Friday, January 24, 2014

Apuchi ! அப்புச்சி !

Any true blue Tambram will know what this means and would have tasted one of the many avatars of Apuchi's !. 
For the uninitiated , these are simple delicacies dished out on rainy /sunny days . Most often they are improvised from left over , boiled over , over cooked , ingredients .

Testimony to spartan lifestyles .

This can be a suffix as in Nei Apuchi or a dish by itself which would other wise be an Anamika .

Nei Apuchi :

Ah ! Nei Apuchi .. When butter is clarified to make ghee at home .. the residual hardened butter crumbs at the bottom of the vanali ..How can you waste that ? Abhachaaram ! So add more calories to it in the form of sugar and starch -rice flour and saute for a few minutes and you get this gourmet Nei Apuchi .

( oh ! that 'yuk' apuchi ..giggle my brats ) God's food - mere mortals cant digest .

Verkadalai with vellam ( ground nut with jaggery ):

The English language really gives the Drool factor a big miss . ( Do I hear you reading the tamil name  aloud ?  )
Hailing from the North Arcot district .. verkadalai or monkeynuts were a staple at home .

After school , mid morning , in between meals - verkadalai with vellam powder is an all weather snack that would bring a smile to our faces .

Simple pleasures .

( Ah ! that unimaginative boring snack ..say my brats in unison ) What do they know about the taste of crispy nuts in the melting jaggery . Their loss entirely !

Vilampazha Pachadi : ( wood apple )

One has to be really lucky to taste this gourmet snack . Because  most wood apples are either unripe or rotten inside . Only good karma from past lives can get you a perfectly ripened wood apple . Apparently one  fruit - rather the seeds have to be eaten by one person fully as per my grandmom . Suits me fine .
Open the fruit , take out the seeds, moisten with a little water sprinkled , add jaggery and honey to bring to a jam like consistency .

 I love  to sit alone in a quite corner with a good book and relish this  plating  it in the shell of the fruit .

( That mushy - mushy , slimy jam ? mutter my brats and ask "Can we  have a kiwi instead ?"  Arghh...

Sweet potatoes in Jaggery syrup :

Ah ! this is the mother of all Apuchi's . Sweet potato discs boiled and cooked in jaggery syrup . Just love it .

( Actually , "not hungry for a snack , ma .. But can we  have muffins" ..- my brats ) Sigh .

So Ganesh and I get to eat the undivided share of all Apuchi's ! He likes them too and thats where my luck runs out !



Sunday, January 5, 2014

Let there be Light .

Only light. And no sound.

Every year around Deepavali I get panic /anxiety attacks.Depression, too. Not only at the Bay of Bengal but within my mind.

It is not an over-the -hill thing for sure. Since childhood, have always been terrified, depressed, melancholic, retrospective, irritable, moody, anxious, guilty, sad, hyper around Deepavali time. The Nagaswaram, which otherwise is so beautiful sounding,  adds to my predicaments at an unearthly hour.

To put it in other (s') word - I am Judgemental. So be it.

Have been bottling this up for too long. The emotions that surface on Deepavali eve that is none too good add to my woes making it a tad uncomfortable and challenging to express.

After all, no one likes to throw a wet blanket on celebrations and Crackers only to be looked upon as a killjoy.

So, I let go every year. Now Timed it between two Deepavali.

Terrified of the loud crackers. Why do we Indians like everything loud? As a child, I too have burst crackers, pretending to be brave and all.

Crackers to me meant cape, vengaya vedi, pattani -as it was known in Pondicherry in those days, a small pea sized cracker rolled in a colourful paper which goes "pop" when forcefully thrown on the ground. But these were enough to scare me.

But on one such beautiful D-day decided to bare all with a declaration to give up crackers. I must have spent more than half my ego that day while I hold on tightly to whatever is left.

Global warming phenomenon had not gathered much heat back then, and it was cool to burst crackers.So had no other excuse, but to confess my fear of crackers, particularly the alarming sound of bombs.My siblings were only too happy to divide my share of the crackers amongst them.

Depressed at the glaring differences that the festivities throw up between the haves and the have-nots. And the many unfair practices that one cannot help ignoring. Educational institutions remain closed. Offices and factories too. But domestic helpers were/are not given a day off. Though elders in my family always took care of the domestic help and their children during festivals by buying them new clothes and giving them a share of crackers and other goodies.

It was still unfair. Majority of labourers had a forlorn, longing, helpless and resigned-to-fate look.

The rag-pickers who were children my age or sometimes half my age worked through the Deepavali day to earn a few extra bucks scavenging through the debris of spent crackers, all the while looking for some un-used ones.

The EXCESS amount of sweets consumed during Deepavali only pushed up the label sizes from XS to something else, while leaving a bitter taste at the sight of these rag-pickers.

Irritable at the noise levels.The sudden loud noises push my heart up my throat. I Hated it then. I continue to hate it now. The street dogs, stray cows, birds - cannot even fathom their plight.

At least I had a few corners at home and large tables under which I could take shelter.

Newspaper headlines the next morning used to make us Sad with many reports about accidents due to crackers.

Retrospective - about the fact that my amma never got a chance to enjoy festivities, as she had to prepare a grand gala full course meal for a large joint family and ended up doing more work than regular days.

Over the years, the decibel level, the disparity between the wealthy and poor, the amount of wasteful expenditure have all gone up.

However, it is very heartening to note that awareness about the ill effects of crackers has increased and the employment rate of  Child Labour in Cracker factories too has drastically come down.

Not enough. The decibel levels and the pollution need to come down. The real meaning of  Deepavali has to be brought out.

I am still not sure about the reason for the festivities. .Many theories abound.

Is it Rama's homecoming after vanavasa? As believed in the North of India.
Krishna's Narakasura vadham? As considered in the south of  India.
Deepa + Avali meaning rows of light for keeping the insects and bugs away with the onset of the monsoon?

Puzzled that Deepavali is not celebrated in Kerala, where Krishna is celebrated? And what about Northeastern states of India? Why don't they celebrate Deepavali?

Questions and more questions pop out with every 'damaal dumeel.'

People, calling it  "Diwali" makes it worse. Another major irritant associated with Deepavali.

I take solace in doing up a colourful rangoli and lighting it up with oil lamps.

Happy Deepavali!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Seasonal Thoughts - Madras - Music- Margazhi

Madras .Margazhi . Music . Mania . Madness !

So many singers, too many sabhas, ravenous rasikas, lec-dems, thematic concerts, live casts, near empty halls, overflowing auditoriums, the much famed ( or should we say hyped?) canteens, Bloggers buzzing with review posts,

"Enga ellaraiyum Dwaraka vukke kootindu poitaar! Solrathukku varthaye illai! ( adhaan solitele? !)  " type gushings on Jaya TV MMU programs, and not to mention some controversial happenings.

And of course, the all-pervading Pattu pudavais. This season's  colour seemed to be Grey Green and Sea blue. I could be totally off a 20 shade this way or that way, though.

Noticed a  senior artist at MA, who forgot to remove the tag from the pattu pudavai. Straight from Nalli I guess. The Schizophrenic self heard Vethal's ( vikram aur Vethal fame ) words " your head will burst into 1000 pieces If you don't go and tell her  ".Before that happened, I  sprinted behind her and attained salvation!

Where do I start? Where do I end?

Choice !

It is quite a task to choose from so many . Especially for a non-resident Madarasi, with limited time. You want to check out the new kid,  the known favorites, novel themes, hitherto unheard of old-timers, and lec-dems. All of them happening at the same time.

Lec-dems are easy to choose as the artists /veterans delivering them usually are men and woman of few words who keep repeating the same year after year. Probably in a different order, thus making our choice somewhat manageable.

Having crossed the first hurdle of  "choice", one needs to get geared to face the real challenges in the human form. Your neighbour at the hall in the next seat - L and R, front row, back row. Apart from praying to Venkata Saila Vihara there is little I can do to be blessed with neighbouring rasikas who will not sing along, or distract me with their loud Tappu talangal, or a menacingly mouthed  "ayyo".

Feel doubly blessed if they don't ask me " Idhu Enna ragam ?"

Wanted to get out of my comfort zone to check out newer artists, online and real-time.

Ran a quick reality check in my mind:

Pattu pudavai -Check.
Jhimki -Check.
Jasmine strands - Check.
Sruthi ..?  Wanted to scream "Please check !"

How tolerant have we become to slight, sometimes not-so-slight sruthi vilagals?

This and a few other issues led to discussions, arguments, agreeing to disagree moments, triumphant  consensual moments with musically inclined friends about:

* Should we be tolerant towards sruthi vilagals here and there in a three-hour concert? After all, they are human is the argument for it.
But the old veterans who sang well into their 60's and 70's - they were human too, no?

* The age old debate of  "you don't need a good voice for Carnatic music.Vidwat, kanakku, clinically perfect presentation is enough." Gave up on this one as good friends are hard to get these days, why lose them over someone's music.

"you are correct, but the goat is mine ", is my stand usually.

Chanced upon a wonderful old timer ..never heard in Chennai, with a vast repertoire of rare and beautiful ragas and krithis. Of course in a nearly empty hall. Was amazed at the artists enthusiasm in delivering as if to a packed room. It was indeed a humbling experience.

But love Madras for all this and more. There is something about this season when music is in the air.

Here is an encore "How I wish" list:

* Artists would take the audience along by explaining the nuances of the raga, composers, composition as they sing. Saw this happening with quite a few artists. Very heartening trend.Unless of course they are singing for an audience of musically talented people,other musicians.

*  A nodal agency connecting all the sabhas and making online booking of tickets easy for non -resident Madrasis.

* A consortium of senior artists who take it upon themselves to unearth unheard compositions of The Trinity. How long can we hear the familiar ones, however pleasing they might be.

* Creating an archive of these songs for future generations. Imagine having all the hitherto known unearthed krithis of the Saint in audio format.I believe there is one at MA.

* Stretching the December Season to a whole year as it becomes an overdose cramming it in 45-60 days.Which explains some excellent concerts not being attended well or a scholarly lec-dems being missed out.

All this must have been thought over by many rasikas and artists I am sure. The problem is to think again.

That is the Madras Margazhi that I recollect.

I remain,

The most confused thing on two legs as always!






Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Murali Ghanam !

Murali Ghanam!

Don't know If I can call this a write-up, leave alone a "review"! Is there anyone out there who is competent to review a concert by Dr. Mangalampally Balamuralikrishna? I doubt.

Simply put – it is my verbal ( verbose too! ) expression of an aural experience and a list of songs - hopefully with the right Raga names! 

Dr. Balamurali Krishna @Chowdiah hall! There was no parking space available in and around the hall and a packed auditorium.

That explains our toe-stepping entry with an embarrassed grin, much to the chagrin of those seated already. Sigh. And missing the first few minutes of his Amma ananda daayini !in Gambheera nattai .

Loved his rendition ..and felt lucky to hear a composer rendering his composition as intended.
At 84 how does he manage to sing like this? Amazes me. Honey and cream tone at all octaves.  Not a single dull moment during the whole concert.

Then the Thyagayyar feast started with Bhagayanayya nee maya nentho koni yaada tharama in Chandra Jyothi.

Followed by his Sarasaangi composition Hanumaa Anuma , oh Manama! Wherever the krithi has the syllable’ma', it also has the swara ‘ma'! Such a well constructed swaraksharam and Such a beautiful krithi on Lord Hanuman. 

Sri Ramya Chitaa alankara Swaroopa .. sounded like a familiar Raga but in disguise. To my untrained ears .. Believe,  it is Sriranjani with Jaya Manohari phrases.


The sea is so large, and my boat is so small. I have a long way to go from my delusions about Abhogi, Sriranjani and now Jaya Manohari.

Then came Inthanuchu varnimpa tharama in Gundakriya .. Heard it for the first time, and it was instant love! 


Hindolam alaap.. Interspersed with his signature-"Hari". At 84, he can hold on to his "Hari" for a full minute. What breath control!

After this lovely alaap, I heard only ‘sa’ while “maja” got completely drowned in thunderous applause ..He had to stop briefly to take in the adulation with his usual charismatic smile and " I- knew- this- was- coming " look, then continue! 

Balu Raghuram on the violin and Tumkur Ravi Shankar on the Mridangam did a commendable job as accompanists to such a veteran artist. The violin output was very low .. Sad that these things still happen in prestigious halls like this. Tumkur RaviShankar’s Mridangam was very pleasing indeed.


He then rendered Pavana Thanaya paalayamam - my favorite too – in Raga Rasikapriya. Love the way he talks in between the krithi with the drone of the sruthi - "Ragam -Rasikapriya " ! and continues from where he left, effortlessly. As if time stood still briefly.


He also had this advice for students of music while talking about Rasikapriya -“ I urge all music students to learn all the 72 Mela ragas. The basis of all/ any music lies in these 72 ragas”. 
It  makes  sense to have the 72 Ragas as  beginners lessons in Carnatic Music like our times tables in Mathematics.

Time for the evergreen Jagadodhaarana .. he explained his lack of  memory due to his age  these days .. And hence asked his Senior student to complete it for him ..by saying “ nee paadu . Naa kekaren “! 


He followed it up with a composition authored and tuned by his maternal grandfather Prayaga Ranga Dasa, a lilting folksy melody – Rama Rama ena rada. Nothing to beat a Telugu knowing musician rendering a Telugu krithi. I  understand what the epic poet Bharathi  meant when he said " Sundara Telungu ".


All good things come to an end. Na na na Thillana na dridhim followed by  the mangalam Ramachandraya janaka , only to herald better beginnings I guess!

Music and Mirth !

Music and Mirth !


Yet another cool Margazhi evening at Chennai . Was looking forward to this concert by Varmaji , as it also meant meeting up with some of my musical mates !

The concert began with Maharaja Swathi Thirunal’s Khambhoji Ata taala varnam .. Sarasijanabha . Setting the tone for a breezy evening . Followed by a krithi on Shiva and parvathi ..Rakshimpave Rajathagiri in Maya malava gowlai . The neraval at Dakshina kailasa muna Deekshanu Vasinchi Kamaakshi Ee jagat Saakshi ..was so soothing , and wished it would go on for eternity . Familiar ragam ,rare krithi ..made me wonder about the composer until I heard Thyagayyar’s ankitamudra .
Varmaji , as always shared the speciality of this krithi being one of the many krithis by Saint Thyaggarja on Shiva ,which he learnt from his guru Dr BMK after hearing it in a Cassette ,many years ago .
Being a Friday I guess it was devoted to mother goddess .. Sama – Annapoorne visalakshi was followed by Amba kamakshi – the swarajathi in Bhairavi by Shyama sastri .

Then came Raminsuvarevarura in raga Suposhini with a lovely chittaswaram by Dr BMK. True to its name it was quite nourishing and made us all sit up !

The main piece , a swathi Thirunal krithi – Saroruhaasana jaaye was truly mesmerizing . Avaneeswaram Vinu on the violin was exceptionally good and the thani avarthanam by Sri Harikumar on the mridhangam was so melodious . I always feel his mridhangam also sings along . Manjoor Unnikrishnan on the ghatam played with absolute abandon and it was really a treat to watch the rhythmic conversation between them ! 

Wish I had more Laya gnanam to appreciate it better . The math in it makes me enjoy it from a distance and not get too close for comfort ...

As always , Varmaji paused in between and gave elaborate introductions about each and every one of his accompanying artists . A gesture well worth emulating, in my humble opinion.

Why doesn't every musician  do it ? Not every one in the audience  is a frequent concert goer to know the accompanists by their name if not fame .. leave alone raga names and composers . God be with pamara rasikas like me . Sigh.

Forty minutes of kamavardhini a.k.a Pantuvarali has left an indelible mark in my memory . 

Sarvam Brahmamayam in raga Khamas ( misra ) was rendered with such classy, unexpected sangathis . Cant help marveling the apt choice of raga by the tunesmith – Dr BMK , for a philosophical Sadasiva Brahmendral krithi .

Time for listeners’ choice !

Sri rama namam maruvaam maruvaam a Bhadrachala Ramadasar krithi set to tune by Dr BMK in Sankarabharanam and set to Tisra gathi eka thalam. The tune and gathi make it quite jaunty !

And a one minute nottuswaram which refuses to leave your head for more than a day .. pankaja mukha sankara . ..rendered with typical modulations by Varmaji brought out wide grins from the audience ! 

Kuntalavarali thillana ! BMK Thrillana - rendered by Varmaji in his inimitable style, yet with the original flavor intact !

Always come out of Varmaji’s concerts with much peace as his music is such … More so because he takes his audience along , explaining the nuances of rare krithis , ragas and educates the lay rasika about the composer and compositional excellence laced with subtle humor ! 

May his tribe increase !