyan. I always loved the MDR one (he is one of my favorites), but I have now fallen in love with Sanjay’s rendition too. He has handled the raga brilliantly embellishing it with caresses at the right spots.

pAhi janani santatam: This is another composition by Swati Thirunal. I had never heard this composition until very recently, when I came across a rendition by KVN, and I absolutely love it! It is somewhat unique in the sense that among all compositions mentioned here, this is the only that starts in the upper octave and that too on the rishabam, which although not unimportant, but not the most prominent swara in the raga. It provides a unique look at the raga.

swAmi nAn undan aDimai: This is a beautiful composition by Papanasam Sivan for dance (as a pada varnam). There is a version on musicindiaonline.com but it is too fast. I have listened to it set in slower speed as a main item in dance, and it is truly magnificent.

manasu vishaya: This is one of Thyagaraja‘s composition – short but very sweet. Perhaps surprisingly, Thyagaraja has not composed what you may call “big” compositions in nATakurinji.

Under the hood
Now on to a “under the hood” look at the technicalities of the raga. I will try to avoid a dry presentation of the technical details and instead mix it with some context and audio samples.

(more…)

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iPod touchThis does not happen to me often – but I am definitely drooling over the upcoming iPod touch.

I know it is expensive, and for the money there are competitive products which offer a lot more etc. I love electronic stuff, but I rarely splurge on them. I had zero interest of getting an iPhone as I cannot imagine having an expensive phone – I will probably leave it somewhere. I just am not yet programmed to think of my phone as a very precious thing that I have to be ultra careful about. I do take care of my RAZR, but if it is like an iPhone, I would be worried about its safety more often. That seems like more headache!

I do have an iPod – a Mini (4GB) but I did not pay for it. I got it free from a CitiBank deal – you open an account and do internet banking with atleast a certain number of bill payments for 12 months, and you get it. I got mine a few years ago and I still use it – its very useful although I can sense that the battery is getting weak.

But I want the iPod Touch and I want it now – preferably on the first day it is available.

Can I justify it based on economics? No. Need? No. Common sense? No. Will I use it regularly for video and photo (i.e. other than music)? Possible – but not entirely sure.

I want it because it looks freaking cool. And it has a browser! Ok – I will probably use it only within my house – so it is not that useful. So I guess I want it only because it looks freaking cool!

I need a weak moment to just dismiss all the “sane, rational” counter-arguments in my mind and “Just do it”!

But what about the Edirol R09?

Edirol R-09Before the iPod droolarama, I was eyeing Edirol R09 by Roland, an expensive portable digital music recorder for an entirely different reason (besides the iPod touch announcement had not happened yet).
The “internal resistance” for this is stiffer, because given the price vs. intended use I can justify it even less. I basically need the recorder only to record my music classes. I now use a used (yeah – I am cheap which is why this is all so unusual for me) Sony minidisc recorder and it does a very good job. The great thing about minidiscs which I am not able to find in any other media, is that you can arbitrarily split and rearrange tracks out of a single recording. You can do this on the device itself. You combine tracks, split them, delete them – whatever. You may ask – so? The reason why this is so important is that I can isolate specific parts of a song that I am learning and put it in “repeat” mode. I can let it play continuously and thus rehearse a larger portion or just isolate a small portion and repeat it until I get it. A superb feature for learning stuff.

However, the trouble with the minidisc is that it does not have much “portability” with other formats/media. First, in the device I have transferring to computer is “real time” – so 45 minutes to transfer 45 minutes of music 😦 ! Also, the track-marks exist only on the device. So I cannot backup a minidisc anywhere else digitally and still have track marks. In fact, I cannot even back it up to another minidisc without having another recorder. So a great, great feature “imprisoned” in the isolated world of minidisc. Thus, even though I love minidiscs, I am hesitant to buy a “new” model – which again is expensive. The way it is going I just have to keep buying more and more minidiscs. I want those track marks in my mp3/wav player – my iPod. I long for that day.

So, obviously, the Edirol R-09 does not have this, and it is freaking expensive. But I still drool as it does very good recording . Maybe I think I will use it to do fancy recording (like krishashok) – even though part of me says “Yeah right! At your level? Dream on!”

So what to do?
So what to do? My mind is restless going: iPod touch, Edirol R09; iPod touch, Edirol R09; iPod touch, Edirol R09…, now and then interspersed with a stern professor internal voice saying Come on? Are you kidding? It’s a fad, a waste!

What says you reader? Perhaps in ze inzerezt of peez of ze mind, we zust buy zem both? But, you know, we muzt zen voo ze financial controller firzt.

Been a bit busy the last week but also the prep work for the next post on my favorite Carnatic ragas is taking a bit longer than I want (I hear rambodoc muttering thanks).

So like what my favorite satirist Andy Borowitz said a while ago, perhaps this like pointless filler column. I guess I am trying to prevent the “flame” (# of hits) alive.

Twenty20 Cricket

What’s up with this? The format seems ridiculous for a sport. I thought that for a sport to be engaging, there must be two opposing aspects which are sort of on even ground(batting vs. bowling, attacking vs. defending, offense vs. defense) . But this one is too heavily slanted towards batsman. Like I commented in pr3rna’s blog, why even have professional bowlers? The crowd wants to see a lot of 4s and 6s – why not just give it to them with the least resistance? Have an amateur bowler (or better yet a bowling machine), and amateur fielders – perhaps very good actors who can dive when there is no need and not field so that to the crowd it looks like “a great shot past the fielder”.

Of course, just when you think it cannot get any more silly, you have the concept of “bowl-out” to break a tie – like a penalty shoot-out in soccer. Which genius came up with this idea? The penalty shoot-out is quite anti-climactic, but this tops that by also being comical! But at least I think this joke won’t play out that often as a tie at the end of 20 overs would be quite rare.

I cannot find the link on The BBC Sports website about history of Twenty20 – but I found their seriousness in taking this sport serious to be quite amusing. Apparently, a crowd of a few thousand in England is enough to declare this is a rage and it has “caught on”. Soccer in the US draws a heck of a lot more, but it is still “catching on”.

I certainly do not doubt the entertainment value of Twent20 cricket, but can it last as a sport? Or will it only last until the next best thing? I think soon people may get tired of the mindless hitting – but then our appetite for masala movies is never satisfied …

Gatherings, festivals, Social Events Galore

It is quite clear that the size of the Indian community here in this big mid-western city has just exploded exponentially. This year, like in May, the months of August, September and October are loaded with functions and events. Every weekend, we have something to attend to – whether is cultural festivals, dance arangetrams, music concerts, dance programs etc. etc. And very often, we have clashes – two functions on the same day and we have to pick one!

One big indicator of this rise in the size of the Indian community is the # of cars parked at the local temples on a weekday. I remember 10 years ago, if I went to the temple during a weekday in the evening, there will 2-3 cars parked. The temple would literally be deserted except for the priests and a couple of administrative folks. Nowadays, you go anytime the temple is open, there are at least 20 cars. Some days, you think there is nothing big going on – but the entire parking lot is full. On big religious days, local police has to come and organize traffic. On really big ones like Deepavali, you have remote parking with people having to take shuttle buses. In a US city, 10,000 miles away from home. Wow!

The talent of professional musicians is mind-blogging

I am a lover of music – but specifically Carnatic Music. Last week, I witnessed a orchestra from India learn within a matter of few days, 3.5 hours worth of music to be performed with coordination with dancers (three dance groups, 5 hours including the 4th dance group with which they were touring).

The # of new pieces they learnt were about 40 I think. They had to remember how many times certain lines/phrases had to be repeated, when to “extend”/”improvise” a certain part to allow the dancers to enhance the scene etc. Some pieces included fairly complex rhythmic combinations. They did all this with only 1-2 live rehearsals with each dance group. And they did a fantastic job given the seemingly herculean task! I was there for the rehearsal and just watching them pick up stuff, make minor adjustments as and when needed all seemingly at a blink of an eye – it was truly mind boggling!

Not that busy to not comment

Well – I have not been so busy that I could not visit the blog world. I did spend time – mostly commenting on wonderful, engaging topics by mahendra and nita, and enjoying the humor of krishashok’s jalsa and jilpa, and rambodoc’s twisted wor(l)ds.

I have been meaning to write about Andy Borowitz and his The Borowitz Report for a while, and an article from last week had me LOL that I felt I should post this now. I visit his website regularly to get my laughter fix, and he almost always delivers a good chuckle or two. Even if the main “news item” is not that funny, his “Elsewhere” bit at the very end usually makes up for it.

His style of humor is satire (i.e. made-up “news”), mostly “over-the-top” political satire. I am a huge, huge fan of satire, and an even bigger fan of political satire. Borowitz of course is not the first one to do it – the long running The Onion was perhaps the early one and still quite good. However, in my mind, he is in a separate league.

If political satire is your cup of tea – he is a must read. If you like when someone makes fun of George Bush and his gang – he is a must read as they are usually (perhaps understandably 😉 ) the targets. You can check out the Borowitz Report at http://borowitzreport.com. The older articles are under the Archives. Here are a few of the many many that I liked:

  • Craig: I Will Not Blow This Job : That funny post from last week. Makes fun of the recently “caught” Idaho Senator Larry Craig – particularly his flip-flopping once caught.
  • NBC launches ‘To Catch a Senator’ : NBC’s To Catch a Predator is a powerful show where they catch child predators. This post again makes fun of Senator Larry Craig in that context.
  • Guiliani Challenges Himself to Debate – This is of course about Guiliani’s shifty positions on issues. Some highlights:
    • “I know exactly what to expect from me, and I will be prepared,” he said. “May the best Giuliani win.”
    • … Mr. Kerry himself, who memorably told reporters, “I was for the idea of debating myself before I was against it.”
  • Bush Postpones Thinking about Iraq Until 2009 – Some highlights:
    • “Thinking about the war in Iraq is exactly what the insurgents want us to do,” Mr. Bush told reporters. “By saying that we are giving the war in Iraq a thoughtful assessment, we would be playing directly into the evildoers’ hands.” .. “The best thing we can do to support the troops is to not think about them,” the president said.
    • “For one thing, by 2009 he’ll be out of office,” Rep. Pelosi said … the president rebuffed the Speaker’s request, telling reporters, “There she goes – thinking again.”
  • Supreme Court Gives Gore’s Oscar to Bush – “It is true that Al Gore has done a lot of talking about global warming,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority. “But President Bush has actually helped create global warming.”
  • Cheney Invites Libby on Hunting Trip – For his part, Mr. Cheney said that Mr. Libby’s lawyers were being “worry warts,” adding that his former aide had his “full support.” … “I’m behind Scooter,” Mr. Cheney said, loading his rifle. “Right behind him.”
  • Lou Dobbs Warns Santa Not to Cross U.S. Border – “To our knowledge, Santa Claus is a resident of the North Pole and therefore is doing business in the United States as an undocumented worker,” Mr. Dobbs told his television audience. “In short, he is taking jobs away from hard-working American toy-delivery personnel while the government looks the other way.” (Lou Dobbs, on CNN, is a very vocal, outspoken critic of illegal immigration)
  • An old article during the 2004 elections following the controversy with Janet Jackson’s infamous “slip” during that year’s Super Bowl.
    • The fall campaign, still in its early months, got even uglier today as the Kerry campaign unleashed its latest attack ad, in which entertainer Janet Jackson’s right breast “morphs” into the smiling face of President Bush. … Over a freeze-frame image of the President, a narrator intones, “Isn’t it time to expose THIS boob?”

Check out the archives and let me know if there are others that made you chuckle and laugh.

Last week was a special one for me. My kid and I got to spend a few days at home by ourselves (i.e. mom not around), and I had to drop her at school in the morning, pick her back up when she was done. This is rare for me since I am usually at work when she goes to school.

She started first grade that Monday, and so those were the first few days of full day school for her, a big step from just three hours of school in Kindergarten. She now gets to spend the whole day there, be responsible for eating her lunch etc. Like most parents, I feel a bit ambivalent about this step in my kid’s life. The little duckling that you felt needed “24-hour protection” (disguised as love) must now explore the world beyond your shadow. Of course you know you have to let it be so, but a part of you now wants to be like the young one’s shadow – always there, ever-ready to protect it from any danger, any worries, any discomfort.

The first day, I dropped her off by car even though the school is less than a mile away. The next day, I asked her if we should walk instead. She flipped back and forth a few times. She then said Can I ride my bike and go by myself? I guess this duckling wants to shoot out of the shadow! I smiled at her and said no. She said Oh, So you and Mom don’t think I can go by myself? But there are “walkers” in school – they walk by themselves. I answered carefully, but truthfully I am not yet sure if I should let you do this by yourself. Maybe after some time you can walk with other kids and go by yourself. But for now, I want to take to you school. I really like taking you to school. She agreed to that and she said Ok. Let’s walk.

As we walk, I see so many folks in the neighborhood all heading towards the school. Moms and Dads taking little kids sometimes accompanied by babies/toddlers in their strollers and wagons. In some cases, the family dog trots along wagging its tail. There are also many kids small and big walking by themselves. A wonderful scene indeed on a warm, bright, sunny day, with so many people out in the streets, kid-voices filling the air! There was a huge playground next to the school that we had to cross – it was lush and green, freshly mowed grass with a little morning dampness and all. It all somehow felt very lively. I listen to my kid chatter about her school. She asks whether I am going to pick her back up by car or not. I reply that I do not know yet. She then tells me If you are going to walk, can you bring me a snack so that I can eat while we walk back? How could I refuse?

As we reach the school, we notice that we are a few minutes early and so wait outside one of the doors. I remind my kid about her lunch – but she is already in a hurry to talk with a couple of other kids she recognized. As I stood next to her, and she turns and says Dad, I am supposed to stand with the other kids here. You can stand next to me or you can stand over there with the other parents. A mom advises a 1st grade sister that she should make sure that her little brother who is in Kindergarten finds his classroom. A little toddler is suddenly upset that he couldn’t get to hug his “big” brother and sister before they go to school. His mom says he can still do it as they have not gone in. He goes over and gives a hug to both of them, and walks back sullenly still holding a long face. Don’t worry – you will see them in the afternoon reassures his mom.

The doors open. I wait with my eyes permanently fixed on my daughter. This is so that in case she turns to look back at me to say bye, I want to make sure she is not left searching. She walks through the doors chatting excitedly with another kid without looking back, and soon disappears. I think to myself – You sentimental fool! You are as bad as that toddler!

I walk back home thinking what a beautiful, pleasurable 15 minutes that was! You don’t get to experience this if you drop your kid by car. You have to wait in a line of cars, imprisoned in a shiny, metal box, temperature controlled with the radio/CD-player playing your favorite music or news. You probably are talking on the phone to someone else. You are still in your own shell, your own world – disconnected with so much life happening outside. Then a helper at the school opens the car door, your kid gets down, says good-bye and leaves. You head back to whatever you were doing. Interruption over – back to your world. It’s just not the same …

I love walking my kid to school although I don’t get it to do that often. And soon, she will probably forbid it 🙂

PS: Regarding warm, bright, sunny school days. Here in my neck of the woods, this doesn’t last long. If the opportunity arose, will I be walking my kid in the middle of January? Hmm… we’ll see.