Friday, September 27, 2013

A TRIBUTE TO MS SUBBULAKSHMI

A TRIBUTE TO MS SUBBULAKSHMI

This is a daunting task for one who has not had a formal training in music, does not know the grammar and generally cannot engage himself on a discussion on the nuances, movements etc. etc. which are the attributes of a music critic. For me it is simply a question of whether the music appeals to me or not, not whether it is good or bad for I am no judge. So I write what I feel and share it with my friends and this is my tribute to a great musician.

21st September 2013 was a special evening arranged at the Kalakshetra, Chennai, to pay tribute to one of India’s greatest musicians – ‘MS’ as she is fondly called. The programme called ‘Miradasi–A tribute to MS Subbulakshmi’, consisted of a selection of hindi bhajans sung by MS and made famous by her. Apart from the superb rendering of the Bhajans by the young artists, the evening was brought alive by the introduction and narration at the beginning of each bhajan by Gowri Ramnarayan a grand niece of MS. She recalled those episodes from her childhood, memories of the time spent by her at MS’s home. What was special is that the music was composed by R.Vaidyanathan also known as Remaji by his followers. Very few people know who he was, but his compositions speak of a musical genius who never really bothered to hit the centre stage. While writing this I was never really sure whether I was writing this as a tribute to MS or Remaji. But both combined have given us all those soul stirring bhajans which even today lift us to those ecstatic heights of Bhakti. I have tried to highlight here certain very enlightening portions of the narration in a bid to understand both the musician and the music composer and what goes in to the making of great music in taking us on a transcendental experience.

It was in 1947 a week before Gandhiji’s birthday that a request was made by him that he wanted to hear his favourite Mira bhajan ‘Hari Tum Haro’ to be sung by MS. As she did not know the song and it was too short a time for a proper composition and also it was inconvenient for her to go to Delhi due to some personal matters, she had to decline politely. But since Gandhiji wanted to listen to the bhajan in MS’s voice only, it was recorded at Madras at AIR and the spool was sent to Delhi and his wish was fulfilled. It was only later she learnt that Gandhiji had said “Her voice is exceedingly sweet. To sing a bhajan is one thing; to sing it by losing oneself in God is quite different”. Pained by the violence unleashed at the time of partition and feeling depressed Gandhi wanted this bhajan only in which Mira pleads to her lord to remove the sufferings of his slaves.

But it is the effort that went into the music composition which brings out the genius of the music composer. It was an all night recording session as Vaidyanathan set it to music and for MS to learn and record it immediately. The song was composed in the raag Darbari Kaanada which expresses pathos as well as grandeur.

From an article in ‘The Hindu’ written by one of his disciples Meera Grimes we get a glimpse of the person Vaidyanathan was. She says-

“With all his rare attributes, Remaji chose to be anonymous. He was a person with many dimensions. He was a philosopher, musician, scientist, administrator and much more. He preferred to keep a low profile and hence, the world knows little or nothing about him. However, he had a group of disciples, who benefited immensely from his association in terms of spiritual solace. Vaidyanathan, born in 1913, in Chennai, was a prodigy in music, but was trained to be a scientist in physics. An alumnus of the Presidency College, Chennai, he went to Cambridge, England, to study the atom under Lord Rutherford (in fact the narrator said that he was a contemporary of Nobel Laureate S.Chandrasekhar and Dr. Homi Bhabha)”. After what he calls a spiritual awakening, he decided to call it a day and returned back to India to pursue his interest in music and spirituality. He evolved a philosophy that embraced all faiths. He was adept in playing the piano, flute and the violin and in western and Indian classical music- both Carnatic and Hindustani. In the words of his disciple “He used his musical knowledge just to get shelter and food. He used his leisure to do his research to find the cause of human suffering and a solution. But then he was not a well-known philosopher either. The answer is, he wanted all or nothing and nothing in between and he stood by his principle until the end, even in very trying situations.” He passed away in Amritsar in the year 1990 at the age of seventy seven.

Coming back to the bhajans, I have listened to them sung by MS herself. There could not have been a better person to render the compositions of those great souls – Surdas, Tulsidas, Kabir and Mira, so filled with fervour and love for the divine. Music knows no boundaries or barriers, this is amply demonstrated by the fact that one of the bhajans was composed by Ras Khan, who a muslim by birth settled down in Brindavan and became a devotee of Krishna. I have had the occasion of attending some concerts of MS earlier in my life and the one image that keeps recurring in my memory is of her rendering these songs with her eyes closed, oblivious of what surrounded her, as if she was totally lost in the fervour of the composition and seeking communion with the Divine, in the process also transporting us to ephemeral heights. At the end of the concert one always left with a sense of elation, call it spiritual or by any other name, for during that entire period all your existential angst was pushed to the background and you felt that after all this life was worth living. You realise that music not only breaks down the barriers separating our different personalities but teaches us to be humble, accepting and a total surrender to the creator. The concept of total surrender to the divine or God as we call may not be acceptable to many of us. But total surrender here should be understood as a total erasing out of the ego. Humility is a result of this and this is what makes us genuine, for when this is present, we will not feel the necessity for wearing a mask. MS was always a picture of humility both in her manners and the conduct of her life.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

THE PRICE OF INTEGRITY

My friend once told me “Every person has a selling point”. What he actually meant to say was that every individual will reach a point where he succumbs to the very forces that he had been resisting. The fact that the individual had survived so long is a pointer to the level of integrity that he had been able to muster up in the course of his living. He succumbs when he is unable to bear the burden of the cross anymore. That Jesus did it till the ultimate end was what made him a God. We have such extraordinary people come from time to time and make a difference to humanity. We are not such extraordinary people but there are still amongst us those silent but strong individuals who have stuck on to what they believed in and tried to make a difference despite all the suffering they had undergone. They are those who ultimately lead an authentic life. But at what price is the question here.

We read with admiration about those honest officials in the administration who had refused to toe the line and gone about doing their job quietly and efficiently. The system does not allow it for in the next few days the same newspapers report about the transfer of these officials to places from where they will not be a threat to them. What is the price these officials pay? Destabilization of their family life and being put on the non- favoured list. Some may succumb to such destabilizations when they can no longer take it, for that is their selling point. A person’s weakest point is the family and he would like to keep them insulated from the dangers that may rise from the discharge of his duties. This is the plight of the honest official. There is also a lurking danger of a loss of self esteem.

At the other end of the spectrum we have those who have no qualms in pandering to the demands of the powers that be and in the process sell themselves. They are easily bought for their only motive is to promote themselves with whatever means available to them. How much exhibition of sycophancy we see with the sole purpose of moving up the organization! What immediately comes to mind is the play by Christopher Marlowe ‘Doctor Faustus’ in which a man sells his soul to the devil for power and knowledge.

I shall tell you the story of a girl who has being pursuing her Phd and it has taken her longer than expected because she refused to compromise on her integrity by extrapolating the results without conducting enough trials to ensure the stability of her findings even though there were suggestions to this effect. But at the end of it all she is now happy that she has the satisfaction of having stuck on despite the trauma she had undergone in the process. At one point in time she even thought of dropping from the programme.  I have been witness to the happenings through the entire period. We need not blame anybody except the system that makes you succumb. You fight the system, you make a difference. During our conversations I had told her that I was happy that she has been honest and gone by the dictates of her conscience but that there is always a price one has to pay for this. I know what price she had to pay.

The distractions are many and the desires are endless and as long as these remain and we run after them, we can never be honest and will be prepared to do anything to satisfy ourselves and in the process like Faust sell our soul to the devil.

The level of integrity is therefore directly proportional to the price one has to pay. How much are we prepared to endure and what do we really get out of it? Integrity brings with it a sense of self esteem, a confidence and a happiness that you have been able to ward away the temptations that you confront frequently on your path. A satisfaction that you have lived your life in an authentic manner and there in lies the key to the meaning of life. At that ultimate level of integrity you become priceless.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

THE TRIAL

THE TRIAL

If you think that this is going to be a review of Kafka’s book then you will be disappointed. That of course would depend on whether you want it done or just plain happy that I am not going to go into one of my inane reflections. The truth lies some where in between. In my last two posts I  have been talking of finding myself in Kafkaesque situations and you must be really irritated at hearing that word again. I can’t help it for this guy seems to be popping into my head every now and then after so many years, may be because I have become more sensitive to the happenings around me over the years. Earlier I had been a satisfied banker having people around me to take care of small things like Aadhar card, ration card etc. I must have been a pretty useless banker for I could not get a proper ration card done during my tenure.

Now I find myself running around to have a motor pump fixed, paying electricity bills, telephone bills (thankfully I pay them online now) and generally lazing around the house in the pretext of helping my wife out. She knows the truth. Thankfully there is a washing machine and a dishwasher at home. My wife listens to everything I say but I end up doing everything she says. I hope she does not read this but my daughter would, but we have a secret pact that we do not spill the beans about each other. You may ask what’s so strange about it, for it happens in very household. The men may agree but the women may take umbrage. So I am sorry. My wife is worried for I get in to small arguments with the auto rickshaw drivers and vegetable vendors (over here they are pretty notorious) and let loose a string of expletives while driving the car at every infringement on my rights to the road. Of course the other party cannot hear as the windows are closed. Nevertheless I find my release.

Of course at this ripe young old age I have become self reliant, if that is how you call it. You see I have to fight my own battles now whether on the road or in the court. Well at last I have come to the point of a battle in a court, may be that is why am calling this post as ‘The Trial’. Now you at least know what motivated me to write all this. Let me make it clear that I am not the accused for I am worried that you may take me to be one after reading all that I have so far said. I am the petitioner here. This is a cheque bounce case. A cheque issued to me as return of the advance I had paid was returned unpaid. Details are not necessary as we are not conducting the case here. Being the banker that I had been with some basic knowledge still remaining, I filed a complaint under section 138 of the NI act. For my non banker friends Google will help you out. Though I had the occasion to attend some court hearings while in service it was always on behalf of the organisation and had the luxury of being called only when absolutely required. Adjournments used to be usual and I could pull up the advocates if things were not being speeded up. But now…well that’s another case!

After filing the application, given a hearing after three months only to go there and being told that the case had been transferred to the Fast Track court and given a date for a hearing twenty days later, I went today to attend it. I stood outside the court room waiting for my name to be called. I stood for a good three hours for there were no benches or any seating arrangements, for we had come only to be heard. Thankfully the Magistrate’s court is one of those old buildings with a lot of trees in the compound and they were kind enough to afford shade. The buildings are relics and so will the people who come their seeking deliverance become in course of time. Every time a name was called out on the speaker I would attentively and expectantly await my turn. And it did come after a hundred odd names and I was ultimately told by my advocate that the cases transferred to the Fast Track Court after a cut off date will be heard on a date six months later. I was relieved not because of the postponement but because I could stand no longer and that is literally, not like in the ration office when I wanted to go the loo, now I wanted to go back home have lunch and go to sleep.

The entire scenario there in the court was funereal what with all the black coats with black robes draped over them floatingaround. As I stood outside looking inside it was all surreal. To top it all the way people looked at each other you could ultimately end up believing you are the criminal.

So you see why I called it ‘The Trial’. The book relates the perplexing experiences of a man who is arrested on a charge which is never specified. I find myself in situations which are exasperating and at such times one feels helpless in a system that has taken charge of the conduct of your life.




Sunday, September 15, 2013

THE SERIOUS ISSUE

THE SERIOUS ISSUE

In my last post it was a light hearted look at a serious problem. That’s what I wrote while introducing it. I had ended it saying that it all appears Kafkaesque, a word derived form Franz Kafka’s look at the plight of the individual in an indifferent world. In his various works he tries to elucidate the fundamental dilemmas of human life. Of course his writings are dark and create in you a stifling effect and I guess that’s how he meant it to be whether it is the ‘The Trial’ or ‘The Castle’ or ‘Metamorphosis’.

My post was not meant to be a criticism of the state of affairs of the administration in the country. The opinions are divided. Some said they had similar experiences while others have had a more pleasant experience and even suggested I find my identity in another place. Leaving aside all this, let me tackle the issue of the ‘serious problem’. My post was purely metaphorical but I loved to narrate those incidents in my life as way of getting across to my friends and telling them that the humour in our lives is also a serious matter.

I have found in my interactions with my friends and readers that any issue finds its way into the realms of their comprehension when said in a light hearted or a humorous way. All of us will always prefer to have a good laugh rather than be morose and contemplative. I am not deriding contemplation. It is what we resort to when faced with the serious issues in our life. In contemplation we are revealed the realities of our existence and most of us avoid it for fear of what we may find.

I avoid preaching nor would I subject myself to one. Each one of us has his path charted out for him. No two individuals are similar and as such their paths also differ, for each one experiences life in his own way. The one thing that we can do is share experiences as travellers in this journey of life for we may meet some place when our paths cross. We may travel some distance and part ways or choose to stay together and travel along the same path till the end. In any case it is an individual’s choice.

When we look back, we always find those small happenings which at that point in time had driven us to exasperation. Such incidents continue to happen but we have grown to accept them with reduced reaction. When we develop the ability to laugh at these happenings life becomes that much easy. The lessons learnt never cease to enrich our understanding of the world around us. Thus an inane discussion on a beard or a motor bike, or for that matter my experiences in the ration office have interested my readers.  

When faced with an insurmountable problem we seek different ways of releasing ourselves from the predicament. In my experience at the ration shop while the man next to me found his release in sleeping it away, I went to the loo. A humorous situation alright when narrated now but a harrowing experience when it did happen. My Aadhaar card experience is more a search for an identity in the face of a system that refuses to recognise it. It is in the end that I state “What is there in identity as long as you know that you belong here”. I did want to carry forward the point that once you know yourself and recognise the person in you what is the need for an external acceptance.


A reality laced with imagination and humour is more acceptable than confronting the stark face of reality itself.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

AADHAAR – A CRISIS OF IDENTITY

AADHAAR – A CRISIS OF IDENTITY

Can you believe it? I still do not have an identity in this blessed land. Yes it is a serious crisis that I face now. I do not have even a ration card and my application for a voter’s id is still pending, all because I had chosen to live in different parts of this country. I did have a ration card when I was serving in a different state of this great land, but the only problem was they had changed my name from a south Indian name to a sindhi name. They had even shown my age as being ten years younger to which of course I had no have objection. Rather than undergo the trials and tribulations and the rigours of asking for changes to be incorporated I let it stay as long as they recognised me at the ration shop as being the one mentioned in the card and gave me my share of the rations. I was also afraid that if I had opted for the difficult exercise of incorporating the changes they would have made me into Subbusingh in which case I would have to start wearing a turban. I realized my folly only when I came back to my blessed dammed state after retirement. A senior citizen, with no identity. Have you seen the movie ‘No Country for Old Men’? When the Aadhaar card was announced I thought that at last I had the opportunity of becoming a citizen with an identity in my blessed country before I called it a day. But it was not to be for when I reached the counter window the man there looked up the list in the computer and said “sorry but your name is not listed in the last census”. I protested and said “how can that be? I distinctly remember that the person had visited my place when the census was being taken and as proof put a sticker on my door”. But of course he admitted that sometimes they just put the sticker and go away. I protested again saying it could not have happened like that since the sticker was on the door and he could not have come in without me opening the grille door which is always kept locked. He was all politeness and said “sorry sir, but you please fill up the form which is being distributed in another counter and submit it after filling up all the details”.
When I went there I was asked to come back after a week as the forms were exhausted (of course by that time I was also in the same condition). On further enquiries I was told that two three months after submission of the form they will come for validating the same. I managed to get a Xerox copy of the form from one those kindly souls, who were lucky enough to get a one. Ever since, I have been sitting with that form trying to decipher and fill up all those fifty odd God dammed columns, also whether to fill it up in English or in the vernacular. The only redeeming feature of this entire exercise was that I was not alone in all this for I found that there were quite a number of senior citizens even senior to me, who were undergoing the harrowing experience of standing in a line for about two hours with the same result.

Decades have passed, we have moved away from being manhandled by men to being manhandled by men with computers to aid them. I am reminded of my experience in a government ration office perhaps three decades ago. I still remember the scenario, the smell of paper- old papers, brown papers, stacked up folders, too much paper. The hall was filled with people, all waiting to be called by the official they had been asked to meet. The air was filled with cacophony and at the end of the hall was a cabin inside which I presumed the official was sitting. Every time a person was called in he disappeared or so it seemed, may be there was an exit at the back. I had been waiting for about half an hour when I heard the man next to me snoring, he had gone to sleep. We had been asked to sit on benches provided with the kind courtesy of the (mal) administration to await our turn to be called in. Whenever the peon sitting outside the cabin used to get up, my hopes would arise and when he sat down so did my hopes. By now an hour had elapsed and I felt the urgent calling to relieve myself. But I did not know where the loo was. I stuck to where I was for fear of losing my place in the queue. The person next to me got up surveyed the entire scene and went back to sleep, blessed man. Another hour had passed and I couldn’t bear all this waiting any longer. So I summoned up all my courage and stood up and walked out of the hall. I found the loo.


Looking back and in my present state it all appears Kafkaesque or simply Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’. I had only read them then, now I find myself as part of the play. So ultimately I console myself saying “How does it matter whether you have an identity or not, as long as you know that you belong here?”