Thursday, April 13, 2006

My Lodgings

Hotel Sky Park, unlike my previous two temporary abodes, turned out to be a quiet place, a bungalow turned into a hotel with limited rooms.

I recall the weather was warm but not at all beastly as it turned into, slowly, over the weeks. Right now after a little more than two weeks, Chennai alternates between virtually a hot plate where I feel like a fish being fried without oil, and when it's cloudy, I feel like being inside a pressure cooker with ten million souls to keep me dubious company. The two wheeler riders here can beat the crazy Puneites hollow in purely kamikaze style of stunt-riding.

It was a Sunday, and late afternoon. Not having to report to work, I eased up and watched the umpteen channels on TV most of them making no sense to me. The news channels in English these days have lost their originality to the extent each one seems to be going overboard be it the flash fire in a trade fair that claimed two thousand lives or more, or creatively bankrupt politicos riding their Raths [chariots] to whip up hatred between communities.

It gets very depressing to see seven views of the same thing happening at all the channels, sigh, copycat channels seem to be the order of the day. The first surprise was a musical one. I had completely forgotten that I was in Mecca of Carnatic music -something I have loved intensely since schooldays. North Indians are as a rule allergic to this great art form, and though I owe allegiance to my own father, dear Abbajan whose exquisite tastes percolated down my childlike conscience like filtered coffee -well, I used to resent his contempt for this noble genre of music.

The only exception he used to make was, the redoubtable M.S. Subbuluxmi whose Meera bhajans have been unparalleled in music history. He would ask me to play them every morning, and oh boy, what a day it would be when I got my batteries charged by this angel of a singer, always putting her heart and soul into whatever she sang.

The surprise then, was two youngsters sitting soberly facing the camera. One played the violin, nearly every second person here seems to be a virtuoso on that difficult instrument and the other one was playing a slide guitar like a country star from Texas. Seemed rather odd to me, and my reaction was, as if I had suddenly seen two matronly ladies from South sporting mini skirts or hot pants or worse... but the music was divine.

It just enveloped me like a well-meaning miasma, lifted my soul to heights unsuspected and let me float around where even eagles won't dare. The raag sounded very similar to Kirwani, which in the Hindustani stream has been borrowed from the Carnatic stream I believe. The violinist seemed to be playing his instrument with much practised ease, and the slide guitarist gave him solid support.

When I spied notes of Bhairavi [can't remember the Carnatic name] I squirmed. After a few minutes, I thought there were strains of Piloo, even Khamach... and then I lost track. It was a raagmala, a medley or raags... but there were more jolts to come. When I heard the unmistakable strains of Mozart's symphony number 40 in D minor, my heart skipped a bit.

Before I could gather my jaw by now lolling at my feet on the floor, I heard Für Elise by Beethoven, one that my pianist daughter Mimi keeps playing daily. There were plenty more blasphemies to come creeping in, and though I am not at all a conservative, I felt violated for some mysterious reason.

There were credits in what appeared like Telugu script to me [ I go by the visuals of bird flying, sitting, looking up, or lying dead with feet up in the air, that's what the characters look like] it was a sort of clue for me to see the English alphabets USA in their names. So the youngsters were NRIs trying out their own brand of fusion. Went for a long walk, had a good dinner, watched more sickening news and went off to sleep long before midnight, something unusual for me -the night creature who hates sleep.
(c) Max Babi, April 2006.

8 Comments:

At 9:52 AM, Blogger Ozymandias said...

The name for Bhairavi in Carnatic is Bhairavi.

In the North, it is pronounced BHAIRVEE, while in the south it is more sounded - BY-RA-VI.

 
At 9:15 PM, Blogger Anand Rajadhyaksha said...

Engrossing as always...cheerz!

 
At 4:23 AM, Blogger khuto said...

hi max! keep it up...

 
At 6:32 AM, Blogger david raphael israel said...

Any ragamalika that includes Mozart's symphony #40 in G-minor, is one I would like to hear!

cheers,
d.i.

 
At 7:11 AM, Blogger Max Babi said...

hey d.i.

You'd have to surf channels in US if they show youngsters performing fusion stuff... no chance to get a vcd or dvd here.

Tks for the comment.

cheerz!

 
At 5:10 PM, Blogger david raphael israel said...

But I think no Max: for that channel and musical passage, I'd have to be Max Babi in Chennai on that one evening. I may enjoy the music here simpy through the thought & idea of it.

Some things arise somewhere in the world and are told of elsewhere. (For a historical moment, we might enjoy the illusion of an infinite reproducibility; but some limits always crop into the picture.)

So my sentence more exactly could have read, "Any ragamalika... ...is one that I should have liked hearing." ;-)

cheers,
d.i.

 
At 7:42 AM, Blogger Max Babi said...

David, Hindustani system for some unfathomable reasons, trains one's ears to listen to one well laid out course of a decent meal... purists look down on several courses. Thus raagmalikas are rarely sung or played there, I do not know how the Carnatic system works at this level. It's a matter of being used to a certain sort of performance, I guess.

 
At 5:02 PM, Blogger david raphael israel said...

Ah but Max, Ravi Shankar (perhaps partly influenced by his interest in Carnatic music, but I think not only that) and Ali Akbar Khan and many others, are quite fond of playing a Ragamala. It's only done based in certain raags, when they are played "mishra" -- which allows for the circle or raags to come into the picture. On very rare occasion I have heard Ali Akbar Khan call into a ragamala some hint of J.S. Bach or some other such thing that might have crossed his mind or fancy; but 99% the material is drawn from Indian music -- though some Hindustani musicians tend also to favor some folk melodies drawn into the raagmala I guess. I must say the ragamala in Hindustani music seems much more prevalent among instrumentalists than vocalists -- and it may perhaps be a specialty of the Maihar gharana -- the line from Ustad Allauddin Khan. And really, these musicians will only indulge in it if they have first done full justice to a more "serious" (or "pure") raag exposition. Anyway, just speaking from what I've heard mainly over here (and in recordings).
There have been some North/South jugalbandis that have included the ragmalika basis too, if recollection serves (e.g. L. Subramaniam and Ali Akbar Khan).
All that notwithstanding, what you suggest seems plausible -- that perhaps the ragamalika is more accepted in Karnatic than in some Hindustani music. But it's possible that in both contexts, it's considered a happy pleasantry, and not on quite the same plane of "seriousness" as some of the deep classical pieces -- which are not used for this. (For example, there would never be a ragamala based around Darbari or Malkauns or some such.) Arguably, the respect and place accorded the percussionist in contemporary Hindustani music owes something to an elevation of his position that Ravi Shankar and some others consciously sought to bring into the tradition -- a thing they had observed and liked in Karnatic music. This is another topic, but it seems to belong to the same discussion. The Hindustani instrumental concert of today differs from that of 50 years ago...
(Now I'll descend from my soapbox, having talked thru my hat enough for one session.)

cheers,
d.i.

 

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