Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Kurai Onrum Illai

This famous song composed by Rajaji (C. Rajagopalachari) is a favorite among many classical music connoisseurs. It has something to do with the lyrics of the song that is quite distinct from most other carnatic kritis in that it does not exhort the Lord to help and protect us. Instead, it says that the person is content with his worshipping of the Lord inspite of His absence. ‘Kurai Onrum Illai’ means that ‘I have no regrets’. The words in Tamil are very lucid and easy to comprehend by the common man. But the main reason most of us remember this song is because of its soulful rendition by M.S. Subbulakshmi. I believe that she was among the first artists from India to be invited to perform at United Nations in New York in 1966. Here’s where she presented this special composition including a benediction verse in English.

Nowadays, every artiste worth his / her name plays to the audience’ requests for this song. I have heard many sing, and cannot but mention that the MS rendition supercedes all other attempts. If you have heard it, you probably know what I am talking about. When MS sings, it not any more about the language, the words, the raga or the tala alone. She takes you to a plane that’s higher than intellectual or musical satisfaction. You can almost feel the devotion in her voice, the empathy in her tone and purity in her breath. And I didn’t realize this overnight. I remember as a child, my father used to sing praises of her and could talk endlessly about her concerts that he had attended. To me, these conversations were rather repetitive and pointless. I was a student of music and quite diligent at it. Even so, I didn’t quite understand the intricacies involved, the ‘bhavam’ and the rest of it that my father pointed out each time I practiced. Even when I got the opportunity to visit MS at her home in Chennai, to sing in her presence and to seek her and her husband Sadasivam’s blessings, little did I realize my good fortune. She has been bestowed with all the awards and honors that a musician can possibly ask for. But the person I met that day was as simple as can be, with a large heart and unsurpassed humility. Today, I look back at that day, and am filled with pride for having such moments in my life to talk about.

After almost 2 years since her death, to most of her fans, MS amma still lives on. To me, she was the most traditional woman in all respects: in her attire that became representative of her style, in her almost complete submission to her husband and in her single-minded devotion to her craft. Yet, she was a pathbreaker and a pioneer, with mighty ambitions and lofty ideals. She was solely responsible for popularizing the Meera bhajans, the Annamacharya kritis and numerous devotional and religious hymns. Can you imagine any other voice chanting the Venkatesa Suprabhatham every single morning at Tirupati temple and countless homes around the world? I wish I could say otherwise, but the truth is that without her, romba kurai irrukku.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Independence Day Charade

59 years ago, India freed itself from the tyrant rule of the English Queen, to signal the beginning of a new era. Most of us would never know how it was to be under a foreign rule, and only learn about the atrocities from history books. Yet, we unanimously feel the pleasure and pride of this independence, being able to elect our own government and to play a critical role in law-making. This year, lately, there has been a spate of terrorism-related events that have marred the comfort levels of the community in general. There was unprecedented security measures as the PM delivered his I-day speech today, full of stern warnings to the terrorists and motivation to the citizens to face the threats bravely. He won a lot of applause for demonstrating his tenor. Yet, I am uneasy at all the politicking involved with I-day and its celebration.

I am closely following one disturbing news item that came into prominence some days ago. That about finding decomposed bodies of new-born female babies in a well behind an ex-army man’s house in Punjab. The couple have been not only illegally determining the sex of unborn children and performing abortions, but also brutally murdering the female babies 3-6 months after they are born. Where is this scenario are we talking about independence? Are we worth our independence?

When my friends and I watched a recent Hindi movie ‘Matrubhoomi’, we initially found it absurd, since it was about a village that had no ladies whatsoever! Older ones had died, infants had been drowned in buckets of milk. Soon, the men were left without any woman to marry and procreate. Amidst all this, the plight of this one girl who was secretively nurtured by her father for 18 years can be safely left to your imagination. We watched with open mouths and prickly goose bumps the events that followed. What we saw that day was probably an exaggeration of the condition in interiors of Punjab and some other northern states. Did you know, for instance, that there are on an average 798 females for every 1000 males in Punjab, sometimes as low as 500-600 in some places? Unarguably, the worst sex ratio in the world. That’s no fact we want to be proud of on this day.

India needs desparately to break away from the shackles of hollow tradition and blind misbeliefs. These benefit a select few temporarily and harm the entire country almost permanently. The dowry system, gender inequality and caste politics need to be done away with completely. Till that happens, there is no rightful pride in watching the Independence Day parade.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

This Day That Year

Yesterday was a milestone. Three years ago, this day, I left the comfort of my home and parents in Pune, India to come to the US to build a career. Besides being a roller-coaster ride in professional and personal life, these years have taught me a world of things.

For one, I have learned so much about so many things I never knew or never bothered to learn. Computers, cooking, ice-skating, molecular biology, languages, love, independence, travel, history, people, tolerance, accents, …. those are just some that come to my mind. My learning curve has been steep and I have nurtured a really good sense of inquisitiveness about a variety of things. I feel a part of this has been the effect of staying and interacting with different people. I have been lucky to find some really good friends and colleagues, most of whom have taught me something just by being with me. They all come from different religions, varied backgrounds and diverse interests, hobbies and ideas. Imbibing even a little from each person has made me a better and richer human than I was three years ago.

Salad days never last forever. I have come to believe that every era of our life is special and it is irreplaceable by any other. There are the childhood years, and there is college life. And then one gets serious about career and marriage, etc. Through it all, I feel the most valuable aspects are our memories and the relationships we make during that period. We might move away from family and friends, but the moments spent together remain etched in our minds. It is vital that we savor each moment as it happens, not hoping that things could be better than they are, and strive to make each day special.

A lot of people have made my journey so far very worthwhile and exciting, and without naming each one of them, I thank them all and wish them happiness and success in their every endeavor. If you are reading this, you probably too have played a part and I owe you my gratitude.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Rx Ananda Bhairavi 1 capsule prn

Okay, so that resembles a physician's scribble. But the scientists and musicians at the Raga Research Center, Chennai aim to prove that this prescription is indeed therapeutic for a hypertensive patient. Like Sankarabharanam is for the psychiatric patient. Or Raag Ahir Bhairav for one with indigestion.

As a doctor, I often see patients with hypertension grope with 4-5 medications, and still have an unpredictable outcome. I wonder what music therapy can do in these patients. I don't see music as a part of specialized or critical care. But it might be interesting to incorporate music in primary care practice, say, for instance, in patients with a strong family history of hypertension, to add a musical form of treatment in addition to the less-salt and more-exercise regimens.

We have all heard at some point of time about the healing power of music. We have all probably experienced how good music helps alleviate languor, worry, anxiety and anger. Music therapy has been part of the age-old Indian science of Ayurveda and forms an important part of Hindu texts like the Vedas. Its just that for this to have some impact on a field as scientific as medicine, it needs to be validated with experimental data and stringent clinical trials. The Raga Research Center, headed by violin maestro Kunnaikudi Vaidyanathan, are attempting a comprehensive research study that involves musicians, psychiatrists and physiotherapists, to study the therapeutic effects of ragas. There are interesting possibilities that music stimulates the pituitary gland whose secretions affect the nervous system and many physiological processes.

A recent study showed that Indian classical music produced the largest fall in heart rate as compared to other international forms of music (including Beethoven, Vivaldi and Red Hot Chili Peppers), and these effects were most evident in those with musical training. So, the next time you have insomnia, trust some soulful Bageshri to put you to peaceful sleep.