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 http://rajamanjari.blogspot.in/). 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!