Happy New Year to all my readers! My best wishes to your health and happiness!
Returning home to a freezing Switzerland after being three months away from home, I am faced with the endless chores of unpacking, house cleaning, kitchen re-stocking, unpaid bills and mountains of laundry. I tell myself that I need to devote time to my blog which has been sadly neglected all these months. I have so much buzzing around my head, so much music which needs to be explored, understood, shared, admired! But before I do that, I’ll start with a post which is only indirectly musical; I present my diary entries from the few days I spent in Chennai during the music season. I was like a kid in a lolly-shop; so many concerts, so little time! Here is my story.
An After-Note : Now that I have finished writing the post I am wondering why I have written it! ‘Who‘, I wonder ‘cares a whit about what I heard or didn’t hear? Why am I doing this?‘. I honestly don’t know!! I suppose the diary is for myself, to document my experiences. And perhaps for other NRIs if they are planning on venturing to Chennai during the season. So don’t apologise if you want to skip this post! Below is a list of concerts I attended with my reaction.
Lalgudi Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi – So nostalgic!
Abhishek Raghuram – Technical excellence
Amrutha Murali – Very good in parts
Sikkil Gurucharan – Deeply satisfying
Trichur Ramachandran – Moving
Trichur Brothers – Oh wow!
Mahati – sigh…
Malladi Brothers – Solid and reliable
Nisha Rajagopal – Melodious
Sandeep Narayan – Amazing! I declare myself a Fan!
Ashwath Narayanan – A young man to watch
Sanjay Subrahmanyan – Thalaiva!!!!!!!
Ramakrishna Murthy – Remarkable talent
16 December 2016
12:20 pm My flight lands in Chennai. I arrived two days ago in Mumbai and have had a hectic time so far. Crippled by jet lag, I have hardly slept. Tiredness aside, I am excited about this trip to Chennai and look forward to a musical feast over the next few days. From the airport, I take an Ola cab to New Woodlands in Mylapore where I am booked to stay for 6 nights.
1:45 pm I hurriedly settle myself in my room. Having skipped breakfast, I attack my lunch with gluttony; the food here is reliably good. Looking around me surreptitiously, I spot a number of NRI types, fellow music season attendees no doubt. Very often the clothes give us away, especially the ladies. There is rather an ill-fitted look about us. I catch a reflection of myself in a mirror. With my short bobbed hair and travel clothes of short kurta and jeans, I am not going to fit in with the concert going mamis I fear. Never mind, I will do better tomorrow.
4:00 pm The Narada Gana Sabha is an easy 10 min walk from the hotel. I have prepared a list of concerts which interest me using online schedules. My first concert today is by Lalgudi Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi. I am glad that this is my first concert; Lalgudi Jayaraman’s music has enthralled me since the first time I heard it as a child and is responsible for my love of Carnatic Music. The tickets at Rs.100 for two concerts is a steal, yet there aren’t so many people in the audience. Why? Art forms which have survived in history have done so with sponsorship from the wealthy and audience support from the common folk. Why are these skilled musicians not filling halls?
I let myself drown in their music as they proceed from the lovely Cheta Sri in Dwijavanti to the beautifully rendered Narayana Ninna Namada in Shuddha Dhanyasi. When they play Inta Soukhyam in Kapi, I am strongly reminded of their father’s playing. Talli Ninnu in Kalyani is followed by a very hypnotic Tani; in my jet lagged state I nod off at intervals. Coming to, I embarrasedly look around me to see if anyone has noticed. I hope not! As the concert finishes with Malai Pozhidinile and then the well-loved Thillana in Madhuvanti, I am pleasurably content.
7:00 pm I should have popped outside to get something to eat before the second concert but I am afraid of losing my nice seat. So I just sit right there, waiting for Abhishek Raghuram. I am rather excited as his voice sounds very pleasing to my ears. The empty seats start filling up and I am pleasantly surprised to see that there are a good number of youngsters in the audience.
Abhishek Raghuram’s voice sounds as good as I expected. His energy is immense. His vocal acrobatics are impressive but do they really contribute to the musicality? I am unsure. After a strong Ananda Natana Prakasham in Kedaram, he launches into an alapana of a raga I don’t quite recognize, I notice a couple of NRI youngsters puzzling about the raga, just as I am. I am pleased to see so much interest amongst the young ones. Abhishek announces the Raga as being Vardhani, setting our puzzlement to rest. The kriti is Manasa Mana Samarthyamemi by Tyagaraja; I make a note to look this up. There are a couple of shorter pieces ending with a brisk Manusuloni in Shuddha Hindolam. By the time this finishes I realise I am just too sleepy to pay attention to the music. I do have a 10 min walk back and also a few mins to grab something to eat. I reluctantly abandon the concert and head back.
17 December 2016
3:30 am I am up! I have been trying for some time to get back to sleep but I just can’t. Sigh!
7:30 am Being up so early means that I am simply starving by the time the restaurant opens for breakfast. Plus I miss my first-thing-in-the-morning cuppa. After breakfast, I make a deal with an auto driver to take me to Sri Parthsarathy Swamy temple and Kapali Koil. I realise later that the auto driver has soundly cheated me by charging me almost 3 to 4 times the price. It’s not a big deal, he is poor and it’s a mere nothing to me. But I am upset. Why is that? Is my spirit lacking in generosity? ‘Think of it as charity‘ I tell myself.
I am always reminded of my parents when I visit these temples. They both grew up around these areas and would have visited these temples almost daily. A sense of nostalgia overtakes me as I remember many childhood visits in these hallowed grounds.
I get the auto driver to drop me at Citibank. I have a number of old currency notes which I mean to deposit into my account. But after wasting an hour in lines and being shuffled between multiple people, I am told I cannot do it as I don’t have a PAN card. Frustrating! I stand in one more long line to withdraw some money for my trip as the ATMs are not working.
My next chore is to get to Vummidi. A diamond earring I bought last year for my son’s fiancée needs to be repaired. They don’t make things the way they used to, do they? I chat up the nice young man who is my auto driver, listening to his woes in sympathy. After my errand I head back to the Music Academy where I buy tickets for the evening.
1:00 pm A nice lunch and back in my room, I decide to have a nap. Perhaps it will help me from nodding off during concerts!
3:45 pm I head back to the Music Academy, ready to hear some good music. First on this evening is Amrutha Murali. After a very good Kamala Manohari and a sub-optimal Ananda Bhairavi and Bilahari, she launches into Sri Vishwanatham Bhajeham, a Ragamalika in 14 ragas. I have not heard this often; I absolutely love this. Note to myself : Must feature this in my blog! Her voice has set in very nicely by now and she sounds lovely while she does a very good execution of Enduku Daya Radu in Todi and then a RTP in Purvi Kalyani. As the concert comes to an end, I feel sense of contentment. Being here, this feels real good!
6:45 pm Sikkil Gurucharan starts his concert with the Sri Raga varnam. What a wonderful energy he has! Next is Mamava Sada Varade in Natakurinji. The brisk and interesting neraval is very enjoyable. I sit up straighter in my seat, this is sounding interesting! The transition to the sad notes of Bhavapriya and then to the peaceful ambience of Yamuna Kalyani keeps the mood varied. He totally comes into his own in Kambhoji delivering an excellent Sri Raghuvara Aprameya. I am drawn in totally, my mind focused almost to a pinpoint in which only the musicians exist. It feels like meditation. The Tani is especially good. At the end of it, I feel ‘full’, as if I have had a feast beyond compare. The RTP in Saramathi is interesting but I don’t really understand the complicated rhythmic patterns. As he finishes the concert with smaller pieces, I reflect happily that this concert really made all the travel worthwhile. Kambhoji continues to whisper in my ears as I head off back to my hotel for a late dinner and bed.
18 December 2016
3:00 am My sister’s sambandhi has offered to pick me up at 3:30 am so that we can visit the Srinivasar temple at opening time. It is no trouble waking at 3, my jet lag has a fine hold on me. In the shower I realise that the hot water is inexplicably not turned on. I have no option but to clench my teeth and bathe in cold water. If anyone wonders if it is at all possible to ever feel cold in Chennai, I say an emphatic ‘Yes‘!! At the temple, there is a young woman in nine yards of madisar busy with the kolams. A man urges a cow inside. The priests are busy with age-old rituals. It feels as if I am participating in living history; that in these grounds the yesterdays and the tomorrows have somehow merged into one another. It feels good to be part of this. ‘I belong here’ my soul says; my intellect laughs at this. ‘You who question everything and have always been determined to find your own way, you who didn’t hesitate to join yourself in an inter-caste, interstate marriage, you a techno-crazy-westernized woman who has even rejected wearing mangalsutras, you belong here?‘ it mocks me. ‘I belong here‘ my soul says stubbornly. Dichotomy.
8:45 am After a satisfying idli-vada-sambar breakfast, I am off to hear the veteran Trichur Ramachandran at the Music Academy. It is wonderful to sit in the premier front rows during these day time concerts! ‘Next time I should treat myself to decent tickets‘ I tell myself. He starts with a brisk Swami Natha Paripalaya in Natta, then goes on to a very stately Mundu Venuka in Darbar. I am enjoying this! Next is a gorgeous Sri Chakrapuri Vasini in Gamanshrama. I haven’t heard this raga much; I note that I must make myself a playlist in this raga. After an unfamiliar song in Bilahari, a solid Neelotpalambam in Nariritigowla (so google tells me, it sounded like Ritigowla to me!), and a quick Unnadiye Gati in Bahudari, he launches into a detailed Kalyani alapana which is brilliant in bits and sadly reflects ageing vocal cords at other times. Enduko Ni Manasu is nicely presented followed by a good Tani. I abandon the concert here as I am meeting my sister’s sambandhi for lunch.
12:00 Noon. All the newspapers go on and on and about the sabha dining experiences. I can attest to the fact the full lunch at the Music Academy canteen is a treat! Mr.Padmanabhan, who has had the contract for this sabha for a long time, lives up to his excellent reputation. We listen to the last of the tukkadas while we eat.
1:30 pm I have heard the Trichur Brothers on the net and have really enjoyed their music so I am excited about this afternoon session. They do not disappoint. Starting with an energetic Namami Vighna Vinayaka in Hamsadhwani, they go on to a sweetly sung Gopalaka Pahimam in Bhupalam and then to an interestingly slow paced Tyagaraja Yoga Vaibhavam in Ananda Bhairavi. Back again to a very brisk Dinamani Vamsa in Harikambhoji. When they launch into Varali, I know for sure that I like them a lot! Very nicely done alapana followed by Seshachala Nayakam. Many young people sing beautifully but let themselves down in the Neraval; I am happy to see how interesting the Trichur Brothers make theirs. There is a hypnotic quality about their music which keeps me enthralled. When they commence on their incredible alapana in Gamanashrama, a raga I am hearing for the second time today, I am totally wowed!! I leave when the tukkadas start as I need a short rest and freshening up before I head for my evening concerts.
4:00 pm I stand in front of Vani Mahal, defeated in my quest for tickets for this evening. I so want to listen to Ranjani & Gayatri but only the very expensive tickets remain. I hesitate; I can afford the higher-end tickets but I could probably buy their 4 CD collection for the same price. I google the offerings in the other sabhas and decide to head to Mylapore Fine Arts instead.
4:40 pm The kutcheri has already started by the time I slip into a seat. Mahati is in the middle of a Kalyani alapana. This has been a long day and I just want to relax into passive listening. But sadly, I am not really enjoying the concert. Many reasons, some to do with the environment (the seats are so uncomfortable!), others to do with the artist. Sigh! I think longingly of Ranjani & Gayatri!
7 pm I am excited to be listening live to the Malladi Brothers whose music I do admire! After a brisk varnam in Kedaragowla and an energetic Umayor Bhagane in Natta, they launch into a hauntingly beautiful Mapala Velasika in Asaveri. Next on the menu is a lovely Sriranjani alapana which lulls me into a happy relaxed state. So relaxed that I am close to sliding off my chair into a deep sleep. The jet lag and the long day has left my reserves very low. Paravata Raja Kumari follows. Their voices sound better and better but my level of concentration is hitting new lows. I shake myself out of my stupor when they launch into Amma Ravamma in Kalyani and then go on to a solid Dhanyasi. I finally give in to my need for sleep and head back to the hotel.
Google maps shows that it is not that far off so I start walking, the night air refreshing me a bit. The street I take is badly lit. There aren’t many people around. When I see a sturdy dog-walker who looks like an armed-forces type, I speed up to tag his heels for a bit of safety. It’s a good thing. A man on a motorcycle slows his speed as he comes close to me. The man with the dog barks out ‘Ennada‘ and the motorcyclist speeds off. ‘So the dog walker was aware of me‘, I think to myself. I thank him in my mind. By now I have reached an area where there is more traffic and activity and I reach my hotel in safety. Note to myself: Walk down only in main, well-lit roads at night-time.
19 December 2016
9 am. I set off this morning to see my aunt who lives in Besant Nagar. At 84, she is still sprightly and insists on cooking me lunch. Her sathumadu is just ambrosia! I wish I could cook like that! She is lonely, I can see. She talks almost non-stop about people and incidents from the past. I am often confused as she jumps seamlessly from 1950 to 1970 or 1990. She has so much more to express, I feel guilty having to say goodbye finally at 2 pm. She is jailed behind the grilled veranda as she waves me goodbye. My heart is heavy with the sorrow of the many goodbyes I have said to so many people close to me over the years. I had said goodbye just like this to my mother, she too had waved goodbye from a veranda. ‘Eppo unnai pappeno‘ (who knows when I will see you again) she had said with sad eyes which could not hold back the stream of love pouring down her cheeks. ‘You know me Amma, I’ll be back in no time‘ I had said to cheer her up. I had looked back at her from the taxi, standing and waving as I drove away. That image is etched in my memory; she died a month later.
4 pm. I walk to the Music Academy and get tickets for this evening. The first concert is by Nisha Rajagopal. I had liked her voice on Youtube. I see that I like her voice even more in person. After my favourite Saveri varnam, she does a brisk Darbar before launching into a detailed Korinavaramu in Ramapriya. I am not much familiar with this Raga. Instead of enjoying the music, my mind goes all analytical, trying to find similarities and differences with other ragas it reminds me of. I force myself to let go and just enjoy the music. She then goes on to Sri Kamalamba Jayati in Ahiri, a raga I love. I reflect that Nisha’s voice doesn’t do justice in the mandra sthayi (lower octave). The RTP (ragamalika) is OK. The tukkadas which follow are excellent. This has been a good concert.
7 pm. Sandeep Nayaran‘s voice immediately makes me sit up and take notice. After an attention grabbing Brochevarevare in Sri Ranjani, he sings an amazing Azhi Mazhai Kanna in Varali. I really start taking notice. I’m not a fan of Begada but I quite like his Tyagaraja Namaste. I amuse myself by noting all his ‘Sanjayisms’!! After a quick Sevikka Vendum Ayya in Andolika he launches into an exceptional Bhairavi alapana. I am now sitting perched at the edge of my seat, not taking my eyes off him even for a second. The Upacharamu which follows is something I will remember for a long time. I lose myself in the wonder of the swarams that follow. When he finishes I am in an euphoric state; ‘this one song is worth my travelling all the way across the seas’ I think. The Charukesi alapana which follows starts gently, as soft as a breeze and then he adds more energy until it stands tall and strong. The RTP has a very modern feel, an approach which feels different to what he has sung so far. He has such an amazing vocal dexterity! Next is an excellent presentation of TNS’s Niroshta thillana. By the time the viruttam is sung and karpagame follows, I call myself a fan. I walk back to the hotel in a happy musical daze.
20 December 2016
Morning. I am thrilled, I actually slept till 6 am today! After breakfast I head back to Kapali Koil and then to the Bank of Baroda to see if I can deposit the old currency into my account even without a PAN card. It seems that I can but as of today, they allow only Rs. 5000 to be deposited! I barge into the manager’s office to do my best beg-and-plead act. Finally, after much negotiation, I am allowed to present a letter with a photocopy of the entry stamp in the passport attesting to my recent entry into India. I am then allowed to deposit whatever I have! I feel such a winner today! Next is a jewellery shop visit to buy gems for our new home foundation. Then a quick visit to a sari shop (I couldn’t quite resist!) before I head to Narada Gana Sabha.
12 noon. I meet my uncle and aunt for lunch at the canteen. It is kalanda sappadu; very tasty. My friend soon joins us as well. We get seated in the cozy Mini Hall just in time for Ashwath Narayanan‘s concert. I have been following this young man since I saw him in Carnatic Idol in 2008. After the varnam he starts with Narada Gana Lola in Attana. Not my favourite raga. The Kamalamanohari which follows is much more to my taste. Next is the rather unfamiliar (to me) Lalitha Panchamam followed by a first class Kalyani. In the minor pieces there is sub-optimal Pibare Ramarasam and a very well sung Anandamaya Manave in Jyotiswaroopini. A good concert, I have enjoyed it. I look forward to listening to more of this young man as he matures. We all enjoy a nice coffee break in the canteen before I say goodbye to the others.
3.30 pm. I have come to Ethiraj Kalyana Nilayam to listen to Sanjay Subramanyan. I am a bit early; the very accomplished Vainika Geetha Krishnamurthy is still part way through her concert. I sit back under a fan and let the music wash over me. The drone of the Veena is very relaxing. I especially enjoy the Nalinakanti.
When Sanjay and his accompanists come on stage, I am disappointed to see that my very favourite S.Varadarajan is not on the violin today. Today is the first time I am sitting on numbered seating. Mine is not too bad visually but I don’t like the speakers blasting in my ears. I am really put off by the loudness; I wish I was listening to Sanjay in another venue! It takes me a while to let my annoyance with the sound go and really start listening to the concert. After the varnam, there is a lovely Inta Paraka in Nadanamakriya. As I look at him, I am very taken by the incredible energy he exudes; I can almost see the beams of energy shoot out in all directions! As I let myself be drawn into the magic of his kalpana swarams which follow, I smile to myself. His each gesture, each syllable declare ‘I am the Boss!’! The authority with which he sings the very familiar Ananda Bhairavi (Marivere) or the very unfamiliar Manavati is quite unmistakable. ‘Thalaiva!’ I whisper. I am enjoying this! I am sad he has chosen Begada for his main piece as this is not a raga I ‘feel’. Next is a crisp Pada Vendume in Hamsanadam. He does especially well with Tamil kritis, doesn’t he! An excellent RTP follows (my notes fail me, but I vaguely remember it as being Vasanta Bhairavi..I may be wrong). After the Tani, there is a short Nama Sudha Rasam in Kapi and a Senjurutti Thillana. I come out of the hall in a deep state if contentment.
21 December 2016
3.40 am. I am up early again, how sad is that! I read quietly in bed and plan my day. As this is my last day here I have many things on my to-do-list. There is not going to be much music today I guess.
7 pm. I’ve had a long day. Since breakfast I have been to Vummidi to collect an earring being repaired, to a costume jewellery shop in Pondy Bazzar to buy pearl and semi-precious strings for my daughter and future daughter-in-law, to an astrologer to see into the future, to Ratna stores to buy spice-boxes for my kids, back to the Music Academy to enjoy a full meal (yum!), waddled with an uncomfortably full belly to the hotel to freshen up, then waddled on to Fab India to buy my son some shirts, then a long walk to Citibank as I needed to change my pin (unsuccessful errand), then back to Mambalam and GRT where I bought a big something as my daughter’s wedding gift and a kadukkan for my son who has pierced his ears, to Nalli to buy some silk scarves as gifts, back to the junk jewellery shop as they said they would repair a broken string I had, then finally to the hotel to freshen up before walking to NGS and here I am all set for the concert. I am exhausted!
I am a bit late for the concert so I slide into a back seat. Ramakrishna Murthy has a big voice for a slight young man. He launches into a very nice Ritigowla and then into Talli Ninnu Nera Nammi in Kalyani. My concentration is poor; I have been running all day and now I just want to collapse into a boneless heap. I have not really been following Ramakrishna Murthy but I see that I have been missing out; this young man is very talented. I am also enjoying Sriram Kumar’s violin very much indeed. Next is a lovely Kalavati. An alapana in Harikambhoji leads into a tanam in multiple ragas and then an even more exhaustive list of ragas in a ragamalika. I am not really enjoying this; there are way too many ragas for my taste. Then there is a sweet Poonkuyil Koovum in Kapi followed by a Thillana. As I get up to leave, I am rather sad. It is my last concert for this trip. I wonder when I will come again? I have enjoyed this immersive experience though it has been rather full on. I make mental plans for future years as I walk back to the hotel.