Categories
Musings

A playlist for peace


One of the strongest memories of my childhood is that of AM Radio. It would begin playing on the ancient transistor even before I woke up. Sanskrit mantras recited by M.S. Subbulakshmi, followed by the railway timetable, and finally, news in Sanskrit that would end with a few beeps. The last of the beeps would be longer than the first few — the clock had struck 7 AM.

I’m not sure if the order of the programs is right. There’s no way for me to verify either. We don’t listen to radio anymore, unless we’re in a car — and even in a car, it’s FM, or a USB stick, or internet radio that’s streaming from a smartphone — not AM.

Back then, on Sundays, the radio played Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram — the thousand names of Lord Vishnu. Towards the end of the half-hour long recitation, is a conversation between Goddess Parvati and Lord Vishnu. The Goddess asks, dear Lord, what might a lay person do, in order to pray to you. Not everyone can possibly recite all the thousand names every day. Is there a shortcut to this? And the Lord obliges. He says, repeat this one verse three times, and it is equivalent to reciting all the names. I am paraphrasing, of course.

I learnt this one specific verse very early in my life — long before I learnt about its significance. I learnt it because every single Sunday, at precisely the moment that this verse was recited, I would wake up. One could say, I learnt it by accident, or divine intervention, or coincidence — I leave it to you, to decide, which of these is more accurate.

I don’t think I am very religious — certainly not to the extent my parents or grandparents are. I don’t perform the elaborate pujas that my mother performs. Nor can I recite any of the Sahasranamams the way my grandparents can. But religion does interest me.

True to the stereotypes of TamBrahms, as children, our summer vacations were spent touring temples. We were taught Sanskrit shlokas (couplets / verses), that I can still recall. I was also taught how to perform a basic neyvedyam (sacred offering). I pride myself in knowing what little I do. And I wish to learn the proper neyvedyam that my mom performs on special occasions. Hopefully, one day, I will be able to perform one of those with the camphor flame… But I digress.

What I am trying to say is, I am religious enough to take the shortcut of reciting one verse three times, as opposed to 108 verses.


Over the past few years, I have realised that being religious and being spiritual are not the same thing. Religion, is the path towards spirituality. And spirituality, is the path towards peace of mind. I came to this realisation when, a year into our marriage, Atul began playing a playlist of bhajans.

Knowing him for as long as I did — he who who wasn’t particularly interested in going to temples or explicitly praying — he was playing bhajans.

He wasn’t listening to the lyrics of these songs, he said. The melody just made him feel relaxed. It gave him the peace of mind that is so essential in today’s rage-infused society.

This inclination towards peace of mind, came up again, when he insisted that we visit the temple I frequented. It wasn’t that he did not like visiting temples at all, he said; he just had not found such peace of mind in the ones he had visited before.

Atul is not an atheist. He is spiritual. I began appreciating his world-view, when he said this: I don’t need to go to a temple, or speak a certain language, to speak with my God. And that was also the essence of the verse in Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram — you don’t have to say all the 108 verses. Just one, repeated thrice, was enough. The Lord himself, was giving a shortcut.


Over the past few months, I have begun my own morning ritual — somewhat similar to what my parents did back then. What used to play as clock-work, every morning on AM radio, now plays on an online streaming service, as soon as I wake up (let’s just say, the morning is a spectrum).

As one wise man said to me, language and form shouldn’t come in the way of spirituality and peace of mind. Hence, I will not share my morning invocation playlist with you.

What I will share, though, is another feel-good playlist that focuses on spirituality and peace. Here it goes:

1. Ma Rewa

Band: Indian Ocean
Album: Kandisa
Year: 2000
Language: Local dialect of Hindi

It was during last year’s Indian Ocean Concert (in picture) that I first heard Ma Rewa. I swayed and clapped and danced on this number. It was only later, that I saw the lyrics.

Rewa is another name for the river Narmada. And life-sustaining, as all rivers are, Rewa is called Ma – mother. This song praises the holy river, and apparently, was used as a protest song by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (save the river Narmada). There is enough feminism and rebellion in this to become my week-day alarm.

2. Krishna

Band: Colonial Cousins
Album: Colonial Cousins
Year: 1996
Language: Kannada, English, Hindi

Growing up, this song, and all the songs by the duo (Leslie Lewis and Hariharan) hit the sweet spot for us, bringing together classical music and English pop. We were such big fans, our parents bought two cassettes(!) of their albums — the only band accorded that multi-cassette honour.

3. Kandisa

Band: Indian Ocean
Album: Kandisa
Year: 2000
Language: Aramaic-East Syriac

This song is familiar. I’ve heard this, yes… Alam Alam Alam… I fished out my memories. “It’s Kandisa,” said Eeshta. And just like that, I rediscovered Indian Ocean. There’s a chance you’ve heard it before too. You can thank me later. Also, this my week-end alarm.

4. Madho

Band: Faridkot
Album: Ek
Year: 2011
Language: Local dialect of Hindi

“You now owe me some songs!” This was the message Sunaina sent, after sharing the album by Faridkot. If it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t have known about this beautiful album.

From where I sat in the office, I was within earshot of everyone in the office (and yes, I could see folks, before they could see me). I’d asked her for the songs after hearing them on her work-station — on loop. Haal-e-dil and Banjaare were her favourites, I think. I liked them too. Eventually, though, my favourite became, Madho. The song is about a devotee, who wants Krishna to come and help her cross the river on her boat.

5. Tajdar-e-Haram

Singer: Atif Aslam
Album: Coke Studio Season 8
Year: 2015
Language: Urdu

Because no playlist of melodious music can be complete without Coke Studio. I’ll admit, I am no fan of Atif Aslam’s music (based on the songs sung for Hindi Cinema / Bollywood). But this one is an absolute gem!

6. Gurus of Peace

Singers: A.R. Rahman, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Album: Vande Mataram
Year: 1997
Language: Hindi, Urdu, English

The stage is set at the school assembly ground. On the left side of the ground is the administrative block. On the right are classrooms for primary students. Connecting these two blocks are two bridges on the first and second floor levels, running behind the centre stage. The music begins playing, and the performers enter. As they begin performing their choreographed moves in perfect sync, more dancers enter in front, and below the main stage. Others stream in from behind the audience. And more fill in the bridges above the stage. This was the first block-buster musical I had seen — long before Kingdom of Dreams was even dreamt of.

The song, Gurus of Peace; the dancers, students handpicked from the primary, middle and senior secondary classes; the occasion, the school annual day; and the audience, an awe-struck set of students, and some very proud parents.

7. Bulla Ki Jaana Mai Kaun

Singer: Rabbi Shergill
Album: Rabbi
Year: 2004
Language: Punjabi

I was in school when this song was released, and it became an instant hit. Perhaps, because it cut across all faiths and cultures; or maybe, because it shattered stereotypes of Sikh musicians, the topics that rock music could cover and the format in which Sufi could be performed; or maybe, just maybe, it resonated with teenagers trying to figure out their identity. “Bulla, ki jaana, mai kaun hoon” (Bulla! I know not, who I am).

It is fitting, that this is the only song that I could not locate on the music-streaming site Gaana. Because this is one of very few songs that I remember seeing. Apart from its deep philosophy, what has endured through all these years is the visualisation of the song.

There are a number of versions of this song on YouTube. The official version is live in concert. There is another version with better audio quality and lyrics. But I’d rather show you the original music video (you can check out the better audio later).

For the rest of the songs, check out the playlist on Gaana here: Playlist for Peace

PS: I know there are only male singers in the playlist. I’d love to hear more female voices in this space — if you know any, I’d love to listen to them. In the meanwhile, I have my morning invocation, dominated by M.S…

PPS: Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Here’s wishing for a peaceful dinner, and world ūüôā

Featured Image: The stage for Indian Ocean’s concert on 23 November 2018. Here’s the story about that concert: Behind the Sounds.

Categories
Stories

Behind the sounds


Entering the bar, the small stage was straight up ahead‚ÄĒthe drums, electric guitars, the tabla, all set up, lit beautifully. The mikes stood straight, the huge speakers on either side waiting for the music to flow through them.

The few seats on the left were exclusively for patrons; the bartenders were on the right.

9:40 pm.

“The show should begin at 10,” Vikram tells me. “I guess we’re waiting for more folks to turn up. We’ve sold 150 tickets!”

Standing at the back of the bar, just beside the entrance, Vikram is busy fine tuning the settings on the mixer. He’s a seasoned professional‚ÄĒI find out that he’s been with Indian Ocean for a while now, and he’s also worked with Euphoria.

“So, these gadgets interest you?”

“Well, yes. I do find them rather fascinating.”

“These are digital ones, the sound isn’t as great as analog. You know, like how digital doesn’t match up with film.”

“Digital? But where’s the touch screen? I see all these physical sliders”

He hit a button to the left of the console, and all the sliders danced their way into different positions.

Oh.

We continue to talk about our digital society, and how it has impacted the way we work, the way we live. And then we get back to the music. We look towards the stage. The crowd had swelled up a little. “The view may be good there, but the sound isn’t going to be as good. That zone there, in the center, that’s the worst place to be. You won’t hear the beat at all!”

So what was the best place to be?

“‘Round here along the gates!”

View this post on Instagram

Coming up INDIAN OCEAN live!

A post shared by Atul Srivastava (@chitraakriti) on

10:30 pm

The band members finally take the stage, and we step away to let Vikram do what he does best.

We cheer and hoot along with the crowd. Some voices request the popular songs. “Bande!” “Kandisa!”

Deeply engrossed in the music, some in the audience sway around with their eyes closed, oblivious to other people’s gaze. And some others, sway with eyes wide open, a drink in one hand, and a hookah in the other, pretty much oblivious to their own selves.

We stay at the back just as Vikram had told us; but only after the first song. We wanted to feel the difference in sound for ourselves, and stood in front for a while, before moving to the back.

11:30 pm

After playing their lesser known songs, the band finally gives in to the requests of “Bande!” And the audience suddenly grows larger.

The first request fulfilled, the crowd insists on Kandisa. The musicians tease the crowd. A few more songs, and the crowd grows restless. Two men, who had had more music than they could handle begin singing Kandisa by themselves.

12:15 am

The first few notes play, and we dance along to the tunes of “Ma Rewa”. The band and the crowd play together‚ÄĒa jugalbandi with a difference. And then the final song of the night. The crowd has now swelled to its fullest strength. This is what they’d been waiting for all night. “Kandisa Alahaye, Kandisa Esana…” the crowd’s voice drowns out the singers’. The strings and the classical vocals fill up the hall, and we sway and sing along too, with one eye set on the watch, the other out to avoid those who had transcended into a different zone altogether.

We give out a loud cheer and clap for the musicians out in the front, and equally for the supporting team standing at the back, who stood sane and still, concentrating on making sure the sounds were just right.

As we make our exit into the cold morning, out of the corner of my eye, I catch Vikram giving a high five to his assistant. All in a night’s work.

Behind the music
Vikram with his muse


This is post #29 in this year’s NaBloPoMo, or as Ra calls it Nano Poblano

NaBloPoMo = National Blog Posting Month = Thirty straight days of blogging


Follow along on other social channels:
FacebookInstagramMediumTwitterGoogle PlusFlickr

Categories
Musings

Music on the move


Of all my childhood memories, our Saturday routine has perhaps left the biggest imprint. Every Saturday, we went to the Vinayak Temple and the adjoining market at Sarojini Nagar.

Appa drove his old Premier Padmini – we used to call it the Fiat – on the near empty roads. The FM radio in the car was always set to All India Radio 102.6 MHz – that was the only station back then. It was our only source of contemporary music, and it was all we needed. We would sing along in loud voices to distorted lyrics that our ears chose to hear.

Years later, the Fiat was scraped. Our Saturday visits continued – with a new in-car radio for company. We retained the Fiat’s radio system.

Apart from the controls on her face, there was little to cover the body of that radio, save a raw metal exterior and lots of wires hanging loose. Anna rigged her up with a set of small speakers and connected it to a plug.

Some years later, we relocated. For a while we continued to visit Sarojini Nagar. But that trip was long and tiring and we began visiting a different temple nearer to our new house. The old car radio, though, was still going strong at home. She became my faithful companion while I prepared for my final school exams, and subconsciously memorized lyrics of John Denver’s songs… I hear her voice in the morning hour as she called me.

I went to college and got my first feature phone – one with an FM radio. Over the next several years, more sophisticated phones followed. And today, my smartphone has replaced the need for a radio altogether.

I don’t know what happened to that car radio system. Maybe it was given away, maybe scraped, but certainly it is in a very different shape right now as compared to what she was back then – just like everything else from my childhood:

Many shops we visited in Sarojini Nagar have shut down or changed their line of business. The market is no longer our weekly grocery and vegetable market. The roads leading to it are choked, and the mad rush ensures we keep our distance.

All India Radio is not the only radio station in town. It is surviving, but their best RJs have moved on to private stations and even internet radios – including the one I’m listening to right now. 

As the internet channel plays a classic, all my memories gather round her… 

And John Denver echoes the sentiment

Radio reminds me of my home far away


In response to this week’s Photo Challenge. To see what the world is feeling nostalgic about, visit the Daily Post.

She looked something like this

Categories
Miscellaneous

Meet Leo


leophone.jpg
Apparently his name’s Leo


nanopoblano2015lightThis is post #24 in this year’s NaBloPoMo, or as Ra calls it Nano Poblano

NaBloPoMo = National Blog Posting Month = Thirty straight days of blogging

Categories
Hobbies

Ready to play


I was invited by my friend to attend a choir competition to celebrate the founder’s day of a Church. The competition included solos, duets and quartets. The main event was the choir in which seven teams from different Prayer groups across the city competing.

The stage’s backdrop was decorated with balloons to make it look like the keys of the piano. Unfortunately, there was a shortage of black balloons, and the keys could not be completed. Not for long, though. The musicians performing on that stage more than made up for the lack of the key balloons — all the performances I had the opportunity to listen to, were of a very high quality and a treat to the ears!

Ready to play
Ready to play


nanopoblano2015lightThis is post #9 in this year’s NaBloPoMo, or as Ra calls it Nano Poblano

NaBloPoMo = National Blog Posting Month = Thirty straight days of blogging

Categories
Poetry

Timeless music


Listening to music,
I am transported back in time.

From nimble stringed instruments
To husky voices.
The energetic percussion
Keeping feet and thumbs tapping.

Eyes closed,
Letting the music transcend.
From the swaying head
To the melting heart.

The music player is older than my memories
The sound as young as ever.

Categories
Stories

The magic of Margazhi


Stone floor of Chidambaram Temple
Stone floor of Chidambaram Temple

While I was in Chennai last year, I received a message from a friend of mine:

‘So are you coming tomorrow?’
‘I’m in Chennai right now’, I replied.
‘Ooh Margazhi. Have fun!’

I didn’t understand what she meant by that. I had visited Chennai during the winter months a few times in the past, but apart from the pleasant weather, I couldn’t think of any other reason to enjoy. I soon found out.

The Tamil month of Margazhi* is considered highly auspicious. For those who are religiously inclined, Margazhi is a month of lots of pujas ‚ÄĒ temples open much earlier and devotees visit in large numbers for the¬†special pujas. But that was not what my friend, an ardent follower of performing arts, meant.

Margazhi is a cultural extravaganza, a haven for fans of the classical arts, with hundreds of Kutcheries ‚ÄĒ¬†music and dance concerts ‚ÄĒ organised¬†throughout the month. Margazhi is, in fact, now synonymous with the music festival.

Chennai takes its music seriously, and audiences don’t clap unless the performance is very good. I found that out on our last day in Chennai, when we spent close to six hours in one auditorium, listening to back-to-back musical performances (for free)!

Even those not interested in the arts — and there are probably few of those in Chennai — cannot escape the Margazhi season, for the art overflows on the streets. Take a walk in the interior parts of residential areas. The Kolams that are drawn at door-steps of every house are much bigger and colourful. The kolams at the temples, though, were my favourite. These are from the Chidambaram temple:

And if you are not interested in art, well then there’s always the sea. The cool sea breeze, on the cool sand is the perfect place to relax.

Yes, Margazhi is the time to visit Tamil Nadu.

*Margazhi begins in mid-December and ends in mid-January. The Corresponding Sanskrit name is MńĀrgaŠĻ£ńęrŠĻ£a. After the end of this month, the harvest festival of Pongal (which falls on Makar Sankranti) is celebrated. The festival marks beginning of Uttarayan – the beginning of the sun’s ascent, signifying the beginning of the end of winter.


The images in this post are my entries for this week’s Photo Challenge. To see more symmetrical images, check out the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.

Categories
Stories

Just For Joy


In our school, starting from the fourth standard, all students were put in ‘houses’. Each house had an associated colour – red, yellow, blue and green.¬†Inter-house competitions were organised across several disciplines, and at the end of the year, one house was declared the overall winner.

Now I’m not sure if there was a sorting hat involved while deciding which students to put in which house.¬†But I was suspicious. Invariably, the yellow house had awesome athletes, the green one had students who were artistically inclined and did well in cultural activities. The red one had more intellectual students.

And the blue one, well, it had the rest of us. We were never really expected to do well overall, but we sprang a surprise every once in a while.

During one particular year, we had a Sufi Kalam Competition. We had a tough time preparing for it. Unlike other times, there was no one to teach us. Our teacher in-charge gave us a cassette, and we had to listen to the tape in order to learn the song. Fortunately the lyrics were written in the folds of the cover of the album. Our teacher explained to us, the meaning of the lyrics, and we chose the paragraphs we understood.

I don’t remember what the other groups sang. I’m not sure if they also listened to a recorded song and learnt it by themselves. But I remember our song. I remember how we would look for quiet places to practice. Mostly we went to the basement. And if it was closed, we sat on the staircase leading to the basement. We would play the tape and listen intently. The other groups practised in the open, flaunting their songs with pride. And we’d feel tiny in front of them. Everyone was sure the green house would win – and so were we.

The day of the competition arrived. We went over the lines one last time, and clarified which line had to be sung how many times.

As the program started, I began feeling the nerves. I had to sing the opening tune Рsolo.

A few of the girls tried to comfort me and tried to get me to relax. My mind went blank. My heart pounding, threatening to escape. Our team name was announced, and we went on stage.

As soon as we were seated, the music teacher played the tune. My voice refused to come out. I looked at our music teacher. The expression on her face was crystal clear. ‘Why aren’t you singing? Come on now sing!’¬†She played the first line again.

And this time, I did sing.

What happened thereafter, was amazing. The whole group joined in at the chorus in unison. A couple of boys got up on their knees and began clapping and dancing. The other girls gave the best of their smiles, and sang with infectious energy and confidence. I was surprised. There were smiles all around, and everyone genuinely had fun while singing. Some students of our house cheered as loudly as they could. Soon the audience joined us in clapping, and we got a great applause at the end.

Our group had some really awesome singers – that year every house had their fair share of singers, but I was extremely proud of our team. We were not really friends, and I struggled to have a decent conversation with them. As I write this, apart from the three girls who sat in the front row next to me, I don’t even remember who were there in the group! But somehow, at that moment, we came together beautifully, and managed to pull one out of the hat.

I don’t remember if we won. I’m too lazy to fish for the certificates. But honestly, I don’t care who won, we, or the green house. I took part in several competitions, and my little box of certificates swells with pride at how many we won, or nearly won.¬†But this one stands out – not because of the outcome, but because¬†we had fun, we felt the song, and the audience loved it.

* * *

Recently, Kozo at Everyday Gurus wrote something about ‘getting the point’. As I sat down typing a comment, I realised it was getting too long. I decided to write a short post. It started with a series of rants, and then this story popped up!

Categories
Stories

Waiting at the airport


Boarding pass in hand, the family waited to board the flight. There was one seat less, and the young teenager sat on the baggage trolley. Perhaps even if there were enough seats, she would have preferred to sit on the aluminium structure and slide around. She was getting bored. They had been up early in the morning, but the flight was delayed.

She looked around, trying to amuse herself. Near one of the check-in counters, she caught two gentlemen picking up their passes. Gosh they looked¬†awfully¬†familiar! Where could she have seen them? The one nearer to them was slightly shorter, with a moustache and a short beard – much like that of a goat. The other one was much taller, and…

Her eyes grew wide. She called out to her mother, “Look!” She pointed in their direction. “Look who’s here!”

The two men saw the excited girl. One smiled, and the other waved his hand slightly – perhaps they felt a little¬†embarrassed…

She smiled ear to ear, and looked at her mother, “He waved to me! Loy waved back to me!”

Perhaps, Mr Ehsaan and Mr Loy, you are used to this sort of attention. You must have encountered fans giving you such horribly wide-eyed looks several times. You may not remember that little girl on the trolley at Chennai International Airport so many years ago, but you sure made her day!

*  *  *


Even Wikipedia is a fan! Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy

Categories
Hobbies Stories

And There Was A Painting


Fish out of water
Fish out of water

We travelled for three days on the crowded train – there were more than two hundred of us, and only a hundred confirmed tickets. A bus journey from Dimapur brought us to the campus of Nagaland University, located atop the hills, in Kohima. Exhausted after the journey, we didn’t bother about blankets, as we fell into deep slumber in the dormitory.

During our stay, we discovered the ‘passion fruit’. We devoured them like wild beasts. We had never heard of them, and we knew that we may never taste them ever again. By the time we left, the locals had made a handsome profit!

The nearby hangar served as the venue for talks and concerts. The music and dance performances mesmerised the large audience, and the atmosphere quite literally came alive when clouds filled the ‘auditorium’!

We had the privilege of attending workshops conducted by national artists. And the highlight of the entire trip was the ‘classical overnight’. Beginning after dinner, continuing till dawn, the all-night programme held us in a state of trance. We didn’t sleep during the concert, and yet, ‘woke up’ feeling refreshed, without a hint of exhaustion.

We spent the last day in the main town, visiting the War cemetery, and the Museum.

Due to the insurgent outfits operating throughout the North-Eastern Region, we were forbidden to travel at night. That meant that we had to reach Dimapur before sunset. The last night of our stay was spent on the railway platform at Dimapur Railway station.

We had to board the early morning train, which would stop only for fifteen minutes. We collected all the luggage in one place, and hauled every bit of luggage inside the train as fast as we could, irrespective of whose bag it was. After a chaotic hour or so, we found out that along with our baggage, two large boxes of RDX had found their way into the train. The train we boarded for our return journey was even more crowded than the one in which we went. The mood in the train was dull.

That didn’t last long, however, when we tasted the freshly cut pineapples that were being served by vendors in the train. Juicy and soft, they simply melted in the mouth, and there was not a hint of fibre – you could be forgiven for thinking that they were mangoes. The exotic produce of the north-east, it seemed didn’t end with the passion fruit!

Eventually, we bade farewell to all the people with whom we had shared our entire experience. People who were strangers only a few days back, and people whom we would probably never meet again.

It is unlikely we would ever be a part of such a trip, ever again.

We didn’t carry a camera to capture the great, and the not-so-great moments (and there were plenty of both!) Our stock of passion fruits lasted no more than a few days, and the trip became a distant memory, within just a few months. Looking back, it all seems like a dream. The details of the trip are blurry, and there is little record of us ever having been there. I never wrote anything about it, to remind me of the time.

However, we do have some proof of it being real – a pair of brooches that we bought as souvenirs.

And a painting.

This painting was made in Kohima. I had attended the workshop being conducted by Padma Shree Anjolie Ela Menon. Perhaps there was something in the air that made me draw this – I had never before drawn something abstract, and even after the trip, I have not dared to venture into that territory.

Upon returning, I discovered, to my horror, that the acrylic paint had actually not dried up, and the foam plate I had placed over the canvas to ‘protect’ it, got stuck, and ruined the painting.

Several months passed, and I never fixed it. After over four years, I finally painted over the bad patches. While the scars are still visible, the picture is more presentable.