RTP Structure & Appreciation
(For the beginners by a novice with a lot of listening experience)
Ragam dileanation or Alaapanai (Alaap) is done in three parts.
1) Madhya Sthayi or the mid octave
2) Ucha Sthayi or the higher octave
3) Mandira Sthayi or the lower octave in that order, normally. Sthayi refers to the pitch.

All three parts will be rendered at slow/vilambit and 2 higher speeds. Beginners will find Ucha sthayi exhilarating. In terms of duration, madhya sthayi will take 40% of alaap, ucha sthayi will be take another 40%and mandira sthayi will take the remaining 20% of Alaap. Percussion Instruments are not used in alaap.
Thanam: This will take about sametime as the third phase of alaap. Thanam is singing the same raagam using the word Thanam several times in a nice rhythmic way. Normally no percussion instrument is used while singing thanam.
Palghat KVN, during his visit to Blore circa 1983 under the aegis of SPICMCAY while performing at the IISc, sang a unique Todi RTP, during which he had Trissur Narendran playing the Mridangam , while singing .Thanam, He explained to the stunned audience that this was an old practice of the Trivandrum Palace, It was so good and different, I feel somebody can reintroduce the idea. Wonder, if any trade-mark or Royalty (pun un-intended) issues would be there!
Pallavi & Niraval
Pallavi is usually, a one liner or two at best like a Doha or Thirukural. The musician will play around with the pallavi line presenting to the audience all his wares (acquired skills through rigorous practice/Sadhakam /Riaz) – Left Brain component) and interpretation of the raagam by bringing out all possible hues of the Raga (Creativity which is the Right Brain Component) This stage is called the Nereval. For Nereval the musician will choose the phrase to end each line of the Neraval. Neraval in general and particularly Use of Aahkaram ( Singer will introduce Between each letter of the phrase chosen for nereval .for e.g. if the chosen phrase is Amba Kamakshi, Aahkaram will be ‘aahaha’ Mahaha’ ‘Bahaha’ ‘aahaha’ etc) will make the session exhilarating .

Swara- prastharam:
Completion of the neraval, will lead to Swara-prastharam, which is again a type of Neraval, but the singer uses the basic Swaras that make the raga. Chosen word will be the same and the musician uses the given swaras for the ragam. It is a big-time mathematical exercise. You can see Sanjay Subramanian’s 25 min talk on a documentary on GN Balasubramanian’s music where he says for the great master Math (Kanakku-the Tamil word for Math) effortlessly falls in place. The last iteration of swaram would be longish, covering all three octaves in all the speeds and not a single beat missing for anyone on stage, will whip up the kind of frenzy that you experience when you have had some weeds and listen to lead Guitar towards the end of the song Hotel California or Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits, my ring tone for over 20yrs.
This is a percussion ensemble, where one or more percussionists (Mridangam, Ghatam, Mohrsing, Kanjira, Thavil, Tabla) they play on their respective instruments whatever the mridangist plays. Each phrase will shorten as the percussion war escalates. In between there would be dialogues between them and Ghatam guy can steal the thunder by throwing the pot (the Ghatam, not to be mistaken for the weed!) and catching it with out missing the beat. People with a good sense of thalam (like peole who have learnt music properly or Bharata Natyam Dancers) can appreciate the Thani-Avardhanam better. Usha can and I can’t. But I dont walk out of concerts during Thani which is happening even now.

Oh for those True Legends!

There are such poems on a few more near winners,
Or shd they be called close losers,
Losers all the same,
Consider the great Zico,
He bent it better than Beckam,
But cometh the moment, cometh the failure,
Against an ordinary Joel Bats!
Boris Spassky, let the UssR down closely on the heels of the cuban war in the iconic battle of Reijkyavich. Cometh the hour, cometh the failure against the Goat chess player Bobby Fisher.Compare that with Gary Kasaparov. Trailing 5-1 against the eternal favourite of the establishment Anatoly Karpov. Gary won 3 consecutive games reducing Karpov to a near nervous wreck.The match was called off to conserve Karpov.But he lost again in the re-match. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Jimmy Connors is another close loser, loser all the same. He lost many closly fought and one-sided matches, against Borg and John Mac. But Jimmy stayed a fighter and believed he would win until he lost.
But it hurts the reporters and the fans to see someone lose and painfully enough, he losess more often in summit clashes. Not including Roger in this list, but tempted to. Late Nirmal Shekar of The Hindu knew more Shakespeare than Sports. So, however flowery his language is, he runs out of words while writing euologies for champs so much so that you can easily swap them with any other champ of any other game,. without distorting the contents. His famous Comment for Spassky is ” His Head must be aching with crowns”. The description of the match will have the term “the great man” more no of times than the winners score by them. Yet I read such articles because of the great reverance I have for those losers and also for the reluctance of such writers for the use of term “Legends”.
Oh for those true Legends!

My biggest Perk

Sometime in early 98, I was waiting to interview a candidate with one of the weirdest names. The name gave no clue as to the country or region he hailed from nor did it give any indication as to the intense role he was going to play in my life. When the man walked in, half the mystery was over and the rest of it got unraveled when he started speaking. The accent screamed of his Madurai roots, to which he stuck right through.
What started as a boss-subordinate relationship, blossomed into a wonderful friendship, facilitated by the common almamator, where we had not met (I was 3yrs his senior), making us the unlikely partners in TT, Snooker, Golf, Carrom, Rotary, stag outings, old temple visits in Chennai etc. He had a fantastic Carrom board which is in my house since the past 5yrs. I have decided to keep it in his memory.
Perk’s perpetual happy countenance belies the unbelievingly challenging childhood he had been through. One quality of his that I admire most and I believe is the reason for his success in life, is he didn’t carry the bitterness of his early schooldays with him.
A quintessential Rotarian, Perk was caring and effusing warmth and enthusiasm that was infectious. He believed in sensitive implementation than clinical execution of projects. Perk’s default response to any request is YES and this quality endeared him to many.
While he strove hard to be at peace with the world I thought he seldom was at peace with himself. But a great calm enveloped him while he was with his friends and particularly with his RECT friends.
Perk, when you have something to do, you would do that with me and when you have nothing to do you would still do that with me. There cannot be another Perk in my life and I already feel a big vacuum inside. Perk, you are the biggest Perk of my life.
Perk, my friend, you have done a lot for your friends, your family and the Society. Now you may and you should rest in Peace.

Prose & Poetry

The blog is dedicated to The Brilliant creator Indu and I take this opportunity to get a back door approval from the great man for dedicating his part of the mail to a beautiful Namboodhri girl! I did not want to spoil the beauty of the bachelor boy’s flow with my literature there. Consider the flg for a contrast:
1. Narration Vs Story telling
2. Clinical/Precise/Prosaic Vs Poetic
3. Humour opportunity almost fully searched, exploited and exhausted Vs Humour blossoms and the fragrance is left behind giving the illusion that there is still humour left in the situation. Oh! The Cheshire cat Syndrome is still haunting me.
4. But most of you can pick a lesson or two from me (not Indu) in précis writing, a skill I started developing from the Akshara-abhyasa day and the learning and practice will go on until my dying days. I am such a congenital hater of writing! I’ll write another day 3 incidents which helped my hapless parents realize who their problem child is.

Sparring Friends – Coffee Vs Tea

Recently I was broadsided by a sophisticated mallu – a WIP with a very few “Row” sides to him. Hell hath no fury as a mallu separated from his chai!

Indu Uvacha: (Angrily)
Perhaps your “Madras Kappa” spirit was aroused by my call to tea that you would make so bold to discount tea in such a dastardly manner for that dark brew? Be that as it may (and regardless of whether you’ll be made to eat your joke when you fly on Malabar airlines), I can’t let you get away with mocking tea so.

Good tea, my man, is a lost art that was practiced everywhere in India, until its place was usurped by invaders from elsewhere. Now, sadly relegated to liquid jugglery at the Nair tea stall or, even more sadly, to vapid jokes about meter long concoction, tea is not appreciated in the land that produces most of it. (And, as if coffee is not put to such feats of elasticity in the roadside coffee shops or the railway platforms all over India. And what about that “tumbler and dabara,” that it is presented in so ceremoniously? Besides, coffee (I feel like I’m clearing my throat every time I say that word), a lowly stimulant and drug disguised as emery boosting drink, originated from the deserts of Ethiopia, thanks to a cowherd. Decoction concoction anyone?

In contrast, myth has it that Bodhi dharma (alas, a non-mallu, Pandya prince at that Shankara – tch, tch) brought tea to China. Even if it’s an exaggeration, since china probably can lay claim to tea much before Bo’s arrival there around 5 C AD, the point is the elixir has been associated with spiritual masters and purification. Bo Dharma is not the last spiritual leader who was associated with it either.

In Japan and China, tea is an art form of the highest order, and tea masters are venerated philosophers and spiritual leaders. The Japanese tea ceremony evolved, allied as it was with Zen Buddhism into a highly evolved, intricate art form that’s prized and practiced by aesthetes and Zen monks even today.
Sen no Rikyu, a 16th Century Zen master, is revered to this date for his treatise “Cha no yu” (lit. “water for tea”) all over the world. (But, what’s the point in recounting this to you Shankara? Will you ever sip a cup of tea in this lifetime?) Here’s an episode, involving Sen no Rikyu (see if you can match it with a coffee story, you coffee drinking luddites!):

The Tea-Master & the Assassin

Taiko, a warrior who lived in Japan before the Tokugawa era, studied Cha-no-yu, tea etiquette, with Sen no Rikyu, a teacher of that aesthetical expression of calmness and contentment. Taiko’s attendant warrior Kato interpreted his superior’s enthusiasm for tea etiquette as negligence of state affairs, so he decided to kill Sen no Rikyu. He pretended to make a social call upon the tea-master and was invited to drink tea.

The master, who was well skilled in his art, saw at a glance the warrior’s intention, so he invited Kato to leave his sword outside before entering the room for the ceremony, explaining the Cha-no-yu represents peacefulness itself. Kato would not listen to this. “I am a warrior,” he said. “I always have my sword with me. Cha-no-yu or no Cha-no-yu, I have my sword.”

“Very well. Bring your sword in and have some tea,” consented Sen no Rikyu.
The kettle was boiling on the charcoal fire. Suddenly Sen no Rikyu tipped it over. Hissing steam arose, filling the room with smoke and ashes. The startled warrior ran outside.

The tea-master apologized. “It was my mistake. Come back in and have some tea. I have your sword here covered with ashes and will clean it and give it to you.” In this predicament the warrior realized he could not very well kill the tea-master, so he gave up the idea.

🙂 See you at tea time, Indu

Mixing comes easy to me, be it language or liquids. When dharu mixing happens first, language mixing is further facilitated! Have you tried a mix of coffee and Cognac? Tea is not known to copulate with any spirit with such ecstatic results!

Incidentally, Usha is from Coonoor, the tea land of South India. Her Dad is the Auditor for several tea companies in Coonoor. The tea we have at home is well distanced from the dusts most of you have!

I see your cry to end this storm in a tea cup! So be it. I would rather settle for ‘me’ than care for tea, tea and more tea options of Malabar Airlines!

Rotary & Relocating to India

One of the Co-founders of our company attempted to relocate to India from the US. They had dreams of enjoying so many things like festivals, temple visits, art & culture, family functions and the associated menu etc. When they finally landed, after many familiarization visits, my friend’s wife started complaining about dust, noise, nosey servant-maid etc. I asked her if she is looking for what she wanted to enjoy in India or what she used to enjoy in the US. Many times people make choice between two, but want them both.

Coming from the Corporate World, I was surrounded by Eng-MBAs. I joined Rotary to expand my friends circle with a “good” “sprinkling” of businessmen, auditors, lawyers, builders, doctors etc. In the first couple of years in Rotary, I found a few things not conforming to the conventional “best practices”. I was wondering if I made wrong judgement in joining Rotary. Conceited thoughts like “Does the Rotary deserve me?” crept thru my mind. But soon wisdom dawned and I reminded myself that I joined Rotary to look for things that the structured corporate world does not offer. Then I saw a whole new world of beautiful things in Rotary:

1. Rotarians are caring, showing a lot more warmth than I could ever .
2. Projects were executed through love & compassion and not just through systems & processes.
3. The whole system was running beautifully with no role power for the various positions.
4. Rotary gives as much as you take and takes as much as you give.
So, your disappointment and indignation are misplaced. Ask yourself, “What did I come to Rotary for? Am I pursuing it or getting distracted”. Honest answers to such questions hold the key to your happiness in Rotary and vice-versa.

Divine KVN

Let’s get into a time machine and alight a little before 4 decades
Period 1974. Location Topaz Hostel, REC, Trichy.
2 guys who hardly knew each other were playing a game they hardly knew .
That was KNV (as he was popularly referred to) and me playing a game of Chess. From nowhere I started hearing a great Saveri raagam wafting in and soon figured out that the source was KNV. His Saveri was much better than the brand of chess he played.. I remember the conversation which went like
ME: Hey, that was great saveri
KNV: Being the son of an illustrious father, It shouln’t be too surprising that I could hum Saveri.
ME: Who is your father?
KNV: Palghat KV Narayanaswamy
ME: Palghat who?
KNV used to sing KJ Jesudas songs (Adhisaya Raagam, Deivam Thandha veedu etc)a few of SPB’s like Nanda En Nila in Madhuvanthi and one of Manna De’s all time great songs in Ahir BHairav (Poocho na kaise) all of semi-classical genre and occasionally KVN’s Vandemataram in various cultural programmes and walk away with prizes. Only one thing we figured out in campus was my favourite singer GNB was his pet peeve!
My direct association with KVN mama started when I met him in his Gurukkal Colony house in Mandaveli 1983 as a SPICMCAY coordinator to arrange Lec-dems in Blore. In under 10 mins he arranged the the flg outstanding concerts, within my meagre budget.
Concert-1 : KVN, MC/Bharti(violin), Tiruchur Narendran (mridangam) at IIMB
Concert-2 : N.Ramani,, MC/Bharti(violin), Tiruchur Narendran (mridangam) at IIMB.
Concert-3 :MC/Bharti(violin), Tiruchur Narendran (mridangam) at IIMB
Concert-4 : KVN, MC/Bharti(violin), Tiruchur Narendran (mridangam) at IISc.
Some of the points KVN mentioned in 1983, are still operating as maxims of Carnatic Music:
1. KVN,s music is known for its sruti shuddam and tala perfection. When enquired as to why he carries a tampura as well as a sruti box, he said , the A/C halls wont maintain the same sruti through out the concert. So he will fall back on sruti box mid way to realign the tampura sruti again.
2. KVN was a great advocate of Introducing the Jeeva Swaram asap in raga alaapanai, however long or short the alaapanai be. He was of the opinion that the listener should not be left guessing what Raagam the singer is singing or attempting!
3. He used to quote his guru Ariyyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar often in lec-dem and one of them stood out…” At the end of a Raga Alaapanai, the Raagam must stand out and not the singer!”
4. Vichu talked about how a Ada Tala Bhairavi varnam like Viribhoni would set the tempo for a concert. KVN recalled his guru Ariyakudi telling “ Varnam , adhu innum Varanum!.”
5. KVN constantly believed in offering variety to the Rasikas in terms of Raagam and also Thalam. No successive kritis will be set to the same taal.
6. At the magnificent new IIM campus at Bilekehalli on the Bannerghatta Road., he treated us to a brilliant evening of Bhairavi. Varnam, Bala gopala, RTP, Sindhubhairavi and the thukkada songs. I think it was janmashtami day then.
7. While he performed at the IISc, he sang a unique thodi RTP, during which he utilized the services of Mridangist, that indomitable Trichur Narendran, while singing Thanam, He explained to the stunned audience that this wsa an old practice of the Trivandrum palace. Palace, It was so good and different, I feel somebody can reintroduce the idea. Wonder, if any trade-mark or Royalty (pun un-intended) issues would be there!
8. KVN very strongly believed in giving very good music to all class of people and he said they’ll lap it up. He was not for watering down classical music pristinity, blaming the rasaikas for it.
9. KVN acted in a couple (or one) of movies. He didn’t continue his acting career, Owing to societal perceptions of cinema or the acute brahminical upbnging.
On a poignant note, KVN had 2 huge regrets in life and mentioned them at every available opportunity. One was an incredulously silly one (like all great men having a constant child in them) – He really missed speaking English.
The other regret of his, a really profound one worthy of his musical stature was his inability to teach his only son Carnatic music traditionally, His Master’s Way.