Memory. Today I have landed upon this rather unusual topic for Carnatic Music. For people of my age group, growing into the autumn years of our lives, memory is an especially interesting topic given how often it fails us!
Is it not interesting that we remember emotions and sensations far better than facts? I have heard it said that emotion helps us retain and retrieve memory. But emotion also colours our memories so that what we consider facts are in all probability very inaccurate perceptions of reality. Actors use what is called sense memory, remembering emotions triggered by a memory of a sense-experience like a smell or a taste. Do we not all remember a favourite dish by our mother or our grandmother, and do we not have a rush of affection for them with the memory? How often do you smell a perfume or incense and get assailed with memories of another time, another place?
Yet these memories remain elusive, with an untouchable, dream-like quality. I remember the overwhelming rush of love I felt for my baby as she was put into my arms for the first time, but I cannot remember whether it was night or day. I remember the desolation of hearing that my mom passed away, but I cannot remember the date. I remember the despair of arguments with my husband, but not the reason. Why is our memory so selective? But perhaps our brain is just being smart in remembering the essence of matters rather than the clutter which surrounds them.
That brings me to the poetry choice of today. Is it not the cleverness of a poet to write of what we understand and lead us towards what we do not? As I listen to this beautiful song by the extraordinary thinker, activist and poet Subramanya Bharathi (1882-1921), I reflect on his words. Who knows what poets intend? One can only interpret based on our limited understanding of life.
‘Alas, I have forgotten that beloved face!’ laments the poet. ‘ When my heart has not forgotten the love, how could I have forgotten the face?’. The poet talks of his beloved Kannan, Lord Krishna, struggling to remember the form which just eludes him. ‘And when I have a glimpse of a befitting face, I see not his beautiful smile’. We theists, is that what happens to us? Are we remembering the overwhelming love of God yet forgetting His form?
‘Ah the sins that my eyes have committed that I have forgotten the form of my dearest Kannan!’ despairs the poet. ‘Is there a bee which forgets honey? Or a flower which forgets sunlight?’ Should it not be as natural for us to remember God as it is for a bee to seek honey or a flower which seeks light? ‘If I forget Krishna’s face, what use having these eyes?’ says the poet. Yet he has remembered what is essential, the love of God – so I ask, what if our eyes have forgotten? Let our hearts not forget, that should be enough.
Set to Raga Jonpuri, the melody is simple and the stress is on the beauty of the words. I am indeed sorry if you do not understand Tamil for my translation does no justice at all to the beauty of the words.
My favourite version of this song is by Sudha Raghunathan, from a tape I have had for years. [Alternate link]
For a contrast, listen to this version by O.S.Arun who always imbibes his music with a lot of energy.
Footnote (Lyrics) :
Language : Tamil
ஆசை முகம் மறந்து போச்சே – இதை
ஆரிடம் சொல்வேனடி தோழி?
நேசம் மறக்கவில்லை நெஞ்சம் – எனில்
நினைவு முகம் மறக்கலாமோ?
கண்ணில் தெரியுதொரு தோற்றம் – அதில்
கண்ணன் அழகு முழுதில்லை;
நண்ணு முகவடிவு காணில் – அந்த
நல்ல மலர்ச்சிரிப்பைக் காணோம்.
ஓய்வு மொழிதலும் இல்லாமல் – அவன்
உறவை நினைத்திருக்கும் உள்ளம்;
வாயும் உரைப்பதுண்டு கண்டாய் – அந்த
மாயன் புகழினையெப் போதும்.
கண்கள் புரிந்துவிட்ட பாவம் – உயிர்க்
கண்ணன் உரு மறக்கலாச்சு;
பெண்களின் இடத்தில் இது போலே – ஒரு
பேதையை முன்பு கண்டதுண்டோ?
தேனை மறந்திருக்கும் வண்டும் – ஒளிச்
சிறப்பை மறந்துவிட்ட பூவும்
வானை மறந்திருக்கும் பயிரும் – இந்த
வையம் முழுதும் இல்லை தோழி.
கண்ணன் முகம் மறந்து போனால் – இந்தக்
கண்கள் இருந்தும் பயன் உண்டோ ?
வண்ணப் படமுமில்லை கண்டாய் – இனி
வாழும் வழி என்னடி தோழி?
Asai mugam marandu pochchE – idai AriDam solvEnaDi tOzhI?
nEsam marakkavillai nenjam – enil ninayvu mugam marakkalAmO?
kaNNil teriyudoru tOtram – adil kaNNan azhagu muzudillai
naNNu mugavaDivu kANil – anda nalla malarsirippay kANOm
Oyvu mozhidalum illamal – avan uRavai ninaiththirukkum uLLam
vAyum uraippudunDu kanDAy – anda mAyan pugazhiniyay pOdum
kaNgal purinduvitta pAvam – uyir kaNNan uru marakkalAchchu
peNgaLin iDattil idu pOlE – oru bEdaiyay munbu kanDadunDO?
tEnai maRandirukkum vanDum – olich-chirappai maranduvitta pUvum
vAnai marandirukkum payirum – inda vaiyam muzhudum illai tOzhi
kaNNan mugamarandu pOnAl – inda kaNgalirundum payan unDO?
vaNNap-paDamumillai kandAy ini vAzhum vazhi ennaDi tOzhI?
Alas, I have forgotten that beloved face! To whom shall I talk of it my friend? When my heart has not forgotten the love, how could I have forgotten the face?
In my mind I see a form, yet it does not have the full beauty of Kannan
And when I have a glimpse of a befitting face, I see not his beautiful smile.
With neither rest nor speech, my thoughts are only of his love. You see how I speak ceaselessly in praise of that illusionist?
Ah the sins that my eyes have committed that I have forgotten the form of my dearest Kannan! Amongst the ladies, have you seen someone as naive as me?
Is there a bee which forgets honey? Or a flower which forgets sunlight? Oh my friend, is there any plant in the world which forgets the sky?
If I forget Krishna’s face, what use having these eyes? You see I don’t even have a colour portrait of Him, how will I live now?
Footnote (Raga) :
The scales of Jonpuri are as follows :
Aarohanam (Ascending) : S R2 M1 P D1 N2 S’
Avarohanam (Descending) : S’ N2 D1 P M1 G2 R2 S
Jonpuri is considered a janya raga, derived from Natabhairavi which is 20th on the Melakarta Scale.
It is a Hindustani Raga, said to have been named after the sultan Sharqui of Jonpur. It is quite popular in Carnatic music for light classical pieces and folk songs. Even when conveying Bhakti bhava, the raga has a cheerful touch to it. The most popular song in this raga is possibly Eppo Varuvaro by Gopalakrishna Bharathi. Other well known songs are Rama Mantrava by Purandara Dasa and Andavan Darishaname by Muttaiah Bhagavathar.
Note : The 12 notes in the octave are named as below. Please note that C is used as Sa for the sake of simplicity as the scale is relative in Carnatic Music. Also note that the scales paint only a superficial picture of the raga as the gamakas(ornamentations) are a very important part of a raga.