Thursday, December 31, 2009

A year end post

How cheesy I thought. I still think that as I am keying in this. But then what the heck. I don't have a title of being non-cheesiest person ever. So here I am writing my final post of 2009.

I am wondering if it is just me or all the festivals or holidays or special days and new years , that is, all the new years days that we have as Indians during the course of a  Gregorian calendar year are increasingly becoming less significant for me. I remember being more excited about a new year or any other festival when I was younger. Now it seems like someone is puling the brakes on the things I am doing. But then for those of us, who love to work throughout, I worked today and I shall be working tomorrow too. Holidays weekdays weekends. Makes no difference. Maybe one of the times when the line rings true that when we enjoy what we do as work, its no longer a task.

The past 10 days however, passed in a blur of losing my voice. The weather change between Chennai and Kuwait and London, the change in water did not do me any good. Something which kept me down in the dumps and gave me a holiday without my consent. I am slowly gaining my voice back. It will be a couple more days until it is back to normalcy.

I realize I have spent a considerable amount of this year in reflection, contemplation and questioning my belief systems, opinions, thoughts, which has in turn led to seeking answers, reading voraciously and finding some answers and of course, a lot more questions. At this point I went back to read my blogs through this year and yes it has been eventful personally too. As I have said earlier my blog is not a log of everything that happens in my life or all the thoughts that I have ever had.  I logged into twitter and like to 'follow' the people I like and read their opinions 140 characters at a time. 

But looking back on 12 months leaves some placid thoughts. I have spent an entire year, and 4 months of 2008 chasing a dream which has still not realized. Which I hope and pray will come to fruition in 2010. But then some things take their time. I keep telling myself to believe in the one thing that does repeat in my life. That when you want something truly the Universe conspires to make it happen for you. But when you are counting it one day at a time, it becomes grueling at times. I am trying to remember how I passed the time from when I decided I want to be a playback singer and that I wanted a break from Rahman sir until it happened. Schooling of course. But I kept the wish kept simmering. It was a constant. Now, I remind myself of that time. And how dreams have come true.

And some dreams I have never had also did come true. Like say, dubbing.  An experience I am truly beginning to enjoy as time goes by. I am getting to know even more that the amount of work that goes in the making of a movie is phenomenal. But I ll blog about this later.

Being at BAFTA and singing there in front of Rahman sir less than a couple of weeks ago. Of course every song that I sing and when I see my name again on the CD cover is a dream come true.

TEDxChennai will be a day that will forever be close to my heart. Thanks again to Kribs for introducing me to something that has the capacity to be life changing. And hearing Mr Hegde speak at NIT Surathkal was magical.

The year had been a revelation for me with respect to people I know as well. Like perhaps every other year, but especially this one was an eye opener.

The one moment which gave me a super fright and numbed me completely were these couple of hours, when I had returned late from a recording. I ring the bell. Then I make a call on my mother's phone. I ring the bell through the course of the call. Then disconnect and call the phone again. Keep ringing the bell more. Keep calling. And mind you, my doorbell, can make you jump or even curse it at times because of its loudness. Then I started pounding on the door with all my might. Called out to mom. By which time neighbours had woken up and started asking me weird questions. Panic, fear, hope, panic and then the numbness started happening. My mom is a light sleeper. She always has been. If I perhaps cough in the middle of the night in the next room, she ll check to see if I am OK.

That night however, she did not wake up. I remember clutching my bag and walking down wondering what I am going to do. Went up and continued the whole exercise again. To no avail. After 3 and a half hours, my mom wakes up after I ring the bell once after perhaps 45 minutes from the previous exercise. And she said "Vandhuttiya kanna... recording eppo mudinjudhu?" All I remember was collapsing in her arms weeping away and weeping through my sleep or whatever there was of it. She, for her part could not understand how she could have slept through all that, but she did.
Yeah, you ll now think, why don't you have a spare key? One of those days, that I did not take them.

The year was eventful in a good way too. For Blue Elephant as well. I am seeing our elephant grow :)

However, I pray that I'll get to work better, be a better musician and an artiste in the year that is to come.

To you however, I wish that you have a wonderful lovely together time with you and yours. May you feel a sense of belonging with those you love, may you be loved, may you be happier in your work or may you have the guts to follow your dreams and have a career of your dreams. or learn the skills that will make the career of your dreams. May you find moments to cherish, moments to shed a couple of tears too. Tears that will take the weight off your shoulders. And if you are not one of them, may you have be blessed to shed the tears as well. Just a little bit. Just enough.
May you feel the belonging with the Universe and with yourself.
With all my heart I wish you love, laughter, joy, peace, contentment, money to blow and money to save, enough time to do what you want and that you have to, to be with those whom you love, to do things that you want to do, to read, to listen to music, or learn a new skill.
May you truly be loved by all those you know and may you too truly love all those you know.

P.S.: As for resolutions, I hope to be able to devote more time to learning the Sarangi and the Piano. Hopefully I ll be at a different level, this time next year.  I am going to watch this space myself.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Vinnnaithaandi Varuvaaya Launch in London

The performance in Kuwait and staying with the family there was pretty nice. Got to know some good people and someone said, Kuwait paakka paakka dhaan pidikkum. Paatha udane pidikkaadhu. The roads are great and I was impressed to know that basic food is kept very very cheap so that the poor can still afford it. Wish something like that was there in India. Here the Aam Aadmi and the not so Aam Aadmis will have to pay 120/- for a kilo of pulses. After a point in time, we being who we are, we get used to what we have around. As humans we can live with the bare minimum and in opulence. I liked the fact that there is no water shortage there due to desalination processes. If they can, I wonder why we cannot. I didn't have time to go around but I did have dinner at Pizza hut. I liked the weather there too. It was bearable. From there to London, first day was OK. Day 2 was freezing.
I landed in London and went straight to the hotel we were staying and to the rehearsals that were happening. Hectic activity there and butterflies had started off in my stomach big time. After rehearsals, I had enough time to get ready and leave to the BAFTA. One of the most interesting things about the event was the formal dress code. Something that is not seen at an audio launch here. And as Shreeni sir said this is something that almost never happens and we should take pictures of it as proof. I had never seen Shreeni sir in that sort of formals before. Or most of the other singers. Stephen Devassi looked pretty good I thought and Silambarasan was a revelation.
Once at the BAFTA it was quite an experience. Gautham sir hosted the event. He has this wonderful sense of humour and the way he presented the event was sparkly. Three of the songs were presented to the audience there and I loved Hosanna the most. You might have to wait a while before you hear the songs though. The song to look out for in the album is this one sung by Mr Alphonse, a music director in Kerala, for whom I have also sung. He has sung this song called Aaromale magnificently. There is this song, Mannippaya with Shreya Ghoshal and Rahman sir. Deadly lyrics by Thamarai. I have always loved her writing, but I loved this song the most for the lyrics. There is Kannukkul Kannai from Naresh in his usual best. Devan and I have sung Anbil Avan. Omana Penne has Benny singing it and this song hooks on to you. Karthik has sung the title track of Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya and this song and Mannippaaya are Devan's favorites in the album. That Devan plays the guitar was a revelation to me. And he plays it so well. He told me that he always only wanted to be a composer. Singing came by chance. He has done some great work in his upcoming Bale Pandiya. Had the opportunity to listen to a song of his. Blaaze anna has this amazing rap portion in Hosanna. I have always loved his performances and have admired his work. I really wish to work with him soon.
Its tough to say which song I like most. But Hosanna just doesn't get off my mind. Just a few more days and I guess you should be able to hear this one.
I am sure the BAFTA event will be telecast soon. For the rest on what happened, watch it on the telly.
A couple of us along with Thamarai caught this sightseeing Bus that went around London. It was freezing and my hands felt like ice despite the gloves. We walked along Harrod's and  then Oxford Street. But just didn't have enough time for the Thames. It was also strange that it got dark by 3 in the afternoon.
It was great to get to know the Art Director Mr Rajeevan and the editor Anthony. I spent considerable time with Thamarai too and she always referred to the gloves as "Kai Orai". And perhaps I should have recorded her speaking in English. It doesn't happen very often. Thamarai is an engineer for those of you who didn't know and she was saying she used to think up songs while at work.
Later on the 20th evening, Shreeni Sir, Shivakumar, Blaaze anna, Benny and I went off to watch Avatar at Odeon. Loved the way the movie was made. More importantly I loved the ads that were screened before the movie. What creatives! I started getting uncomfortable with the 3D thing after a while. Had a dull headache happening. Thereafter we had dinner at this wonderful restaurant called Rasa and met the man, Mr Das who has 10 such restaurants all over London. I had this incredible Mampazha Pulissery there. Wow. I had never had the chance to taste it before.
The next morning, just enough time for breakfast scooting to the airport. I got to know most of the people from Mr Menon's team and it is a super fun group. I am thankful that I get opportunities like this. Being at the BAFTA was something I didn't think would happen. Not this soon at least. And to be invited to be a part of an audio launch in a different country is new. As I have said before, singers are not invited to the launches in the city. Quite a rarity.
It was a lovely experience and I really do hope I get to go back to London when it is warmer.
Personally it was a great time for introspection too, something I am doing quite a lot these days.  To watch things happening. To know my belief systems and thoughts. And both Kuwait and London were silent enough for that sort of inner tuning. 
To you, who has read this post until now, I wish for you that your dreams get ahead of you, as they have with me at times. May your farthest dreams come true and may you have experiences that you had not dreamed could have happened to you. Good ones that is. May you have moments to cherish, moments to love, moments to live completely, as I have had.

Friday, December 18, 2009

In Kuwait

to perform for the Tamilnadu Engineer's forum. Had quite an unsettling flight here. Flying Oman airways is not a mentally comforting choice especially when someone is flying into the Gulf for the first time.
Worse still, transit at Muscat and there were absolutely no women except one. My aircraft from Muscat to Kuwait had none either. One of the times when you don't want any eyes on you.
Driving from the airport I am wondering why people would live in a country like this. There is not much greenery, at least none that I see at night. Yeah, duh its a desert but still, apparently its the financial benefits of being in a country like this. There are not many options for recreation and entertainment. But the Indian women here have learnt to live with it. Once again, I am amazed at the sacrifices that women make for the sake of family, especially post marriage. The men go to work and they have that occupying their minds while the women have nothing much to do especially after children have grown up.
In the few minutes of conversation that I have had with the two families here, I am given to understand that the children will have to leave this country to return to India or some other country for higher education. They only get visas for visiting or something. They really cannot stay with their parents as long as they want to.
So many times I am thankful to God that I am really living the life that I have wanted to live, in my country, the issues and problems, the system, this that not withstanding. My home is right there, in Chennai. No place else.
And really, hats off to the families who leave a country as beautiful and rich as India in search of a better livelihood. Yeah a lot of them don't have that bonding with India as I myself have known. They are happy to be in the shores that they are in. But this is me.
Tomorrow post concert, I am off to London.
Shall blog about that soon. Quite some stuff to write about.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


throws up a lot of questions. So many. It also leaves me silent for extended periods of time. I am alone in a crowd. Alone in company. And I know that no matter what we are always alone. Until we have found that oneness with the universe. Found our rhythm in the cosmic dance. And then perhaps peace prevails.
I wonder why we take the decisions we do, love the way we do, dislike the way we do, hate the way we do, practise the religions we do or simply live the way we do.
The hows and whys and more on the why nots. The past few days I have been wondering if our forefathers fought for India's freedom only to see the country the way it is today. Most of them would be tired of turning in their graves now. I remember seeing the paper and feeling sick in my heart a few days ago and almost a pall of gloom descended. Yeah, it might sound dramatic. But that's what I am. And then there are times when I go into this phase of indifference.
Nevertheless, reading up on the Upanishads, Vedas and the Vedanta philosophies and Buddhism is making me want to be free. Free of all attachment. Its started up a lot of interesting conversations on faiths and religions, customs and practices of Ancient India and how its evolved over time, with mom. Though I knew this has been her favorite and most important subject for research for decades and she has written so many volumes perhaps by now, which I wish to get published soon, I have never been able to speak to her on this. I have heard her speak to others about it though.
Its quite an interesting time that I am going through, of knowing me and what I am made of. I remember this line from an interview with Keira Knightley or perhaps it was Scarlett Johansson, but I remember that like only too well. That it is imperative to know oneself and what one is made of. And I am questioning a lot of my belief systems and the basis for it.
And someday I ll know true freedom. That is my ultimate goal.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

And I bring home

the State award for Sahana today. It was quite an event and I had gone to meet the Honble Chief Minister yesterday to pay my respects and also thank him for the award. The pictures were there in most Tamil Newspapers today

Shreeni sir, Belli Raj, Mahathi and I performed a medley with Alaap on the guitars and Shyam Benjamin on the Keys. Our rehearsals were great and it came out pretty well on stage too. One of those rare occasions. Usually Murphy's law is at play. Sahana kinda became a tad too slow though. I had my eyes closed while singing and when I opened them I saw the camerman extremely close to my face, one of those shots that they plan. And opening my eyes to the wide lens of a camera in front of me made me gape a bit and the audience had a good laugh over it. That was fun.

Thereafter I came back and settled down in my designated seat and after a while one of the organizers asked me to sing a couple more songs. There was no time to plan and I was clueless on what to do for a few seconds. I went backstage and requested Karthik to sing along and we sang Laesa parakkudhu, followed by Vaarayo Vaarayo and interestingly the Honble Chief Minister's entry happened during that song, precisely when I sang the first line. Some sort of a providence it must have been. Karthik ended that session with his Anjala and then the stage was taken over by some very interesting acts on stage which, I think, would not be right if I wrote about it now. One I don't want to be a killjoy and two, I think the channel would be planning teasers and trailers on what is to come in this show, whenever it is going to be televised. Of course the papers will carry reports and the Tamil dailies may have the details too but I am not sure if I am that great a reporter. If my hunch is right, the show shall be telecast on Kalaignar TV.

Though the seats at the University Centenary auditorium are sooo dated, the seats didn't leave most of us with unnecessary cricks or uncomfortable postures. I find the seats uncomfortable even in the most up-to-date audis in Chennai. But then, its my personal opinion.

And now I am off to get some sleep that has been in serious short supply. In just about a week and a half, I have some hectic travel.

I am performing in Kuwait, at American International School on the 18th of this month. If any of you are there, please do come to the concert. I would love to meet you there.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sleep and Sound

Maddy has sent one link regarding sleep and learning. Very very interesting and all of you should read the article. Our predecessors have made a lot of things available from time immemorial. Only the terminologies were different. I tumbled upon this concept of experimenting sound on sleeping children 23 years back. Chinmayi was also a child born on experiment, which I called as Abhimanyu experiment. This is trying out possibities, while pregnant.

But the above experiments are extremely tricky and need very very careful and methodical application on the experimented. Otherwise it can cause serious damages, sometimes irreparable also. There are certain systematic preparations before and after; so that the brain and the nervous systems are not affected.

Any mistake in these cases will not be immediately visible or felt, but the damages are understood much much later and sometimes remedy is not possible.

That is why I never wrote or published these results.

Today we are confronting self proclaimed prodigies or parents claiming any and every child as a prodigy.

I am more worried about the over ambitious and untrained parents who might plunge into such experiments on their own.

What Mathangi says is also valuable. Music is essentially a karna parampara ... aural tradition! The natural way of teaching to identify ragas were by making the children listen to concerts, acquainting them with the essential movements of ragas so that they can effortlessly identify the raga. All parents play a vital role in this. Beyond what is taught by the guru the parents contribute considerably as in the case of Matangi's father.

The Tone Deaf is a concept which is described as gandu in our ancient texts. Shastra gandu, Sangita gandu, Akshara gandu and so on. A gandu can not transform into super talent.

- Padmhasini

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Performing today at a ChennaiLive Event this evening

I hear its for an invited audience and am looking forward to this. Performing in Chennai after quite a gap.
The day of the concert is usually jam packed with sound checks, though no amount of sound checks can actually prep us for what might actually happen at the time of performing, coordinating with the organizers, order of songs, clothes and accessories (the biggest issue I would say!) for each segment.
And today is one such day. Am off to the sound check in a while. Lady Andal's auditorium is touted to be the best in Chennai now, acoustically. I perform there today and will know first hand what it is like.

Friday, December 04, 2009

A column in Deccan Chronicle from today

A short one though. I was asked to write one for the next five weeks, once a week and I finally did so after thinking a hundred times, refusing saying its not my cup of coffee or perhaps to keep with the mood, my kinda raga. I know that every story is touched but the editor here has taken some sort of a poetic license which is unfortunately not part of who I am. This is the article, which is quite not what I gave in.

A LIGHT chill in the air, newspapers devoting entire supplements to carnatic music and programmes of sabhas and polite enquiries about which kutcheris I plan to attend the season ­ all these signal the arrival of December in Chennai.

My earliest memories of concerts is that of my mother dragging me to the Margazhi season in different sabhas. But I always only ended up embarrassing her by promptly falling asleep at every kutcheri. Whenever she would chide me about my developing groggy eyes the moment we hit the chairs, I would cry out in defence with my pet statement.

"Come on, I am just a little girl." That was when I was four to eight years old.

But sleep was all I could do at concerts. After a point my mom gave up and left me at home which suited me fine since I did not want to spend my Christmas holidays in sabhas when my friends were out playing.

It is strange that someone who was then so stone deaf to music has evolved into not just a singer but also devoted rasika.

And today when I see so many little ones accompanied by their parents, avidly listening to concerts, discussing the ragas in whispers and accompanying the elders with correct thalams, I cannot help recalling how difficult and sleepy I had been at that stage in life.

If this sleepy self can grow up into a performing musician, I am certain that these little stars will hold the flag of carnatic music high and proud in the coming decades.

Every Margazhi this faith gets renewed with greater intensity. Thank you Chennai for that.

For one, I was not the one who went out and played types. Neither did I have a team of friends growing up. The only avocation that I was involved in was learning from my mother, throughout that age and it was anywhere between 5-8 hours of singing a day so that at one point in time, like everyone knows now perhaps, I chucked school after 10th grade, for full time learning. Which I think is the best thing that has happened to me. I am blessed with a visionary mother. For those who gawk at a 4 year old learning music for 5-8 hours a day, don't. Its a very normal thing to do in families with a classical music lineage.

The editor saying that I was "stone deaf" to music makes me smile. I am still not a devoted rasika of the Kutcheri season yet. I still don't go to Carnatic classical concerts. But I am one of the November Fest, the Dance festivals and the theatre fests too. But I do if it were Hindustani classical, dance or a play. Therefore, I am not sure if there are little ones accompanied by their parents really. Listening to a concert for me then was tough. But then there was this time, when there was a Jugalbandhi, of Sri Umayalapuram Sivaraman and Pt Kishan Maharaj and it was just about a couple of days ago, at TEDxChennai, that one of the speakers there, Sharada Ramnathan, who has known me forever told me that I got up and started foot tapping with all the changing rhythms on my chair. She told my mother then that I must pursue music in a very serious way. I was amused when I heard this story cos mom had never mentioned this. Sharada ji told me I had been 4 or something. Some concerts captured my imagination. Most just didn't.

A couple of years ago, I remember listening to Smt Aruna Sairam, Smt Sudha Raghunathan and Sri Unnikrishnan. I enjoyed those.

It remains to be seen whether I am going to be writing something here each time something appears in the DC as 'my' musings.

In the next few days, if not in the DC, I ll tell you why I don't go to Carnatic classical concerts, or rather most of them. Watch this space.

Add on by me, Padmhasini

Chinmayi thinks she was embarrassing me. Actually she didn't. More than being my daughter, she had been the most promising experimental subject for me...rather a guinea pig in my musical experiments.

Those days she was called Padmasini's daughter. I was well known in a certain circle of people. She, as soon as we entered a concert hall, would ask people around, "do you have a paper and a pencil please?" and she would be invariably lucky to get the pair and would write a kind of daily diary or draw people around. Then she will drop of to sleep.

She was a peaceful, very quiet and an obedient girl, never the type to talk back till 17-18. But then sleep was beyond one's control.. isn't it?

According to serious research, the initial hour and a half of sleep is the best period of absorption and makes a better impact than ten hours of active teaching or listening with a conscious effort.

That is precisely the reason why she surprised me several times when forming musical phrases or lines which were not taught by me actually.

There were several first time experiments on her, which proved wonders.

Stone deaf to music? And turning out to be a musical success? I couldn't help smiling when I read those lines. Serious subjects which are exclusive knowledge areas are to be altered or edited consulting the original writer. :)

I am sure the editor of this article in the Deccan Chronicle is not going to like this. We may face some music in retaliation. And we would not have reacted if it is not altering her biographical details.