Monday, August 27, 2012

The wizard of Pannaippuram - keep weaving your magic!

Certain beautiful things are only experienced and enjoyed.  They cannot be described in words , for words fail miserably to adequately bring out the import and poignancy of the moment.  Of all the five senses god has bestowed on us, speech is perhaps the most ordinary faculty.  At dawn, just before day-break, the sparrows chirp. Ears hear the chirp but can words do ample justice to portray the lilt on paper?  On a drizzling afternoon, at the eastern horizon, a rainbow suddenly spurts.  Eyes behold the magic but can words convincingly describe the beauty the eyes witness?  On a wintry cold night, when we are half-asleep snuggled cozily inside the blanket, you feel the chill fingers of someone lying beside on your bare chest!  Ah, the silky touch, but words could hardly narrate the ecstasy felt. When at night, after a  hard day's labour we are tired and famished, the smell of food being cooked wafts inside your room.  The nose captures the heavenly sensation, but the words just fail to keep pace.

So is with music.  So is with Ilayaraja's music. It can only be felt, touched, breathed, smelt and even seen but not adequately described.  The man and his work have only been so far loosely described as something approximating to genius.  I am not very sure about the appropriate context in which the adjective should be used but the word genius itself can, at best, aspire to only skim the surface of Raja's repertoire.  There are  millions on this earth, who have discovered deep inner peace and eternal bliss in Raja's works. Millions like me, have  managed to wade through the mundane wretched moments of daily life only by seeking solace from Raja's songs. 

I once read somewhere that writer Sujatha once  referred to the 'small surprising sweet shocks'(or something similar to that effect - edhirparadha siriya inba adhirchi) one gets from countless of Ilayaraja's compositions.  I am not sure about the writer's references, since I could not cross-verify it from any source.  But I have no such doubts about the inba adhirchigal Raja's songs regularly throw up at every nook, at unexpected moments, like mild electric shocks, producing minute,  tingling, ecstatic sensations all over.  A few of such I may wish to share:

In 'Attukutti muttayittu...' from 16 vayadhinile, in every charanam, after the 3rd line, the accompanying percussion beat in the background produces that one extra beat..(after 'pattathu rani, adhula 18 peru..... & medaikkuppona enakku eedilla ponnu...) which any other ordinary mortal would never even have conceived of.  Just an extra fleeting-second beat, many would not even have noticed  but the effect it produces on the discerning listener is incomparable.  In 'Sundari kannal oru sedhi.." after the first stanza, the drums start playing.  Listen minutely to their gradually slackening tempo and then rising to a crescendo.Exhilarating effect.  Or in 'Pon malaippozhudhu, after the first charanam finishes, listen to the interlude- a beautiful piece of orchestration beginning with the guitar, and then the flute, and then the violin crescendo each beginning and seamlessly merging into the next one....

In "paruvame pudhiya padal padu...", after the pallavi, the accompanying jogging- beat rhythm prolongs for a while.  Even as it does, the guitar effortlessly takes over soothingly.  Even before it finishes, the violin ensemble begins and reaches a crescendo,  The interlude then ends with a solo violin and then for a few magical moments, everything is silent except for the jogging steps which in turn fuse ever so effortlessly with the singer's arohanam.  It takes more than mere genius to even attempt such mind-blowing compositions. And can anything hope to  match the interludes of folkish lullaby and  the high-pitched male scat- singing to the accompaniment of the beating of udukkai in 'uchi vagudeduthu..."    I could have tried to tag the individual songs here but thought better - for one, I am very clumsy when it comes to use of technology and more important, I am talking here to my fellow Tamil film-music lovers only.  For us, Raja songs play inside our heads 24 x 7 and it is no big deal to press the play-back button inside the head.

Connoisseurs go gaga over the violin concertos and symphonies of Bach and Beethoven. Terms like adagio, allegro, C major and stuff like that do add a snobbish value to many but for them bandishing such terms in the cocktail circuit is more important than the music itself.   Our own Raja, within the suffocating confines of film music, has managed hundreds of gems of violin symphonies, as in "madai thirandu thavum siru alai naan...", "Edho mogam.."  "Raja raja chozhan..."  and many more.  Our Raja has straddled with elegance all forms of music, western to Carnatic classical, folk to reggae, jazz to hard rock.  He has ventured into territories competition was barely aware of.  He has, with aplomb, brought glory back to the much-maligned film music.  He is capable of much more, to reach further heights and to lord over the rest of the world. But his best  probably is destined to never come out.  We are so used to relegating film musicians to the realm of the scum of the society.  We take pride in deriding film music, specially the pundits among us. It's a tragedy but certainly, the loss is not Raja's.

I did not exactly mean to start this as an eulogy for Raja.  His works are much more sacrosanct for any ordinary fan to even attempt to eulogise. For Gods are seldom eulogised.  They are just worshipped.  Comparisons, encomiums and even brick-bats  would be trivialising the genius.  Kalidasa remarks in the opening stanzas of Raghuvamsa 'Kva surya prabhavo vamsha, kvachalpa vishayamadhi..' (loosely translated as 'where is the great Surya dynasty and where do I stand, me the dim-witted?") Same should apply to any one venturing to eulogise Ilayaraja.  In the virtual world though, one can find some quality material which would help one appreciate what the phenomenon called Raja is all about, the music  he has made, the music he is capable of making but has not made and the output the world is fortunate to have received.  One such site is which I would strongly recommend all music lovers to visit, not just Raja fans.  Of course, the bloke who writes there deserves a doctorate for his painstaking research of Ilayaraja's works and alpa vishaya madhi guys like me have only the faintest idea of abstract musical terms like rhythm arrangements, scat-singing, counterpoints, counter-melody arrangements etc. the writer Ravi speaks of.  But that does not matter.  As long as I am able to appreciate Raja's works.

Thank you Raja, for all that you have given me and the world.  Thanks, Raja for lightening up my moments of gloom.  Thanks for the joy and ecstasy you have shared with humanity all these years. You are brilliant, you   transcend borders and you come close to genius.  You are well, God, since pudhu ragam padaippadhale neeyum Iraivane!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Birthday greetings, you 373 year old monster!

So today, you  grand old lady just grew one year older, didn't you?    All of 373 years now.  Phew, what a journey!  A long way from the cradle-infant born as a small strip of land in what is today Fort St. George, sired by Davis, mothered by your own quirks and fate, blossomed as a lovely lass somewhere down the lane and pretending to be  just as lovely even today, even after 373 years.  Many happy returns, my Madras, I love you.  I adore you.  I shed  tears of joy when you are praised.  I cringe when you are besmirched.  I cry when you suffer.  I discover my courage to rebuke when you are ridiculed.  I do all this because you mean so much to me.  Despite all your faults.

And faults are aplenty with you.  While no birthday child gets chided on her birthday, you are going to get an earful from me.  You remember, I used to defend you to the hilt despite your occasional manifestation of ugly behaviour?  Used to shout over the hill top that you are the best, the very best, way above other children?  But that was for public consumption, this conversation with you is private. You have disappointed me, you have grown up to become unwieldy and unkempt.   Since when did you start meandering away?  Is there any hope still for your unabashed lovers like me, the die-hard tribe of Madrasis?

Perhaps you started withering away, when you turned 120.  Or 250. Or 350.  It does not matter at what age.  But it does matter that the rot has set in within you and the rot is very discernible.

Starting with your infrastructure.  You were okay with a population of about 2 million. You were good enough for another million. But you now are pulled down with your own weight of 6 million, obscenely obese and bursting at the seams.  You took into your fold whoever came your way from all over India and the result shows in your girth.  You are now fat, struggling to breathe and adding more calories by the day.  You need to keep a watch on your weight, old lady, if you wish to see your 400th birthday alive.

Your traffic is terrible.  You have mindlessly let vehicles multiply by geometric proportions over the last few decades.  The result is absolute chaos with deadly pollution and dwindling road space making you one of the worst cities for pedestrians.  You need to keep a watch on your traffic health, old lady,  if you wish to see your 400th birthday alive.

And the volume of waste you generate!  Again, a direct consequence of your overweight.   You have nowhere to dump your waste and so you think it fit to turn your entire body into garbage dumps.  Mounds of such stinking stuff greet one at every street corner, even at important thoroughfares. We have heard of garbage strewn cities but you take the cake, being a city situated right amidst an ocean of garbage.  You need to keep a watch on your waste disposal metabolism, old lady,  if you wish to see your 400th birthday alive.

Ah, the traffic!  Your people like to be called conservative, rule-abiding and even taking some pride in being timid.  Rule-abiding? my foot.  You have the worst traffic-rule offenders, I make no bones about it.  No vehicle stops at the stop-line, at the red-light, unless the junction also presents a cop.  And the cops have a very funny way of managing traffic.  State buses are exempt from obeying traffic rules.  So are two-wheelers. And cars driven by the wealthy and mighty.  And bicycles.  And government vehicles.  Compliance is restricted to all other classes of vehicles (if anything is left).  And so, my dear Madras, this is to remind that you need to keep a watch on your blood circulation, if you wish to see your 400th birthday alive.

And there are other signs of terminal illness within you
    - potholed roads.  (perhaps you wished to make things easy for NASA for their Mars exploration-they could as well have used your roads for a perfect simulated Martian environment;  the fools instead chose to spend billions in sending a probe to actual Mars)
   -  urine drenched walls ( I agree, nature's calls have to be answered, but I marvel at nature's special affinity towards Madrasis to call so often, that half of Madras's daily egress of the uric acid is done on the streets!)
   -  Buckingham Canal ( it once was a waterway carrying salt to Andhra? ever since I heard this story, every time I take salt, my hands involuntarily reach for the nose!)
   -  torrid climate ( well, there is very little you can do about this, but I will list this out all the same, such is my anger)

If you have the will, you can even now hope to get proper medication for the above ills but there is one devil that is slowly devouring you, that has no ostensible cure.  Your Tasmac liquor shops.  These stinking, vomit filled,  pestilence-stricken hell-holes are typical of you.  You are broke, have no money to buy medicines for the other illnesses and so you sell your kidneys and liver to keep your heart and other organs going.  Fine logic.  My dear Madras, you are doomed.  There is no salvation for you.

Wait, wait, I have not finished, don't interrupt,  let me complete.  What? What do you say?  Culture capital?  Carnatic music?  Coffee paradise? Cinema tradition? Don't fool yourself.  These are for the suckers, without an idea of what you really are.  I have also extolled elaborately on your these 'virtues', but that is to fool others. Don't try to fool me with this crap.  Every city in India claims to be the culture and music capital of the country and so you too have a right to stake your claim.  Your claim ends there, just a claim and nothing more. Aha, now what? Temples? Beach?  Medicare?  Education?  But they are just a cloak to shield your decaying innards.  Don't ever try to placate me with these, I know you better, what you have to offer in reality. I have lived with you and suffered you.

Yes, the final one.  No, no, I have not forgotten. Your auto-rickshaws.  What, you don't want to hear about them?  Okay, I will rest, I will reserve the last one for my next bashing on your 374th birthday, assuming you live to see that one, that is.