Notes: 1) The following article was among several entries we received for
Global Essay Contest. As promised, we will be featuring a few of the
articles on our website 2) Views and opinions
expressed in these articles are entirely those of the respective authors]
It was a seemingly innocuous question
(but on hindsight, a pitiable
blunder) that made my final couple of months in school last year
a living hell. It was a scorching afternoon in Chennai, as all
afternoons are, and I was in school. It appeared to me as I tackled my
chemistry assignment, that a group of my friends were
lively conversation. The ear detected a good deal of 'Radio Mirchi
this' and 'Radio Mirchi that' and so, it seemed to me that the
gist of their very animated conversation was about a particular 'Radio
Mirchi'. Curiosity aroused and not wanting to be left out of all
the fun they apparently were having, I asked 'so, what's this Radio
Mirchi thing, anyway?'. My question was followed by a deafening
silence - one that I can only describe as a lull after a storm. Six
pairs of very bulging and disbelieving eyes goggled at me, hoping they
hadn't heard what they thought they'd heard.
'Did ya ask what Radio Mirchi
'Radio Mirchi. I said Radio Mirchi and I meant Radio Mirchi' the
unsuspecting me answered.
And what a tumult it was that followed! I managed to gather later that
it was the 'hottttttttttest radio channel on earth'.
But word soon spread like wildfire that there existed a moron that
didn't know about Radio Mirchi and soon, I was a crowd puller, much to
envy of the king cobra specimen in our biology lab, what with people
jostling and shoving and pushing to get if only a sideways glance at
Well, that evening I tuned in to the ubiquitous radio channel that had
so captured my friends' hearts and after ten minutes of listening to
'hottest', but frankly, the most outlandish songs I've ever heard,
possibly the longest ten minutes of my life, my ears were begging to be
relieved of the pain. When they were eased at last of the tingling
wondered, not without a tinge of jealousy towards those boorish
inanities, if Tyagaraja's 'chakkani
raja' or Dikshitar's 'akhilandeshwari'
could stir the
kind of insane passion that 'manmada
rasa' or 'appadi podu'
did in my
So, what is it that makes today's young people turn a deaf ear to
1. "It's what everybody does, so I've gotta do it, too!"
That makes film music the in-thing. Much like my first day in school,
when a bleary-eyed, three year old version of me told my stunned
father, "but everyone cried in my class, pa, so I thought I must cry
And, a friend of mine keeps herself up-to-date with happenings in
Bollywood, Kollywood and what have you.. simply because she hates to
miss the bandwagon. Believe me, movies interest her no more than
chemistry interests me.
And so, since film music is what everyone listens to, it's but natural
for everyone else to follow in their footsteps. Just like it's but
natural for a kid in a family of carnatic musicians to grow up
to become a carnatic musician. You may, at this point, cry foul. 'It's
merely the genes at work', you might counter. Ahh, well, there's that
of course, but there again, if you never did listen to carnatic music,
I don't see how you will end up becoming a carnatic musician.
2. The most widely prevalent view, yet a gross misconception: carnatic
is for the madisar mamis and
the sotta thalai mamas.
are all thought to be mamas
vibhuthi and vetthala pakku.
And as a consequence, carnatic music is not 'cool', it isn't
'hep'. It's no wonder then that at kutcheris, the average age of
the audience is nothing less than ripe old sixty.
Moral: Psst, if you're a teenager, nothing could be more ignominious
to let people find out that you have even the slightest association
with carnatic music.
3. "It's sAmi pATTu"
That's another quip I hear ever so often. And so again, that makes
carnatic music so 'un-cool' or 'un-hot', whichever way you'd have
it. But I can't help but chuckle when I hear that - they've apparently
never heard of padams or javalis.
4. "You need to have brains, you know, to appreciate that kind of music"
Yes, that's another common explanation. And, I admit, it's still got me
5. "I've tried listening to carnatic music" or "I learnt carnatic music
for a while" followed by a "but it's just wayyyy tooo boring."
That's probably because, instead of letting it grow on them, they just
rushed head-long into it.
Or the first carnatic piece they heard was a long Kambhoji alapana or a
really slow Yadukulakambhoji kriti.
Or the first teacher they had was the mami
across the street.
One of my friends learnt carnatic music for a few years - she did all
the varisais - sarali, jantai, dhatu, then the alankarams, a handful of
geethams, and by the time she
got around to learning some small kritis
- alaipayudhey, gajananayutham and the like (which
was about two years
after she started learning), she lost hope that she would ever progress
beyond 'sa ri ga ma pa da ni sa'
and with it all of the little interest
she had in carnatic music. And what made the entire affair outrageous
was that her teacher never used a shruti box ("We can make do without
it" she claimed and it wasn't as though her shruti was like Madurai
Mani Iyer's) and so, my friend took lessons in carnatic music, sans its
very jIvan, it's AtmA - the shruti! And I can't
imagine anyone who doesn't already have a great love for the art,
singing just 'sa ri ga ma pa da ni sa'
patiently in all its permutations and combinations for two whole years
until they graduate to learning kritis,
not when film music seems so
much more inviting and so much more easier to sing.
A leading musician of today says in one of his books
that the wise thing to do to start learning carnatic
music would be to approach a seasoned musician. And if the musician
himself/herself is unable to teach, he/she will at least direct the
student to a good teacher.
6. "Bah! It's just 'sa ri ga ma pa da
ni sa'! What's the big deal?"
Unbelievable but true! There are some who are hopelessly unaware that
carnatic music is a lot more than just the seven syllables!
Sample this - again, one of those 'unbelievable but true'
It was one of those navaratri
evenings, when there's festivity in the air and when everyone's busy
making flying visits to everyone else's homes for vetthala pakku. As I went along
with my mother, one of our stops was at the house of a self-proclaimed
carnatic music rasika. As
expected, the lady asked me to sing, and
having done so, proceeded to fervently discuss for the next five
minutes, with her daughter, my mother's pattu podavai. At the end of
which, I'd dutifully completed the Arabhi kriti 'pAhi parvata nandini
Looking me up and down with an approving look when I'd finished,
"Brilliant!" she claimed, and the daughter nodded in agreement.
It was the daughter's turn now. Not wanting to be outdone, "Who's your
guru?", she enquired brightly.
"Shri Shashikiran", I replied, with pride.
Okay, she hadn't heard of the younger sibling, but she'd know
Chitravina Ravikiran, I
reasoned. "He's Chitravina
The daughter raised a quizzical eyebrow.
"You know the gOTTuvAdyam?",
I asked, speaking austerely. Now, she was beginning to get on
"Boat, what?" she asked in reply.
I reeled, and might have fallen, had I not been sitting at the time.
The daughter, I learnt later, had been learning music for eleven years
7. "Most songs are in Telugu and Sanskrit and I can't understand them"
Most people don't. Even the musicians. It's the melody and not the
lyrical beauty that appeals to many people. Which is why, 'pantureeti kolu' and 'entaro mahanubhavulu' are just as
common in concerts as 'bantureeti kolu'
and 'endaro mahanubhavulu'!
Instrumental music has takers, not because of the lyrical content of
the songs, but because of their melodic beauty. But then, if you are a
Tamilian and don't understand Telugu or
Sanskrit, whoever said carnatic music doesn't have compositions in
vernacular Tamil? 'Tamizh Tyagaraja' Papanasam Sivan, Koteeswara Iyer,
Periasami Tooran, Subramanya Bharathi, Tanjavur Shankara Iyer and a
plethora of other contemporary composers have all made substantial
contributions to carnatic music.
8. Film music, these days, is for the eyes, not the ears. And since
carnatic music is meant primarily for the ears, it isn't as popular as
it's non-classical counterpart.
So, what needs to be done to tilt the scales in favour of carnatic?
One solution that jumps to the mind immediately is setting up music
schools to train young people and organising concerts on a regular
basis. But that, in my opinion, is the
second step in the process, the first being initiating the uninitiated.
This should be done by including music in the school curriculum. Most
schools, including mine, do have one music class a week, but that
invariably stops with the 8th grade. Since a music teacher is gauged by
the number of competitions her students win for the school, the teacher
we had was always busy training us kids that already sang pretty well,
never bothering to go to her allocated classes to teach the
not-so-enlightened. I dare say the same holds good for many other
schools. Music teachers at school should begin with teaching students
peppy carnatic pieces like 'shakti
sahita ganapathim' and 'santhatham
pahimam', and then move on to explaining fundamental concepts of
music and demonstrating its different dimensions - lyrical, melodical,
therapeutic, mathematical - all in a manner that will appeal even to
the dullest of minds.
The next step would be to encourage students who develop an interest in
carnatic music to train themselves, outside of school. Not everyone may
go through to this level, but I am sure initiating students to carnatic
music in school will make them enjoy it, if not pursue it, since the
would help dispel the associated myths, some of which I have
I gathered the reasons mentioned above from my friends in school, and
needless to say, was overwhelmed by their lacerated opinion. And the
kerfuffle that followed the revelation of my ignorance about Radio
Mirchi was the last straw. I resolved to contribute what I could, at
least in school, to
elevate carnatic music to the exalted status that it's non-classical
counterpart currently enjoys, be it as it may, a mere drop in the
The computer science project that I submitted for the std XII board
exams was on carnatic music and so, most students ended up reading,
the code in my programs, a lot about carnatic music, which, of course,
had been my
primary intention. I proceeded to dispel the myth that carnatic
musicians are all mamas and mamis, by showing them photographs
of some of our young vidvans
and vidushis. During lunch
hours, I got groups of students together and explained
to them basic concepts like raga,
tala, neraval, krithi, kalpana
swaram, et al. During class hours, I hummed away with
unrestrained gusto, making my
friends listen to me, since nobody cared to listen to the teachers,
anyway (remember what Mark Twain said - "I never let my schooling
interfere with my education!").
Then, one day, in math class, I heard a soft yet audible tune. One of
was humming 'shakti sahita ganapathim',
one of those very girls who'd a little more than two months back,
looked at carnatic music with nothing more than a jaudiced eye.
I cast a sideways glance at
her. She caught my eyes and returned my smile.
The words were music to my ears.
A small battle had been won, bigger ones beckon...