A Southern music

This past weekend, a bunch of us drove around 200 miles to go listen to T M Krishna, Sriramkumar and Arun Prakash perform at Seattle and came back with our hearts desires fulfilled at the concert. Early disclaimers, I am a huge fan and quite in agreement with a lot of the problems Krishna has with the kutcheri format as we know it today. But I will stay as objective as I can narrating my experience. Krishna has been receiving a lot of flak, some of it warranted of course, but a lot of it is social media flogging based on second/third hand reports. I want my mostly positive reception of his experiments out in the cyberspace not really to counter these (to each his own, really) but to offer a different perspective for anybody who maybe wants to see another side to it.

The kutcheri format as we know it today, is mostly what was pioneered and optimized by Ariyakudi and was essentially one individual’s idea of how he wanted to present his music. That format having passed on over the generations has become a dictat on how a concert should be performed. But music and its presentation should never remain static, and any art is individual interpretation. When I start looking at Krishna’s attempts as something more than a “gimmick” and try to figure out why and how he is trying to shake up the format of a kutcheri, I see a lot of things that ring well with me, and some that maybe don’t. But I am willing to let that go in the wake of the fact that the unpredictability of what is going to come next adds an extra dimension of intrigue and wonder in the concert for me.

Now to the concert itself. Krishna delved straight into Ananda natana prakasham, in his vilamba kaala style,kedaram in all its glory! There was joy in the way the team performed this krithi.  There was a neraval @ sri kedaradhi kshetra which is not a typical spot for this krithi but quite a playful one. The twists, turns and swings around the word kedara were a delight! And then when they reached sangeetha vaadya vinodha, it didn’t seem unnatural at all that they decided to stop there again for neraval, the team was so into it at this point. After 30 minutes of kedaram they were finally satisfied and the audience was ecstatic. Who are we then  to complain that the first “warm-up piece” shouldn’t go on for so long! A thaanam in Sri Ranjini followed, and while personally I would have enjoyed an alapana better (just because of my love for the raagam), when Krishna segued into Marubalka, the pace of the thaanam really set the pace for the song. Now, if you have heard Semmangudi sing Marubalka with the lightning speed swaras and sangathis, you don’t want to hear it sung by anybody else that way. Krishna owned the song and really made it his own with a madhyamakala pace and awesome third speed swarams when Arun Prakash set it into motion with some energetic korvais. He really is the person who got the rawest of deals with all the vilamba kaala expositions, but his restrained minimalist style in those really sets him apart from everyone else. Next was a Saraswathi Manohari alapana (TMK announced it was the Diskthira paddhathi one, it sounded nothing like the Entha vedunkondu one and more like Kaanada IMO) and the eponymous krithi followed. I love Krishna for his love for Dikshitar!

Next  is where it gets interesting. Krishna sang and explored Mukhari beautifully in multiple octaves and then Sriramkumar took over and played a splendid Kedaragowla! And then Krishna began singing Kuvalayakshiro!!! I love Kshetragnya padams, and being married to a Movva from the land of Muvva Gopala, the Gowlipantu was a double delight. While I don’t have a huge issue with stand alone alapanas, I didn’t quite get the choice of ragas and so felt a little stumped and was searching for clues where there probably were none. And then Krishna took on  Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar’s Shankarabharanam thillana, and when Dharin turned to me in alarm that the concert was going to end, I only half jokingly told her that this was probably the main. Well, that is what it ended up being 🙂  After singing the thillana in its pure honest form at a reduced speed (which totally worked for me BTW) he then launched into a Shankarabharanam exploration over the hills and vales. Now if  I had tweeted my first knee jerk reaction to this, I am sure there would have been a flogging party over it. But when he and Shriramkumar were done with it, I was completely overwhelmed with the beauty of the shankarabharanam exposition. I didn’t find it incomplete, inappropriate or out of place. The thillana pallavi didn’t start at sammam, so Arun Prakash had super fun exploring this in his thani in his trademark controlled restrained way. I wont pretend I understood the math 🙂

Next up was the slokam Moulam Ganga (another Semmangudi staple) followed by a hamir kalyani alapana by RKSK and Sharade in Hameerkalyani.  A lovely Pantuvarali alapana with terrific exchanges between TMK and RKSK followed and I was super excited anticipating a Pallavi. TMK announced the raagam as Kamavardhini instead of Pantuvarali which made sense once the pallavi lines began ,” Parthadum mayanginen paavai yin paarvai yai” . The exposition was swarakshara filled at all the Pas and Mas. And then TMK and RKSK went into ragamalika mode with the pallavi. Krishna believes in a democratic stage, with him and Sriram Kumar and Arun Prakash sitting in an arc on stage. For probably the first time ever, I could see the violinst AND mridangist’s’ faces throughout the concert and it was lovely to watch the camaraderie. This pallavi ragamalika was a true duet, each one taking up a different raga : Ahiri (was like listening to Mayamma!), neelambari, hamsadhwani and ending with Khamas. Khamas segued into a fast paced  and a super fun javali (Era ra ra)! And Dhava vibho and mangalam kosalendra also sung in Yaman Kalyani wrapped up a splendid 3 hours of divine pure music.

Yes, the concert was non-conformal to what is the norm today, but each composition form and raga was performed in its purest state with full justice given to the grammar of the format. Dikshitar and Thiagaraja were represented, there was a pallavi, a padam, a jaavali, a thillana, multiple ghana raaga explorations and none of them felt incomplete at all. I don’t have a problem with the order when the treatment is so perfect. Krishna’s voice was in great form despite this being close to the end of the tour and they were truly a team on stage. Even the” this is not a concert” spiel was more like a request to try to understand the attempt , that it was just to share music.  And that is exactly what they did on stage, completely in consonance with each other and the music. The second request was to not feel compelled to applaud every time they came to a silence, and sometimes let the silence sink in, which was again a perfectly acceptable request (I fact checked this with my objective about everything and extremely rational husband and he said he didn’t spot any arrogance in the requests made).  My only gripe with the concert was that there was no varnam, and that too only because TMK sings them so well! A varnam main was what I had hoped for 🙂 Another complaint from some in my gang was that there were not enough madhyamakala krithis to balance the vilambam, and if  you are not a fan of slow explorations I guess his style can be a little hard to like. I am fine if people aren’t a fan of the music itself, but the all out bashing of all his attempts IMO is unwarranted. We shouldn’t be nit-picking over dictats which are probably 50-70 years old forgetting the beauty of the compositions much older and the music that predates everything else!

P.S – A more technical review of the concert here : http://www.rasikas.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=24377

A really endearing acceptance speech from TMK recently where he re iterates the friendship this team shares : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nA23S8AN0fI

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Tis the season

The month of months is almost here now! The “season” has sprouted it fledgling leaves out in Chennai and the tinge of regret that usually blooms into a full blown state of depression anytime I am not in Chennai to watch it in all its splendor has also taken root in my heart (too many mixed metaphors, but please excuse the parched heart :P) But as usual the sunny side speaks up and makes do with what I have. Being old school and not believing that it is officially “season” till Margazhi kicks in, here is what I have in my pre-season mood-setting list before I let myself drown in it all!

1) Jambupathe – Yamuna  – M.Dikshithar

This was an accidental discovery and I haven’t stopped listening to it at least once a day since then. The krithi itself wasn’t new to me, but TMK’s rendition made me sit up and listen to it like never before. The chauka kalam (slow tempo) yields such a flawless fluidity to the krithi that I have no doubt that this is what Dikshitar intended for his krithi dedicated to the appu lingam in his panchabuta set (he even references the panchabuta aspect in the charanam). Of course it is no coincidence that the genius chose Yamuna for this krithi. The raga, the antyaprasam in each section, the cadence of the words and the water references and metaphors (karuna sindho, amruta bodham,ambudhi gaṅgā kāvērī yamunā) makes the heart just over flow with the overwhelming emotion of bhakthi.  The charanam is beautiful with such incredible poise and the madhyama kala sahityam in the end just…flows!

The Thiruvanaikaval temple is beautiful though Akilandeshwari with her thadakams takes the limelight there both literally and metaphorically. Even in the kriti Dikshitar refers to the deity as “akilandeshwari ramana” and “parvatajāprārthitāppu liṅga”. The krithi grants the deity the same poise and “nirvikalpa samadhi” state that the lord assumes in this sthala.

Coming to Krishna’s rendition of the krithi, words fail me in admiration. I had only heard the DKJ rendition before, but this rendition as I said took me by the grip. Among the contemporary singers, no one gives Dikshitar as much respect and attention as Krishna does. And his immense respect, adoration and surrender to the krithi echoes through every note! The amazing control he has over his voice is the overwhelming aspect of this extremely tough slow rendition. When he traverses through the “ambudhi gaṅgā kāvērī yamunā” portion, which is my favorite part of the krithi, the heart surges higher and higher with each note towards salvation to the krithi, the raga and the supreme. I don’t know who the mridangam player in this recording is, but I am willing to bet my only partially functioning left ear that it is Arun Prakash who is brilliant as always in his restrained approach to the chauka kalam. I don’t think I can say anything more about this rendition or any better than this comment on Youtube that summarizes it so succinctly “Vidwan TM Krishna’s rendition of Jambu pathe helps listeners to be learners, learners to be singers, singers to be ecstatic, ecstatic to be in salvation”.

2. Kaana Kannaayiram -Neelambari -Anai Ayya

Sanjay and TMK are like chalk and cheese for me. I can’t pick one over the other. What TMK does for Dikshitar, Sanjay does for Tamil isai. While there is a well burnished approach in TMK’s singing, the most attractive feature of Sanjay’s singing for me is the spontaneity, the exuberance and the joy of singing that he reflects in every rendition. His creativity is boundless when it comes to throwing sangati after sangati, brigha after brigha and sometimes just attempting the inconceivable (for me that is) variation that sounds so apt and fits right in. I first heard this krithi in the Arar Asaipadar documentary (starts from 1:20 onwards,unless you want to make the same mistake as me and start craving dosais). It was really charming to see Sanjay take Rethas through the sangatis and the ease with which the sangatis just flowed from his throat is totally awe worthy. I could only locate on scratchy recording of the song and had to do with it till I found this one from the Sanjay camp itself!

The powerfully resonant brief alapana in the beginning heralds images of a Nadaswaram mallari and a swaying procession of the lord. And so when Sanjay’s strong opening line bellows “Kaana kannayiram vendum” you are in total agreement with the sentiment. Sanjay executes the “naadhaswara bani” brilliantly in the ebbs and flows in his voice, intonation and the force of the sangatis. The tenderness aptly at the “dharmavardhini” portion and the brisk sangatis especially in the pallavi ringing in the gait of Panchanadeeshvarar! Sanjay’s intonation and assault-a extending akaramas reminded me of the exchange with SRD again in the arar asaipadar movie. Sanjay owns this composition in every way possible, and it is almost as if it was composed for him! It is Arun Prakash again who sparkles here with his mridangam touches playing along with Sanjay’s dynamics through the songs. Varadu, sollave venam, excels as always playing for Sanjay.

3. Maaye -Tarangini – M.Dikshitar

This is not a new obsession with me. This song dropped into my horizon sometime in 2007 when I heard TMK talk about it in respect to the Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini. It might be the raga itself, maybe the sentiment of looking for a lost tradition or the knowledge that it was a special krithi for Dikshitar,  but I really went on a hunt after that first listen. I read up on the history of the raaga and even in the brief glimpses I got of the original version of the song in the excerpts in that article, there was an bond created. I bought Vedavalli amma’s album and listened to the song non-stop for a while, but there was a pedagogy in that rendition that I couldn’t get over.  I will also admit that I like the incorrect renditions just as much, especially MS’s soulful version and MLV’s lightning bolt rendition.

When I was in Louisville alone and lonley, I stumbled on this video on Youtube. From the opening phrase, the violin wrings my heart into total submission. VVS’s violin just weeps and weeps in salvation. There is such a tranquil and meditative charm to it. You can sense the total surrender that Dikshitar intends in this song. Legend has it that he composed it in prayer when he was sick with chicken pox.  While in the MSS/MLV version, it is the gopucca yati (cow’s tail) and taala variations that stand out as highlights, when the violin sings there is just devotion, a certain sense of forlorn and cry in prayer. This is one of the most perfect renditions of the song I have heard, and is my absolute go to when I’m feeling the blues!

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Links

I am constantly fascinated by the train of my thoughts : those seemingly unconnected mind signals, that are weaved into a tapestry in a thrilling interplay between the conscious and the sub conscious. My favorite way of reliving conversations both with myself  (what you don’t talk to yourself?) and others, is to start with the last bit of material and unravel the threads back to the spool. While evolved souls ask us to refrain from letting our minds do just this, it is a convenient device for someone like me to purge out all the bitterness and rage by just letting my mind go through the excursions of outrage,helplessness, desperation, self righteous anger,  and then equanimity and maturity and in the process forget the original act that set it all off.

This afternoon I came back from lunch to my desk pissed and completely rattled with something that upset me. After going through the above tableau of emotions, I let my mind wander through my twitter timeline, laughing, outraging and  getting link happy in equal measure. And soon enough I was sent into this awesome “Yaatra”. Amit Trived is totally kalakkifying this season of Coke studio. The segue into Sabhapathikku veru deivam is absolutely brilliant. The African drums and chants, the pop-ish refrain, the beautiful shenai and Gopalakrishna Bharathi’s Abhogi seamlessly blend and flow together. And this automatically sent me to Rama nee Samanamevaru . Legend has it that GB composed Sabapathikku, in the span of one snana, on Thiagaraja’s request for a krithi in Abhogi. There of course is also the tongue in cheek element of it being a response to Thiagaraja’s declaration ,”Rama, who can compare to you!”. MLV’s blissful Kharaharapriya led me into this magnificent alapana on the veena. The veena triggered a thought about a discussion on Twitter I had seen on S. Balachander earlier and I immediately searched for this video which is one of my absolute favorites.

Balachander begins with a plaintive Hameer Kalyani and then plunges into the pathos of Shubha Panthuvarali . Soon there is the all encompassing forgiveness and love that is Behag, and then regret in Darbari Kanada where the tug and pull of the strings mirror in your heart as well. Ranjani brings in poise in a flash and the first phrase at 25:08 in Kedaragowlai is unbridled joy. Neelambari is the return to innocence, and with Inta sowkhyam, all the sowkhyam is restored. And by the time the tail piece Surutti begins, all the sogam has been veratti-ed! All is well in the world as long as there is such divine music to hold our hands through it all!

PS. I was going to name this post string theory, but refrained out of respect for DFW and consideration towards S 🙂

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On work, life and love

First day at a new job and all everyone who meets you can talk about is work-life balance. I think that is the point where you start getting the hint that there is soon going to be none. If life = sleep, I have perfected the art of work-life balance.  Sadly that is all I have time for these days. I love the daily challenges of my job, the high pressure to perform, the technology and tools I get to work with – I love it all…err, ok not the 2AM pages about a failing module, but you get the point right? My biggest gripe with my prev job (ok, other than the location) was the lack of anything new/interesting/challenging. Now this job supplies me with that and much more and I have let myself be swallowed by it in whole. Of course it saps a lot from me, and on most days, I come back home wanting to do nothing but curl up in front of the TV or go to sleep. Family, friends and even the virtual world gets totally ignored. Of course everybody happily or rather vindictively (AB , talking about you here) attributes it to my recently changed marital status. Only we know better 🙂

You see how even in this post life comes second. I think once I get over the over-enthusiasm for this new job, I will reach the zen state S is already at where he plays tennis 3 times a week, takes piano lesson and gives recitals with 9 yr olds (had to throw in an insult somewhere). Right now, I am fully immersed in setting home. And no this doesn’t mean all the wifey duties you all think it suggests. This chore involves frequent trips to World Market and Pier 1 and is quite a lot of fun. I hung pictures before I unpacked the kitchen stuff. Says a lot about where my priorities lay! Since a picture is worth more than a thousand words (left to me i’ll take 5000) I shall do a house tour on this blog soonly, once I get S to vacuum/clean the house (what? it is on his list!).

And that is the biggest problem with living with a boy! It is as though they are all genetically modified to completely see through clutter. But after a lonely year in Kentucky, it is so much fun to have someone to eat through a city with. And PDX is a foodie’s delight! Tons of food carts all around, a lot of hidden gems waiting to be uncovered, savored and then frequented till we bore ourselves of it! Every Saturday we set off to the city on a food discovery mission, and such gems we have found! I love that I can choose to have a Norwegian Lefse, move on to the next cart for a Aloo tikki channa and then drive to go eat Jackfruit icecream at the awesomest ice-cream place I’ve been to.  Saturday afternoons are for tea and reading at Powells.  Love is finding someone to sit with you at a bookstore for 4 hours- reading midst the bustle of the coffee shop. No words exchanged, just a togetherness from a afternoon of shared delight.

 

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The best way to get back to blogging after a long break

is probably to just slip back in with no big fuss. But certain life changing events (or so I’m made to believe) and an extended India trip necessitate the need for further elaboration. As much as I tried to play it down and try to act like it was no big deal, to my parents,family and the rest of the world, the wedding seemed like the single most important  event in my adult life 🙂

Who am I kidding, it probably IS something close to that. I was not as terrified with the idea of being married as the wedding itself.I have known S long enough and knew that, as much as my mother hoped and prayed for it, he didn’t expect me to turn into a new domestic goddess version of myself post- wedding. Not too much was going to change with us. But the wedding itself, gosh! I was really nervous about all that attention, the pressure to look good  and terrified of being caught on camera doing something clumsy/stupid ! Remember all those tamil movies where the bride can’t light the lamp at first go or her sari catches on fire and everybody predicts doom or a mishap? That ladies and gentlemen was my biggest fear!

Other than that, the wedding was a lot more fun than I expected it to be. It was awesome that so many of my favorite people including cousins and aunts and uncles from the US made it to the wedding! The shopping sure was fun and it was so awesome to be back at Gops with Kindu, Utts and AB. We would pretend to exercise in the mottai madi in the morning, and as we came down, freshly squeezed juice, oats, the clothes for the day will all be laid out by Perimma/amma. I am so jealous of the pampering that Utts and AB receive, that it motivates me to move back home so much more than all the other reasons I had. I could really get used to the luxury.

The time spent at the two houses post wedding was interesting to say the least. I didn’t pretend to be the kudumba kuthuvilakku my mom wanted me to be, but overall I think I did well in the good-girl behaviour ratings 🙂 It was so weird and annoying to note the tone of respect everyone from my Athais and perimas to my mom adopted while speaking to S, and I got a “veetu maaplai la” explanation every time I protested. Why no one give me any new respect? It was also so amusing when our maid checked S out and came and told me “Aiya nalla irukaru” . She was the one keeping tabs on whether I wore my thaali everyday and when I switched from the thread to the kodi!!!!

The visa people probably never had a happier recipient of a 221g form. I was so thrilled that I got to stay through some portion of margazhi, and also at home with the luxury treatment for a longer time! Except for the cancellation of a much-anticipated Angkor trip, I did have a great time. We went to Udaipur instead, I got to gorge on Gangotree panipuri, and of course eat at everyplace Ampa and Deeber had lined up for me. And then the blasted passport came back and I had to leave 😦 5 kutcheris don’t make a Margazhi, but I am glad I got to catch some of my favorites in action. Will put up kutcheri reviews soon.As it is this post has taken so long, and I also have to leave for home from work now 😛

And that dear readers was what I did while I was gone 🙂 Wish you all a wonderful 2012 and hope it brings us all a lot of luck, love and happiness!

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Renovated old worlds

Today, a conversation on twitter led me to stumble upon this. A hole in the wall childhood wonderland has turned into an e-beast. 10 branches, e-catalogues, door delivery- I wanted to cry! It felt like a personal secret garden had been invaded, trampled upon and converted in to a huge concrete jungle. 

The scraps to riches story is really inspiring, impressive and something I am proud to say I saw happening and I would have definitely felt a million times worse if the library had gone to dust. But the transition of an old, charming world of nooks and corners stuffed with shelves of books, the cool dampness in the inside rooms, the wonderfully enticing smell of books and paper, the grumpy old men with ledgers and the thrills of search, stumble and discovery  set my huzun quotient dial to maximum.

My dad’s generation saw their contributions to Palani’s dream of starting a library out of an old-paper business turn into a tiny cubby filled with shelves heaving under the weight of books. My mom saw her library membership become the most coveted possession for many in the house. B900, it wasn’t just any number. It was a pass code into a luxurious world of the published wonders. But it was also a number, thanks to my dad mostly, tagged with a lot of late returns and fines 🙂

A trip to the library, though it was only 5min walk from home, was an event for me!  I would accompany my mother, armed with the  “library bag”, with a vague list in head. 2-3 books for me,2 books for Kindu, book or two for Amma and then an allotted quota of comics. I don’t know why, maybe because of the chill of the steel, maybe because of the dampness of the books, or even because of the hot sun in the short walk there, but entering the library  always felt like entering a cool dark cave. The library was always dimly lit, some of the inside rooms didn’t even have sunlight hit them. It was a labyrinth where if you knew your way around there was no stopping you from finding treasures. There was no formal cataloguing, a vague sorting by genres and alphabetical listing. New hardbounds in the front next to rows and rows of DOS guides , the classics in the middle room, the banned shelves of M&Bs and anything else my mom deemed as trash, the barely visited(much to my regret now) tamil shelves, the rows of Just William books, the entire collection of Hardy boys and Nancy Drews, Enid Blytons, Roal Dahls- there was never a book I couldn’t find at Easwari, or at least that Palani couldn’t help me find.  My mom was unfortunately an indulgently black-marked regular. Palani would always throw a mock fuss before he gave out a new book to my mother. But secretly I think those were just roles we played, to keep the proceedings interesting.

Grumpy men with grunt filled vocabulary sat to enter the books into huge ledgers for check out, of course not before diligently checking  the returned books. You just had to give them the membership number. No IDs, no verification. The trade was built on a trust system. There were no cards in the book, just an oval purple rubber stamp to show that it was the property of Easwari. Regulars could get away occasionally by saying that things would be returned later.  In the end,Palani always decided the bill. His was a supremely unique method, with a strange algorithm in his head, I’m sure ,with weightage for his fondness of the customer, his mood and probably the taste of his lunch! He would lift each book, and almost sort of weigh it with his wrist before throwing it down with a thud. No word, no eye contact and at the end of the whole process, he would pronounce a number that we couldn’t refute. But dues and account balances were tolerated, again, with vague grunts. And finally,walking out of the library with a pile of books waiting to be read was one of the greatest thrills in life.

As I grew older, my mom would be the one making the trips to the library with lists from everyone in the family. Later in life, perippa even got an account to Eloor  Library that was spic and span and organized to the T. It lacked the warmth and charm of a neighbourhood library, and was also so impersonal. No Palani to admonish you, or give you a scolding or tell you that you should read Ponniyin Selvan in Tamil.

These days, while I have forgotten the charms of a cozy library and have moved on to second hands and e-books, my mom still visits Easwari almost every month. She tells me Palani still sits there, and he still refuses to give her first dibs at new books. But the library is more organized, more efficient and computers sit where the ledgers once did (that was even in my time). While my father’s generation saw  the crumbling of a lot of their charmed worlds with the change of times (Safire theatre, more recently Drive-in), it is the turn of mine to see the renovation of rabbit holes, into castles with elevators. Unfortunately efficiency and enterprise is always at the price of romantic  old-world charm!

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The lure of a racounter

I LOVE Hindu mythology! The stories, the characters, the twists and the thirlls – what is not to love. Having grown up with a healthy dose of Amar Chithra Kathas and other such books for children, even today the lure of a good dose of the puranas is irresistable for me. Whoever doles it, in which ever format, be it the mammoth translations of Kamala Subramaniam, be it the classical presentation of Sekkizhar (translated of course!), or the fascinating accounts of Ramesh Menon (sometimes scandalizing too)  and Devdutt Patnaik, or even the more modern interpretations of Prem Panicker and Ashok Banker, I lap it all up in absolute delight! While the stories themselves are a lure enough, in the hands of an able story-teller they really become something else!

In a country where an aural tradition is predominant, and where the music, arts and folk culture are entwined with the religions and its tales, it is not surprising that some of the best narrations of these epics are in the oral format. And growing up, I have always been fascinated and enraptured by Harikathas and discourses.  I think I owe a lot of it to two of my own personal racounters. The first being my father. He is blessed with a great gift of storytelling that has completely missed being passed on to me! While the story was definitely the medium, my dad was all about the details. It was very important to him that I know of the Ashta Vasus and 11 rudras, know the names of Bhagadatta’s elephant, Surya’s seven horses or Ravana’s father. He would quiz me on these things periodically to make sure I was paying attnetion!  The second, was my grandfather (mom’s uncle). I am the apple of his eye, and would be favored with bed-time stories whenever I visited Mandaveli. His special story was that of Kanappa Nayanaar, who to date remains my favorite.  I am also known to have tested his patience, not letting him go beyond the “mAn Oda, rAmar Oda” infinite loop in the Maarichan story!

Anantharama Dikshithar is another childhood favorite. I can still quote some of his lines from his discourses with tonal modulations and emphasis intact (gurvayoorappA..nAn..anAdhan..). So was Prema Pandurang. When Ani was pregnant with Ana,I would spend evenings with her in the only A/C room in the house, listening to Prema’s beautiful bhagavatham lectures, ostensibly for the A/C but I have to admit that the beauty and vAtsalyam of the narration moved me more.

Which brings me to the point of my strange delusion in my teenage years that interest in such things were very “maami” and uncool.  I would therefore feign a lack of interest and miss all the kathai sessions in our neighbourhood temple. But I think my parents sensed my interest nevertheless, maybe from the delight I took when Appa started one of his vedantha talks (I can see my sister rolling her eyes at me right now) or from  how despite all my jokes about wanting to give Muralidhara Swamigal a manicure, I would still listen to his Pandaripur stories along with my mother!  So my dad continued to delight in the only enthusiastic audience he ever got, and my mom never failed to read to me bits from Deivathin Kural or come back from her harikatha sessions with summaries. To her, the end goal is always the moral of the story, and she would cut through all the intersting stuff and get straight to the point which would of course totally ruin it for me!

Mythology is popular in India now, but harikatha might still be a maami and reitred maama niche. But I am beyond such inhibitions now and embrace my maami-hood with open arms and pride! This past week, I have been listening to TSB’s Bhagavatha Sapthaham and it is deliciously good! He is a dramatic narrator and it is so awesome that he often breaks off in a tangent and breaks into a Tyagaraja krithi!   The discourse has also made me pick up Kamala Subramanian’s Bhagavatham again. Thanks to being my dad’s daughter, I had to start over as I don’t remember all the names and details from the first 200 pages I already read! The narration and concepts are utterly fascinating. Narayana’s dream and kalpa and the creation of the universe is simply mind blowing! Sorry Christopher Nolan, we beat you to the idea. Last night I was thinking about how Suka is the father of all katha narrators and it is no coincidence that he was the banner deity for all S.Ve.Sekar productions. And that really is it! For me beyond the spiritual reflections of these narrations, the attraction is the stories, the music and the lure of a good racounter!

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