May 18, 2007

The Musical Touch

"Do you sing? Do you dance? Do you play any musical instruments? Do you know anything that is Carnatic at all??? " Well, these are questions one is likely to be asked at certain specific kinds of interviews :). And my answers to some of them would be typically "I do sing, but at rather restricted places, I do dance but with rather restricted shaking of restricted body parts".. The naked truth is that I'm not Carnatic for a few forced violin classes in early childhood.

It was the year 1992 or 1993 (Oh No, not another nostalgic one..I can hear you whine..but muster up patience and read on..). My grandfather brought home a violin from his shopping. Music was supposed to be running in my mother's family genes. Well, only later did people realise that I had inherited the paternal gene for music, but it was too late then. At first sight, the violin looked sexy ;) with its deep curves and dark complexion. (Trust me, I was only ten then..)The bow, which my grandfather said is made from a horse's tail, was pretty scary though..a sort of manly security to the curvy lady, it seemed to an exaggerated ten-year-old mind.

My mother dutifully enrolled me in a violin class after many rounds of consultations on who is the best teacher around. My teacher was an octagenerian Iyengar to whom every eligible kid in the neigbourhood reported to with a violin. He was tall, fair, had silver-white hair and was never seen without the namam. He had a very sensitive ear to music, but a not-so-sensitive ear to speech. His ruffian voice more than made up for that though.
I didn't like him at first encounter and I bet he wouldnt have liked me either.

I didn't realise it then, but he was one of the most dedicated teachers I've ever come across so far. Very few of us do justice to the profession we take up, forget being passionate about it, he was one of those rare specimens. He thought I played well, though a little too fast (that was a by-product of my natural impatience he said nail-on-head). He greeted me with a broad smile and called me "Nithi" affectionately. I didn't realise how proud he was of me until one day, when he commented to his wife "Look at how well she plays, she will win in any contest that comes up her way". Well that is something, given that he is supposed to be one of those breeds who don't appreciate students point-blank. Sadly, I didn't appreciate his appreciation either.

Call it impatience or egotism or sheer foolishness, playing the violin and the carnatic numbers didnt seem romantic to me. I played for a while because I was appreciated, played a little more because my parents forced me to, and then stopped playing. I was too busy with my class 6 newly discovered Science subjects - Physics, Chemistry , Botany ,Zoology , and wasn't able to manage time with violin classes also - was the reason I quoted to my parents.
Well, there were many such temporary breaks before the ultimate break..And I decided to continue after the first break because of this cute American cousin of mine who loved to play the violin ;). I wanted to go to the same teacher but I was scared that I had stopped sine die without prior notice. My father made up for his angry spasms with a veshti, some sweet talk. God know how many veshtis my father had bestowed upon him.

In between breaks, I progressed upto the varnas.I loved the Abogi raagam in particular,(for it is played mostly with the third string, if you know what it means) though I'm not the kind who remembers the raagas and thaalas, the arohanams or aurohanams. By then, he was kinda used to my intermittent breaks, and noted sometimes lightly, sometimes seriously "Aana oona odi poyiduva, thirumbi varumbothu appava veshtiyoda sibarisukku kootindu vanthuruva".Until the end, I didnt get the urge to stage-perform with the violin, much to the disappointment of my parents. I was more of an academic, I'd be more interested in the physics of the longitudinal waves the violin produces than the rythms of those waves, I kept re-iterating to myself foolishly. I never progressed beyond the varnas.

At high school and college, I developed a renewed penchant for the violin again. But alas, he was not there..He had moved to Madras then. I tried attending classes under a few others, but could't stand starting from the sa-re-ga-ma again from teachers who were not half as good as he was. And I seriously found it difficult to manage time. I discontinued.....

My mother wanted me to practise what I learnt from him atleast...I didn't know how to fix the sruthi without him , but still I did play with abaswarams for a while until one day when the strings themselves couldn't stand my abaswarams and broke. I didnt know how to fix them. That is the end of the musical touch in my life..Well, its just a touch, nothing further ;)....atleast till now.

Many a time in my adulthood, I'd wished if only I'd been a little more assiduous and paid heed to my parents' words, I would have played the violin with elan today. Atleast, I would have been able to recognize the raagas or be able to tell who sings how on TV in 'Indian Icon' (which is one of the topmost regrets in my life today ;). Or when I listen to this scintillating number 'Unnakul Naanae' from 'Patchaikili Muthucharam', I get those memories flooding back.

Well, I hope to take that musical touch a little deeper. When I do find time, I hope to continue my violin classes sometime in the future. As you would have guessed, the old teacher would not be there to accept me, greet me or teach me inspite of my misgivings. Sustaining the classes can be tough in this demanding corporate world. However it is one of the tributes I ought to give to a great musician and an inspiring teacher.