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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

About my interests Part I - Music

Simply stated, I have interests in music, reading, writing and spiritual pursuits. They are not just interests, they are my fascinations too.

Let me speak to you about my interest in music first. I do not come from a family of musicians, but I know my mother was sensitive to music and she could sing very well too. My maternal uncle, at around 80 today, still continues to sing devotional songs with. My father, however, had a passive interest in music. When I was only in my early teens, when we were living in a small housing complex, we were the only household having radio and a fan at our place and my father liked to listen to Hindi songs more than others. Again, we were the only household where one could listen to Hindi songs in the complex, or may in the entire street. I had heard people making funny comments about our listening to Hindi songs and these sarcastic comments were promptly ignored by us. We regularly listened to the late night hindi programme , ' Jayamala' aired for the benefit of jawans (soldiers) by the then-government-owned Aakaash Vani (All India Radio). All India Radio usually aired old songs and the only second option we had was to listen to Radio Sri Lanka. One Mr.Mayilvahanan, anchor in Sri Lankan Radiol was particularly popular among listners.

I too developed a taste for songs and singing from my middle classes level. I was more into film songs and light music and I was never drawn to Carnatic music. I was a regular singer in all school competitions, in the daily prayer-song groups in the school. I also participated regularly in school dramas. I clearly remember to have participated in the annual school- day song sequence and drama playing the role of a Burmese when I was only studying seventh standard.

Around this time only the famous music duo Viswanathan and Ramamoorthy in Tamil films were becoming very popular in Madras State (as it was then called) and I was attracted by their music. I can even say that their music shaped my taste for music for my life. I used to go crazy about their music, all the time going after wherever their music was aired or played by local musicians, listening to the songs again and again and remembering every intricate details of the song and the music. There were any number of street side temples for Kali, the mother God, for whom there used to annual festivals - mainly during summer time -to appease the ferocious Kali and to bring rain . Invariably, during these festivals, strangely, a lot of film music was played over loud speakers. Local music troupes also held programs during these festivals. I used to be there standing out in some corner of the crowd listening to their music. I still remember the troupe headed by Shri Kannan (now a prominent politician in our place) hailing from our own street. I used to watch with great interest the way they play instruments like harmonium, tabla, bangose, and eventually, I developed a talent and taste for tapping with my hands and fingers on any surface. Rhythm and beats attracted me a lot. Rhythm and beats used to stir my nerves even those days, as it does today.

During the same time, my first younger brother too developed terrific taste in music and we two formed a formidable local duo. Whenever, we visited places, we used to fulfill demands from relatives and friends to sing. Our singing was always accompanied by tapping on table tops, chairs, newspapers or any surface.

Most of the times, our discussions with friends and people centred around film music - specially the ones tuned by Viswanathan and Ramamoorthy and we will discuss the minute finer aspects of their music and comment on various instruments used by them. In one song from a film called ' Pudhia Paravai', starred by the great Sivaji Ganesan, I knew they used more than hundred violin instruments creating history those days. Many tamil films became great hits , the music from this duo contributing considerably to their success. We had seen almost every movie in which this duo were the music directors. We were extremely pained - like many other ardent fans - when this Viswanathan and Ramamoorthy pair got separated somewhere in the middle 1960s. M.S.Viswanathan, usually called M.S.V continued to be very successful even after separation though T.K.Ramamoorthy failed miserably and eventually was forgotten and written off in the film world, though he happened to be one of the great violonists.

During the very early days of MSV and TKR pair - in the late 1950s and early 1960s - only gramaphones were used to play music. HMV was a leading manufacturer of Gramaphone instrument and records. There were no cassette tape recorders or players. We had one distant relative employed in the Electricity office and he bought a gramaphone once. He used to stay a little away from our place and yet, we used to visit his place often only to listen to music. They were ungrudgingly permitting us to listen to the music whenever we visited them, though we listened to the same songs again and again. There were only a couple of music records he bought - the records were very costly those days by any standards.

We had a childhood friend whom I will call SGS. He was a kind of 'shishya' (disciple) to me. Along with him, we improvised our own musical instruments for beats. We used things like fully shaven coconut shells, the ordinary school slate woods on to which we fixed flattened metal seals taken from softdrink bottle etc for our street music troupe. Owning musical instruments were only dreams due to affordability problems. At one time, I greatly aspired to become a film music director one day. They remained my aspirations only as I found practical realities driving me into other things in real life.

Around the time I was doing my school finals, the film ' Sangam' in Hindi was released in theatres in our place and it ran for nearly thirty days or so. On all the days, I used to go to the theatre, standing outside, to listen to the songs. The theatres kept their exit doors open, lowering only dark screens to prevent outside lights entering the theatre hall and so, one can listen to the film songs clearly even from outside. Noise pollution is never a problem even today in India. We greatly appreciated the music of Shankar Jaikishan, who were legends then. Almost the same time only, I also developed lot of interest in Hindi film music and we were regular listners of ' Binaca Geethmala' , a very popular weekly program. They will rank music according to the listner's choices and we used to hotly debate the rankings before and after these programs. There was another movie, ' Beegi Raat' which ran for only 6 days in our place. I saw this movie five times just for one song ' Dil jo na kaha sakha'.

While I was in the college I had a friend circle who met regularly in the evening near a petty shop adjacent to a theatre in our town. Our arguments many days over film music used to end in fist fights. K V Mahadevan, was another music director who was equally popular. Somehow, I never had a liking for his music, though I believed his tunes were very good, but very badly orchestrated by the background music. Sivaji Ganesan and M G Ramachandran (who eventually became the Chief Minister later) were the most popular heroes and general public got divided by their appreciation for the one or the other. M G Ramachandran had a special ear for music and in all his films, the songs were great hits regardless who was the music director - M S V or K V M. As for me, it mattered very little, as my judgment went merely on the basis of the musical results of the film rather than other aspects of the movie.

When I did my post graduation studies, I had a real chance to greatly improve my musical talents. I joined the hostel music group and could learn to play Banjo (Bul Bul Tarang), Tabla, bangoes and a little bit of drums. I started playing them well that during the second year of my PG studies, I became the hostel music troupe captain. With my meagre finances, I bought a Banjo of my own for thiry rupees - that was a big sum for me then - and in all my free time, I was on the banjo practising. Our performance during the annual college-day and hostel-day drew great applause and appreciation from one and all during the time when I was the music captain. I even tuned a new title song on my banjo to my immense satisfaction. As the captain of the team, I also had the responsibility and privilege of choosing music records to be played in our hostel recreation room. During that time, I bought a number of records of songs from films where M S V was the music director and it so happened that in most of these films, Sivaji Ganesan was the leading actor. I ran into lot of problem and quarrel with fellow students over my selection of Sivaji Ganesan film songs rather than M G R film songs. I had to make compromises from time to time and ended up buying many K V M song records also, much to my disgust.

After finishing my studies and joining a job, virtually my interest in music got limited to listening to songs from time to time over All India Radio. During the initial years of employment, exploiting my weakness for music, one of my colleagues dumped on me a useless tape recorder that hardly worked for a couple of months.

I could never continue my greater interests in music during all my working years, until I eventually came into contact with Sri Amma Bhagawan. During the days I was working abroad, I became a devotee of Sri Amma Bhagavan. They inspired me a lot and I started composing a number of devotional songs, tuning them and rendering them myself. Much to my own astonishment and as a pleasant surprise, I composed a number of songs in Hindi too, though I had only an ordinary fluency over Hindi language. I believe it is all due to His Divine Grace.

After taking my retirement, I had more time to listen to music and I have a great collection of film songs in Tamil and Hindi, devotional songs, carnatic music both vocal and instrumental, and other instrumental music. I continue to sing though I don't consider my voice anything great. In the place I decided to settle down, our house is one place where one can hear music all the time.

Currently, though I listen to music from the present day films - I have a special liking for A R Rahman - I believe that so far no one is yet to be born to challenge the stupendous performances of M S V and T K R in film music.

In the last little over a decade, I started appreciating Carnatic music as well and developed a small skill in identifying ragas - mostly by trying to recollect film songs tuned by M S V in earlier days using the same raga. I continue to enjoy my ability to discover new tunes that I believe are very melodious - but who cares. Today is the age of musical instruments and that too computer music devoid of any originality and creativity. I believe today's music is monotonous, jarring and completely lacking melody and synchronisation. A few musicians who still rely on good melodious tunes are still there -but there is considerable demand from producers and probably public on them to use coarse folk music, remix and plain copying from other country music.

I believe music greatly rouses our different emotions and I use a lot of instrumental music while doing ' Discover Yourself' programs for youth and others.

And I think, it is now time to go over to my other interests........................

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