Thursday, 11 August 2016


There is danger in being a third man.

No, I am not talking about the cricket fielding position and surely not about attempting a catch for an ‘upper cut’.  The ‘third man’ I am referring to is a person who enters a specific field (not cricket) when there are already two people(considered to be icons) around. Take the case of Vengsarkar. When he entered the Indian Cricket Team, there were two ‘little masters’ who were considered to be two of the greatest batsmen in the world. So, despite being a highly talented batsman who could handle pace, swing and spin with consummate ease, Vengsarkar had to live in their shadows for a long time. Even now, people who recollect the names of Gavaskar and Viswanath within a split second, take a while to recollect the name of Vengsarkar.

This could well have been the story of Panchu AruNachalam too. When he entered Tamizh film industry as a lyricist, there were two ‘Jaambavaans’ already. It is a different issue that one of them was his own uncle. But not the one who enjoys being in somebody’s shadows, he spread his wings and though he did not write too many songs till 1976, he wrote story-dialogues for some movies and also started producing movies. This of course continued post-1976 too but significantly he started penning more songs after this and the reason is not difficult to guess. More about this soon, but the fact that his lyrics were distinct and beautiful is not known to many. Today he is known more as a story-dialogue writer and producer who also wrote songs. This according to me is the saddest part.

Sad, because he wrote so many songs using very simple words but with powerful meanings and yet many don’t seem to recognise his greatness in this aspect. People may quote his lineage but the fact that he had a unique style cannot be denied by serious lovers of Tamizh songs. Take ‘Vizhile Malarndadhu..’ Though it is inspired by Kamban, the very first line tells a beautiful love story. ‘She blossomed in my eyes/And mingled with my soul’. Doesn’t this line alone stir the soul? And see the line in the CharaNam- ‘Paalil nei aLavu parandha punnagai’(Her smile is like the ghee in the milk). Fertile imagination!

And see this line from ‘Vaa ponmayile’..

Kaadalin Jaadaiyellam Kannazhagile’(sign of love shown in the beauty of her eyes).

And from ‘Kaadalennum Kovil’- Kaadalennum Kovil Katti Vaiththen Nenjil/Poojai Seithen Paatisaiththen/Devi VandaaL Neril( I built a Temple of Love in my heart/ I worshipped doing Pooja and Sang/ She came).

If these show his romantic side, songs like ‘Vaazhkkaiye Vesham’, ‘Oru Veedu Iru ULLam’ showed his philosophical side.

That reminds me of an eternal favourite of mine- ‘Oru NaaL Unnodu Oru NaaL’- in which he ends the song with ‘Kaaviyam Pole Vaazhndiruppom/Aayiram Nilavai Paarthiruppom’. The irony here is that the couple knew they would die very soon.

These are just samples and I can go on and on. I remember writing in one post sometime back in one of the online forums that whenever possible, I would surely write more about his poetic sense. Finally, it had to happen today. But this will be an ongoing process and I shall take up his lyrics now and then in my posts.

The fact that he was the one who introduced somebody -despite some stiff  resistance and opposition- who has now become my raison d’ĂȘtre, is reason enough for me to thank Panchu sir a million times. But it is also a fact that I love his lyrics which sound more beautiful in Raaja sir’s music. I am reminded of my childhood days when I would jump with excitement whenever the announcer (on radio) said ‘Paadal- Panchu AruNachalam’ because I knew what would follow(Isai-ILaiyaraaja). Of course occasionally I have been fooled too when they played ‘Ponnezhil Pooththadhu’ or ‘Nalla Manam Vaazhga’-though these are good songs too!

Let me pay my gratitude by taking up a song in this combination- a song not known to many now.

One of the qualities of Panchu sir’s is his compassion. A very soft spoken person, he was very affectionate to his family and most importantly with all his crew members. He did not have even a single enemy as he was loved by all. Precisely because of this, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss about a song in which affection runs like Cauvery.

Whenever I listen to ‘Sandanamittu Sadiraadum Mottu’ from ‘Rusi KaNda Poonai’ (1980) my heart melts. The tune in a classic ShankarabharaNam plays no smaller part in this, but the wordings too play a huge role and this is undeniable.

Long back, his uncle wrote ‘Thottaal MaNakkum Javvadhu’( feel and touch the child and you can smell ‘javvadu’) in ‘Naan PetRa Selvam’. Here the nephew calls the child as ‘a dancing bud with the sandal paste (on its forehead)’ and ‘words as sweet as the honey’.

He continues saying ‘My mind blossoms the moment my eyes catch the sight of your face’. Of course the ‘He’ refers to the poet but let me start saying ‘she’ henceforth as the song is rendered by the mother (Suseela at her best!).

‘Beautiful smile on the lips/Golden smile on the eyes’.
‘A mother knows her child and a child knows her mother’.
‘Song from the tender heart/Dancing Memories/Resonance of relationship’.

Compassion personified!

And that honey-soaked language called Tamizh.

Without any doubt, the words shine more in the beautiful tune. But more than the tune, it is first the ‘L’ Raaja who captures my attention. So, let me start the description with the Laya aspect.

Percussion (Tabla) makes its appearance only towards the end of the Prelude though it follows the 4-beat chatushram. Even in the Pallavi, it enters only after 4 phrases. Now, it plays just one syllable-ta- for each beat and plays the first and third at the end of the second cycle.

In the first interlude, it is the western percussion and that too only in the second segment with the first and the last segments going without percussion. It is seen for a lesser duration in the second interlude.

But it is the tabla in the CharaNams that calls for a special mention. It yet again makes an appearance only at the end of the first cycle playing the first and the third syllables. Right from the next cycle, it plays one syllable per beat for the first three beats and then the first and third at the fourth beat. This continues but the master innovator makes a subtle change in the second part. The Tabla plays ‘ta’ for all the beats in one cycle and then plays the first and the third at the end of the next cycle. This pattern continues for the next two cycles. Note also the sangati when the first line is rendered the second time.

The Master of Orchestration and Arrangement does it yet again with the wonderful use of the violins, flute, the keys and the guitar.

The interplay between the violin and the flute in the prelude is tranquil. The violin in fact gives the special ‘pidis’ of ShankarabharaNam effortlessly with the flute following suit. All through, the keys bubble with energy.

It is the violin again in the first interlude. Or rather violins.. The interlude starts with the solo violin which plays with a finesse. Suddenly two violins decide to enter with one playing in Indian classical style and the other in Western classical style. Of course both play together giving a very special experience.

The violin enters again in the second interlude but this time playing the same piece repeatedly to the backing of the bass guitar. It does this because it wants to give a chance to its friend –the flute- a chance and what an opportunity it is for the flute now. It glitters, sparkles and dazzles.

It is O’Henry Raaja again with the guitar making a sudden vibrant entry.

It is vibrant, dazzling, serene and most importantly compassionate.

And this was what was Panchu AruNachalam’s life all about..

Tuesday, 12 July 2016


Three things prompted me to write this post.

1. An article about a recent song which is ‘inspired’ from a Carnatic varNam and a Thiruppugazh.

2. An article about how TFM has warmed up unusual and unconventional voices.

3. A translation project in which I am involved. 
First of all, let me clarify that the idea behind mentioning (1.) is not to discuss, review or denigrate that song as I am very clear that other music directors will not be compared/criticised in this forum. By saying this, I am not sitting on any judgment about the song (I am sure 99% of the people here know what song I am talking about).  But I shall surely explain as to why it finds a mention here.

The author, it seems was made to listen to the song by his 12-year old daughter and was very impressed with the ‘varNam’ and mainly ‘Thiruppugazh’ inspiration. He goes on to say that he explained about the latter and that to his surprise, his daughter-who is known not to go to anything other than ‘modern’- started showing a lot of interest and got to know something about AruNagirinathar. The author concludes that it is an herculean task to make ancient literature attractive to an indifferent audience and if popular film music be the medium to attract such skeptics, one should welcome it. But not before he also makes a mention of the Hindi film songs of the ‘80s which simplified the Qawaali form and as to how the audience (listeners) lapped it up.

The second article is on how the present day music directors use very different voices – not essentially musical- to ‘enhance’ the appeal. It says the voices are used more because of the situation in movies and how novel this is.

The third one may not directly concern music but the article I translated, is on one of the traditional forms of folk arts.

Let me now go one by one.

I do not have any problem with what the author of the first article said. But what I found rather strange –and even uncomfortable- with the article was that there was no mention about ILaiyaraaja or his songs when it is a known fact(at least to the cognoscenti ) that he has done so much to bring our classical music and folk music within the reach of the common man. I am not going to list out what all he has done (I have already been doing it in my posts here) but am only going to give one example today. But how the author-who is a professor in a prestigious institution and who I am sure has a good ear- missed even making a passing reference to ILaiyaraaja, beats me.

Let me move on to the second article. This article too fails to make a mention about Raaja sir’s usage of very different and unusual voices(Samuel Grub in ANNe ANNe or Dr.Kalyan in ‘Sing Swing’).  Ad also about the fact that apart from using different voices, he also made the famous singers change and modulate the voice to suit the situation( Malaysia Vasudevan in ‘Kaadal Vandhirucchu’, SPB in ‘Nachchina foodu’ or both in ‘Engengum KaNdenamma’ are just some examples). We are going to see one more example very soon anyway.

As I said, the article which is part of my project does not have anything to do with music or ILaiyaraaja but the way it talks about a group of people involved in reviving ‘Therukkooththu’ is very inspiring and I thought a mention must be made about this fact in this post.

I said that the cognoscenti knows about what ILaiyaraaja has done in terms of bringing classical music(and even arts) close to the common man. Now, see this..
Raa ra veNu gopaala’ is a swara jati taught to all beginners in Carnatic Music. Swara jati is taught after geetam and before varNam. I can understand that all these terms sound foreign to some of you but let me assure that I shall define and explain all these forms in one of my forthcoming posts in my other blog.

But for now, let me focus on this ‘VeNugopala’ and its relevance here.

The 1981 film ‘Ellam inbamayam’(which itself is a takeoff from a very popular yesteryear song sung by MLV and P.Leela) was conceived to tickle the audience’s funny bone. That it failed in its mission is a different story altogether and since I know this is not Vintage Raaja thread( written in a group run by me in fb) where I tear the Tamizh film directors to pieces, I am not going to talk about this. But the film had some very funny songs (one was a ‘sneezing’ song!). In any case, I have always been enamoured of ‘Maaman voodu’ not least because it used the tune of ‘Raa ra veNugopaala’.

It is one thing to be inspired by a tune(or even copy a tune) and quite another to use it cleverly and brilliantly. Needless to say Raaja sir is adept in using even an inspired tune with great felicity and innovation. In fact, the dialogue which precedes the song (after the initial naiyyaaNdi meLam) throws light on what made him use a traditional song. Surely the situation demanded the usage of such a tune in a song sung in a slum with the audience comprising of people from higher echelons of society (listen to the dialogue carefully).

But what is most striking is the way the tune has been used-without in anyway deviating from Bilahari. And what steals my heart is the way the percussion goes in tisram while the vocals go in chatushram(here too, note the dialogue between the ‘percussionist’ and the singer). 

How wonderfully the voice of Malaysia Vasudevan is used is a point which has to be noted by the present day generation and most importantly the people who write articles about ‘voices’ without paying attention to the yesteryear songs.

The nagaswaram and the urumi meLam form the fulcrum of the song while the mandolin and guitar support these perfectly. The friendly banter between the instruments and the lyrics will never fail to bring a smile on anybody’s face.

And along with that smile will surely be an expression of wonderment, awe and even guilt on the faces of people who have missed this song all along and claim that it is the present day music which takes us back to our roots.

And when it happens, my face will sport a very special smile..

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Linear and Sinuous

What makes the Sea look so beautiful?

Is it that azure blue colour?

Or is it that grey and green shade?

Or is it that reflection of the sun rays during the day and reflection of the moon in the night?

Is it that sunrise or is it that sunset?

Is it that boat/catamaran/ship floating at a distance?

Yes, all these are beautiful and no doubt embellish the sea but in my opinion, there are two more things which combine to make the sea an eternal beauty.

One is the Horizon and the other is the Wave.

The former is considered to be an imaginary line but whenever I see the sea, I am flummoxed and astounded by the straightness of this line. Whoever has drawn it is the best artistic engineer ever. How can somebody be so perfect?

Talking about the waves, these are formed as a result of the wind blowing over the surface. This is what science says and I would like to be less of a scientist (anyway I know very little of science) and more of an artist(this too, I know I am not but who can stop me from imagining?). When I look at the waves, I look at the zig zag pattern and the way these approach the land, fade away and then come again. What an amount of energy these have! Don’t these tire at all?

When I look at the sea, I don’t look at the horizon first and the waves next(or the other way around) but look at both together. And whenever I do this-looking at the sea from a distance and then looking at the horizon and the waves at the same time- I can’t help marveling at the beauty of this sight. This is a perfect example of contrast. At a far distance, there is that perfect straight line and closer to us is this zig zag curve. Isn’t this poetic and musical?

People familiar with my posts know how much I love the contrasts in poetry and in life. If poetry and life combine together, don’t we get that ‘M’ word without which I cannot breathe?

Contrast in music is a very wide topic and it would serve little purpose if I were to take up that topic- which is full of technical details- here. However, this C word is also so simple that all it need are the ears, a little observation and focus.

What adds beauty to Raaja sir’s music is this C (oh, doesn’t it rhyme with ‘sea’?). People who attended Geetanjali-2014 , I am sure remember my presentation on ‘Contrasts in his music’.

On this World Music Day, I thought it would be very appropriate if I took up a song which is full of contrasting elements. In my opinion, ‘Kaalaipaniyil aadum malargaL’ from Gayathri(1977) should rank as one of the best compositions in the world.

Let me first mention what all I find to be unique in this composition and then move on to describe some of these. I say ‘some of these’ because certain things don’t need descriptions and this applies as much to music as to life.

First is the tune. Generally, an Indian film song follows a particular raga(not talking about exceptions-which are in fact too many now- which have only ‘rogaa’) or a scale. This topic too is huge and beyond the scope of this post. However, let me say that a composer composes the song in a particular scale which has a repetition of some particular notes while ascending and descending. This particular pattern can be said to follow a raga, but most of the composers take liberty with this and add alien notes.

Raaja sir is known for using some beautiful known, rare and unknown ragas in his compositions with or without alien notes (for more details on this, check out my posts in my other blog At the same time, he has also composed tunes which cannot be termed as falling under the classification of any raga. ‘Sendhoorappoove’ and ‘ILamai enum poongaatRu’ are just some examples of this. ‘Kaalaipaniyil’ too falls in this category.

The Pallavi has notes of Kharaharapriya while the CharaNams have the other ‘ga’(ga3) and also the other dha(dha1). What is amazing is the fact that in some phrases, both the ‘ga’ s and both the ‘dha’ s appear one after the other giving that chromatic effect. For example, in ‘kalaigaL aayiram’(first charaNam), the ‘dha’ s appear one after the other and in the third and in the sixth phrases of the humming at the end of the CharaNam, we see both the ‘ga’ s.

There is also change in the shruti in the first segment of the second interlude.

But what is more wondrous is the ‘usi’ in the humming at the end of each CharaNam. The concept of ‘usi’ in a taaLa has been explained by me in some of the posts here and also during Geetanjali-2015. Wait for more detailed explanation in this year’s Geetanjali.

Usi’ is a speciality of Carnatic Music and we see the pattern is in usi when the stress is on the even count(2,4,6..). ‘Kaalaipaniyil’ is set in the 3-beat cycle tisram or one can even say in the 6-beat rupakam depending on the way we look at it. I know I am getting too technical but certain things surely need explanation so that the brilliance of the composition (and therefore of the composer) can be appreciated more. The pattern changes to the 4-beat cycle chatushram during the humming part towards the end of each CharaNam. Not only does 3 change to 4, but also the stress (percussion) is on the even beats.

Usi at its uchcham (best).

Now, count the contrasting elements-

1. two variants of two swaras occurring one after the other

2.tisram to chatushram
4.change of shruti in the beginning of the second interlude.

There is one more (the fifth one) about which I shall explain soon.

So, does it mean that the composition has only the contrasts?


It has a beautiful straight line called as ‘melody’.

One feels the evanescence of the morning mist while listening to the song.
The initial bell sound reminds one of the dew drops falling off the petals of the flowers while the humming of Sujatha(her second Tamizh song after ‘Kaadal oviyam’ from ‘Kavikkuyil’) is like the morning breeze. The santoor depicts the swaying of the branches.

The Pallavi is a blend of intuition and expression with the sangati after ‘maayam’ shining with a special radiance.

I mentioned about a ‘fifth contrast’ while listing out the C, didn’t I?

This occurs at the beginning of the first interlude. The sitar follows tisram while the rhythm guitar which backs it follows the chatushram.


Crossing others’ path is not good manners generally but if the rhythm crosses like this, isn’t it lovable?

The violins and santoor-to the backing of the tabla in tisram - guide us to the first CharaNam.
This Laya Raaja can never rest. Or at least he will not let us rest. He loves to play with the TaaLa and he does it in the CharaNams too. The tisram  which goes as ‘1 2 3’ on the tabla in the first part of the first line(paarvaiyodu paarvai seRum ) changes as ‘1 2 3 4/1 2 3 4/ 1 2 3 4’ in the next half(bhavam mudhalil and siRu naaNam manadhil).

And ah yes..that wonderful humming where the notes go in pairs with the percussion in usi.

The second interlude is more powerful than the first with the santoor sounding like a bird in the beginning and the violins moving ardently. But the piece I love is the one by the violins after the sitar- which sounds with sobriety. There is a very brief classical touch in that piece of violins which always touches a chord in my heart. The brief rendezvous between the sitar and the keys in the end, is musically romantic.

In fact, everything in this world is romantic- sky, sea, horizon, waves, music.. and.. ..contrasts.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Flora and Fauna

Ask an eight- year old or even a five-year old the following question:
What is the significance of Feb 14th?

..and you will get the answer before you count 1.
Now, ask this question  – What is the significance of June 5th ?

..and I bet you will see blank expression.

It is not the child alone who will blink but even a majority of adults can be seen scratching their heads(and hence become potential models of anti-dandruff  shampoos and creams!).

In a country where the ‘special days’ are celebrated (and this includes Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Friendship Day  and many such ‘Days’…) more to keep cash registers in the small and big malls ticking than out of any real love or concern, it is not a surprise at all that the significance of June 5th is not known to many.

The United Nations has declared the day as ‘World Environment Day’ to bring awareness about our environment.

Though the word ‘environment’ should give positive vibes to all concerned, to many it still remains a ‘dull word’ devoid of any value. It is because we care less for the world and more for our comfort. The fact that both are mutually inclusive is unfortunately not realised by us and the result is there to be seen.

The Gangotri glacier has retreated by as much of 3 kms in the last 200 years. Some of you may know that this glacier feeds Bhagirathi, the source stream of Ganga. The rate of retreat has been alarmingly increasing since the ‘70s(20th Century). The basic reason is the increase in temperature and this is an effect of global warming.

If this is the state of a natural stream which has a direct impact on human beings, let us see the state of other living beings and how we have been treating them. In the ‘National Parks’ like Bandipore and Nagarhole, snaring of spotted deer, peacocks and wild boars is reported frequently. 

Elsewhere- in the TN-Kerala border-parakeets, a beautiful species of birds are smuggled and raised as ‘pets’ in cages. Their wings are clipped (literally and figuratively) and even the beaks are damaged. Apart from this, many animals are poached and killed because of superstitious beliefs that the animal-based medicines will do wonders to the man’s potency and can also act as pain killers.

Such things are not confined to India alone. Just a week ago, 40 tiger cubs were found frozen in a freezer in a Buddhist Temple in Thailand (what an irony!). If we cannot treat the animals on par with us, we can at least let them be the way they are.
Then, we have our most favourite ‘tree-cutting’ which is done most of the times by the people who rule us. But the blame lies equally lies with us too.. We, for our selfish needs do not hesitate to chop a tree. I have seen this happen at times in front of my eyes in my neighbourhood and have felt helpless.

The theme of this year’s ‘World Environment Day’ is ‘Go Wild for life’. Let this not be misinterpreted. It means ‘Respect the wildlife and stop illegal wildlife trade’
If ‘global warming’, ‘animal-poaching’ , ‘wildlife trade’ etc., sound too technical and even beyond our control, we as human beings and responsible citizens can at least ensure that we don’t indulge in activities that we know will affect the environment. Or at least, spare a thought for our surroundings.

The rare gem of the day in fact makes us feel for the nature. Not just feel for it, but also be one with it.

Poonthottam Poovil PeNNin JaadaigaL’ from ‘Nadiyai Thedi Vantha Kadal’(1980) describes the beauty of nature in simple words and beautiful music. This must rank as one of Shailaja’s best, as the composition needs a lot of breath control (isn’t breath a very significant factor in environment and nature?).

I really don’t know how many times I am going to say the tune is great and the orchestration is excellent. But if he puts me in a quandary by repeatedly giving marvellous compositions, what can I do? At the most, I can change the adjectives and also come out with new kind of sentences. Let me try it henceforth. But for the time being, let me have the privilege of saying yet again that it is a beautiful tune with awesome interludes.

The natural sounds he manages to produce in such songs is something that needs a very deep study. In ‘Poonthottam..’, the chirping of birds make us feel that we are in the midst of the forest. But apart from these natural sounds, he also makes the instruments sound so naturally giving us a natural feeling.

Take the prelude. It starts with the humming of Shailaja which in fact gives the sketch of the Pallavi. Even as the chirping of the birds is on, there is that pizzicato on violin. The effervescent flute makes a circular movement. The keys sound(sound he used to give during the ‘70s and early ‘80s) follows and the strings play with delight. What an amazing experiment with sound!

Note that the theme of the prelude revolves around the melody of Pallavi and yet sounds different.

As always, he plays with the rhythm too with the bass guitar along with a percussion instrument sounding ‘ta ka dhi mi ta ka’- tisram broken down as 6 micro-beats. This occurs during every even count of the taaLa with another set of percussion playing during the odd count. Of course, this pattern is seen only in the Pallavi when it is sung in the beginning and whenever it is sung after each CharaNam.

It is the reign of the strings in the first half of the first interlude, and these move with unique elegance even as the flute makes an entry in between. A kind of funny sound from the keys(probably depicting a jumping animal) is interspersed in the melody and after the flute takes a respite, the pizzicato appears again. So does the chirping of the birds.

The CharaNams have delectable lines with the folk-stringed instrument backing the vocals in the third and the fourth lines.

The keys punch with joy in the beginning of the second interlude but it is the violin which literally scores in this interlude. There is pizzicato again and the solo violin plays a kind of offbeat melody making us float in the air.

The third interlude is lilting with his favourite key sound playing a piercing melody first which is repeated by the solo violin rather subtly. The flute plays a different melody parallely though it is also in the same scale and can be called as an extension of the melody played by the violin. Now the keys change the scale and move as if in a trance while the violin continues its melody.

Unnaturally natural?

But in more than one ways, it depicts the diverse nature or to use a commonly used term- Unity in Diversity.

What does this teach us?

Rather than my saying-or even sermonising- as individuals you think about it and put your thoughts into action.

Happy World Environment Day!