Thursday, August 23, 2012


There should be a term for the feeling you get when the incoming train to Madras crosses Basin Bridge. The train momentarily pauses to get the signal that will allow you to see the 2 railway tracks fork into 3 and then 4 and then multiply into several tracks until you lose count and the train slowly trudges into central. There is a thrill that runs through your body. The vehicle could be Nellai Express heading towards Egmore after the pause called 'outer la pottan' (before Thambaram) or a bus crossing kanchipuram as speeds towards Porur. There is no single emotion to describe this. Its the homing beacon that you are zeroing towards. It is the feeling of safety and comfort you get when you re-enter your home. It is the warm feeling of seeing one's beloved grandparents after a long time. It is the feeling you get before meeting your lover.

I miss Madras so much that I deliberately desisted from writing posts such as this. I ended up thinking about Madras for a long time that it impacted the present. Madras is my home, my love, my life and my destination. I have grown up in so many different places that my time outside of Madras far exceeds time inside Madras. However, every single day I spent outside I wanted to get back in. There was particular phase of 2 years where I was working in Bangalore. I felt like sleeping on bunch thorny bushes every single day of those 2 years. I would visit Madras every weekend. Didn't miss a single weekend. For a 6 month period the girl I was engaged to thought I was traveling every weekend because I wanted to meet her. When I made her travel every weekend after our marriage, she understood the allure of Madras. 

There are thousands of emotions this great city brings out. On a rainy night travelling in an auto, there is a moment when you actually feel cold. The auto isn't travelling fast at all. Its probably travelling at 30-40 KM/hr. But the wind makes you feel chilly and you move to the center of the seat. And you watch the ground as the rain hits those puddles. A few drops manage to sneak through the gunny-bag type piece of cloth that the Autokaran has tied to the sides. As you avoid the drizzle that slips through - you strangely feel cozy and warm. That emotion is indescribable. As indescribable as the coolness you find in a Pallavan bus conductor - who folds the Rs 1, Rs 5 and rs 10 along the length and tucks it between his fingers. The way he opens the conductor bag to arrange and re-arrange the tickets, while simultaneously whistling for stops - makes you think he is a billionaire doing this for a hobby. This city is about the small things. You have to toil for a while to really know what this city means to you. Some days you are just hanging out in the beach doing nothing. Some days you have to go Avadi, Chetpet, thiruvottiyur and Thambaram - all in one day - for no fault of yours. There are days when you are late for a movie inspite of booking 3 days in advance. Sometimes your friend calls you at 9;45 to discuss a wild idea of  10PM show and you get there on time. You meet people, places and events that shape the way you think.

The people here are one of a kind. Their arrogance is so awesome that they have to be humble about their awesomeness at it - just to ward of the evil eye. There is an emotion to every city. I'd say arrogance, indifference and sarcasm is the essence of Madras. You could say "I won 71 Nobel prizes, 4 Olympic Gold medals and a Pulitzer" and I am willing to bet you'd hear at least one reply that says "idhu enna saar, enakku oru aal theriyum. Avan.....". I haven't seen many cities where it has been impossible to satisfy people no matter what you do, it has  been impossible to make them care about something no matter how awesome it is. People here have 'nakkal' running through their blood. No one or no thing is beyond 'kindal'. People often talk about Madras being the clash of culture and modernity. I used to as well but don't care much for that anymore.  Madras is neither the filter coffee or temple hub that Kumbakonam is. Madras has a lot of forced narratives, such as filter coffee, and you'll find that most narratives aren't true if you miss a bus stop and start looking in a different place.

Which brings us to the book - Tamarind City. I came across a post by Chenthil that introduced me to this wonderful book by Biswanath Ghosh. I hadn't read Biswanath's blog in a while and so was unaware of the book. Biswanath has been blogging for probably as long as I have. He writes a quirky blog. I tracked it on and off. Initially, I was amused and surprised when he expressed love for Chennai. I wanted to ask him "why". I am usually suspicious of Amits expressing love for Chennai. You don't want to hear the ususal disappointing answer as to why (masala dosai, filter coffee, temples and Bharathnatyams have exhausted me ). Tamarind City answers the question. Do you want to know why Murugesan street is called so? What makes St. Gearge Fort's history so special?  What are Thimappa's descendants doing now? (Chennai is named after Chennai Kesava Perumal temple - part of the piece of land sold by Thimappa to British settlers). Who runs Rathna cafe? What is the Prosititution scene in Madras? Who is the most famous sexologist in Chennai? Who is the cartoonist of Chandamama? Why is S. Muthiah so interested in Madras history?. I liked the book mainly because Biswanath tries to answer questions that we walked past everyday but never asked. I often joked that you could intravenously supply a Thamizhan Tamarind + rice and he'd survive. So the book is appropriately named.

I feel as wistful winding down this post as I feel leaving Madras. I don't know what the future will bring. But I wish Madras figures somewhere in it. Yes, there is the obligatory margazhi season, the Saravana bhavans, Raayars mess and Sathyam theater. But the best part about being there is you are one of the natives. You are yourself. You don't have to put on the make-up, the plastic cover wrapped around your personality in a feeble attempt to fit in. In a way I am glad I wrote this. It has been on my mind since my 2-day rant to Crazy Mohan on how much I have sinned to be away from Madras. He was visiting and one topic led to another and soon we found ourselves discussing Chokkalingam street, Raayars mess, Alwarpet Anjaneyar kovil and then the whole topic of living in Madras. He was taken aback at the force of my longing that he said "I am actually glad I didn't make the mistake you made". He was happy to exclaim "naan make-up pottalum podattiyum naan Madraskaaran. Nee make-up pottalum podattiyum oru madhiri madhil mel maadhu". And after a awkward pause he said "ivalavu yengara. thirumbi vandhudu ba, please. Indha career ella edathulaiyum irukkum". I am more than a 100% sure some miniscule part of this is a result of the conversation we had. 

There should be a term for the feeling where you miss a place dearly but can't find a way back in, aren't sure what to do with that feeling, aren't sure if anything you want can/should be given to you and most importantly aren't sure what your priorities are in life. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Its A Sideways Game Man! You Play Sideways

Last week something happened to me that was - as usual - very unusual. As I was being escorted to the Emergency Room, I was thinking "this can't happen to anyone else". That is until I saw this video. It exactly represents what happened to me that day. You got to watch the whole video and it is simply awesome. However, do listen carefully to the description after 5:31 mins to really know the details of what happened. 

The ER nurse usually asks for the scale of pain from 1 - 10. But as soon as she asked she remembered my description of the injury and said "I am not going to even ask you for a number. Its too cruel". Then they spent 10 minutes looking for a set of pliers. I cant imagine how David Lloyd managed a welder. Strangely, I was really thinking about this (dont watch more than 30 secs after clicking) at that time. To make light of the event and keep the spirits high, I even mentioned this (same here) very scene to the team mate who drove me to ER. Sadly, he was too young to recollect the movie.

Friday, August 10, 2012

20 years of A.R.Rahman

It is amazing how much of an impression a musician can make in your life. Especially if the musician was at his peak of his art in your teenage years. The first time I heard the name A.R Rahman was as a gossip in the context of a Ilayaraja and Manirathnam disagreement. Its been a long time since I read cinema gossip sections in Thamizh magazines.It used to be very interesting to read those at that time. Now its just a fond memory tucked away in some corner of the mind. I think it was "Lights On Sunil" and "thunukku Mootai" who began the gossip that Manirathnam failed to picturise the "Puttham Pudhu Poo Poothadho" song that Ilayaraja had composed for Thalapathy. The song apparently was composed as a romantic number between Rajini and Bhanupriya. It was cut-off because Mani didn't want to develop the two characters as having a romantic relationship. Ilayaraja doesn't appear to collect the Filmfare award for Thalapathy, which Mani collects on his behalf. And then comes the news that Manirathnam has signed on with Kavithalaya, which totally eliminates Ilayaraja as a possibility as MD because KB and IR were split for good then.  Pushpalatha Kandasamy in an interview years later discloses that Manirathnam had approached her with 2 movie ideas. One was about a Kashmir terrorist issue and the other was a road-comedy about 2 thieves. And they went with idea #1. A.R.Rahman's name figured as the guy who did jungles for Bru Coffee. It was speculated that the Advt was probably picturised by P.C. Sreeram and so the connection to Mani was established (I don't know if this is true).

Roja was a big event. In Thanjavur, my physics tuition teacher had a reputation of having never watched movies. That elderly mama cancelled a tuition session to go watch this movie with his family. It was the talk of the class. I will never forget the first time I listened to Roja. I was so mesmerized by Kadhal Rojave and Pudhu Vellai Mazhai. This was a new sound and unlike anything I had heard in Indian music. It started off a trend where ARR made you listen to his music in hi-tech head phones and stereo systems just so that you could catch all the little itsy bitsy nuanced instruments that he used. My biggest joy was the fact that he began the revolution of introducing new singers almost every album. Carolyn, Islam Mustafa, Subha to name a few. The liberation from S. Janaki cannot be described in words. Having been in Gavaskar Vs Srikkanth, BoneyM vs Abba, Tendulkar vs Lara fights and more importantly Kamal vs Rajini arguments with friends I always had a clear favorite (Gavaskar, BoneyM, Kamal, Tendulkar). Some have gone to the point of getting into physical confrontation. However, I have never been so torn as I was in Ilayaraja Vs A.R.Rahman fights. It has been hard to pick a clear favorite in the past 20 years. I haven't obsessed over a music director like I have obsessed over Rahman. But I truly consider myself to be an IR fan at heart. If forced to pick the genius among the two, I'd pick Ilayaraja in a heartbeat. But ARR revolutionized the industry and Thamizh music in ways Ilayaraja was not capable of. ARR used flutes much better than IR. And of course IR was a genius with violins. Ilayaraja was clearly superior in background music as he melded the music to the situation perfectly. But ARR developed theme based background music much more successfully (Thiruda Thiruda's BGM as a standout example).

I haven't listened to ARR that much in the recent years.  His nativity has changed in his second 10 years and so has mine. So I haven't been able to relate to his music a lot nowadays. But here and there he produces a gem that still  is gush worthy. His first 10 years will always be my favorite. As he created album after album that fascinated the senses. In many ways I feel truly lucky to have grown up in the 90s. It was the generation of change. India's economy opening to foreign products, advent of Satellite/cable television, massive growth of Indian cricket, Sachin Tendulkar and ARR obsession captured the essence of that generation. I've met innumerable number of people who find the strange intersection of Tendulkar fandom and ARR obsession as a completely natural thing. There is some strange un-namable similarity in the growth of these two people who've defined a generation.

Below is an old post of mine that I wrote during ARR's 10th year in movies. Its very silly to read it now. But I'll unashamedly just reproduce that. I haven't listened to him that much in the last 10 years to really update the list. Some songs that don't feature in the list that I like a lot are - Nahi Saamne (Taal), Thiruvallikeni Rani (udhaya), Girlfriend (Boys), Vaaji Vaaji (Sivaji), Porkalam (Thenali), Azhagaana Rakshasi (Mudhalvan), Ye Ye Enna Aachu Unakku (Kaadhal Virus), Gokulam (Azhagiya Thamizh Magan), and Aaromale (VTV)


It is 10 years since ARR hit the scene with "Roja".  The 10 year anniversary couldn't be better celeberated than releasing such a high profile album as Baba.

After years of enjoying ARR's music and finding out small small instruments and sounds every time using headphones, ear phones and different speakers. I have to say ARR is the person apart from Sachin Tendulkar :-) Who has captured the imagination of millions of Indians with a brand of youth and passion unseen before.

My Top 10 songs of these 10 years would be

10) Poraale Ponnu Thayee ( Karuthamma): Wonderful song from my favorite Swarnalatha. Won the national award deservedly.

9) Tu hi tu (Kabhie Na Kabhie): A relatively Unknown song because the movie was not released properly. This is a rare gem from ARR. I especially love the beginning hum in that song.

8) Nila Kaigirathu (Indira): Ah! Who can forget Hariharan's memorable voice ( Harinis version was good to ). The melancholy of this song is completely representative of what music is all about.

7) Pachai Nirame ( Alaipayuthey): Can a song be more intoxicating. What string arrangements What a wonderful voice. Brilliant picturization! It captures all moods to perfection. Wonderful lyrics.

6) Dilse (Dilse): The initial thump of drums and slowly building up the crescendo. ARR's voice blends so well with this tune. The middle "sa sa ni dha pa " hum is wonderful. As usual this song was met with good

5) En Kaathale ( Duet): This according to me is the best song SPB has sung. No one can hold on to such a tempo for such a long time. The voice just silkily runs through without wilting even for a moment. The smoothness this song achieves is unparalleled. What sadness this song brings out. Makes anyone feel they can also sing (but is it easy???).

4)Thee Thee (Thiruda Thiruda): Agreed this came out as an Advt first. But what a different song. Carolyene's indifferent Tamil adds more to the cuteness of this song. I suspect the Jathi voice as Jathiraja is ARR himself. There are only a handful of songs that were picturized better than this one. 

3)Mellisaye ( Mr. Romeo): I always thought this wud be my #1 ARR song but I am so sad this is just # 3. Only ARR can out do himself with a song better than this one. What a tune. The raw tune of the song itself is so mindblowing. The slow female voice which starts the mesmerising drum rhythm is awesome. "ethanai nilavu.." the up and down of the tune is like a wave rising and falling and slowly becoming a tide.

2)Kathal Roja (Roja): Ah! this is in my opinion the first gem of ARR. The rawest musical passion of ARR is brought out i the song in just the humming that Sujatha does. The sad (melancholy is ARR's forte??) hum that rises in tone blends so well with the movie and the moment. The beat pattern changes with rarae precision.SPB's voice was so new to us. This SPB voice was a new avataar. Dude this is how you should break into movies.

1) Konjam Nilavu ( Thiruda Thiruda): According to me this is the consummate music done by ARR in his 10 year career. BGM included ARR will never be able to beat what he did in Thiruda Thiruda. Konjam Nilavu had a amazing voice that oozed sexuality and passion. The hard natured voice and the novel song structure is mindblowing imagination. No song has ever been picturized in Indian movie history. PCSriram, Mani and ARR is just a dream come true. Look athe diting and the fireworks exploding synchronously with the beats. WHat a voice, what a find. This song pumps one with adrenalin. This to me is ARR's song of the millenium(s).

Friday, August 03, 2012

Cycle of Life

For the past few weeks, I have been feeling this need to state a very core belief of mine. I have decided to succumb to that urge.I am not sure if I can state it well. But there is no harm in trying. This is what I want to say.

A person who willfully behaves in way that causes his/her parents, especially the mother, to experience (a) utter shame and embarrassment,  (b) enormous heart burn and emotional suffering upon seeing/hearing about the actions of their offspring to the point where they feel that they have failed as a parent, (c) emotional trauma as a result of verbal abuse (by the son/daughter) (d) poverty, isolation or loneliness as a result of dereliction of duty by children to take care of their parents during their old age (e) poor health or inability to satisfy very basic needs (at an old age or earlier)  as a result of dereliction of duty by their son/daughter (f) tangible or intangible loss of parent-child connection that is not repaired unto death ; Such a person will not prosper well in life and will have the same or worse fate befall them when they reach their old age (I don't mean this as a curse or wishful thinking - i intend it as a statement/conclusion).

Most parents will never wish bad things for their children even if the said parent/children combo fall in above category. Many parents may counter-intuitively offer blessings as a response to the situation. But I feel that even if the parent(s) are forgiving, it  is ultimately immaterial to the fate of the children.

Post Script:

1. Sometimes in this blog, I do willfully state a conclusion of mine without sound argumentation. When I do so - it is because I feel I can intuitively connect whatever little argumentation I have to the conclusion I want to state. Under such circumstances, I do not write the extensive reasoning and make a clear connection between my assumptions, argumentation and conclusion because I do not have the time/patience/skill/methods/environment to do so. And most if not all those  instances where I have done this were in the realm of time-pass things like general conversational logic or entertainment or cricket. 

2. The above is a core-conclusion of mine that I have held for a while but I do not have any argumentation or assumption to back it up. I also do not consider as arising out of my religious affiliations (although one can claim that religion offers similar conclusions and i have seen texts where it does). In my case this purely arises out of what I think is a standard level of intuition any individual is bound to have when they get an opportunity to make 20 years of observation in a rather large extended family and circle of friends. The need to state it now came about because a distant relative of mine died in the last 20 days. I guess when people cannot put down the argumentation in words they tend to term it as 'belief'. 

3. Some may feel this is very obvious. Some may think this is very old school. Regardless, I found this to be true in most if not all instances.

4. There are no exclusions or exceptions that I feel the urge to call out to the above stated conclusion. One cannot quantify  the extent of hurt caused to parents.  Most people assume this pertains to children's marriage decisions, which is true most of the times but not all of the times. Some assume this includes career decisions. Some assume this includes children living in foreign country while parents live in Indian old age homes. While, I feel that no parent will die in shame because their son chose engineering over MBBS - I'll leave the reader to draw whatever conclusions they see fit.

5. There is an obvious element of recursion here which we will reserve for another post another day.

6. I believe the converse to be true, assuming other necessary/sufficient conditions are met.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Yajur Upakrama

1. This day is neither in Avani month nor on avittam star. But still is called so by Tamils. It used to come in Avani. But I dont know what changed. It has been happening in Adi for the past few years. I am not sure if there are girls in North India who are surprised because their brothers are sending them money order for Rakshabandhan a month earlier than normal. But calling this day as Avani Avittam seems weird.

2. Must acknowledge the yeoman service U. Ve. Srinivasachar of Vaishnava Kendram  has been doing. Without his do-it-yourself pdf and video things would have been really difficult with that 2 page Kerningham and Ritchie type indecipherable yellow paper that was given in the earlier days. (note: apparently there are only 3 Sama Veda vaisnava vadhyars in Madras and he is one of them. He apparently has an ipad that he uses when comes for marriages and announces the meanings of different mantras in a mike as he performs them. Orey the hi-tech).