Monday, July 12, 2004

Undeserved Praises and Ear Worms

The genesis of this post is from the allusions made to my higher order vocal capabilities as suggested by some/one of the commenters on my previous post. While it is impossible for individuals with lower order cerebral growth like me to comprehend whether the insinuations made are to be taken positively are not, I have a moral responsibility to clear the air regarding the range and scale of my MQ (i.e. Musical Quotient), before I get a "ithellam" in the comments.

Right now, my Winamp play list contains the likes of Aal Thotta Bhoopathi, Sarakku Vechurikken, Kasu Mele, Gemini Gemini, Madhuraveeran dhaane, (oops I missed probably the only song that mentions, albeit incorrectly spelt, Salt Coutours, a locality in the North Chennai Parlimentary constituency, dating to the early British settlers) etc., among others - all musical gems from the booming industry that deals with soundtracks from movies made in Chennai. While this might not exactly be a pointer to the overall picture, this sampler ought to be ample evidence that I am a no-brainer as far as musical knowledge is considered. The presence of these songs also results from the fact that I do a mean koothu and that’s the common denominator among all these songs, or at least most of them. I am sorry, Mom, I know you tried your best. For the others, I do have to say that my mom tried her best. Wait, I hint at that in my previous statement. Whatever!

So as I said, twice, my mom tried her best. In the summer of an eventful Orwellian year, I spent too much time trying to imitate run outs from long on and long off with stone, with other kids standing opposite me doing the same. A lot of blood was shed, that my mom decided that she had to right the sequence of wrongs that she had set off (FYI, I learnt to write with mom holding my hand re-creating cricketing scenarios and tracing the path of a cricket ball in the shape of the alphabet) and decided that my energy had to be channeled somewhere else.

And luckily, living next door was Ilayaraja’s violinist, V.S Narasimhan with his family, including his aged father, fondly called Iyengar mama by everyone in Gangai Amman Kovil Street in Royapettah, Chennai. from whom he had learnt his music.

Anyways, my mom bought a second hand violin (western style) from one of her colleagues at AG’s Office (you will be amazed to hear about the variety of items that can be purchased at this grandfather of Saravana Stores right from your “seat”, as my mom puts it) and on Vijaydasami day, I started my lessons under the tutelage of Iyengar mama. But fate decreed that I take momentary breaks in my journey through the musical world – reasons for the same ranging from my sister’s imminent birth to moving to a new locale to academic pressures (as my mom perceived it). More on these breaks later on.

So, what happened was, every break was accompanied by a change of teachers. However what was common was that each and every teacher felt that I had to start from the rudimentary Sa Ri Ga Ma as I had not learnt much previously. And it has to be noted that at various points, my breaks occurred when I was in the Geetham and even on the Varnam phase and on each subsequent time I started from the first step. This took place over the major part of a decade or so till I stopped finally in 1995. So now, given the notes, I can play, but my knowledge of the ragas and thaalams is so rudimentary that when people identify different ragas from the first listening of a movie song, it never fails to amaze me. But there is one song I could identify and that was the song Ninnukori Varanam from Agni Nakshatram – the raga being Mohanam. So, my musical ear is tone deaf. So what was Vekku praising? By the way, were you praising me? Vendam da, you don’t have to praise me, even when I know it is deserved, but really, your praise is much more than I deserve..

Vekku’s praise brings me to another facet, which a lot of people know about. Yup, I am a more than decent bathroom singer. I grew up in the shadow of another gifted bathroom singer, my cousin R, but then he was much more talented and he never failed to raise goose bumps when he sang a mean cover of Raja Raja Cholan Naan (Yesudas, from Rettaival Kuruvi). Nevertheless the steady supply of tapes, courtesy R, made me a discerning fan of good music, with tastes ranging from compositions by Swathi Thirunal to Ilayaraja and in the last few years, Rahman too. However, with our parent’s obvious distaste for music from across the seas, both of us cousins limited our listening to a few Western albums – Boney M and Michael Jackson to name two. Hence I am still in the dark ages as far as rock music is concerned which has hampered my quizzing abilities by a large margin.

Kiruba had a post on ear worms about a year ago, I think. I can’t find it now, but I did listen to a few songs so frequently that they have forever stuck with me as ear worms. And as a result of these ear worms, I became a bathroom singer with few aspirations of taking it further. I also picked up the art of whistling, but my technique coupled with a possibly bloated voice box, makes my whistle louder than I would like. On a silent evening, my whistling carries so far that people that people in their rooms about 100 meters away in the other side of my hostel used to be disturbed by my whistling.

But I do know my limitations, though I have sometimes thought I do sing (in the bathroom) much better than some of them “good” singers. However, one of my pals, B once told me that physical phenomena such as resonance hike the quality of a voice to a much higher plane than deserved. I knew it was a barb directed at me, because regardless of his nick at college, Drums, he was not known to be musically inclined. I am still waiting for a mathematical proof for this phenomenon.

Some of my opinions about my own voice have not however stopped me from embarrassing myself at times. As I recently disclosed during my one and only bacchanalian orgy (there will be no more of these, because of certain incidents that led to my roomies amusement at my expense), considering that there were 70 year olds around having a ball singing their hearts out at a cousin’s nalangu ceremony a couple of years ago, I embarrassed myself by starting to sing a markedly difficult song and lost all semblance of the proper pitch. I have had to satisfy myself with the thought that I have nailed that song ever since without trouble while in the shower and during that orgy mentioned earlier.

Regardless of momentary lapses like the one mentioned above, I know my capabilities so well that I have talked my way out of a couple of try-outs for the local band here and shied away from any attempts to record myself on tape or something. If you call my cell phone number and if you are lucky enough not to get me on the line, you will get ample evidence of the quality of my voice box, which leads me to what I mentioned earlier.

A lot of people tell me that I speak too loud, regardless of whether I am next to them or on the phone. But why is that any non-Indian that I talk to for the first time over the phone, addresses me as “Maam”? Isn’t that a paradox? Or are these people who tell me that I am loud suffer from over-sensitive senses? A point that I will ponder for the rest of my life – okay, only after my thesis defense is done in a month.

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