Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Bhimsen Joshi and the Driver

The driver of my taxi talked to me in North Karnataka dialect of Kannada. So I asked him where he hailed from. He said he was from Gadag. We both fell silent.
He started talking without any apparent trigger. From what he told me and the way he told me, it was clear that he had been itching to share his recent experience and his feelings. What he told me was this.

He had discovered Bhimsen Joshi the previous evening. He had listened to a programme on the radio about him. He felt very small that Bhimsen Joshi was from his own district, practically his neighbour and he had not heard about him at all,  all these days. He was deeply moved by his singing. (ಏನು ಹಾಡ್ತಾರ್ರೀ!!!!) His hair on the nape of his neck had stood when he listened to him. (ಕತ್ತ್ ಮ್ಯಾಲಿನ್ ಕೂದಲು ಹಾಂಗೇ  ನಿಂತ್ಬಿಟ್ಟ್ವುರೀ) He went on to tell me how Bhimsen Joshi came to Dharwad, how he left home in search of a guru and so on.

He was pensive for a while. He then told me that his family has three acres of dry land and that his brother tends to it. He was feeling a little low the previous day and was seriously considering going back to Gadag. Once he listened to Bhimsen Joshi, he felt at peace and his mind calmed down. He decided to continue in Bangalore.

What this told me are:

I am always skeptical about the claims about the power of music, especially classical music. I feel that it affects people who have been lucky enough to be exposed to it from childhood. His story reduced my skepticism a little.

There are three important things in real estate business, they say. They are location, location and location. Similarly for any art. Context, context and context. (See this video) Like Bhimsen Joshi, this man was from Gadag. He was feeling depressed. Music does have the power to calm and heal and uplift. The combination worked magic. The skeptic in me still wonders if he would have felt the same if he had listened to, say, the story of Jasraj and his singing. Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Mallikarjun Mansur? Maybe, he would have stood a better chance.

How great a singer was Bhimsen Joshi? There are great admirers of his, who have told me that he did not have as big a repertoire of raagas as he could have had. He sang well within his immense capabilities and never really challenged himself. Even if we agree that that is a fair assessment, what he did sing was very powerful – in more ways than one.

I suggested to my driver, Sharanappa, that he listen to Bhimsen Joshi’s Dasvaani and Abhangvaani. He showed me his memory stick and said, "I will fill this up with them and listen". (ಇದ್ರೊಳಗ್ ತುಂಬ್ಶಿ ಕೇಳ್ತೀನ್ರಿ.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Long Live Girish Nikam

I am doing this because I don’t know what else to do.

My friend Girish Nikam is no more. 

I miss him as a friend.

I miss him as a fearless and relentless voice against bigotry and obscurantism.

Hard to believe that someone so full of life and who loved life and the country so dearly is no more.

Monday, September 19, 2016


If you are on a few WhatsApp groups, you are likely to be bombarded with forwards extolling the virtues of attitude. Attitude, with a capital A. The word has become synonymous with good, great or right attitude. The plethora of such messages is sure to change your attitude towards attitude.

A few decades ago, I encountered attitude, the great and the not-so-great,  in two music concerts, twenty-four hours apart.

Dasara music festival was on at the Mysore palace. My guru told me that I have to play the tamboora at one of the concerts - of a famous instrumentalist! I was thrilled! I was to accompany an artist I admired.

The concert started and I was enjoying myself and trying my best not to forget to play the tamboora. As the meandering alaap increased in volume, the artist paused between passages. During one of them, he turned to me and whispered, in a complaining voice, sounding quite irritated, "there is an echo"! He then turned back to the audience with a smile and continued playing. This happened quite a few times.

I was disappointed.

The very next day was the concert of Dr. N. Rajam. This time, I was in the audience. She started playing and the concert was going on in brilliantly, in her inimitable style. She was playing with her eyes closed and face down. When the  alap became a little louder, as on the previous day, there was an echo. She heard it, she looked up with bright, shining eyes and smiled. She continued joyfully, playing a sawal-jawab of sorts with the echo!


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Semmangudi, the Exorcist

I came home from work, late and tired. I had had dinner outside and had come back to an empty house. Everyone was away and I was alone. I turned the black and white TV on and Doordarshan had nothing interesting to offer. I decided to read something and go to bed. It started raining; a slow and steady monsoon rain. That made the whole place silent except for the sound of the rain. My house was where there were more plots for houses than houses in which people lived. There was some electrical fault and all the street lights were out. Whichever window I looked out of, all I could see was darkness.

I suddenly remembered a story a friend of mine had told me that very morning. It was the story of a Poltergeist. My friend’s voice has great variation in tone and volume. He has a good command over English and Kannada. He also has a sensitive face that has great range of facial expressions. One automatically listens to him with attention. All in all, a forceful and impressive talker.

What he had told me was something like this. There was this young girl. One evening, she brought a cup of tea to her father when he returned from work. The father was surprised that there was no sugar in it. So, the girl went back to the kitchen, picked up a bottle of sugar and a spoon. She brought them to the father and put in a teaspoonful of sugar into his tea and stirred it. She then went back and the father, who was reading the day’s paper, sipped the tea and to his horror, found that the sugar had turned into salt!

On another occasion, the family was sitting in the drawing room after dinner. The door of one of the rooms opened into the drawing room and the door was ajar. No one remembers clearly who saw it first but they all stared as a table in that room levitated slowly and then landed with a thud. When they gathered their wits and worked up enough courage and went into the room, there was no one there.

In the light of day, I had a natural explanation for these seemingly inexplicable phenomena because I had read about Poltergeists and heard other stories of them. Since I too knew the family in which this happened, I also knew the most probable cause of this phenomenon. I did not reveal my skepticism to my friend because the family concerned was close to him and my explanation had elements that would probably hurt him. I had predicted to myself when this phenomenon would stop too. As luck would have it, very soon, the situations changed in the family to something that I had predicted as the precondition for the Poltergeist to stop, and indeed, the phenomenon stopped.  

Well, I digress. Coming back to my story, when I remembered what my friend had told me, a chill ran up my spine and the hair on the nape of my neck stood up. I was surprised by this reaction since, except when I was young boy, ghost stories never scared me. Now I found myself reluctant to look out of the window where only darkness loomed. I wanted to get into my bedroom and lie down to read and I hesitated. I really feared the idea of using the bathroom which had a small window close to the wash basin. This surprise about how I felt, somehow seemed to increase my fears. I knew that I was on a slippery slope and if I did not get a grip of myself I would have a terrible and perhaps terrifying night.

I got up with determination and started towards the kitchen to get myself a glass of water. Was I just thirsty or was my tongue parched because of the fear?  On the way, I had to pass my prized possession of those days. A Philips “two-in-one” with detachable speaker units, capable of all of 35 Watts of power. Actually, that is not the correct power rating but it was 35 W PMPO as it was called - Peak Musical Power Output. As I passed it, I knew what I had to do. I came back after my drink of water. I took out a cassette tape of semmanguDi Srinivasa Iyer and rewound it and played it. 

His sonorous, slightly nasal voice flooded the room as I turned up the volume as high as I could bear. I was thankful that there were no houses nearby, at least for a hundred meters. When he came to the anupallavi of the kriti*, “chaara chOraa…”, his singing reached such vigorous, masculine tempo that my fear and the fear of fear receded dramatically. By the time he finished and the applause reached its crescendo, I could take on any ghost that dared scare me! The rest of the kriti is also sung so masterfully and vigorously that it is thrilling. (Do people complain that classical music is slow and boring?)

I am sure Semmangudi would have never imagined that he would ever play this role of an exorcist for the ghosts in anyone’s brain!

Click HERE to listen to one version of that song to get an idea.

* “mAru balkA..”, rAga Sriranjani, AditALa, Composer: tyAgarAja

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Voice

It was the mid-seventies. My college’s (National Institute of Engineering, Mysore “NIE”) annual intercollegiate competitions were in full swing. One of the competitions was the impromptu speech competition. There were many good speakers. The panel of judges was full of well-known and great speakers themselves.

When the mark sheets from the judges were taken away for tallying, one of the judges remained on the dais and the organisers requested him to speak to the audience. Though he declined at first, he relented and came to the podium.

“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. I am a teacher” he started in the familiar deep bass. He regaled the audience with an arresting talk for a few minutes filled with gentle humour. As soon as he started the lady sitting next to me in the audience went, “Ooooooh! What a voice!” She continued to listen with rapt attention, starry eyed! everyone felt that he could have gone on when he stopped, to let the prizes be announced.

That is the famous voice of Dr. N. Ratna, the Founder Director of All India Speech and Hearing, AIISH, of Mysore. That shows that he was not a teacher because he could not “do” but because he was a great teacher.

He had a naturally deep voice but he trained his voice to be really deep. The only other voice I have heard that was as deep, if not deeper, was that of Willis Conover, the man who presented The Voice of America Jazz Hour.

I was reminded of this incident because of a Facebook post his daughter shared today.

To listen to Willis Conover and get an idea of what I am talking about, listen to this:


Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Short Visit to Bettadasapura

My cousin, Kashi, had been telling me that we should visit this temple inside a fort that he had seen from a distance. We did that today and found that it is in a Bettadasanapura.

It was a little disappointing because the fort itself is newly built - in the last few years. Apparently, the original fort was dilapidated and only some of the gateways were all that was left of it. You can see them in the pictures below. The Garudagamba (A pillar in front of the temple) is an old (ancient?) one. The interesting thing is the Kalyani (temple pond) on this rocky and elevated place. It is now green with algae and has trash floating around.

The rocks, heated by the summer sun, made it uncomfortably hot. I plan to go there again during or immediately after the monsoons and early in the morning.

The main gateway


 A side entrance

Don't miss the mynah at the corner

The main entrance 


This time, unlike it the case of the previous post, I had a Canon DSLR.


A Sunday Morning Bike Trip

Whenever I crossed the Hebbal flyover, which was almost every day for some seven years, I saw a small hillock with, what appeared to be, a temple on top. I always wondered what it was. Today, I decided to satisfy my curiosity. Google maps told me that the temple is called Anandalingeshwara temple.

I awoke at six and rode to the place on my motorbike, armed with two cameras - one my mobile and the other an apology for a camera by Sony that their service centre refused to service. Here are some of them.

The setting moon as I took my first look at the hillock

The sunrise from atop

An uninvited guest who dropped in, quite literally, from the tree above me, to share the oats porridge.

The sun rises behind a rock

The view towards Hebbal 

Play of light on a door

This place is sixteen kilometers away from my place and it took just twenty minutes to reach it. An unthinkable time in normal traffic.

The best thing was that there was no other human on the hillock. The worst was that a nearby temple was playing loud pop devotional music.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Reading Jean-Christophe by Romain Rolland

Some books are memorable because of the stories they tell, some because of the sheer beauty of their prose, others because of the power they have to change something important in us, in a subtle way. Some books are memorable just because of the circumstances in which we read them. If we read a large enough number of books, we are bound to remember one for all these reasons.

It was the mid-seventies and it was winter. December, I think. The engineering exams were comfortably far away. I was looking for something to read. A particular book had been on my mind for a long time. My father had spoken highly of it. The subject of the novel, or the protagonist, was of great interest to me as well. It was Ludwig von Beethoven – one of the greatest music composers of all times – fictionalized in this novel and called Jean-Christophe, not Beethoven.

I had been introduced to Beethoven’s music, notably his fifth symphony, by a very unlikely person. He was my teacher at the engineering college. He had taught us Hydraulics. He was a very colourful character and was a legend. He deserves, no, demands a separate blog post. He shall get one too, soon. I had also heard some LPs of Beethoven’s music at my father’s friend’s place. More about him too in another post.

I had not gotten around to reading the book because it looked forbidding. Some thousand five hundred odd pages. Modern Library edition. Not that the number was forbidding in itself. It was just that I did not want to start a book like that and stop after some time due to some unexpected reason. In any case, I did take up that book and things fell into place. For some unremembered reason, I had a few days off from college. I decided that I could finish the book without a break. As if to ensure that I did just that, a cyclone hit the Bay of Bengal and it started raining in Mysore and did not stop for five days.

My father was away from Mysore on some engagement and my sisters were not at home, most of the day. Perhaps they did not have a break in their school or college. So, my day started with a cup of coffee and the book. Soon my mother would call me for breakfast. I would reluctantly keep the book down, have a bath, and have breakfast. With the post-breakfast coffee, I got back to my reading. Mid-morning, mom would ask me if it was time for tea. I would generously offer to make tea. We would have it together. Then I read till lunch. You get the idea, I am sure. The reading day was punctuated by eating and other essential activities.  The incessant, steady rain preempted any thoughts of going out except for essentials. It was cold, humid and the steady sound, which is white noise, lulling me into a relaxed state.

 Please see the note at the end, about the picture

My reading posture and place. A corner of a room. Windows on both walls. A rattan easy chair. Legs up on the window sill. I in my white dhoti and banian. Reading lamp on, even during the day, thanks to the dark days with grey low-hanging Stratus clouds. The wind – blustery. The ebb and tide of the intensity of the rain. A relaxed state of mind. Not a care in the world.

When I think of those days, I can still feel the cold, damp weather. The sound of the rains. 40 years down the road I hardly remember any details of the novel. The memory of the circumstances of reading the book is all that remains.

When I write blog posts, I do so with some purpose. In this case, it is just the joy of sharing the joy the memories bring.

Note: The sketch is unusual for me – drawn from imagination and memory.  People who know me now may wonder if my imagination ran wild when they see the hair. That was in the seventies and I had luxurious and long hair!!! Drawn with  black graphite pencil and digitally converted to sepia. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Reading Louis Pasteur's Biography by René Dubos

I had just passed the 7th standard examination and was eagerly looking forward to becoming a High school student – with a capital h. Sharada Vilas High School (Mysore) was the school of choice. The application form gave a choice of the medium of instruction - Kannada or English. Having studied in Kannada until the seventh standard and my father being a vocal supporter of mother tongue as the medium of instruction, it was perhaps natural to choose Kannada. My father suggested that I do so. For the first time in my life, or so it seems to me, I rebelled against my father. Rebelled sounds sexy and macho but I guess I only whimpered and sulked and whined that I wanted to study in English. My father tried his best to persuade me to choose Kannada but his logic and reasoning did not have any effect on me. I was more worried about all my friends choosing English and my being left alone. Finally, my father conceded and I filled the form, with great relief. And thus, I started attending my high school classes.

The enormity of what I had gotten myself into, sunk in very soon.  In the lower classes, I had scored very good marks in English. Now, I hardly understood what was being taught. I realized that I did not have enough English to navigate the higher classes. This was a revelation.

I went to my father sheepishly and confessed what was happening and asked him what I should do. Now, when I look back, I am surprised (and am a little proud too, let me admit) that I did so. To his credit, he did not say, “I told you so” and ask me to change over to Kannada. (People who know my father, will chide me about the last sentence. How could I even suggest that he would do anything like that, is what they would say, I am sure)

He thought for a moment and asked me to read English books. I asked him what I should read. This appears to me to be a pretty silly question, now. My father had filled our house with books of all sorts. Children’s books, books on philosophy, science, politics, history, literature, art, dictionaries and encyclopaediae, you name it and he had books that would fall under that classification. All I had to do was explore and soon I would find what I could read. He did not tell me what to read right away. He again looked thoughtful and said he would give me something to read. In a day or two I asked him again and the book he chose was René Dubo’s biography of Louis Pasteur.

In my schoolboy eyes, it was a big book but not intimidatingly so. I sat in a corner of his room, (always referred to as Annan room – father’s room) and started reading the book. I plodded through some twenty-five pages and felt disheartened. Not much was going in. I had a faint idea of ‘what was happening’ but I was not sure. I hung my head and went back to him and told him what was happening. He suggested that I go through the book, not being concerned if I understood individual words or sentences. Read a sentence and move on to the next, but finish reading the book, was the message, if I remember right. 

I do not know when the magic happened. Soon, I was lost in reading. In a day or two I had finished it. I felt that I had understood whatever I had read. And the rest, as they, is history. At least my history, not world history. I was hooked. I read and read. There were enough books at home to choose from and I read obsessively. One casualty was Kannada books. I had read lots of those earlier and now I was bitten by the English bug. That too changed over time and my reading included a good sprinkling of Kannada too, again.

Decades later, this experience had an unexpected consequence. I had developed a fascination for the German language. I had the opportunity to attend some German language classes. I learned fairly well in an equivalent of the first level course of German as a foreign language prescribed by the Goethe Institute based on books called Moment mal. Grundstufe eins is what this course used to be called. I could not attend further classes due to work and family responsibilities. The desire to learn more and improve my knowledge of German lingered. 

It occurred to me one day: “If I could improve my English just by reading, after learning a little English, why not German too?” I decided to give it a shot. I searched on the web to find something suitable to read. I came across Der Spiegel online and found that I could subscribe to its newsletter. Using the minimal knowledge of the language I had, I did subscribe. I found that I could understand a little bit of the articles and news reports on science – Wissenschaft. I persisted and every day I read at least one article. Since a lot of the content in a report is already known - the background to the news item - it was fairly easy to understand or guess what it was saying. Over time, I started reading the sections on art, culture and travel too. (Kunst, Kultur, Reise). A friend, Pradeep, had generously gifted me his Langenscheidt Taschenwoerterbuch (Pocket Dictionary. A fairly large pocket, mind you) came in very handy. So did dict.cc – an online translation dictionary. dict.cc is now like a one stop shop for translating words from practically any European language to any other.

I have enough German to read and even translate German documents. This became a great asset since, in my professional life, I came across German Patent documents. I did not have to wait for a professional translation.

The motivation for writing this post is the earnest hope that it acts as a trigger or it gives hope and encourages to someone who wants to learn (or improve) a new language. 

Picture, courtesy Wikipedia, designated as Public Domain. 
Studio portrait of Louis Pasteur, restored (removed dust, scratches, and what looked to be a water stain)
Date:    Before 1895

Source File: Louis Pasteur, foto av Félix Nadar.jpg