Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A knowledgeable rasika - 1

Srinivasan turned 41 last week. He has been listening to carnatic music since the age of 5, or was it 3, anyway he cannot remember. It was in the mid seventies, growing up in Madras, that he began listening to carnatic music. He belonged to a typical south indian brahmin family and listened to music being played on the radio everyday. As soon as the programme was on he would eagerly wait for the announcements to find out the name of the kriti and the raga so that the next time he heard the song he could connect it to the raga name he remembered. This was his first steps into raga recognition, the skill that all aspiring carnatic music rasikas yearned to master as quickly as possible. Afterall when sitting at the concert, there was this mama in the front row who nodded aggressively as soon as the first phrases of an alapana began, for he had found out the raga instantly in his mind. Srinivasan was invariably embarrassed to ask his neighbour the name of the raga. He would rather wait for the kriti to start before hazarding a guess in his mind. As the years progressed by the time he was about 14 he could identify a number of ragas instantly. There was this concert of Balamuralikrishna where he had elaborated on the main raga. The audience was generally confused as they could not identify the raga so easily. Srinivasan, who by now had developed a decent sense of the note as well managed to fix the scale as Natabhairavi and was elated when the maestro started the pallavi ' sa ri ga ma pa da ni paadenaa!' Srinivasan's guess was confirmed as he had heard the maestro's HMV record of this same pallavi.

In the eighties as Srinivasan entered college he was a regular at the music concerts in Madras and got familiar with a number of knowledgeable listeners and rasikas. Cassettes were the main source of listening to music besides the live concerts and the radio. In the seventies it was far more difficult to access recorded music because the whole process of acquiring and playing spool tapes was too cumbersome. But cassette revolution changed all that. It was so easy to go to some collector's house and copy concerts in a flash.then there were these double cassette decks with speed dubbing facilities that made things easier. Yes, the empty cassettes were a bit expensive. The genuine collectors only preferred TDK tapes and not the cheaper local Meltrack variety. Some of the techies insisted only on 'metal' or 'chromium' tapes because they lasted longer. And then they would insist on breaking the seal off the edge of the tapes so that nothing could be recorded over it by mistake.

When the nineties hit his life Srinivasan was a seasoned listener. He had a cousin in Singapore who sent him a steady supply of TDK tapes and he had built up a very good collection. No more listening to the radio. He wanted the old masters. He wanted MDR, GNB, Semmangudi, Madurai Mani Iyer, Ramnad Krishnan etc etc. Anything that was recorded before the mid seventies was fine. This was the music a genuine connoisseur would listen to and he did not want to be left behind. The present day music was already getting too commercial for his liking. A number of young upstarts had appeared on the scene. Some of them had talent and respect for the elders but some of them were in a hurry to achieve fame. Srinivasan took a fancy to a couple of the younger lot. He thought there was hope if these musicians could be made to understand the greatness of the old masters. Srinivasan would go to the afternoon concerts and then quietly whisper in the ears of the musician that hew as welcome to come home and take whatever he had to offer. This way the musician could really get enriched and become a better musician.

Srinivasan was interested in the future of the art. He did not want commercialism to overtake the mindsets of the musicians. Fortunately there were still some who could make a difference and he felt that it was his duty to try and expose them to the wonderful treasure he had with him. Slowly he started contacting and talking ot the musicians directly. He was a back bencher for a long time but of late he wanted to get influential. He would call up a musician before the concert and suggest that he/she sing this or that piece. A typical conversation would go like this.

S: What are you planning to sing tomorrow at the MFA?

Musician(M): Dharmavati and Mohanam.

S (In a slightly disappointed tone): That's ok but why don't you sing Mukhari? Nobody sings Mukhari these days. Have you not learnt Karu baru? It was a favorite of Ramnad Krishnan. Your teacher was a big fan of RK. I am sure you would have learnt it.

M: But that is too slow and may not be impressive in a 1 1/2 hour concert.

S: Don't worry about all that. Just singing it will bring a special grandeur to the concert. Don't be mislead by these modern trends. Why don't you sing Varali as well instead of Dharmavati. Forget all these silly scales that just exhibit permutations and combinations when they are sung. Go for the more rakti ragas. The bhavam is so inherent in them that it will carry your concert very well.

M: But why do you say that about Dharmavati? Artistes like TMT and Kalyanaraman have sung it so well. Even musicians like Lalgudi and MLV give so much dimension to it.

S (now getting a bit angry): What are you talking? have you heard Alathur Brothers or Ariyakudi or Semmangudi sing Dharmavati? Never! Did they not have the capacity to sing it? They chose not to because they knew that these ragas were mere scales. Further have the trinity composed as many songs in Dharmavati as they did in Varali?

M: The Trinity also composed so many songs in Narayanagowla. These stalwarts never sang that. I think that you are unnecessarily belittling the brilliance of musicians who can explore and give life to these unexplored ragas.

S: I am not belittling these musicians. I am only saying that if you are as brilliant as these people then you can also pull it off. But until you reach that stage you have to take the time tested path. All these experimentation will get you nowhere. Prove your worth and then start doing what you want.

M: But did not these rebels start off early themselves. Did they not go against people like you and still manage to blaze a trail.

S (now getting really irritated): All you young people think too much of yourselves. Even before singing a few concerts you want to blaze a trail. Is it so easy? Do you know how much hard work it takes? How many years of toil before you can sing one phrase? Just because you have sung a few concerts and a few people are listening to you, you cannot think that you are going to change the face of carnatic music. This system has stood the test of time for centuries!

M: Ok sir I think will just have to disagree on this point. (But the musician thought to him/herself - Even without singing a single song on stage, this guy can talk and argue so much. What will I do if he can get up on stage and even sing a song at the Tyagaraja aradhana!)

To be continued.

Disclaimer: This is entirely fictional.