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Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Musical Musings - 1 - Mandram vandha and CECRI

Whenever guys want to get close with girls, a standard question they ask is : "Do you like music ?". I have still not found anybody who answered that question negatively. To me that is one of the most stupid questions a person can ask a fellow human being. Whatever be the personality, character, intellectual capacity or profession of a person, he has at least a set of songs that he likes, whatever genre they belong to. Romantics tend to associate many songs with their incidents in life. A song for first crush, a song for first rejection, for acceptance, for a walk in the dusk and more...The list is endless. I must admit on a low note that my romanticism has been partially replaced by love of music for technicalities.

Music is my passion. I can never resist a good melodious song irrespective of what genre or language it belongs to and if it is impressive I learn the tune consciously or unconsciously. It is indeed comical when I look back and understand how much I had toiled to understand that I really appreciated and loved music ! Yeah, I did not realize till the 12th grade that I could sing to an appreciable extent ! When I joined my undergrad insititution, ragging by seniors opened my eyes about my own self. I have cherished Ilaiyaraja's songs for long without even knowing that he composed all those. I came to understand it only when I saw the big divide among my seniors who prided in claiming to be vehement fans of either Ilaiyaraja or Rehman. I distinctly remember one of my seniors, Maruthi, who urged me to sing "anjali anjali pushpanjali". This caused a furore among the seniors who were protesting against a rehman song for which Maruthi, who looked really big, hirsute and intimidating, gave a silencing reply :"he is singing an SPB song. Shut the hell up !". I distinctly remember one of the seniors making me sing "marathai vechchavan thaNNi ooththuvaan" and go around the trees and do a chipko followed by watering them with..ya..you guessed it.

In the second semester, I got introduced to a small music keyboard which changed my entire perception of music. Till that day, I held an opinion that such electornic items were meant for those basking in luxury, and the very sight of it made me feel rich. It was only a little more than a 2 feet long and my first experiment on it was to play the good old "varaveeNa mrudhupaani" in the scale of F#. Though the song itself was known to me, I never had a formal education in classical music. I was so very happy and surprised to find that there was an instrument which I did not know a bit about, that could generate the tune I knew shades of. That became my primary interest and studies became secondary.

I vividly remember my first ever appearance on CECRI stage. After much of a toil with the afore-mentioned keyboard and an upright battered drum, the "music troupe" of B.Tech was about to stage a few songs in the eve of new year. I had a senior - Nandakumar - who was modereately proficient in playing the keyboard and was the team leader. In front of a crowd of 500 or more, I had my first rendition of "mandram vandha thendralukku" just before the stroke of 12 (of 1995). It was a wonderful experience for two reasons:

(1) I never learned the song the way SPB sang it. Nanda taught me vocally.
(2) That was my first solo performance with a troupe in front of a big crowd !

The song was a hit and once I came off the stage, my friends greeted me with buckets of water. Yeah..the entire hostel was playing with water in the night and I was the only one spared for the cause of show and I was given the same treatment once the show ended. The blue shirt that I wore, was a disaster since the dye had come off marking my brown pants blue ! I still remember the act of 'sacrifice' that Balaji did by offering himself to be watered instead of Suresh who was feverish. Well, he was watered with twice the normal intensity.

The song stuck as my regular number in the shows and continues to be a personal favorite till date. Slowly I realized my latent love for all the great artists and started to pick up songs which were more challenging, but never attempted them on stage, due to a conservative fright. It opened the floodgates for my analysis, interpretation and appreciation of many songs to come. Yesudas, SPB, Chitra, Janaki and Susheela became dearer to me than ever and Ilaiyaraja the dearest. I plunged myself trying to play these tunes on the kid keyboard. After much persistence, guhanand, my immediate senior gave me the brahmarahasya : "three keys make a chord". With no texts or books whatsoever, I started playing arbitrary "chords" to accompany the tunes I was playing and was ridiculously teased by some of my friends. But not many were not knowledgeable to distinguish between cacophony and good music and that was blissful.

Today music and learning seem inseparable from life. Though CECRI was the real launchpad for learning music seriously (all by myself), I still have some of the fond memories associated with singing in 12th grade and lower. Later about it...