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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Nandakumar Nagarajan


I entered CECRI in 1994. Till then I had no clue about any music composer. I just used to hear many songs (hindi / tamil / malayalam) and occasionally sang them without really putting much thought into who composed them or what were the different aspects of a song.

But since I could sing, my ragging was predominantly musical. When I entered the CECRI hostel Iw as told that three names were synonymous with music : Bvs Maruthi (final year), Vidhyashankar Kannan (final year) and Nanda (third year).

Maruthi was largely into classical music (averred by his habit of eternal betel chewing) with an occasional indulgence in light music. My classmate Deepa Srinivasan was a classical singer par excellence and together they were instrumental in keeping the carnatic segment alive in CECRI which featured unnikrishnan and later Kadri gopalnath concerts.

The "music room" of cecri was a room with water constantly trickling down the walls on to the floor from an embedded but cracked pipeline giving an eerie damp smell. Located on the first floor and at a dark corner overlooking the casuarina plantation it appeared to invite many venomous visitors (snakes/ scorpions) which were no rare sights in CECRI.

Unlike Maruthi, Buchi (Vidhyashankar Kannan) and Nanda were fully into light music. With a yamaha keyboard which was only a tad better than a kid's, a battered kettle drum and a worn out maracas, Nanda was the lead singer and Buchi was the keyboard player of the "music troupe".

Nanda was an embodiment of inspiration. A soft-spoken fellow with a gentlemanly singing voice and an introverted romantic, he struck a chord with me instantly. He and Buchi would meet many times in a "music room" and tirelessly practice the songs of their interest (including "Zoom zoom zoom baba"). He made me join the "troupe" and later along with others set the scene for some modest "concerts" at CECRI.

Nanda was the one (without him realizing) who taught me the biggest fundamental of harmony: Three notes make a chord.

He introduced me to :
1. The augmented chorded in the pallavi of "en iniya pon nilave"
2. The surreal chord progression in the pallavi of "kodai kaala kaatre"
3. The major, minor and suspended chords by just "playing" them as he would hum a song along

In many ways Nanda was my first guru in light music. While he himself was a decent player of chords, he preferred to sing. He left CECRI in 1996 and we discovered each other only day before yesterday - after 25 years. And coincidentally we both are married to bengalis 🙂

And today you are hearing his wonderful tribute to SPB : the name which we both cherish as the light of our musical souls.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

மொழியறியா முட்டாள்கள்

பாரதியாரை மேற்கோள் காட்டி "தமிழ் மொழி போல் இனிதாவது எங்கும் காணோம்" என்று சொல்கிற 100 தமிழர்களில் 90 பேருக்கு தமிழே சரியாகத் தெரியாது.  தன் மொழியையே நன்றாகப் படித்து அறியாமல், அதன் செவ்வியலின் நுட்பமோ, அல்லது நவீன கால இலக்கியத்தின் வாடையோ படாது, மொழி பற்றிய எந்தப் புரிதலும் இல்லாது வெற்றுப் பெருமை பேசுகிற தற்குறிகள் தான் இப்போது நிறைய கிடைக்கின்றனர்.  

அந்த மேற்கோளில் பாரதியின் முக்கியமான வார்த்தைகள் "யாம் அறிந்த".  பாரதியாருக்குப் பல மொழிகள் தெரிந்து அவற்றில் புலமையும் இருந்தது.  அவற்றை எல்லாம் கற்ற பின், தமிழின் அழகியலோடு அவற்றை ஒப்பிட்டுப் பார்த்து பின்னர் அதை ஒரு கவிவடிவாய் உரைத்தார்.  

"சென்றிடுவீர் எட்டுத் திக்கும் கலை செல்வங்கள் யாவும் கொணர்ந்து இங்கு சேர்ப்பீர்" என்று சொன்னதை செய்து காட்டியவர்.  தாகூரின் கவிதைகளை மொழி பெயர்த்தவர் பாரதி.  

பாரதியைப் போற்ற வேண்டும் என்றால், முதலில் அவர் வழி நின்று பல மொழிகளைக் கற்று அவற்றின் இலக்கியத்தைப் பருக வேண்டும்.  மொழியமுதம் பருகாத முழுமுதல் முட்டாள்களை ஒதுக்க வெண்டும்.  உருதுவிலிம், ஹிந்தியிலும், சமஸ்கிருதத்திலும் கவித்துவம் கொண்ட காவியங்கள் பல படித்து அதனால் விளைகின்ற உள்ளக் கிளர்ச்சியில் மேலும் நூல்கள் எழுதவேண்டும்

வடமொழி அறியாமலா கம்பன் காவியம் படைத்தான் ?  அவன் வடமொழியிலும் வித்தகன். அதை படித்து வந்த உவகை ஊற்றில் தமிழில் காவியமாய் வரைந்தான்.

வேற்று மொழி பேசும் சக மனித மேதைகளைக் கொண்டாடாமல் இன்னும் கற்காலவாசிகளாய் தன் மொழியையும் வளர்க்காமல் பிறமொழியையும் படிக்காமல் இருக்கின்ற பாசாங்கு மொழிப் பெருமையாளர்களைப் புறந்தள்ள வேண்டும்.  

இல்லை என்றால் "தமிழன் டா.. தமிழ் டா.." என்ற வெற்றுக் கூச்சல் தான் மிஞ்சும்

Rajan of Rajan Nagendra : Mallelu poose the masterclass and a personal anecdote

"mavanE..eppadi..eppadi paadaraan paaru..yENda ennai ellaam padichchaan ? !@#$..eppadi oru tune pOttu irukkaan paaru..ippadi oru tune pOttutu seththu pOidaNum"

I banged my car's steering wheel as I was driving and yelling.  I had just finished listening to a song of Shri SPB 25th time consecutively.  

I had not heard a melody so captivating in telugu till then.  Every note oozed romance (in telugu of course which I do not have a great understanding of), but one could feel every note's warmth in the enchanting rendition of SPB. Language was immaterial to understand or let me say, feel the song. 

Prior to 2002, I had an absolutely dismal opinion about telugu songs (except for the great K.Vishwanath hits, Mayabazaar and the dubbed songs of Ilaiyaraja and A.R. Rehman) due to the relentless junk from Andhra being shown on the TV channels exacerbated further by the next-to-stupid dubbed movies which featured them. In 2002,  Raja Govindarajan - my friend and a popular telugu, tamil and bengali stage-singer in North America sent me an assorted collection of songs in 2 cassettes. One contained great numbers from Shankar Mahadevan, Hariharan, Ghulam Ali and Ajoy chakraborty. The other one had a collection of SPB's , what I think, are the finest telugu songs. And it included:

1. oh cheli idhi toli pata
2. madhumaasa vELalo
3. aNuvu aNuvuna
4. naa hrudayapu kovilalo same as thirumgaL thedi vandhaaL
5. pooche poolalona
6. nenoka prema pipaasini
7. kadhile mEgama
8. ee divilo virisina paarijatamu
9. shivaranjani navaragini
10. mallelu poose same as aaseya bhava (kannada)

This cassette was an eye-opener.  It exposed to me the inner sanctum of melody which enshrined some of the most beautiful telugu songs of some great composers elevated to immortality by the Jambavan Shri SPB.  Although every number was mellifluous and I hum them even today unconsciously, it was mallelu poose that took my breath away in my very first listening.

In advaita vedanta, there are two concepts about acquiring:

   apraaptasya praaptihi : When you acquire something that was never with you.

   praaptasya praaptihi :  When you acquire something that was always with you.

While the former generally refers to acquiring material possessions, the latter refers to the acquiring knowledge about something not patently obvious but needed one to look inwards.  For example, the fact that you may forget that the pen may in the pocket of the shirt, and somebody enlightens you about it.  You just experienced "praaptasya praaptihi".

For me, the praaptasya praaptihi was about SPB - the legend who passed away a few weeks ago the sorrow of which is still simmering deep inside - and the rediscovery of a genre of songs : singer-centric melodies primarily from the telugu land.  And needless to say - as the title alludes - it was through  Shri Rajan - the demise of whom has unfortunately followed SPB's.  Through just one song, he facilitated my rediscovery of SPB's melodic power only a particular dimension of which I was familiar in tamil with.

I can, without any element of exaggeration, say that this song provoked the composer and singer in me and honestly I was childishly outraged by the disparity in the creation - the bundle of talent that were Rajan-Nagendra and the silken voiced supremo SPB and the banal musical pretender that I was.  I have found myself mouthing words similar to the swearing at the beginning of this article when I had savored compositions of MSV or renditions of Ajoy chakroborty / Hariharan / Ghulam Ali.  

In many ways, appreciating God in a certain form and/or artists we love is similar.  We love them, worship them and imagine tales of interactions (for example  see here my blog on SPB visiting my dreams) with them but do not physically deal with them.  On the plane of pristine appreciation, the mental bond we develop with them is as strong as one with our parents /spouse/children ( which irritatingly sometimes creates unnecessary expectations to be projected on them as well in terms of character, behaviour, political posturing etc. but then you quit the emotional plane to give your brain a rational rap) .  It is in these moments of frenzy of appreciation that the fan breaks the artificial of barriers of dignity and mentally expresses his love in singular address - like aazvaars or bharathiyaar do for Krishna. For him, the art and the artist he is appreciating become indistinguishable then.  If the fan also happens to be a lesser but a passionate practitioner of the same art, he will see unbridled love emanating from him even if envy accompanies it but undistortingly.  Like how Khan saheb succumbs to Sadashiv.   

A call to Sriram Laxman revealed to me the kannada version "aaseya bhava" by SPB again.  That got me thinking. Is there at least a tamil dubbed version of this song ?  Since I was no Saravanan with an elephantine memory of anything and everything that is tamil music and films, I did my modest search and found that, when the telugu movie "Intinti Ramayanam" which  featured mallelu poose was remade in tamil as "veettuku veedu vaasappadi", this magnificent melody was strangely left out.  

This was a time when Udhaya was pursuing alternative lyrics and I was pursuing alternative tunes for some established songs ( for example the song "isainaadiye" we created for "kalaivaaNiye" from the movie Sindhubhairavi ).  Inspired by the melody of mallelu poose, I turned to Udhaya and he who was similarly impressed, wrote a beautiful tamil version of this song.  I recorded "ponniRa vaanam" and published it circa 2007.  As with any inspired creation, we moved on.

Six years later, in 2013, a gentleman named Suchin Asuri came to be known to me through Blogswara ( led by Jo Thomas ).  He had introduced himself as a disciple of Rajan.  Curious, I wrote to him on FB:

Dear suchin

I was surprised to see you mentioning rajan nagendra as your guru.  To say i love mallelu poose is an understatement.  I loved it so much that my friend udhaya and i created a tamil version of it since it did not exist.  If you do get an opportunity, may i request you to play this to them?   This is not to gain any compliment but only to let the great composer know that there are ppl like us who revere his music beyond those eras:

The page also contains a writeup sbout how we feel about the song.

With much regards to the masters
Murali Venkatraman

Suchin kindly obliged and ensured Shri Rajan heard the song and replied:

"murali 🙂 rajan sir has given your lyrics written in tamil to his wife to translate it to him. though he could read tamil to some extent he wanted a better clarity. they listened to the song and his son said it was excellent rendition. way the lyrics has carried with music is something a professional would do nnu sonnaar.  he wants to write in detail after he understands the lyrics"

Udhaya and I were super-elated that it was possible to let our modest efforts reach the master melody maker.  We sent the following translation to help him understand the tamil version
ponnira vaanam poduthu moadam = the golden sky has turned to rain dark clouds
yaenindha maaruthal= why this transformation?
idhayamumae andha vaanam pola allavaa=isn't the heart like the sky too!

charanam 1

ethirvarum kaatRinilae = going against the wind
yevarukkum maaRum vazhi=everyone's course changes
maaRidum paadhaiyilum= even in the changed course
oondRidu un kodi=firmly plant your flag (i.e. make your mark)
sadhuranga aattaththilae = in the game of chess
nagarvathu muRaippadiyae= movements follow the rules
vaazhkkaiyin pOkkinilae = in the way of life
muRaiyae puriyalae=  rules are hard to decipher
tholviyin sannathiyae thanda varam indha anubavam=the altar of failure grants this wish of experience

charanam 2
yaekkangaL thaengidavae = as yearnings accumulate
kanavugal perugidumae= dreams expand
vENdiya muyaRchchiyilae= with needed effort
yaekkangaL vilagumae= yearnings will dissappear
vetRiyin padigaLai = the stairs of success
adaindhida pala vazhi= can be reached through many routes
aththanai vazhiyilum= in all those routes
muyaRchchi mudhal padi=effort is the first step
vetRiyai pagirndhidavae sondha bandham vandhu saerumae= to share the success all your relations will come around

Not only did Shri Rajan have some kind words for our work, he even checked out my other works with Pradip Somasundaran (facilitated by Suchin) and had a few more kind words for us. 

Respects to the departed souls of Shri Rajan and Shri SPB.