Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Carnatic music "wannabes"

Since I was a kid of 1-2 years of age to date, I’ve been an active witness to the music season in Madras in December of every year. Everyone remotely connected to the carnatic music scene would agree that this festival is characterized by concerts round the clock, kasi halwas and special rava and podi dosais at the hall canteens and most importantly, mamis and mamas in their latest conquests of Nalli and Kumaran “pattu podavais and veshtis/angavastrams”.

There used to be a few people from overseas leveraging their Christmas vacation to spend some time at their hometown, forced to accompany their amma or appa to the concerts despite the fact that they thought it was the “un-coolest” thing to do –or because their “onnu vitta mami” was finally performing on stage after her in-laws so cruelly killed her musical talent and concert prospects. Of course we had only grey-haired people to match the not-so-sunny state of Madras in December…

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but there are a couple of changes and additions to this list in the recent years, other than of course RMKV’s entry into the podavai scene. First off, the concerts have skyrocketed in number and there is a concert at every Pillayar koil in Madras (literally making every nook and corner of the city musical) and like Ratatouille, all creatures in Madras get a chance to sing and showcase their talents. That says a lot about the encouragement Madras people are capable of providing! And then, canteens don’t have mamas wearing poonals and azhukku angavastrams. You’ll have to make do with “sappadu velaalars”. But shhhhh… we are a very tolerant bunch, aren’t we? Oh wait, they probably included some reservation policy here too…

The change that has fascinated me the most though is that we have a new clan that has joined the music season ‘gumbal’. The “Oh it was such a kewl concert, but maybe the chittaaaaswarams were a little deprived of the lower dashes of ma… don’t you think buddy?” . “Ummm…not so sure, didn’t he sing hamsadhwani –is that what it is called? I don’t think it has the ga or woteva…” (Consults pocket dictionary with the ragas and swaras list –no misprints of course, it was printed in the US of A).

These people are the most entertaining. You have a mini-India in them, in terms of the diverse flavours they come in. Some are clad in veshtis and podavais but hardly able to carry it off and hardly supporting it with the customary traditionalism… but at least these people try. Don’t worry buddies, appearance isn’t everything.

The rest obviously prefer to wear warm clothing and it helps to wear long-sleeved t-shirts and a checked shirt over it, shoes and jeans… of course, one needs to be comfortably clothed while poring over pages of the spectrum of the ri that the artiste sang –so that you could coolly walk up to the stage –showing off your Reebok shoes obviously –and ask either an academic question about the status of the “ri” or accuse the artiste about not knowing her/ his stuff and gift them with a spectrum analyzer or something. Or just his own voice’s recording about all he knows about music.

And there are the rest that prepare Excel spreadsheets and Microsoft documents about each artiste’s flaws and greatnesses –obviously the way I did my assignments at IIT about which I didn’t have a clue–copy paste from old ones and give off an impression I was all-knowing since I’d use wonderful flowery English. South Indians –tam brahms in particular, are simply adept at the art, I say! Maybe of course he consulted his swara dictionary –in which case I’d be grossly wrong. Or else, his/her guru in the US –the greatest star in the continent –would have explained otherwise and expressed salient views that should be considered sacrosanct –and purer than those that practice music in still a developing economy like India…

Obviously everyone who comes to the US regrets his mistake of not learning music earlier in his life. Of running away from his pattu/ mridanga vadhyar. It had seemed so un-cool then. But in the US, one could have such a monopoly! You just had a few people who could even get to a marginal ‘sa’ (at those times they didn’t have the word “shruti” in the dictionary –maybe they have it now). “Damn, if only I had learned too, I could be like Bodhisattva, sit under a tree and pipe my music away to a bunch of followers and loyalists…”

“But the least I can do to save face is get some eyeball value and speak to the artiste and better still, critique whatever they sing or do. That would obviously make people think I’m terribly smart –throwing in those standard syllables… ‘da’ or ‘na’ (let me just make sure it is a swaram or the hindi word to say ‘no’… obviously being in Madras, I know neither too well) would help”.

“Since everything is done online, I should post my thoughts (or the lack of well formed ones) online, mention some data here and there, based on my engineering education and masters at Random College of the Creek and (incomplete) PhD and the music I learned on the banks of the Potomac… ah so holy…”

So these friends turn up at concerts, listen to lines one and two and of course, need to discuss with their peers (only the “enlightened” ones –remember our Buddhha?) sitting right behind a poor mama who’s probably taking a nap in the comfortable A/C –or maybe a poor music student from local singara Chennai who couldn’t manage a better seat because she didn’t have the money to pay for the ticket.

The final touch: eating kasi halwa and the podi dosais (like I do too, with tons of relish bordering on pakkiness) makes them feel rejuvenated about their connection with our culture. And that certifies people to critique and comment more. Absolutely justified, my friends.

I would be unfair if I did not mention some of our local call-center and KPO friends… I guess they are NRIs too… so let me just lump them into this category. And give them the due credit as those above.

Am I eluding the tricky question? Which group do I belong to? Here’s the answer: One who, by no matter of choice, became a part of the season. As a kid, I used to wait for the popcorn stalls to open and I used to hate Sastri Hall since there was no canteen. Now I’m as much of an NRI as any one else… and sometimes my laundry forces me to go to a concert in jeans… and and trust me, I don’t go crazy over attending all the concerts and I don’t even visit Madras in December to “be part of the season”. My reasons are a wee bit more personal and if you speak to me, you’ll think I don’t care an iota for carnatic music… that’s just ‘cause I’m a born rebel and liar (this article is my first experiment with truth like non-violent Gandhi ji)… Any more questions email me, lambaste me –and you’ll really hear me. I promise some musical samples too –for your paradoxical discomfort stemming from all the right reasons!


Saturday, August 02, 2008

Grilled Cheese: That which I am...

“Hi, this is Crazy Cooks”

“Hi, this is Barathi from ATLAS... the place with all those monster trucks that places orders with you often…”

“ATLAS what ?”

“Oh that’s where Neil works… you know he’s a frequenter to your place…”

“Ummm… welll…?”

“Barathi, the short girl that comes with two men and orders grilled cheese sandwich-no meat …”

“OH so …grilled cheese… Como esta? How are you my friend? Ok, one order of that and the usual half an order of fries right? And your special ketchup and peppers on the side? See, I know your order!”

“Wait, I don’t want to order that this time though…just a salad…”

[The freaking phone gets disconnected at this important juncture. Sb calls again.]

“Hi, this is Crazy Cooks”

“Hey, I just spoke with you a second ago… I’m…" Sb wonders whether she should say Neil/ Danny/ ATLAS…>,and finally decides to say, "Well I am Grilled Cheese.”

“Yes hon I got your order –it’s on its way”
“No, wait. I’m the person grilled cheese but this time I want a vegetarian salad –no tomatoes, no mushrooms lotsa cheese and lots of peppers on the side –and ranch. Throw in a soda too”

“Ok gotcha, he’ll be right there.”

Signs a tip on the credit card, “Thanks, you have a great day!.”

He smiles and slams the door behind him as he walks out of the trailer.

Sb realizes a big forgotten mission… runs behind him, “Hey I forgot your name”


“Hey Chris, I'm Barathi, nice to meet you”


“Well, I know it’s hard to say -..Baarathi – better known as Grilled Cheese to you guys (smile) but you could call me B if you like”.

“ya, B, I like it! Seeya.”

“Hey it’s me, B, calling again. You forgot to send me the extra peppers”

“B who?”

(damn -no more of the Atlas, Neil, truck routes...)

“This is me, grilled cheese”.

“Hey girl, Chris is heading back there with your peppers… why didn’t you call to remind us earlier?”

… J


A quick background: David's midget's boss. Madget works in a parallel team but also closely with Midget, David et al. In a quiet week -or what they like to call, the lull before the storm:

(…A blast of thunder. Midget thinks that’s the topmost thing in everyone’s head, courtesy her own fears of the Dark Thunder from previous lives…)

“We are in hot water”.

“Are you sure, Ms. Madget? We’d have to go out to test the temperature”

(Oblivious) “My best friend is getting married on the first week of August and I’m the maid of honor –so I’ll have to take a crucial day’s vacation during closing time. You and David will have to handle it all then!”

“I am getting married myself then!”

“Married to the job?”

“Let’s leave that caption for David. I will set a heart-hunter at work right now”.

“What’s “Why Iron” reversed, in one word? “

“Norriiee… what?”

Irony, indeed

Tara to Madget: The Senior Estimator in Atlanta, Gary Ledbetter, is so stuck up. He’s been around in this business for 60 years and he won’t change the way he does things, even if there’s a better way to do it. It’s crazy!
Madget: And to top it all, everyone’s been telling him about it that he’s so bitter about things.

The sonic wall opens up to Midget who scribbles on a post-it and holds it up on a ruler across to Madget’s office:

“Lary Get Better, not bitter!” – the author apologizes for any completely unintended “cool” or “phone-y” LG reversals.

“LOL, You are a riot!”

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Good morning folks!

I am…well, let’s leave that for the end…for you guys out there to guess.

I’m going to walk you through an endless journey, through space and time, treating you to spectacular sights and sounds, if you promise to stay by my side all the time and also, keep looking at me all the time –be wary though, I’m known to be whimsical and rough at times, rich and magnificent at others and on the other side of the triangle, mysteriously strange- all depending on my immediate surroundings…

Let’s start our journey- oh wait, my daughter nicknamed ‘Banana’ is going to meet us briefly and lead us to places ‘out of this world’. Come on!

What the hell was that stroke of brilliance, darling? Gosh! That was so quick and breathtaking!

“Mommy, that’s the thing these people send up into the sky… look at all those people watching it too…in bated breath and excitement… wow!”

Oh yes, isn’t it amazing? I promise- if this shooting star goes up OK –which I hope it will, sending celestial kudos to the world’s team and to the spirit of human endeavor, I’ll do my humble mite by picking up any fragments of fire or debris that may come back here… hopefully, that’ll make a lot of things easier for these hardworking and entrepreneurial people I see here.

“Come on, mother, let’s go visit my brother across the shore. Won’t he be delighted to show us around all those orange groves he owns? Maybe your friend here would love some hot cocoa at one of the mom ’n’ pop shops and barns out there.”

Are you ready? It’s going to be hard for me though, squeezing in through these small roads, sharing my daughter’s world during the time, but I love the green and enjoy watching people living happy and contented lives, in synchrony with Lady Nature… little ducks swimming in the lakes in every backyard. They try to visit me too at times, but the billed creatures hardly make it past my fence, sigh! The trees laden with oranges and a feeling of serenity that mellows down even the craziest of bald eagles and the hungriest of the spiky alligators in the vicinity.

Hope you enjoyed the verdant meadows, buddy. It’s time to go back now, for much as I love the countryside, my blue blood runs fast and of course, “I need my space”. We’ve a long path to tread and dusk’s already set in. Darn… wait… why do I feel a vague churning sensation in my stomach? Lord of the world… what’s going on? I’m doomed, hell! Do I see crystal ‘n’ watery eyes of the devil through this fast growing sheet of grey?

Well, this is a shade of me you don’t want to see, my friend. I’ll let you go away for a while now… damn you, why are you insisting on staying back here and fighting the demons with me? You’ve no clue what you’re in for…
Darn, I can hardly speak a word as my aprons are swept down mercilessly by the Master… Lord, why do you test my resolve to stay tranquil and do only good to people? Why can’t I disown my grey spot –the forbidden waters?

You foolish mortal, you’ve no clue who you’ve befriended…ha, come sleep in my wicked arms, swim the electrifying currents with me… and all you’ll do is find yourself in an abyss of the deadliest of the deadliest species. Come, honey, I’m waiting to shroud you in me to your beautiful world of doom, to your heavenly limbo…

Poison, hell, whirlwinds of terror and vortex pools of venom…and if we keep going south, none is even going to see a trace of your remains!

Come on over, let me have the pleasure of taking you in me… to your end ….the very end…

(A golden flash of lightning, an overpowering command)

“You’ve plunged the worlds into darkness, you idiot…people have died in millions due to your deeds in your werewolf garb. Get over it now or you’ll extinguish everything… including your own home. Spare your friend who trusts you, for heavens’ sake!”

Wha… no I didn’t… What have I done? What had happened to me? No, I did nothing… but hell, I see through my livid eyes now turning moist that they’re all gone… all my companions… all the trees… what did I do? My friend, are you still here? Did I harm you too? Answer me please… oh please talk to me.

Wake up, o beautiful ones…please, I didn’t mean to hurt you…I loved you so…didn’t I myself nourish you all I could? Can’t you see me crying my heart and soul away… wake up, o innocent ones, in these showers I now try to bring..

God, they say you listen to those who seek forgiveness from the bottom of their hearts. I admit to my recklessness but don’t make my dear friends pay for it… pardon me and let these very waters become ambrosia and revive all these wonderful creations of yours… we’ll all make a new beginning together- greener, fresher and merrier than ever.

Come, my friend, the worst is over. Fear me not (at least for a while now!). Let’s go, maybe for a specialty cruise, dance to some groovy tunes and grab some lobsters and drink, to good times!

Meet my friends, Largo and Biscayne. They can never been in one place, forever in and out of the party… God knows why! It seems like we are the only ones that are here all the time. Hey, real quick, let’s slip out for a moment and head southeast…for it’s going to be dawn soon and I want to show you something special. Obviously, I trust you to keep my secret…ready, bud? Let’s blindfold you for a bit now.

Allow me to introduce you to my real master… the greatest and the brightest… at his closest best to me… and witness the sight, my friend, of our wedding –the grandest and the most colorful one in this world and the next- and we remarry every day, not ‘cause we are apart, but because it’s a new beginning each time we do and a brand new dawn for all of the world –and all of life!

Watch the crimson streaks pervade my turquoise self and the play of colors he slowly but steadily creates in a coy me… doesn’t it reflect in all those creatures we create and nurture?

Welcome to my world, my dear friend. You’ve stood by me all the while as you promised- I owe you a lifetime’s loyalty and please accept my token of appreciation and love, buddy – a special chest full of the brightest corals and the most precious gems that you wish for…

I’ll always be by your side, watching you and if there’s anything at all you could have learned from your tryst with me, remember: there are two parts of you –the magnanimous and beautiful part and the other, that thrives in destruction and remorse… most of the time, it is a choice you can exercise, but when it isn’t, stick to yourself. Be yourself as you are, but always listen to the Master and pray…and you shall be set free!


Monday, November 05, 2007

Where the gators have fins...

They call Finland the land of a thousand lakes, don't they?

They call Fort Lauderdale the Venice of America.Multi-colored ducks and human beings call it home. I considered it mystery, I expected this to by my tryst with my long-cherished dream of discovering a place from scratch -no already known faces, no maps and nothing in one's heart but fearlessness courtesy the inherent camaraderie between one human being and the other...and yes, the fast gush of blood that risks and thrills provide...

Backing up from that detour, I call this paradise. Green that puts the reminder of the spectrum to zero unless we are looking through a minuscule sphere of tropical shower after- effects... just about perfectly virgin and fresh to set one's creative faculties ablaze.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

LA's cold and cloudy... it's been that way ever since I stuck my head onto the window of the airplane from "other lands" and stared fondly into the vast clear expanse...

I'm on the threshold of bidding farewell to yet another place that gave me a treasurehouse of memories that I wouldn't dare recollect... I wouldn't be surprised if the experience here would just about surpass the lessons learned from my dearest village. I don't know... comparisons don't make sense.

I realize I walk very fast -run, sometimes... a maze of thoughts confound me as I try to sit back and take one more look at life -mistily bespectacled...


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Visual Basics.

Get a glimpse of the beauty in the world out there...

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Thursday, May 03, 2007


This is probably the first part of a few pieces to a jigsaw, that I may have spoken about to a few friends already.

It talks about a certain path, serpentine but straight in terms of attitude... :). Consistently so. And with each first ray of sunlight, I see , cherish and credit myself for my trail... overall. And each revelation makes me see how true a certain someone was-and is-in his prophecies...

Well, anything more here would border on narcissism -or philosophy. And neither would I subscribe to, fully 'n' completely. I'd rather focus on sharpening the few rough edges... and the finishing touch to the deal.

If you understand nothing of this, my purpose has been accomplished. If you do, I KNOW who you are :). In either case, I shall offer NO explanations whatsoever.

This is like my daily ritual... some kind of a "slower down" in a race where EVERY second counts :D.

- The most likely ...... of ............................................... Rice.