Posted in Indian Art Culture Music

An Emotion Called SPB

There are very few memories that I carry from my parents’ times to this day…. I mean, most common things I shared with them are already lost… very few are surviving today but are running out fast into oblivion… so why I like SPB, Ilayaraja etc., is for an entirely different reason. SPB was one of the connecting dots to me with my parents. Whenever I would listen to his old songs of late 1970s, i would be transported back to my happy home when i was carefree kid like everyone else… In my teens, SPB became synonymous with unforgettable melodies, that being the Mike Mohan era ! In my middle age I continued to be drawn to SPB’s versatility with his glitzy chartbursters! Throughout my memorable part of life, SPB remained a steady component, taken for granted. Where will those like me find this comfort level ever. I liked his consistency. His soothing voice. His adaptability. I viewed him as a mature artist who cut through generations. Most importantly I saw him in a paternal role. May be never did I get to meet him but he was always there singing to my ears. I have drawn inspiration and happiness from him. And peace. I wish I had attended his Doha concert. Tickets were there. Mostly we skip these events never having the curiosity to get to know or see celebrities in person. However SPB is one enigmatic genius i wish I hadn’t missed out on…

It must have been the year 1980. The picture ‘Raja Parvai’ was entirely filmed in my mother’s school. Kamal Hassan was the hero, Madhavi the heroine. While my mom taught the deaf and the dumb kids (we used no euphemism in those days to mask the stark truth. truth was spoken straight to one’s eyes and ears), the film was shot in the blind section. Everyday my mother would come back with stories about the cast and the crew. When the film was released, ‘andhi mazhai’ became my mom’s top fave song that she got recorded in a sony cassette. After she passed away, for over 10 years i held on to the cassette and replayed her selections. There were those like ‘aaghaya gangai’, ‘sippi irukkudhu muthum irukkudhu’ all in the mellifluous tone of SPB as if soaked in honey. He was already a star by then.

My personal favourites became his ‘nandha en nila’ and ‘kamban emandhan’ and ‘ilakkanam maarudho’ that were not from Ilayaraja stable. MS Viswanathan was equally a legend in those days preceding Ilayaraja. However, I discovered these gems much later in life when I had the time to reminisce the 80s filmy music. By now I was addicted to Azhagan songs ‘sangeetha swarangal’ , ‘mazhaiyum neeye’ and ‘saathi malli poocharame’ – these remain my lifetime faves, gems from music director Maragatha Mani (who recently scored music for Bahubali when I thought he was lost and forgotten). The 80s were peppered with Mike Mohan’s sweetest melodies that were given gentlest treatment by SPB sir, with Ilayaraja scoring the music. 80s teens must know. Every single number by SPB from ‘ilaya nila pozhigiradhu’ to ‘nilave vaa’ balmed my heart in those years when I going through a personal crisis.

The unending saga of SPB superhits through late 70s to mid 90s upto the time of Roja with AR Rehman was golden period for us girls who went through school and college in those times. ‘Pani vizhum malar vanam’ oh my god! SPB-Ilayaraja-Vairamuthu combo was nothing short of fireworks starting with ‘idhu oru pon maalai pozhudhu’ to ‘vaa vennila’ just to name a couple. My bosom buddy from school Shobi would regale us by singing ‘vandanam en vandanam’ and ‘devi sri devi’ during our free classes and school excursions. By college time she graduated to ‘mandram vandha thendralukku.’ To this day for our school friends, these numbers are etched in heart in SPB and Shobi’s voices! Again for me, all these eased pain. Life became bearable.

Sweet Mylapore childhood memories include crooning of such numbers as ‘singari sarakku’ and ‘ilamai idho idho’ in our terrace. I recall these incredibly funfilled moments with my friend Rupa’s bro Satish, father of 2 kids now hahaha. Those were his faves as he also danced like Kamal to the songs!

One day in the year 1989 or whatever I am not sure, my father’s side relatives were asking me to watch the picture ‘Keladi Kanmani.’ They said it was made for those girls like me. I didn’t quite understand. It was a heavy subject as I found out. SP Balasubramanyam played the rare hero role in the film as a widower. He sings nonstop a song holding his breath for over a minute in the movie, which became a record in those days. His daughter in the picture stops him from remarrying. Obviously this is what my relatives were trying to relay to me. The film hurt me immensely but SPB’s offbeat romance with Radhika showed to me how love can be so mature. SPB turned out to be a natural actor fitting the role perfectly.

Post marriage, I happened to see repeat of this picture many times. Over years, my take on life too has changed. From confused angry teenager/young woman, I have also aged to accept things as they are and grow more tolerant and accommodating. One more SPB picture ‘Sigaram’ was like Part II of ‘Keladi Kanmani.’ For this one, SPB scored the music himself. Class. A very mature storyline. I always wondered why SPB chose to act in these two pictures. They were out of the ordinary no doubt. Of course the compelling script and story telling must have been the reasons.

In the year 1993, SPB numbers were superhit in ARR musical Roja which was dubbed into Hindi. The same year before I got married, I watched the first picture ‘Marupadiyum’ with my would be-hubby in cinemas. A remake of ‘Arth’ from Hindi. ‘Nalam vaazha ennalum’ was a beautiful meloncholy but with that one, we left the theatre. So much for watching a film for the first time as a couple! Wrong choice but the music made it worthwhile. Around this period I believe SPB peaked in his career as the threshold to Tamil cinema music was broken open and we had more aspiring playback singers flooding and trying their luck in Indian film industry. However to my knowledge, none has been able to breach SPB’s top spot to this day. I could detect some copycats of SPB in fact who would not focus on originality! SPB went on with his musical odyssey unperturbed by new developments but learning to adapt to new technology and new producers (people) and new audience. That is something we all have to learn from him. In the process he antagonized none. The more successful he proved, the more humble and down to earth he transformed into.

I loved SPB’s ‘Saajan’ songs that I knew by heart and sang to myself in the 90s. His ‘Ek duje ke liya’ did not impress me much probably because I didn’t feel at ease with his hindi. In Saajan he had turned around. But i love to bits his ‘valaiyosai galagalavena’ that he sung with Latha Mangeshkar in Tamil. His another beautiful number is ‘pallavi illamal paadugiren’ for Laxmikanth Pyarelal. In ‘Shankarabharanam’ from late 1970s SPB proved to us that mastering classical music need not have to be a qualifying criteria for aspiring musicians. You can be a natural without cultivated practice. Sometimes I think may be this is the secret formula for his success. ‘Kaadu madhiri control pannadha valarchi.’ As someone who was not a trained singer, SPB knew no bounds and had nothing to hold him back. His ‘Kaadhal oviyam’ renditions for instance. Every single one in this album keeps reverberating in the background of my mind pretty often, decades after it was composed and recorded.

Even until very recently SPB enthralled us with his sunny ‘sahana saaral thoovudho’ and ‘ballelakka’ lending voice for Rajni Kanth. Ballelakka especially with its tongue twisting lyrics used to amaze me. His trademark was that he was much emotive vocally, laughing and crying and rejoicing as the lyrics/verses and situation demanded. Voice modulation was his greatest asset.

In this middle age, I also play SPB’s ‘Lingashtakam’ and other devotionals every other day. SPB’s Arunalachala renderings move me to tears along with Ilayaraja’s own. We started going to Thiruvannamalai in the year 1997 before my husband took up his first foreign posting. Roads were crude then. One lane. And the temple town used to be empty for Pournamis! Throughout the trip in that eerie quiet and dark of the night when we would return, this is what we heard. Until today for temple visits etc., we play mostly this kind of music over slokas during long drives. Mantras demand concentration. SPB and Ilayaraja devotions are as breezy. Some verses can touch a chord in you as you weave your way through that spiritual journey…

A few years back when my aunt was admitted in a hospital for knee replacement, i got to learn that the adjacent suite was SPB’s for months, vacated only days earlier. I was attending to my aunt for 3 days. Apparently SPB had had his bariatric surgery. For those 3 days I tried to quiz the nursing staff as much as possible for any info on SPB the legend. They told me, in the hospital he was just like any other patient. Fair enough. I wanted to see the suite by myself and actually walked through it hahaha! I pictured him there and came back to tell my aunt about it! My aunt wished SPB had waited until her knee surgery so that both of us could have shaken hands with him. My hubby as usual teased me that i narrowly missed the photo opp and the chance to update my profile pic in FB with SPB! I don’t have the celebrity craze but SPB was different. For him, I had respect and reverence. I was in awe of him. It was not his star value that attracted me but his s0-called gentle manners, his sweet bubbly persona. He was my mother’s generation and that somehow mattered to me.

In every phase of my life, this man had a presence like in most of my girls’ – the 70s & 80s teens… we can’t put it into words how exactly we felt then… but we realize now that SPB is an emotion for us… We connect him with so many, many happy memories…

Dear SPB sir, you are leaving us with a very sweet lingering aftertaste you know. Will there ever be anyone like you again? I even loved your first one ‘aayiram nilave vaa’ for MGR. I used to wonder what kind of young man you must have been to have sung it for the doyen of Tamil film industry then in that adolescent voice of yours. I would think your voice broke out right after that recording! I have read about your humility, a rarity especially in the face of such a huge Himalayan success, i have followed your concerts world wide on and off without really consciously keeping track of you. You just were there all the time. What a phenomenal journey yours must have been. A life well lived sir, hats off to you! Gentle sweet soul.

I just lost one more dot that connected me to my parents…

Posted in Political History

September 17 Contradictions: Coaxis & Convergence

Not only is September 17 the birthday of our beloved Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji, it also happens to be the birth anniversary of E V Ramaswamy aka EVR aka Periyar, who spearheaded the Dravidian movement in the 1940s that led to eradication of untouchability in Tamil Nadu. EVR is credited with gaining entry access for millions of dalits into the state temples that held their doors closed to them until then. In short, EVR bestowed the much denied dignity on hundreds of thousands who were stomped over by the upper classes for centuries playing the ‘caste card.’ To most, it is a legal victory. Only to the traumatized and stigmatized community, it is akin to winning a psychological warfare.

To some of us like me, both Periyar and Modi are equally important. Dravidianism may have fizzled out presently just like the Congress party has lost steam over decades. That does not imply that these entities did not play their crucial roles at very important junctures of time, crafting history.

EVR managed to accomplish what none of the so-called Shankaracharyas of India even dared to attempt. To me this is the ultimate ‘Bhakthi’ or even better, ‘Mukthi.’ Bhakthi must stem from empathy and compassion or is it even bhakthi. What is ‘mandir’ but a huge hollow otherwise. Most often I see a total divorce between religiosity and spirituality (realization). To me, the chappal mala thrown by EVR would have been smilingly received as a garland of roses by Lord Raam. That is Ram to me. That is how I perceive Ram. This Ram i know wouldn’t have even wanted the Ayodhya. This is what maketh Ram. Sometimes I wonder why I have to think like this. But then I remember this is also the land of Ramanuja. This is faith to me. This is the dharma that i have come to believe in. I do not respect any culture or ideology that denies fellow humans equality and justice and dignity in the first place. I have written much on this. I trust our Sanatana Dharma has always been far above all this, but selfish groups reduced us to this lowly levels. If at all reservation has to go once and for all, I request the upper castes to ‘consider working in crematorium for just an year to experience what these downtrodden went through for ages. None stops you from manually scavenging either. Denial of social justice, equality and knowledge sharing and messing up with someone’s self respect and dignity – this is cruelty worst than cold blooded murder to me. This is what the upper castes of India committed through millennia. And we all talk about ‘Black lives matter’ when for eons we thrived suppressing systematically fellow humanity. What a wrong sense of entitlement some of us enjoy thanks to virtue of birth.

Of late a lot of demonizing such a phenomenal man as EVR is happening. How much is he maligned, how much character assassinated decades after he left. This must reveal to you something. That EVR was undoubtedly an epoch in history whether you like it or not.

EVR cannot be held responsible for the current political scenario in Tamil Nadu just as Mahatma Gandhi cannot be made accountable for the Congress debacle in present times. Denying EVR the credit for what he truly deserves is appalling. The more he is villainified, the more will some of us defend him staunchly. EVR’s views on women for instance! He was far ahead of his times. Much later in subtler tones we had our own K Balanchander make pictures echoing what EVR spoke of in the 40s and 50s. Periyar did not also mince words and did not hesitate from naming and shaming. He called a spade a spade. If it hurt someone, then how about the Panchamas living in the fringes for centuries. They do not even fall within the four varnas. Outside the varna system. If mere words can wound, then what trauma could harsh realities of life have inflicted not for one year, one century but for at least a two thousand years… Not mere untouchability, even unseeability was in force in many pockets of our society, especially in Kerala that gave us Adi Shankara. This was not a 3000 years ago but until a mere 100 years back.

Admiring EVR does not have to prevent one from being nationalistic at heart. Most importantly, Dravidian values need not have to make one any less Hindu. I am equally proud of what our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji is achieving for India, given the complex times we are living in. EVR mattered in the 1940s quite like Gandhi and Congress were relevant during our freedom struggle. Times change, history is in the making, and in modern India of the 21st century, the need of the hour is a man of steely nerves like Shri Narendra Modi who is resolute, determined, selfless, focused and persevering. With him for our PM, our sense of security is reinforced. We know, we are in good hands. Like EVR, Modi ji in a way restored our self esteem and self confidence.

There is also need for Hindu dharma to rise above pettiness in critical times like these. The Abrahamics are waiting like hawks. No one is dragged against his/her will kicking and screaming, for conversion. Conversion happens because, some among us are willing to accept rewards of any kind for promise of dignity in return that was denied to them by the society they have been part of. The converted are our shame! Will some numbskulls ever get it.

Too many self-appointed guardians of Hindu Dharma today out in the prowl doing more damage than they ever realize. Sickening ‘holier than thou’ attitude.

Living a neutral life, striving to remain sane is not an easy job in today’s India. As for me, EVR and PM Modi are two sides of the same coin.

PS: To those of us who invoke Karma at the drop of a hat, has it ever crossed your petty minds that perhaps Ayodhya was also our Karma. Is it possible that Ram with his acute sense of social justice wanted out of Ayodhya when a section of humanity was barred from His holy abode by narrow minded pompous self-important groups? Ram has now returned to Ayodhya because finally on legit grounds, social justice and equality triumphed in India as it never ever did in over 2000 years. Hail Ram! May be this was the destiny of each and every single Hindu temple struck down by the invaders. Hindu Bharatha deserved every bit of this historical correction.

Posted in Food For Soul


Why did these geniuses want to leave their signatures (mudras) (like watermarks) everywhere?

Some time ago, Kanda Shashti Kavasam sung for Lord Muruga aka Subrahmanya, Lord Shiva’s second son was eye of a controversy. Every Tamil child grows up singing this ‘Kavasam’ and in fact, there is a scientific opinion on the popular Thamizh prayer that, the nuanced pronunciations in the lyrics can keep off Alzheimer’s, for the tongue twisters they are. The same is also said to be true of Sanskrit slokas and mantras such as Vishnu Sahasranama, Lalitha Sahasranama for instance, that are ages ancient. Repeated chanting of these can do wonders to your memory and delay aging process of the mind.

What caught my attention about the Kavasam uproar was that, how Bala Deva Raya signed the Kavasam composed by him at Thiruchendur, one of the six of the ‘Aru Padai Veedu’ – the shrines devoted to Lord Muruga throughout Tamil Nadu. ‘Bala deva rayan pagarndhadhai’ is the verse with which the devout signs off the Kavasam in his name that he first recited in the seaside Murugan temple famous for its Skanda Shashti celebrations during which time Lord Muruga rains arrows at Padmasura, the asura (demon) king, and the enactment continues to this day in the beach adjoining the temple drawing tens of thousands of Muruga bhakts throughout India for the annual occasion.

Hanuman Chalisa is similarly signed off by Tulsi Das.

Every keertan by Thyagaraja, one of the ‘trimurthis’ of Carnatic classical is signed by composer Thyagaraja with invariably the closing verse ‘thyagarajavinutha’ that’s his trademark mudra or seal. Few others who have left their signatures include Harikesanallur Bhagavathar and Purandaradasa.

Which made me think, how nicely and intelligently these great men have copyrighted their renderings in bygone eras!

I have not observed this branding practice in Thevaram, Thiruvasagam, Thirupugazh, Thiruppavai etc. Nor have I picked up anything of this kind in Meera bhajans etc. To my knowledge, few doyens who reigned supreme in the classical music arena have patented their compositions as did some from northern India with their Samskrit compositions – in their own unique way! Clever!

Just found this curious! None seems capable of resisting the lure of vanity! Not all of us want to go down into the oblivion without making sure that we will be remembered forever! I find this signature similar to an artist leaving his/her initials in the masterpiece he/she creates that may survive to eternity. Great kings etched their names into stone masonry on temple granite walls. Some emperors got engraved their vain glory to posterity on their marble tombs. Some in history did not have a chance to leave a signature, yet they remain in our psyche, not having been banished to obscurity. Time has always done justice to these heroes be them scientists or architects or medicos or mathematicians or literary geniuses. Or even noble princes. That is how we have Vedas, Upanishads to Yogas in our midst until today. We remember Sushrutha to Bhaskara. Valmiki to Agasthya. Some signs have been erased by invaders and marauders, some signs did not exist at all, and some survived the onslaughts to reveal to us the history as it unfolded through centuries.

Recently, a time capsule was buried under earth during the ground breaking ceremony for Ram temple at Shri Ram Janam Bhoomi in Ayodhya. That got me thinking and that is how i tied Kanda Shashti and other things to each other. Just connected the dots and found it all absolutely amazing. I shall keep looking for more signatures in whatever literary composition or sanskrit sloka or mantra i may come across for a telltale sign left by the author.

Finally I have this confession to make: i am good at nothing. A mere passerby. And I may be completely wrong.

Posted in Pictures Desi

What is Art.

After 8 years since it was released, i caught up with watching our superstar thalaiva Rajni Kanth’s Sivaji, tamil film, only last evening in Prime. Of course I have loved the songs tuned in by AR Rahman always, given a voice by S P Balasubramanyam. Rajnis pictures are gross (no pun intended) entertainers. I like him over Kamal Hasan in that, he seems to treat his heroines with a bit more of respect. In case of Kamal, I have the opinion that he is vulgar with his women on screen and makes you squirm in your seat. He can never become the family entertainer that Rajni is.

I have enjoyed Rajni’s Robot made by director Shankar in the cinemas starring Aishwarya Roy opposite him. In Sivaji, it was a visual treat watching the car fight scene although generally i abhor violence. Mostly switch off death scenes/violent scenes or fast forward. Switch off tv if they show macabre scenes or present gloomy news with disturbing visuals. No point in carrying that baggage in your mind. According to some people, i am already negative! The truth is, I block a lot of negativity from my life and focus much more on positivity than I really speak about. Never psycho or terror or scary pictures for me. To fill my home with positive vibes, I play bhajans, classical music etc., in an effort to offset any negative energy present. Mind is cleared of clutter.

As for art, i am no connoisseur of art but having a spouse with artistic leaning has helped me appreciate art better. Europe tour was much more enjoyable thanks to our familiarity with art, that way. While most tourists just walked past, we stood rooted for a time studying art and debating the artists’ mindset. Thanks to my husband who himself is a scrap artist as well (he is a self-taught amateur artist) and thanks to my friends who are Rangoli specialists, i am discovering the many facets of art such as myriad surfaces, tools etc., apart from about some remarkable art installations. The art installations are a challenge to our imagination. Thought provoking. They define a new plane of art taking art to another dimension.

In celluloid pictures, i have been able to somewhat guess what can constitute art. By art here, i am not talking of award winning pictures. Art also need not have to be limited to scene settings. Art can be sublime as well relating to frames. For instance, the word ‘art’ hit me when i watched the car fight scene in Sivaji last evening. One thought in my mind then was that, this car fight sequence is like an art installation. Modern art. Abstract. The wastage hurt me nonetheless. Still I have to appreciate the stunts director and the screenplay-direction that came up with such a stunning and unprecedented scene for the first time in Tamil silver screen. Not ruling out the possibility of copying from Hollywood. Or even Bollywood. But knowing director Shankar and his originality, I have no doubts that this is his matchless ingenuity. This is what I thought of when watching ‘Robot’ dubbed in Hindi as well. Once I watched Shankar’s interview and the director said, how ideas keep popping up in his mind and how he imagines them in 3D and tries to visualize them in his mind’s eye and how he tries to match up film making with exactly what he pictured in his mind. This conceptualization that is strikingly similar to his visualization is what his pictures are all about. Great director of Indian cinema. Legend. Many of his Tamil productions are dubbed/remade in Hindi including Robot, Hindustani etc.

‘Prarthana’ the outdoor theatre also used to be my favourite drive-in cinemas by the sea (although the sea is invisible). I think now it is redundant. Not too sure how it is faring now in the digital age of Prime/Netflix and Inox cinemas. Looks like the scene is shot here. No copyright infringement intended. This is what sets Shankar’s films apart.

(This is a dubbed scene from Hindi version 😀 that hardly does any justice to the sequence. Better footage in Prime HD)

To me, anything with an aesthetic appeal to not only your eyes, but also to your heart and mind, qualifies as art. Art is ever evolving. One is reminded of Dan Brown’s ‘Origin’ with its gala science/art museum that is surreal. Art transcends levels and planes and is of a multi-dimension that is beyond one’s imagination here. I am lucky that i could expand my horizons of thinking where it concerns art. The possibilities are endless. The rustle of a leaf in the soft breeze is art as much as the buzzing bee about it. The gentle roll of the waves is an art as every beautiful twilight and sunset. Corona has spared us time to pause and take stock of art that is omnipresent about us 360 degrees. Nature or otherwise. And most importantly you don’t have to have this creative genius to reckon art for what it is. All it takes is the elusive eye that can wring art out of the ordinary.