Sunday, 3 November 2013

+ Paatti & Paattu

I've known for a long time that my grandmother had a small share in a little bit of the history of a small kingdom, Travancore, in the deep south of India. Paatti was part of the first batch of students at the Swati Tirunal Music Academy at Trivandrum in Kerala. Her father was persuaded to let her join the course by Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar, founding principal of the academy, asthana vidwan of Travancore and Mysore, and a musician, musicologist, harikatha exponent and composer of repute. She was a classmate of Parassala Ponnammal who has been her friend and something of a neighbour for seven decades. Of course, it was only in recent years that the world woke up to Ponnammal's impeccable music, post her becoming the first woman ever to perform at the Navaratri Mandapam.

Meanwhile, Paatti was pulled out of the Academy after her first year there because her marriage was fixed, and then she got married at 13 and made her own little world interesting with her incessant curiosity, great ability to absorb new ideas, and her interminable book-reading. Plus, I found her singing to be rather reminiscent of that of M S Subbulakshmi.

About two years ago, while in the middle of a series of long conversations with her over three days that burrowed back into her childhood and over the extended extended family, I managed to dredge up enough information about people to build three lines of families going back four generations - her father's line, her mother's line, and her husband's paternal line. And, during the conversations, these trees threatened all the while to throw branches out in unexpected directions.

I mentioned her tiny tryst with history. While exploring that topic further, I also got a little more. Her father was a commissioner with the Travancore Devaswom Board, and the Vaikom temple was under his supervision when the Temple Entry incident happened; and he was the one who sent word to the king of Travancore, informing him about the volatile situation at Vaikom and suggesting a step back, which ended in the historic Temple Entry Proclamation that threw open temples in Kerala to all. Paatti's father also lost almost all his money in the Quilon Bank imbroglio centering around the similarly initialled Sir C P Ramaswamy Iyer and C P Mathen, with the former stating firmly that he was the only CP, and then demonstrating it to the 'impostor' and the world by engineering a run on Mathen's bank and taking the bottom out of it. Shankara Iyer was an unfortunate part of the collateral damage.

In the middle of those and many more stories, there was the little matter involving Paatti herself - the occasion when Mahatma Gandhi visited her town... and she sang before him... and Gandhiji patted her on her head in appreciation. Well, he liked M S Subbulakshmi's music too!

Paatti also talked about a movie called Bhakta Prahlada. It was naturally about the pious boy Prahlada, and in the movie he got his friends to worship Vishnu, and they went around singing God's praise. And one of the kids in this chorus was Paatti.

I let that go at that, relishing the digressional tidbits but focused on getting my family trees into shape.

* * * * *

A week ago, I saw an email in my inbox where someone had shared a YouTube link of a recording of a Carnatic piece on the violin from 1905. I listened to it - and oh yes, the style was not just deliciously old-world but the stop-finger technique was also vastly different from the fluidity that the Carnatic violin has today. I went to the uploader's page, and found about 300-odd old recordings posted by him. Curious, I scanned his uploads, and right up there I found Prahlada (1941).

The conversation from two years ago came vaguely back to me. No 'Bhakta' but still, there it was! There were two songs from the movie. I called home and spoke to Paatti. 

"What was that movie you said you sang in?"

"Bhakta Prahlada," she said.

It was the year before her marriage, and she and a few other kids were called to the studio that was located behind New Theatres in Trivandrum. There, she said, they had the kids sing; and she remembered one song that began 'Naaraayanam Bhaje Naaraayanam'. The man who made the movie was K Subrahmanyam, the man who married S D Subbalakshmi, the actress, she said. Yes, SDS was his second wife, as I found. And Prahlada was the third talkie in Malayalam.

"Did you sing just that one song?" I asked Paatti.

"No, no. There were four or five songs. We recorded them over two days. At that time, of course, we didn't know what it was all about. They called us over, asked us to sing, and that was that. We didn't realize they were recording all this...." And Paatti went into some background that she spiced up with her usual wit and dramatic flair.

They - and she along with them - seemed to have recorded all of the songs of the Prahlada ghoshti. That was good, and a relief; both the songs I had found on YouTube were sung by a chorus. Pretty scratchy copy 70-odd years on, but who cares! Here was Paatti's recorded song, though I couldn't pick out her voice from the chorus... come on! she couldn't have picked it out herself 72 years later! She couldn't identify the song either, but you think in those days they would have got hold of different bunches of kids to sing songs sung by the same characters in the movie?

I must add here that those were the days before sound mixing. The video and audio had to be recorded simultaneously. So, if you saw a song on film you could be sure that the actor on screen was singing the song for real during the shoot and that the entire orchestra and the recording engineer were just offscreen. Paatti's recording in the studio wouldn't have made it to film; that version was just for the audio release.

So, there you have it! We have the oldest recorded person in the family, and maybe the only one - she goes by the official name of S Lakshmi Ammal after she was initially named Ananthalakshmi and universally called Paappa. For comparison, Paatti's idol, MS, recorded her first song along with her mother, when she was 10 or 11; Paatti was 12. Paatti's recorded film song was in 1941, while MLV, who was born within a couple of months of Paatti, had her first recorded song in Rajamukti, seven years later. And last night, Paatti sang a couple of lines of a song, a little breathless from age and health but the notes all in place. That's a non-career of over seven decades, and I haven't heard her sing a false note yet!

Sunday, 17 October 2010


I'm on the Ananthapuri Express and finding out all over again what pains people can be, especially people with cellphones.

Right now, it's one thirty in the night. So why am I typing away on a miniscule keypad with prediction turned on when the far sensibler and correct option would be to sleep? Well, what do you know, I was asleep and dreaming when i suddenly realized that the persistent beeping I was hearing wasn't really part of the dream. I came out of my dream and my sleep, and found this guy on the opposite berth fiddling with his mobile. He was probably going through his pile of the day's forwards, hence the minutes-long beeping that woke me up.

Of course, every phone has a silent mode, but when was the last time you were reminded of that by the absence of a ring in the middle of a movie or concert? And the current generation of people with buddy-phones will very well know that, during all the hours in a day that they are plugged into it listening to music, it's muted to the outside world. But then again, when did you last meet the sensitive or sensible mobile user?

The mobile phone is the latest instrument of rudeness. It far leaves in the shade the smoker who, in any company, cannot help asking: 'Do you mind if i smoke?' I can't say I damn well do, can I? But at least he asked.

Mobile phones have brought about an entirely new paradigm of bad behaviour and social awkwardness. You hardly find people sitting still for five minutes - they are already fiddling with their phones. It might look like the phone-and-user space is tiny, inconsequential, and innocent. Hardly. The mobile is the ultimate passive-aggressive weapon. You can use it in a variety of ways to obliterate the world around you.

Start fiddling with it in the middle of two-way communication to completely confuse or frustrate the other person. Do this repeatedly to tell them they are just a teeny part of your humongous world. If you have recently started despising an acquaintance, you can convert them into a mental wreck simply by persevering with this.

God, I haven't typed this much on a phone keypad in ten years of having a cellphone, and I know I'll never be able to understand how people can do it everyday. My fingers and wrists ache from holding the phone and tapping away on the keyboard, it's taken me ten times as much time to type this as it would have on a computer keyboard, and my hands are close to getting their nerves shot. I don't expect to fully comprehend the universe of the inveterate and compulsive cellphone user but I think I'm beginning to understand y dey typ stf lik dis tho it teks mo time.

As for me, well, the cell demon's now in a slumber, so let me too catch a little of it before the next rash of beeps near dawn as the alarms begin to go off.


Tuesday, 28 August 2007

+ Pedestrians - Scum Of The Earth...

"It’s compulsory to wear helmets when you ride your two-wheeler on the road. The government cares about whether we crack our skulls."

"But women on pillion and Sikhs don’t have to wear helmets, right...?"

"Okay, so then, the government actually cares about the rest of us two-wheeler users."

"How can you tell?"

"Well, doesn’t it? You actually have to pay a fine if you don’t wear a helmet. That’s how much the government cares about you. The government actually insists. It is scared at the potential loss of national brain power if people don’t wear helmets. Really, two-wheeler users must be among the most valuable human commodity in the country."

"Why? Why do you say that?"

"Surely, it must be true. Well, okay, take the four-wheeler users out of the reckoning. They don’t face the same kind of danger as two-wheeler users. But among two-wheeler users and pedestrians, two-wheeler users have to be by far the more valuable bunch."

"Again, why do you say that?"

"Isn’t it obvious? Pedestrians clearly are as valuable as stray dogs – maybe, slightly better. Most roads have pavements even mountain goats can’t walk on. I haven’t even seen pavements on most roads. And, even when there are pavements, I have never seen pedestrians being forced to walk on the pavement."

"Are you saying that since the government fines people when the guys don’t do something that ought to be done, the government too ought to be fined for roads that don’t have pavements?"

"That’s a thought, I should say. Why not indeed? But to get back to what I was saying, I haven’t seen pavements on most roads. And look at the people who drive on the roads. Have you been able to witness the rare sight of vehicles actually stopping when pedestrians get a green light? But what really convinces me about the total uselessness of pedestrians is when I see traffic policemen stand by and watch vehicles zoom by even when the pedestrian green light is on. It happens every day, every time, at the KSCA stadium junction on Kasturba Road. It can’t be as simple as the constables being amused by the sight of the poor guys getting scared out of their wits and having to run and dodge to save themselves; that would pall in a few days. It has to be deeper. I am sure there is some research whose findings haven’t been disclosed and which give statistics that show that pedestrians are such a pain and a drain."

"What are you trying to say? What do you want?"

"What I really WANT right now is the report. Based on that, then, we could probably put together a more efficient mechanism. Bulldozers... or junkyard crushers... or maybe plain machine guns...."

Friday, 27 July 2007

+ An Entertaining Rained-Out Session

(This is only technically my blog entry - in that I am uploading it, loading it up, whatever. The names of the authors of these entertaintaining words come up in the first lot of time-stamped lines below.)

I went to Cricinfo about an hour and three quarters after play was supposed to have started in the second Test between India and England (that would be about 15 minutes ago) - and was treated to something somewhat better than how the cricket is likely to have proceeded had the weather not played up. I've made a few edits to shorten it (indicated, where I remembered to put them in, by ellipses), but haven't bothered to take permission from Cricinfo for either the edits or the post. I sure hope they won't mind.

Here goes:


10.00am Good morning one and all - or afternoon, or evening - and welcome along to the first day of the second Test at Trent Bridge, with things all square between England and India after the squeaky draw at Lord's.

First the bad news (sorry) - heavy overnight rains have delayed the start slightly, and now the good: the sun is shining; the players are out there practising, and inspections will be every half hour until play gets underway. The stumps are sitting hopefully in their place, too, so we shouldn't be too long before we kick off.

I'll keep you updated, of course, I being Jenny Thompson, hello. My co-driver today is Martin Williamson; we'll have S Rajesh on the bulletin, Andrew Miller providing colour and Gnasher McGlashan would be on drums... but he's off today.

10.20am Andrew Miller does not report a lot. "Not a lot to report at the moment." (technically, he just got paid for that non-observation)....

It's frustrating all this wet weather malarkey, isn't it? A few tales for a non-rainy day as this is while we wait for news... Yesterday I was at Lord's where the head groundsman Mick Hunt told me all about the splendid drainage system he has in operation there... but also revealed that it has its disadvantages - fast draining on really sunny days means the ground gets "really thirsty". So it's not all roses, or "streamers and bloomers" to use his phrase, bless him....

And speaking of Worcestershire, I also went to Guildford yesterday (rather greedily) to see them play Surrey. Phil Jaques told me that Gareth Batty had had to stay at his house because of the floods. Now, this is the same Gareth Batty who got into difficulties while surfing in Sri Lanka in 2003 and had to be rescued. What is it with him and water? Rumours he was driving (steering?) the Fredalo have yet to be confirmed.

10.30am "Aw, look, it is very frustrating," says guess-which-umpire, yes, it's Simon Taufel. "We're hopeful the sun keeps beating down and the public are patient and that we can start at some point today."...

10.50am Justin Jones suggests: "Maybe a liberal use of talcum powder on the outfield would solve the problem?" Erm, thanks for that, Justin. The water table is so high that there's really nowhere for the water to go, hence the sogginess of the outfield....

11.20am "Can you talk us through why the drainage in Lord's was so marvellous," asks Tom Foltynie. "Perhaps even let the people in Tewkesbury know." In brief - there'll be a full feature coming out over the weekend - Lord's used to have clay soil, which allowed minimal drainage, so in 2002 they relaid it to a golf green spec, replacing most of the clay with a mixture comprising 90% sand content. At the same time they added an irrigation system for when the ground gets thirsty, as it rapidly does (one of the downsides). The ground can now cope with two inches of rainfall, which is what fell on the second day. The system cost £1.25million to install, which was repaid alone by saving on ticket refunds at the Test. So now you know.

11.25am We're still waiting for the inspection, so while we are... here's something for you to (Glenn) ponder. Sir Tim Rice wrote to my Wisden Cricketer magazine colleagues recently saying "The npower logo ... when viewed upside down ... becomes a new and exciting logo for a company entitled Jamodu. I have therefore set up a company with this name, and appointed directors. We simply need something for Jamodu to do or make." Any ideas?....

11.50am No feedback on the inspection yet, ominously perhaps, but the surnameless Brendan has made us laugh: "Maybe jamodu could take electricity away from people?" Bhavani Shankar adds: "Lightning rods/earthing wire spring to mind, but maybe the physics geeks out there can come up with a better opposite for electricity."

12.00pm Another inspection is due at 12.45pm. The players are engaging in lighthearted practice. The sun is shining, it's a shame there can be no cricket right now. Ron Gerard asks: "Jamodu - suppliers of yticirtcele?" Did that hurt your eyes reading it, too? Sorry if so.

12.10pm Mark Kidger tells us: "TMS has decided to go off-air, which means that they are not expecting any play in the foreseeable future." Crikey.

12.20pm James Darmon says: "I think Jamodu is one of those fiendish Japanese games where you have to use logic to work out why play has been delayed." Soggy outfield, I win. I'll have Goldfinger, too, as Spudgun would say.

12.30pm "This rain delay allows me to finish my Harry Potter book!" writes! Cryus! "Hope you have one, too." No, I am an adult. Great news that Daniel Radcliffe is a cricket convert, though. He's not been spotted at Trent Bridge yet, alas; I'm sure they could do with some Potter magic. What am I saying; it's not real.

12.40pm Squelch-watch - still soggy, alas. In unrelated non-sogginess, Willo's in the house (he says hello) and has set up a very exciting caption competition for you to enter. There be prizes, too. Yah. Be witty, immediately

12.35pm Sky are showing replays of the last Test. We could do similar but it wouldn't be that exciting...

9.5 Tremlett to Jaffer, 2 runs, Tremlett bowls a little fuller on off stump, Jaffer leans forward and pushes towards cover for a single, the overthrow allows the second

Nope, doesn't work, does it. Still, only ten minutes till the next inspection...

Meanwhile, Salim intones: "Ask not what jamodu can do for you, ask what you can do for jamodu." Deep as the outfield puddles, Salim. "Since npower supplies power, Jamodu can just supply Jamod to the people," suggests Ullad. Like it... but wouldn't that be Amodu?...


Monday, 23 July 2007

+ News As It Happens... And As It Doesn't

I am a little late on this, so you may not be able to refer back to this. Sorry.

Happened about 10 days back. July 13. A headline on the front page of the Chennai edition of the Indian Express said: Tea export hit by rupee’s fall.

Oboy! that must have been pretty drastic and sudden, I thought. For, as far as I knew, the rupee had been strengthening continuously for some time.

But again, the rupee’s fall would never hurt tea export – or any export, for that matter – from the little I know about trade and economics.

Well, the first paragraph of the story set it right for me. They did mean the appreciating rupee. Only, I guess, the sub editor who gave the headline didn’t know the difference between appreciation and depreciation of currency, or didn’t know the meaning of the words.

How did that sub become a sub?

The sub must have become a sub the same way the guy who collated the videos for the Shankaracharya story became whatever he has become. This is today, and I saw the news item on Headlines Today just a few minutes ago.

The story slug said Seer Charged or something to that effect. Vague enough. And the story kept talking about the “Shankaracharya”. But come on, I thought impatiently, which one? There are five Shankara Mutts. And the only Shankaracharya who has recently been in trouble has been the one at Kanchi. When I saw the visual, I thought with horror: What?! The Sringeri Acharya in trouble too?

What else would I have thought after being shown about three minutes of close-ups and pans of the senior Shankaracharya of Sringeri?

But then, I had fleetingly seen on a Tamil channel, when I was remote-surfing, a shot of the Kanchi Shankaracharya. I clicked back to the channel, and eventually the headlines confirmed what my momentary glimpse had made me suspect. It was another problem for the Kanchi Shankaracharya, who had earlier been hounded by a murder charge.


  • How can anyone confuse between the Kanchi Shankaracharya and the Sringeri Shankaracharya?
  • Why was a person who could confuse between the Kanchi Shankaracharya and the Sringeri Shankaracharya allowed anywhere near a newsroom or a news production facility?
  • Is this what people mean when they say “Making news”?

    • After this, the news slug on The Times of India, Bangalore, on Sunday. Pratibha Patil had just won the presidential election to become the first woman president of India, and the there were two pictures - one of Patil with Sonia Gandhi, and the other alongside it of Patil as a kid of about two. The slug: “You’ve come a long way, baby”.

      Par for the course.

      No more comments, but....

      Which do you think happened first: the slug or the kid photo?
      And, in the light of the Shankaracharya bit, this slug was – how would you put it? – jujube...?

      Thursday, 3 May 2007

      + I Heard... Therefore I Am

      I was listening to a compilation of Ilaiyaraaja hits:

      Radha Radha Nee Engey
      Ponmaalai Pozhudhu
      Azhage Azhagu
      Senthaazham Poovil
      En Kanmani
      Kinnaththil Thaen Vadiththu
      Vaadaatha Rosaappoo
      Aaththu Maettula

      I belong....

      Sunday, 19 November 2006

      + A Little Stink

      Yesterday, I went to Landmark at Forum and bought a book. I generally don’t. My place is Strand – one, because of the homely atmosphere; and two, because of the book-lover discount that you get on anything you buy!

      My wife and I had gone to Forum to catch a movie, which wasn’t to be, so we walked into Landmark, and bought this book ‘What Should I Do With My Life?’. The rupee-conversion was precise, and the book was priced Rs 260.70. Fine. I went to pay the bill, gave the cashier a Rs 500 note, and he nonchalantly returned Rs 239. What about the 30 paise...?

      Yeah, what about the 30 paise? I wouldn’t have minded the book being priced at a rounded off Rs 261, or even a further rounded off Rs 265, if the store doesn’t like dealing in smaller denominations. But, no! They price it at Rs 260.70, and then take it for granted that the 30 paise don’t matter to me. Like hell! If the frigging 70 paise matter to you, the 30 do to me, too.

      I had a good mind to demand the 30 paise, except that both my wife and I were feeling pretty sick from the combined scents assailing our nostrils from the perfume counter facing the billing counter. What’s with that perfume counter location...? Is it supposed to remind you that all the perfumes of Arabia or wherever can’t get rid of the stink of dubious practices at the billing counter?