Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Gliding In Rain

On June 17th I resumed my Carnatic vocal music lessons. After more than 15 years. Now and then, in doing certain things, I realize that I am trying to be the daughter my father always wanted me to be. This was one of those things. Carnatic Vocal Music. He was a disappointed man when he learnt that I was more interested in Hindi Film Songs and that I dragged myself to my music classes only because of him.
When I realized years later that you could sing film songs better with some training in classical music, I decided to resume my lessons. After a long time of doing nothing about it, at last I started last month. And I was pleased with how quickly I was able to pick up, how malleable the human voice is, how it gave in to persuasion and how I was able to dwell upon a certain high note longer than I had imagined I was capable of, when at first attempt, a week ago, my voice had cracked to my embarrassment before the audience of the walls of my home.

On the 5th of July, I learnt Suryanamaskara from Nisha. I knew it exercised every muscle of your body and the best gym in the world therefore but did not expect it to leave me panting after just 2 times of doing the exercise.
Although my cautious eating does not seem like a penance to me, I become filled with a longing now and then for those days of great blessing when I was able to eat without a care. Ghee, butter, curd, cream, sweets, ice cream, Deep Fried Puri …
Those evenings of greasy vegetable puffs, apple cake, potato bun and Badam Burfee from V B Bakery.
Those days of Krishna Janmashtami filled with exotic sweets and Namkeens like Chakkuli, Thenkolal, Kodu Bale,Om Pudi, Kadle Unde, Coconut Burfee, Nippat, Murukku...
Those dinners cooked by Muthu in Akkarai guesthouse in Chennai when I started work in Cognizant - Rice, Rasam, coconut rich South Indian Poriyal or Palya, North Indian Paneer filled curries in cashew rich gravy, thick curd with a spoonful of sugar…
I will need to increment the number of Suryanamaskaras gradually. It is certainly effective and brings results within weeks. For now, my wrists are my only hope; for the Suryanamaskara puts the weight of the whole body on the wrists, which in my case, seem like they stopped growing when I was 12.

9th July. An evening drunk in music. Soaking in bliss. Original musicians who had played with RD Burman, Amit Kumar, son of Kishore Kumar and other artists played tribute to the Burmans. I was seeing Amit Kumar for the first time and was impressed by his talent. His voice sounds so much like Kishore’s. His antics on stage that I had dismissed as noisy stunts years ago when I had seen him on stage, seemed very natural. His stories of the Burmans, of their idiosyncrasies, the blinking-winking expressions of RD Burman, the amusingly deep voice of SD Burman and his short sentences, their special relationship with Kishore Kumar and the unforgettable story of the famous song ‘Roop Tera Mastana’, all narrated from childhood memories were captivating.
Although I have heard the song many times, ‘Bade Achhe Lagte Hain’ in Amit’s voice sounded so beautiful. ‘Tere Mere Milan Ki Ye Raina’ by Amit and his half sister sounded like experiencing God. And what more, I learnt that the first 2 lines were inspired by Tagore. When I came to know that Amit was 59, I could not believe it. And I returned home thinking that he should definitely have had a bigger brighter career.

13th July. Murali got engaged. My baby brother was engaged(ok, he is just 3 years younger). I am yet to get over it. He had grown up. So soon. So fast.
There were festivities in the family after 15 years. All our relatives were gathered in Hassan, my grandmother’s house - the house that has only known giving – to all who need.
Who ever had dreamed he would find such a perfect girl, and my parents, the perfect daughter in law? He never really had expectations, unlike me.
He sat gloomy faced through the ceremonies simply because he felt he was too young for it and he should have had more playtime. He is a shy boy and was perhaps conscious of being the centre of attention.
The priest presiding over the ceremonies said no exchanging rings – it wasn’t part of our custom and moreover the boy and girl weren’t supposed to touch one another before marriage! : ) so my mother slipped the ring on the girl’s finger and the girl’s mother slipped the ring on my brother’s finger. After we had partaken of the feast, when I caught my brother exchanging words with his fiancée, I felt a naughty joy.
She is sweet, innocent and simple. She knows classical music and Bharatnatyam dance. She is learning how to cook but her chapattis arent round : )
The icing on the cake, of course, is that she is very pretty!

Last week.
My faraway distant dream of writing a book suddenly seemed like a possibility.
Five hundred pages of a book, ‘Family Matters’ by Rohinton Mistry filled with excruciating descriptions of the daily troubles of a middleclass family trying to make ends meet – of course with other things thrown in – a love story, socio political background of the time and space with special focus on the ethnic group of Parsis, made interesting through skilful writing - gradually made me see that all of us are leading interesting, or even sensational lives. We look at our own lives as ordinary, banal, insipid and so on but the life we have lead and the lives our parents and grandparents lead in the special context of their time and space, in retrospect, seem so interesting.
My own grandfather was orphaned at 6, was adopted by a rich couple and struggled to prosperity. In those times, people practised black magic on enemies, rivals and the victims died a curious death. Villages were haunted by ghosts – women became possessed by them after childbirth – they would fling their babies, eat a cauldron full of rice and all. A relative had eloped with a boy of a lower caste and there had been melodrama... two subsects of the same caste had gone to court over the matter of a certain 12th century holyman (alwaar) and attempted to judge his credentials!
I have now to control my OCD –obsessive compulsive disorder of reading and start writing. There is much work to be done...

I had gotten used to the dust in my house; and also the untidiness of the two small rooms that make my home. I never bothered to deck up the place thinking my days in that house were numbered. One day I got flowers. Soon, I started getting flowers every week. I placed the ornate and ornamental vase I got from Kashmir next to the real flower vase. Then I arranged the fleet of wooden shikaras neatly – red, green, yellow and brown. And then the miniature Pashupatinath temple i got from Nepal.
I bought a wooden Ashoka pillar and Budhha statues from Sapna Book House (They usually dont have the book I’m looking for, but they do have nice showpieces!). Encouraged by the difference they made to my place, I did something more every week.
Wanting to frame a Mandala that Nandu had gifted me in Kathmandu, I found this poster & frame shop in Jayanagar.
My eyes fell on the many colourful posters around. I bought a beautiful framed picture of Saraswati. Or was it a Sharada? I soon realized that I needed more nails in my house to fasten more pictures. The carpenter came and drove 4 nails.
Now I have a Taj Mahal, a picture of the Fall, a Crimson Sunset, a Yashoda with baby Krishna in her arms hung on my walls.
It feels so good to come home to such beauty.
Life has to be lived today. Because tomorrow never comes.
The small picture of Radha and Krishna, I chose to place on the wall above my bed. I would wake up to their love every morning.
On second thought, maybe I should have chosen differently. Their’s was a love that was never consummated.

24th July. I hadn’t seen a movie in the longest while. Suddenly I became aware of this at times and then I go on a movie watching spree.
The first one I watched was Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara. Loved it. Hrithink is reluctant to go deep water diving. He does not swim. He’s afraid. His coach Katrina tells him ‘Your life will change forever after this’ and he jumps. He is shown swimming in the deep blue, through the little valleys an hills under the sea, among corals and fish of all colours, He climbs back to his boat and as they sail towards the shore, he is crying silent tears. A very powerful scene.
It reminded me of my own experience of being in the lap of the eternal Himalayan peaks and the way I was moved to tears.
I do not swim but I now want to overcome fear and see a world – blue, silent and slow - that I have never seen before. Loved Hrithik and Katrina.
Justin had said ‘Moviemaking is the greatest gift to mankind’. Very true. For three hours, it fills your life with possibilities and leaves you with the fulfilment of all that you want and all that you want to BE - in this life and another.

25th July. Watched the evening show of Delhi Belly. Brilliant movie. Everyone in the hall were laughing, sure, but I was the loudest and the happiest. Glad I watched the English version, I at least understood all the slang and abuses! So much packed into a 2 hour movie. Not a minute wasted. Fast paced. I don’t think anyone blinked. A movie packed with story, wit and humour. I was exhilarated. I was laughing to myself like a retard when I walked into the poster and frame shop on the way to collect a bigger print of the beautiful Saraswati I already had.

I quickly dropped the bundle of framed pictures at home, picked up my electronic Tamburi and started walking to my music teacher’s home. It was raining and though I had an umbrella, I got wet here and there.
You need a ‘Shruti Box’ which is actually an electronic Tamburi to set the pitch for singing. My teacher uses one during our lessons and it is important that we practise at home in the same pitch. But pitch is something you cannot memorize. More often than not, we tend to fall back to the pitch that we find comfortable rather than the pitch prescribed for lessons. And it’s important to sing in the prescribed pitch so you will stretch your voice little by little.
So I decided to buy one. I asked her for the configuration of the device and she said she would let me know during next class. In the next session, I asked her and she briefly told me what to buy. I asked if I could drop by on Saturday so she would configure the instrument for me; you know set the pitch to C, C Sharp or C Minor, D or whatever.
She was busy the whole of Saturday and Sunday. It would take half a minute to press a button but she just didn’t have the time. I would have to go without practise for 2 days but she shook her head firmly.
I called up on Monday in the noon and she said she was away and would be home after 7.
So I reached the first floor and was relieved to hear voices inside. I rang the doorbell. She opened it and when she saw me she raised her brows in shock. ‘So late? Its 9:30’. I smiled apologetically. ‘I am sorry mam. It is a working day.’ I said as I closed the umbrella slowly.
‘But so late? You did not even call me up’ she frowned. ‘Sorry I cannot do it now’
‘I thought it would take less than a minute. You just have to plug it in and press a button’
‘Sorry, I cannot’ she shook her head firmly and closed the door even as I was standing there.
Feeling stabbed, I walked back home.
I should have known it before. When she had kept me waiting with the fruit basket, vermilion, arecanut and betel leaves in my hand, the very first day instead of accepting it the first thing. When she kept saying ;tomorrow, tomorrow,...’ each time I reminded her of the printed booklet everyone else had but not me, when she took two reminders to give me the configuration of the device, when she rushed me through the lessons and moved to the next pupil... even though she knew I came from work that was 14 kilometers away and that too on Tuesdays and Fridays which meant that I had to leave office by 4 in order to reach her place by 5 30.
That night, anyone else in her place would have felt overjoyed by my enthusiasm and seen the redemption of her effort in my commitment. Most of them came to class without even practising. But she probably felt offended by my persistence in reaping the complete returns on my 500 rupee monthly investment.
It was just 9 30, not 11 30. They were not about to sleep. They were wide awake. I was the one who walked to her door in the rain. She didn’t have to. All she had to do was turn on the instrument and press a button. It would take 30 seconds. I could practise my lessons at home which I had postponed for 3 days now. The matter would have been closed and I would not have to carry the instrument to her all the way another day.
But she turned me away. A Guru. A woman. And mother of a child!
I lost respect for her. She was a miserly chicken hearted woman. I was disappointed. How would I learn from someone I did not respect?

All the happy events that had lead to my birthday one after another had ended with this last one.

Crests and troughs and moments of stillness. Calm and storm.
I could have glided onto the shores of golden sands. And I did but for one jagged rock that fate had put there for a reason I know not.

I looked at Saraswati on my wall.
I picked up the phone, called the poster-frame guy and placed an order for an even bigger print. Now with this teacher having done this to me, I felt the need for a bigger Saraswati.

Through these days of happy and sad turns it rained. The smell of wet earth found me almost every day. There were all kinds of rain. Weeping rain. Laughing rain. Angry rain. Rain below yellow sunshine. Rain under blue black clouds. Rain swayed by roaring winds. Moody, just like me.
I love every kind of rain. The rainy season is my favourite season of all. And water, my favourite element.

Whether or not friends call, whether or not I cut a cake, receive presents, the rain is the one consolation I have. My birthday present. Year after year. Because I was born in July.

Happy Birthday to me.


Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Sowmya! Beautiful entry..:)

Two years back I wrote on the eve of my birthday about how I miss the August rains in US on my birthday..:)..With my b'day approaching, I was reading the entry just yesterday.

Hope you have a great year ahead!


Ranj said...

And it rained again to mark the end of the day...u sure are blessed...Happy Birthday!!!

Sowmya said...

Thanks Smitha for reading such a long post. We probably share our sun sign too though I am a cusp between Cancer & Leo.

Thanks Ranj for making my bday special.

nithin said...

Belated birthday wishes.. nice post, and probably The so, called guru missed a gud student....
and surya namaskar with padmasadhana will be too gud... u can try it!
and surely u must try to write a book :)

Ravi 拉维 said...

Wishing you Many Happy returns of the day.. Your post was brilliant.. too many moods and too many stuff happening around with you as per this post... Ufff..

Yeah I did watch the Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara and it was fun.....

Saraswati picture is pretty good.... Good to see you gifted for yourself... :)

Anonymous said...

Yes, I am a Leo - first week of August. I often wish I was a cusp, with a little bit of the artistic Cancerian in me! :)


Rishi said...

Very Happy B'Day to you. It was my B'Day too this month and the month went pretty much as yours. Saw Delhi Belly, ZNMD and the 9th July Show in Chowdiah. Now I am in Kolkata for a week. Back on 31st.

I am getting mixed in your blogs and not getting a sense where you are, thought you were in Himalayas.


Rishi said...

I feel bad that a person teaching music can be so rude. Music is freedom and freedom from all hangups.
Lucky for me I have taken Carnatic lessons twice in my life with two great teachers(human beings). I used to call them Pattu Mami. It was free and more of discussion and understand essence of music. The only sad thing was on both occassions it lasted for 6-8 months for some reason or other.
But i know it is important to learn from someone who is of free spirit. Believe it or not one Mami was 75 years old and she always had a smile and was so passionate about music that nothing else mattered.

And yes those few lessons have improved my films songs for ever :-)


Sowmya said...

Thank you all for your wishes.

Rishi, you should let me have the contact details of these noble gurus. I would like to move away from this teacher soon...

Hey Smitha, Pablo Picasso said 'Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.' So its up to you to disciver the artists in you :)