Sunday, 26 February 2012


"Eviday Shaanti Theerum" is a poignant music video filmed for BBC World News. It is one of the rare television commercials made by the BBC which did not get a commercial release. The video features the anguish of sailor Biju Jacob's mother who has started praying more often now since Somalian pirates attacked another merchant vessel. The music video drives home the point that most of us ultimately want the world to live in peace. The mother is asking certain questions through the jingle sung by Hamsika Iyer which goes like when will there be peace, when will a choir sing a positive song? Towards the end, the news presenter from BBC declares that many local stories have global connections. 

The next time you see this ad, spare a thought for the sailors who might be captured and held hostage by the Somalian pirates. Of course, not every story related to the pirates is picked up the media hence sailor Biju Jacob's mother might still be praying somewhere for the well-being of her son.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Mere Saath Chalogi?

The living room was slightly dark. Things were visible in their outlines but for 56 year old Nancy, it was difficult to see her reflection in the mirror. There was nothing wrong in her eyesight; she just did not wish to recognize her face. With the passage of time, she turned her back on her previous self when she landed up in an old age home. During the last one year, everything had been wiped off almost like the way a line drawn with a white chalk is wiped off a slate. Similarly, Nancy too had scratched her old memories alive and forced upon her an awareness of her old identity. 

It was on a Monday afternoon, a year ago, when her son and her daughter-in-law Diana informed her that they would be moving to Canada in search of better employment opportunities. Her son Ryan had smartly calculated his moves and made his mother to sign the legal documents of the house. He asked her to live in an old age home till the time they are settled there. It was due to this assurance that Nancy agreed to live in an old age home.

Three weeks later after moving into the old age home, she missed sharing kitchen stories with her neighbours and when she went back to her house, she noticed a bar standing on the piece of land where she lived once. In disbelief followed by desperation, she asked pedestrians walking on the roads if they had seen a house with a white colour gate. The pedestrians replied that there had been a house with a white colour gate which belonged to a Christian lady and her son sold the property. Her son had sold the land to a liquor baron who erected a bar where liquor bottles flowed like a river. A realization dawned upon her that she was tricked into believing her son was genuinely interested in her well-being. Though she earnestly wished to reconcile with her son, a sense of numbness swept past her while she thought of the shamelessness of her son.

Nancy sat facing a window and stared vacantly at the patterns made by the raindrops on the glass. Tears oozed from the corners of her eyes and dribbled in rivulets over her cheeks. She could see the faint reflections of her image in the glass and the rains became tears and the tears became rains. It was as if heaven shared her grief. In the past 30 years, the longing for companionship had not diminished and now it was only a matter of time and she would die with her memories. For all these years, she had lived her life for others--for her parents, her sisters, her husband and her family. Her precious memories were her constant companions. Who would understand? She looked forward for death, waited for it daily and each day wept in secret seeking companionship. 

Two days later, when the sun sliced its way through the clouds and shafts of light illuminated a verdant landscape, she accidentally bumped into yesteryear film actor Anand and spilled hot tea on his white kurta. She offered to wash the kurta for him but he politely declined. The former superstar had appeared in nearly 90 films as a lead actor. Though he was a man of the masses, he wasn't fortunate enough to enjoy the same kind of overwhelming love from his family. Reality hit him hard when he realized that his life was not a movie and he was just another human being like anyone else when his daughter-in-law meted out ill-treatment to him. His son could not help him either. Letting practicality lead the way, he decided not to subject himself to any further emotional torment and decided to move to an old age home. 

Nancy was quite surprised to see a person of Anand's status roam around as an equal amidst her and her companions in the old age home. The unexpected rendezvous during the tea-spilling incident gave birth to more frequent meetings. After all, what else can one expect from people in an old age to do to pass their free time? They started having long chats over evening coffee. They went for walks in the local park. Their walks were mostly filled with interesting anecdotes of the film world and conversations and sometimes, prolonged silence which both of them valued. They would water the plants in the morning together and occasionally chatted with other inmates in the home. 

During an evening walk, Anand informed her that he was seeking companionship. He asked her whether if she would like to accompany him. However, he made it clear that he was not intending to get married to her since he loved his dead wife dearly. Soon enough, they realized that soul mates need not necessarily be in a marital relationship always. As age and life demonstrated it to them, the best of relationships were platonic in nature and they decided to keep it that way. Of course, the company was something they would cherish for the rest of their lives since it is not everyday when one bumps into a soul mate. 

Thursday, 16 February 2012

A Tribute to M.S. Subbulakshmi

There are very few instances when someone appears who becomes synonymous with her voice and through creative innovations stretches the boundaries and sings in a way beyond imagination. When anyone talks about Carnatic music, one automatically thinks of legendary singer M.S. Subbulakshmi--such is her contribution to Carnatic music. M.S. Subbulakshmi passed away in 2004, eight years ago and time has not been able to wither her popularity as a singer par excellence.

The passing away of M.S. Subbulakshmi in 2004 left a huge void in the lives of thousands of aspiring Carnatic music singers as well as devotees of her music and her near divine aura. It never ceased to amaze me that one person could make a difference to the perception of people in terms of relating to music, womanhood, beauty, devotion and so on. In my opinion, she totally disapproved the myth that in a man's world, one has to adopt aggressive means to achieve success. The values she brought to the table were her music, her natural humility, a sense of devotion and her well-known golden heart. 

I grew up in a family which did not place really a need for music but because I was amidst a community which valued music and dance, I ended up as a passive musician pursuing it through listening. My grandmother would hold the bhakti (devotion) and bhava (feeling) of M.S. Subbulakshmi as the lofty standards for every musician to emulate. She was a lifelong student, learning from musical giants belonging to different generations who contributed rare facets and refinement to her art. The building blocks of her personality are well-known: purity, an uncompromising feature to stay intact with Carnatic music combined with a creative willingness to adapt and change to keep up with the times to reaching out to the world level, unsurpassed bhava in the great bhakti mode which resulted her in a singular capacity to completely immerse herself in music. 

Her rendition of anything always gives this feeling of flawless perfection, be it a varnam in two speeds or a composition like the Sri Venkateswara Suprabhatam. Every aspect of her music--shruti (tone), laya, melody, bhava, pronunciation, enunciation would stand out as the golden standard even under the strictest scrutiny. The way she protected her good musical values by ensuring a lifelong habit of meticulous practice and hard work, sincerity and humility is humbling. There are several people who have written about her as one of the most well-documented Carnatic musicians ever. A mere mention of her name makes every Carnatic musician or music lover burst with immense pride since she has touched so many hearts and also elevated Carnatic music to such a high pedestal on a national and global level. 

An attribute of her artistic greatness which merits celebration is its accessibility. Her appeal cut across social classes as well as generational and geographical divides. Her musical offerings in many languages and her respect for diversity have been a force for national integration and civilisational goodness. She presented her music such that everyone in the audience from a connoisseur to a layman would be able to take home something from the heady mix she offered. Today, several musicians emulate her consciously or otherwise and she always remains a guiding force to ensure we don't subject our voice to musical abuse or overuse. 

It was indeed a sad day when we lost this unique gem who brought beauty, grace, devotion and humanity to everything she touched, a musical genius of the kind encountered only once in an epoch. Though I personally never got an opportunity to meet her, listening to her recordings and reading about her humility are like memories which strengthens my belief that the more knowledge one gains, the humbler a person tends to become. For me, M.S. Subbulakshmi will always remain the first and last word of Carnatic music and I'm lucky to have been born during her time.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Rise In Love

February is just one of those months where we see the power of consumerism in full swing. It is a month with a specific date dedicated exclusively to love. But wait! Said who? I leave you to ask these questions to yourself as I go ahead and explain to you the discovery of an awesome Indian character that surprisingly enough has a lot to do with love! There is a character in our mythology who is very similar to Cupid, I would even go and say that he plays a role very similar to Cupid... he is none other than Kamadeva. Have you heard of him?

The name Kamadeva can be translated as "God of Love". Kama meaning longing or desire and Deva meaning love. There are several variations regarding the birth of Kamadeva in different Puranas. One such Puranic story narrates his birth as Kamadeva arose from Brahma's heart and is always portrayed to be serving Lord Indra. He is characterized by a greenish or reddish complexion, decked with flowers and ornaments, armed with a bow made of sugarcane and strung with a line of honeybees. He is accompanied by his wife Rati who symbolizes desire, a parrot who serves as his vehicle and his close friend Vasanta, who is none other than the God of Spring! Does that ring a bell?

Kamadeva is assigned by Indra to help defeat the demon Tarakasur. The only one who can defeat this horrible demon is Shiva's son. But Shiva is in meditation and only Kamadeva can break his meditation. He sets the right mood and awakens Shiva with a flower arrow. Shiva is so furious on being disturbed that he opens his third eye and burns Kamadeva to ashes! Shiva notices Parvati standing by and asks how he can help her. Parvati begs of Shiva to resuscitate Kamadeva. Shiva agrees only under the condition of giving Kamadeva a disembodied form. The spirit of love is formless and spreads across the universe affecting even Shiva himself, who falls in love with Parvati. Shiva and Parvati's son Karthikeya goes on to kill Tarakasur. Thus, Kamadeva succeeds in his duty.

On the 14th of February, thousands of people celebrate love across the world. Thanks to the kitsch consumerist attitude, this day has become more of a commercial day where retailers take advantage of people's soft hearts and stuff them up with red and pink items and chocolates and hearts. It is a time of the year when everybody suddenly remembers the importance of love. But do you know what I believe? I believe love should be celebrated every single day. Over the years, seeing people around me obsess about one specific date has made me realize, "it's not about buying or giving... it's about giving and giving." And giving, not just things but giving of oneself--one's love, time, attention, care, a listening ear , a warm hug ... why wait for that single day in a year? Why not dedicate every single day to love? For sure, it would make a world of difference in our lives. 

I shared the story of Kamadeva to some of the people around me and they were shocked yet interested in listening to the story of Kamadeva. Come to think of it, we aren't that different after all, isn't it? I guess it's time we recognized and realized that and rise in love.