Sunday, October 16, 2011

A musical evening

(The people in this post: 
Mohan Krishnamoorthy who blogs here and tweets here
Girija, his wife, who tweets here 
Ramaa Ramesh who blogs here, tweets here and soundclouds here
Mahesh Sethuraman who blogs here and tweets here
S. Rahul who tweets here )

"I'll be there!", Mohan texted me. "Can I get a friend along?"

"Oh of course!" I was delighted.

Ah. I see that look of puzzlement on your face. "Naren is a great chap but a complete disaster at narrating anything at all" you're saying to yourself.  "Give him a horse and he wastes no time appending the cart before it".

I can visualize you biting your lower lip and edging that cursor to the little 'x' button on the corner of your browser tab. But tarry a while, dear reader. I have a not incoherent tale to tell.

I had passes to a classical music concert and as usually happens, when I have 'n' passes for a classical music concert, 'n-1' of those passes were spare.

"Why do you bother getting so many of them?" the missus snapped, irate, when I whined about this to her

"I was hoping you'd come. And that we'd drag someone along"

"You know I can't. Gau has his exams day after and the moment I step out, he's going to watch TV"

She was right, as usual. The lad has to be trussed up and sat upon if he is to study at all. And this is a crucial year for him.

I also suspect the missus is not too keen on what she refers to as the "aa-aaa-aaa stuff" when talking to her friends, though she gamely tries to keep it from me. At several concerts to which I have taken her, the singing ones at least, she usually falls asleep in the first twenty minutes with her head gently placed on my shoulder. This makes a touchingly endearing picture but it's probably not the best encouragement for the performers. The kind of stuff that leads most of them to drink.

"What shall I do then?" I continued in the time honoured tradition of asking her for solutions to all my vexatious problems.

"Go alone, what's the trouble?"

"People will think I'm weird".

I'm not a sensitive social butterfly but I do know that people who wander alone to cinemas and concerts are looked down upon by the brightest because of the inevitable conclusion that they are so undesirable that they can't find anyone to come along with them even for third party entertainment.

"Between you and me, sweetness, I don't think that's a state secret"


"Oh, don't worry, dear, you'll find someone"

I was pottering around on twitter around then and saw some excellent discussions featuring Mohan K and some others about classical music. I made bold to ask him if he'd like to come along.

And when he replied in the affirmative, only the fact that I was no longer sixteen and supple held me back from executing triple somersaults.

The concert was very nice. The singers sang beautifully. Acoustics was wonderful. And company was excellent. Mohan, his wife Girija and Mahesh Sethuraman, whom I knew for a goodish while, were all appreciative.

Mohan, in particular, turned out to be encyclopedic in his knowledge of Indian music. A trained Carnatic vocalist, he genuinely liked Hindustani as well and we ended up having a great deal of enjoyable chitchat on the whole subject. I shared what I knew of the hindustani tradition while he regaled me with trivia about Carnatic. And then, in response to something I was telling him about jod-ragas, those joint melodies so popular in hindustani,  he told me something amazing.

"You know about Sruti bheda and graha bheda, don't you?"

They  keep these things from me.

"No. What's that?"

He said something on the lines of "Graha-Bheda is the singing where the inter-note intervals are fixed and a different note is chosen as the tonic. The scale shifts but the melody uses the same notes as the earlier scale and thus generates a new raga in that new scale"

Regular readers of these chronicles will know that Naren, though sterling of character and a shoulder to rely upon in emotional upheavals, is not the strongest mind around. The old bean began to spin.

Mohan explained further but the sound of my brain cells popping one by one under the strain of processing that must have been audible.

'Alright, drop in to my house next week. I'll demonstrate what I mean by that" he said, kind as he was.

And I duly rolled up at the appointed hour. The traffic was extra dense and the auto drivers more skittish than usual but instead of the usual unflattering maternal adjective that I normally reserve for those of that tribe who cross my path, I was cheerful and positively Gandhian.

Mohan had invited Ramaa Ramesh, a fellow Wodehouse fan and, I didn't know this till then, a trained Carnatic vocalist, and S. Rahul, another young Carnatic vocalist with the most infectious smile and a terrific sense of humor. I was meeting Rahul for the first time. Mahesh Sethuraman was there too.

Girija rustled up some lovely samosas. This is a forbidden food in our house owing to certain problems with my trigylceride numbers, so I quickly seized the opportunity to gobble up a couple of them.

Mohan, who had heard me hum a few tunes in the car the day we went to the concert, asked me to sing something.

'Sing Durga" he said, referring to a raga we were discussing on twitter a few days ago.

I've never had much reticence in me since my childhood. Where other children had to be given toffees to sing a song, I was frequently given toffees to stop singing. So before the assemblage could change their mind, I let off one numbers Durga.

It was recieved politely, speaking highly of the audience's ability to take aural assault without flinching visibly.

And then Rahul, who had brought his sruti box along, on the request of Mohan (I was touched. This was so that I could relate to the Graha Bheda demonstration), sang to demonstrate this extremely demanding musical feat. It's difficult for me to put it into words, and it would be far too boring for you, but I was astounded. The base raga is sung first, and then, another note, say the nishad, is fixed as the shadja, with the shruti playing the original shadja. The notes of the base raga are now sung with the nishad as the shadja, generating a new raga in the new, nishad based scale. The singer then returns seamlessly to the base raga.

Right. Take that aspirin. You have earned it. But seek out Mohan, or someone equally competent and kind enough to take time out to explain it to you, and you will be similarly impressed.

Ramaa sang after much begging and requesting from all of us. I've known her for a long time and heard her on her soundcloud but her singing is several orders of magnitude more awesome in person.

Rahul continued with several illustrations of things in Carnatic music that I had never heard before. Little things about the rhythmic patterns and how the accompaniment works. Ramaa and he jammed beautifully, joined now and then by Mohan, who I realized sang superbly even though he wasn't a professional singer. And he knows some truly amazing people in the music industry. He told us many anecdotes that I will cherish for a lifetime.

Girija had rustled up some delicious food and unsupervised that I was, I vacuumed as much of it as I could contain. And our resilient little company was back again to discussion. Among other things, Mahesh and Rahul had delightful little jugalbandis of Goundamani's dialogues where one would start and the other would finish.

At around 2 am, the missus began to get worried. I had promised her that I would return  by 11.00 pm. She knows that 11pm is code for 1 am but by 2, she was convinced that I was either lying in a ditch somewhere or cooling my heels in the slammer.

I reassured her that I was leaving any moment now. At 3, I received a sternly worded text message promising dire consequences if I did not haul ass instantly. Recognizing this as serious, I reluctantly dragged myself home.

Her demeanour was ominously cold, but this morning, a large flying cockroach entered our room and sent her helpless and screaming, into my arms. Bravely employing a bathroom slipper, I slew the beast.

I am basking in glory at the moment of writing.