Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Being a wo(man)

’Is God a man or a woman?’’

When my 10 year old daughter Dhenuka asked me this question, my first reaction was shock. Somehow, I got reminded of the dialogue from one of the most popular Tamizh films- ‘Are you a good person or a bad person?’. Like the protagonist in the movie, I too replied ‘I don’t know’, though not in his tone.  Sadly enough,I also did not have the backing of the leitmotif of the Maestro.

But jokes apart, the question made me think. ‘Why should a 10 year old girl worry about the gender of God? What would have made her do this?’

I asked her the reason. She said ‘’ I am sure it is He. Otherwise why do only girls have some problems? If it was a She, this wouldn’t happen’’.

The reply left me dumbfounded. She was of course talking of physiological problems unique to women. Nowadays, schools also educate the children about many things and this includes certain things considered as taboo traditionally. Forward thinking people should definitely welcome this. Therefore, I had no qualms about her getting to know about some details regarding the anatomy and physiology. But what troubled me is the way a girl perceives her being a girl. Is it a healthy trend or not?

Is it a fact that women undergo a lot of hardships in the world when compared to men? Is it then a sin to be born as a girl? Then why did the Mahakavi sing ‘Mangaiyaraai piRappadhaRkku maathavam seithida veNdumamma’?(it needs a lot of penance indeed to be born as a girl). This is a very vast subject and requires reams of pages to discuss. Therefore, let me try and touch some pertinent points here.

The main point in my opinion is not so much the physiological problems as the emotional and the mental trauma. By this I mean the way the society looks at and treats women. The term society has a larger connotation and without any doubt, includes women too. We Indians have a confused mind when it comes to women. I am not exaggerating when I say that we are a bundle of contradictions. At one end of a spectrum, we put a woman on a pedestal, make her an epitome of patience, tolerance, love, compassion and shower encomiums on her. At the other end, we look down upon her giving some stereotyped roles and go to the extent of saying ‘Being a woman, you can’t and shouldn’t do this’. It is in this band of spectrum that we see her as a glamorous creature created for men and to satisfy men in all aspects. We expect women to act as per the whims and fancies of men. No, not just ‘of men’ but also ‘of women’ who carry the tag of ‘mother’ by law (or is it in-law?).

Both the ends of the spectrum are dangerous. We deify women so that they remain on the pedestal like statues without any emotions. ‘Oh , how many sacrifices a woman makes!’ we shed crocodile tears. We trample them at the other end, first by branding them as symbols of beauty and then setting rules. How confused we are!

Isn’t there a disconnect between the two ends here? Yes and no. ‘Yes’ because the two are contradictory. ‘No’ because the other is responsible for the one.

No, I am not contradicting here. We put women on the pedestal because we know that if we do that, we can get away with everything. ‘God created mother because He can’t be present all the time’, we say (here itself there is a contradiction anyway as God is supposed to be omnipresent). Aftersaying this, we go ahead and disrobe women (literally and figuratively).

That is why, we have men who say ‘If a diamond is displayed on the road, dogs will surely take it’, ‘ It is the girl who invites the boys with ‘inappropriate dress’’, ‘ There is nothing wrong in a rape. Boys just want to have fun’.

Mind you, these were said by men who are supposed to be ‘leaders’.

But when we have the leader of the country himself saying ‘Depite being a woman…’, can’t we understand the kind of stereotyped images we all have in our mind?

So, where are we now?

Durga’ to ‘Maa / behenji’ to ‘kya maal hai yaar’ to ‘girls should not wear jeans’!!
If this is not a bundle of contradictions, what else is?

However, the solution lies within us. Let us stop deifying women. Let us stop denigrating women. Let us understand and appreciate the problems of women, respect them in the real sense and treat them as fellow human beings without any set of written or unwritten rules.

The rare gem of the day ‘PaavaiyargaL Maan Pole..’ from ‘Ore Muththam’(1980)  precisely talks about this but in a slightly different way.

The brilliantly written song by Kaviyarasar puts across both the viewpoints- the ‘traditional typecasting’ and the modern one. Needless to say that the former is by a man (brilliant rendition as usual by SPB) and the latter by a woman (again a beautiful rendition by Janaki).

What is most striking is the way the composition traverses through two totally different genres, qawwali and modern pop. Brilliantly symbolic!

Qawwali, a genre which was ubiquitous in the old Hindi songs(till late ‘70s) has appeared in some old Tamizh songs too. But here it is very special because of the seamless transition. The Maestro has also tuned it in Mishra Khamaj, a Hindustani raag used prolifically in qawwalis.

The song starts with the harmonium playing with sensitivity and making some smooth glides. It plays without percussion for 3 cycles of chatushra ekam and then moves along spreading warmth for the next 10 cycles.

The pallavi is in anaagata eduppu and the male sings ‘ Women are like the deer; like the Cauvery river; If only they tread the path laid for them and live accordingly, they are angels. Why this modernity?’

The first interlude gives the quintessential flavour of a qawwali with the shehnai, the clapping and the harmonium. It is simple and at the same time zestful.

The first charaNam talks about having beautiful plait decorated with flowers and at the same time says ‘ Jewellery and dress don’t make you beautiful. Sport a smile and walk with a proper gait.Read Tamizh’.

 Let it be understood here that ‘reading tamizh’ is used as a euphemism here for ‘following tradition’.

Musically, the stanza is marvellous with the akaaram after ‘choodungaL’ shining like gems on a nose ring.

There is a sudden shift in the interlude which follows. The electric guitar appears with a grin and moves along dancing. The saxophone follows and traverses upwards. The healthy competition between the two is amazing!

The female now sings, ‘ A good woman can live anywhere. I know what I am doing and let there be no barriers . I am like the pure Ganges’.

The TaaLa pattern now changes to tisram as the saxophone again goes on a melodious spree. After a brief intervention by electric guitar, the male sings ‘Wear a silk saree and you are protected. God comes rushing to you when you wear  bindi and flowers’
(Doesn’t this contradiction between the first charaNam and this charaNam typify the mentality of the society?).

The female replies that even if God comes here now, He will accept me as times are changing.

Now, it is the shehnai that follows and moves with a verve.

The stanza that follows has the male sarcastically refer to the smile of a woman.

Those days, women would walk with their heads bowed down. And now you all smile directly looking at our faces.’ The old adage about a lady’s laughter being very dangerous, used even in Mahabharata, is used after this.

The saxophone follows with unobtrusive energy.

Ok, now let us come to an agreement. Point out if I make a mistake.  And I shall point out your mistakes. After all, are’nt women and men equal?’

This is a beautiful line and one sees Bharati in KaNNadasan.

The last part is rendered by both the male and the female saying ‘Let us be friends. There is good and evil in everything. Let us unite’.

The inherent message is obvious.

So, will we all follow this as well?

And by the way, is God a man or a woman?
Well..God only knows!


Monday, 8 June 2015

The Fourth Dimension


A word used at least in 12 different occasions each time conveying different meanings (note that the previous sentence itself has two words- occasions and time- denoting this word). Without this, we cease to exist.  It just moves on without waiting for anything or anybody. If one puts it to use effectively and uses it efficiently, it becomes one’s friend. I get very surprised when people say ‘to kill the time’ or ‘time- pass’ or ‘boring’. If we want to kill the time, it will kill us; if we want to ‘pass’ the time, it will pass over us; if we find it ‘boring’, it will get bored of us and the result will be there to see.

Recently, I read that a famous personality remarked that he found the music of the ‘70s and the ‘80s boring and that is why he decided to ‘ bring about a change’. In fact, about 6 years back, the same person in an interview to an international channel said “People were bored of the same kind of instruments like Tabla, Violin etc., and ‘I’ changed it.''

People are entitled to have their opinions and most importantly music is subjective. So, should one not leave it at that and move on? Answer is ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. ‘Yes’, because I agree about respecting others’ opinions and music being subjective. ‘No’, because I felt I must voice my opinion too.

Three things are common in the two statements made by the famous personality-‘ I’Change’ and ‘Bored’.  I shall leave the ‘I’ now because there is no single person on the earth now who has shed the ‘I’. We always feel great about ourselves and most importantly when others heap praises on us (only deep inside we know we don’t deserve it, but why should we accept it..).

Let us look at the ‘change’ aspect. Film music has changed over a period of time and I am not an ostrich to bury my head in the sands. From the days of MKT when pure classical music ruled, to the days of MSV when classical music was given  a lighter shade without in anyway affecting the melody(in fact, melody ruled the roost despite this).  Since this is not about the history of cinema music, I am leaving it at that.

But at the same time, I must also write about what happened after 1976(purely from my perspective). Until then, though the tunes were melodious, not much attention was paid to the orchestration .It was only after May 1976 that orchestration acquired a new meaning. I would say that the sounds heard in the preludes and interludes (did anybody know these words before 1976?), were not heard in Indian Film Music until then. Very different and new instruments were used (and not just the ‘same tabla, violins and veena). New kinds of experiments like ‘superimposing techniques’, ‘song using only the chorus voice as instruments’, ‘using only a solo voice in humming’. And I am not getting into the new ragas part anyway since the discussion is on something else.

Despite all this, if people who are into music, say that the music during those days was boring and not accepted by the West (this is the only criteria, you see!), then there is something wrong somewhere not the least in the thinking process of the persons concerned. That reminds me. Paul Mauriat, one of the greatest musicians of all times was spell bound after listening to ‘Edho Mogam’ and this happened in 1983 when ‘music was boring’ here.

What is more amusing to me is the way some people in social media have concurred with the ‘boring’ view and have ridiculed the music during that period. I bet that all these people have hardly listened to the gems during that era. I don’t have any problem in agreeing to disagree. At the same time, I would like these people to first listen to the gems and then say ‘Oh..boring’ rather than simply criticising sitting in an arm chair and in the cool confines of the air conditioners.

The rare gem of the day is surely one such song in my opinion. ‘Nee illaadhapodhu..’ from ‘ILamaikkolam’ (1980) is an evergreen melody. I call it evergreen not only because it gives goose bumps and gives me nostalgia moments whenever I think of it but also because the song is melody personified.  The entire composition is beautifully structured (done spontaneously in one go and not in ‘bits and pieces’). But what steals the show here (too) is the way each instrument is sounded.

It has a rather unusual start. A very special sound from the Keyboard fills the air. The sustained notes  for 3 cycles and the descent for the next  1 cycle of Chatushram prepare us for an eerie song. The Strings sound sustained notes for one cycle. We then hear the sound of ankle-bells (only). A special sound (similar to a santoor ) from the Keyboard joins. The Guitar, another Keyboard and the Bass Guitar enter with a brief response from the special sounding Keyboard. A single Violin appears and plays in Indian classical style and this is backed by the double bass. The Keys respond after two cycles for one cycle and this happens twice. The group of Strings takes over and plays for two cycles. The Keys repeat the notes of the Strings which now play subtly. 
And then.. the Pallavi starts!

So many variations in a matter of 42 seconds..

The Pallavi starts in the voice of Malaysia Vasudevan. The first phrase ‘Nee..’ itself is sustained for one full cycle. A very different combination of swaras of ShankarabharaNam follows in the second half of the first line, ‘yengum nenjam’-(paga3 ma1ri2 ga3sa ri2ni3). The Tabla too plays the Chatushram very differently as ‘ta ta ta ta’. The Keys sound at the end of the second and the third lines. There is a twist in the lines that follow. ‘ma2’ appears suddenly making it KalyaNi. Though it does not have the ‘ni’, one can surely feel the KalyaNi shade. The last line reverts to the ‘ma1’.

Sujatha(her fourth song for the maestro and her last song before she got married) joins now and sings the first two lines of the Pallavi.

The twists and turns continue in the CharaNams too. The first two lines use only ‘sa ri2 ga3 pa ni3’ making it Hamsadhwani. The third line is in KalyaNi(sans ‘ga’) and the fourth line is in Valaji scale-with ga3 pa dha2 ni2. The last line has both the ‘ni’ s!

But these changes and variations appear and sound innocuous to me. It must be because these were conceived spontaneously and not over a period of time (weeks/months).

The special sounding Keys enliven the first half of the first interlude. After playing alone for 2 cycles, it is joined by the higher octave Strings which are then joined by another set of Strings after one more cycle. The two romance very briefly to the backing of the Drums which sound just now and then and that too subtly. Another new sound from Keys and now it is the Tabla which backs as the percussion. The bending of the Keys continues before the Strings take over. Do these take over normally? No..One set of Strings race in the mid-octave while the other set goes in the higher octave. In Western Classical Music parlance, this is ‘March music’.
In the second interlude, the Keys and the Strings combine to give a dash of poignancy perhaps to depict that feeling of ‘missing somebody’

The piercing Flute brings back the romance with the ‘santoor’ acknowledging it. The Strings sound with a unique emotion and play in Hamsadhwani- exactly the same notes as the first part of the first line of the CharaNam.

The song composed 35 years back has always excited all the time. At the same time, I can’t help feeling sorry for the people who claim Times have changed and like ostrich bury their heads in sand. But this time I can see something smiling at them. ..

…It is called as the Time..