Monday, December 11, 2006

The magical voice

Lakshmi Viswanathan writes in The Hindu,

A great voice is an unforgettable phenomenon of human experience. M.S. Subbulakshmi was gifted with such a voice. Millions have heard her singing and millions more will do so in the decades to come. Her voice does not merely represent Indian music at its best, but it also symbolises the truth in human endeavour.

We might all ask ourselves the question: what is our individual contribution to humanity. And we might find the answer elusive. For, perhaps, we might not have been conscious of doing something for the betterment of the world all our lives. Subbulakshmi was a perfect example of the individual who consciously contributed the one thing she knew best, to make this world a better place for all. And that was her music …

… What brought about that magic when she sang that made people forget themselves, forget even her, and reach out to that spiritual truth, however unattainable that may be to the ordinary mortal?

There is a saying in Tamil, which can be roughly translated as: Touched by the fragrance of the flower, even the chord used to string it together smells sweet. One can say that Subbulakshmi's music and personality made many lives "fragrant" by mere contact. She exuded a friendliness, humility and extraordinary strength that needed no words to elaborate.

… How does one celebrate the life of such a great artist and a greater human being? Is it enough to sing her songs or dance to them? Is it enough to speak of her in innumerable forums? Is writing about her, an adequate tribute? These questions come to my mind, when I am in deep thought.

I think it is important for thinkers and intellectuals to lead the way for making future generations realise the importance of great individuals who have shaped the cultural destiny of India.


1. The magic in her voice – Lakshmi Viswanathan

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Fear of separation

Living legend Gangubai Hangal writes,

I was then a young girl. It was the Belgaum Congress of 1924 and the Mahatma was to grace the occasion. I was thrilled that I was going to sing before Gandhiji, but also scared stiff that I would be asked to clear all the plantain leaves after lunch, as I belonged to one of the lower castes. I sang. Gandhiji came up to me and blessed me. Pandit Sawai Gandharva was impressed too. On the one hand I was overjoyed by their appreciation, but on the other, I was paralyzed by the worst fears. I quietly walked up to my teacher and asked him if I had to sit separately for lunch and clear the leaves. He held me close, and said: "Nothing of the kind, don't worry..."

They were difficult times. But I am grateful to music in more than one way. It gave me a unique identity and pushed all other identities to the background.

From The Hindu, Suvarna Karnataka special issue, 2006

Friday, November 17, 2006

Notes from Bangalore Book Festival 2006

There were heads, heads, and heads everywhere. I had to navigate my way slowly. No complaints for that. It was nice to see books, books, and books all around. In addition, if the book seller gives you many details with a smile you will know that two minds have reached each other - an invisible rope that finds two nubs on its ends.

Now for the notes -

When I entered the stall of Karnataka Sahitya Bandara I had only the name of a book in my mind. I did not know the author. Moreover, I wanted to buy the English translation of that book. I went to an old man sitting and asked,

"Sir, I am looking for a book named Shantala. I don't know either the author or the publisher."

"Shantala by K. V. Iyer? We have."

"Do you have the English version?"

"No, Sir. We have the original Kannada book. I think two versions of English translation are available. But I am not sure if they are unabridged. There is an abridged version published by Sahitya Academy."

He started telling me about G.V. Iyer's serial on Shantala with vividness that was matched only by his sharp eyes - an invisible rope was braided between two nubs.

Nadam Geetam is a book-seller from Chennai. They sell books of all major Tamil publishers. I could not enter their stall. The gap given was small. Excuse-me would lose its meaning in such places where you had entire queue moving at snail's pace. No one could have done better. They had to see books. They had to thump through it too. I moved myself close to a friendly-looking person and asked,

"Do you have Laa. Sa. Raa's ithazhkal?"

"Sir, We don't have Laa. Sa. Raa at all."

"But I remember seeing few books by him."

"No, Sir. We do not have stocks."

But I had seen Laa. Sa. Raa's paarkadal and janani few minutes back. I did not pay much attention to those books as I have them already.

Note: There is an article (in Tamil) written by my friend on Laa. Sa. Raa. It is available here.

Thanks Abi, for telling me how to incorporate this box in a post.

I was now hearing there were no books by Laa. Sa. Raa. I thought I would again stand in the queue and push myself near the place wherever I saw those two books. I saw three Laa. Sa. Raa books this time. The third book was Soundarya. I have that book too. I called the friendly-looking person and showed him those three books by Laa. Sa. Raa. He felt bad.

"What can I do, Sir? See the crowd around here. I keep forgetting. Sorry, Sir. You would like to have these?"

"No, Thanks. I have them all. I am looking for ithazhkal."

"Sorry Sir. We really do not have. Vanathi publishers have not printed that book for a long time."

"Oh, Okay. Thanks."


Why his tone had become importunate? I looked at his face. His face seemed to have only request.

"Please do not tell this to the owner."

He pointed his hand towards a bald-headed man sitting at one end.

"I won't tell. I just thought I would show those books to you so that if someone else asks for Laa. Sa. Raa’s books you would not say no. That's all. I won't tell your owner about this."

His face had again become very friendly, and there was a smile. I too smiled. An invisible rope relaxed itself to release the strength from its plaits.


There were two persons at Krishnamurti Foundation Books stall. One was a middle-aged man moving around the stall, and the other was a middle-aged lady sitting with Cash bill receipts. Both were amiable but the lady seemed to gauge everyone if they were potential buyers or not. If she had felt they were, she would then ask the man to show this-book, that-book, and the book-over-there. On the other hand, if she had felt they were here just to browse, she would become invisible. No magic here. What I meant is she would just become invisible. If you asked something you would get some answer after few hours. And I was just looking. My eyes went to a book that was covered by a transparent wrapper. Enough care was taken to wrap it so tightly that no one should see anything other than the front and back covers. You had to take it to see the back cover. I was just seeing the front cover by lifting my head as it was kept in the top of a rack. I was looking and looking. Only at the front cover. The front cover read One Thousand Moons: Krishnamurti at Eighty-Five. The man came closer to me and asked me if I wanted to see the book.

"I want to see the book but it is wrapped."

"I will show you the book. We have one book unwrapped."

He turned around to see the lady. The lady was busy writing the cash bill for a customer. Then he said,

"We can unwrap it and show. The book costs about Rs.800/- and you can buy the book if it interests you."


He could not find the unwrapped book. He asked a boy to find out in a carton to see if it was there. The boy was searching for the book. The man lost hope of finding the unwrapped book, almost asked the boy to give him a wrapped book. By then, the lady had finished her billing and asked the man what it was. He explained. The lady looked at me. I could sense that a judging algorithm was initiated within her to see if I was a potential buyer. The algorithm said no. She said in a stronger tone that they did not have an unwrapped book. I told her,

"It's okay."

I saw the man. His countenance showed a sort of helplessness. I smiled at him, and told him, "It's okay." An invisible rope was vibrating; braiding and unbraiding. Then the lady threw a deal at me. The deal that made me laugh.

"If you buy the book, we can then show it here."

What a deal!

"If I buy that book, I would like to read it at home. Not here."

She did not say anything for few seconds, and then nodded her head in approval.

But did I see a smile in the man's face?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Paul R. Halmos (1916-2006)

Prof. Paul R. Halmos died on October 2, 2006. George Pólya Award, for articles of expository excellence published in the College Mathematics Journal, was given to him in 1983 for his article The Thrills of Abstraction.

From The Thrills of Abstraction:

My wife and I were invited to a party recently, a party attended by four other couples, making a total of ten people. Some of those ten knew some of the others, and some did not, and some were polite, and some were not. As a result a certain amount of handshaking took place in an unpredictable way, subject only to two obvious conditions: no one shook his or her own hand and no husband shook his wife's hand. When it was all over, I became curious and I went around the party asking each person: " How many hands did you shake? ... And you? ... And you?" What answers could I have received? Conceivably some people could have said "None", and others could have given me any number between 1 and 8 inclusive. That's right, isn't it? Since self-handshakes and spouse-handshakes were ruled out, 8 is the maximum number of hands that any one of the party of 10 could have shaken.

I asked nine people (everybody, including my own wife), and each answer could have been any one of the nine numbers 0 to 8 inclusive. I was interested to note, and I hereby report, that the nine different people gave me nine different answers; someone said 0, someone said 1, and so on, and, finally, someone said 8. When it was all over, my curiosity was satisfied: I knew all the answers. Next morning, I told the story to my colleagues at the office, exactly as I told it now, and I challenged them, on the basis of the information just given, to tell me how many hands my wife shook.

If you try to find the answer for that question, you will find a kind of similarity, in approach, with the following problem.

C thinks of two consecutive numbers between 1 and 10. C tells one number to A, and the another to B. Now for the conversation between A and B:

A: I do not know your number
B: I do not know your number
A: I do not know your number
B: I know your number
A: I too know your number

What are those numbers?


1. An obituary at the website of the Mathematical Association of America
2. A brief biography:
3. Wikipedia
4. Paul R. Halmos, The Thrills of Abstraction, Two-Year Coll. Math. J. 13 (1982), 243-251.
5. Number puzzle

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bangalore Book Festival 2006

Bangalore Book Festival opens on November 10, 2006. It will be held till 19th November.
Venue: Palace Grounds (Mekhri Circle entrance)
Time: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Entry fee: Rs. 20/- (It was ten rupees last year!!)
The Hindu says that there will be a search engine manned by trained personnel to help you locate the book you want. But we often cherish serendipitous moments during such book festivals when we suddenly spot a book of our interest, or more accurately when a book finds a worthy reader in us.
Time: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Cho's articles

You can now read the english version of few articles and the famed question-answer section from Thuglak, a weekly magazine edited by Cho S. Ramaswamy in this website -
Though the english translation by T. S. V. Hari lacks punch and subtle satire of Cho's original tamil pieces, the effort is commendable since it reaches out to a larger audience. The website of Thuglak allows you to see only the cover-cartoon unless you subscribe to their web-edition.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Foreword by Raja Rao

Some books have wonderful forewords. Here is one of them.

Foreword to Raja Rao's Kanthapura by Raja Rao

My publishers have asked me to say a word of explanation.

There is no village in India, however mean, that has not a rich sthala-purana, or legendary history, of its own. Some god or godlike hero has passed by the village – Rama might have rested under this papal-tree, Sita might have dried her clothes, after her bath, on this yellow-stone, or the Mahatma himself, on one of his many pilgrimages through the country, might have slept in this hut, the low one, by the village gate. In this way the past mingles with the present, and the gods mingle with men to make the repertory of your grandmother always bright. One such story from the contemporary annals of my village I have tried to tell.

The telling has not been easy. One has to convey in a language that is not one’s own; the spirit that is one’s own. One has to convey the various shades and omissions of a certain thought-movement that looks maltreated in an alien language. I use the word ‘alien’, yet English is not really an alien language to us. It is the language of our intellectual make-up, like Sanskrit or Persian was before, but not of our emotional make-up. We are all instinctively bilingual, many of us writing in our own language and in English. We cannot write like the English. We should not. We cannot write only as Indians. We have grown to look at the large world as part of us. Our method of expression therefore has to be a dialect which will some day prove to be as distinctive and colorful as the Irish or the American. Time alone will justify it.

After language the next problem is that of style. The tempo of Indian life must be infused into our English expression, even as the tempo of American or Irish life has gone into the making of theirs. We, in India, think quickly, we talk quickly, and when we move we move quickly. There must be something in the sun of India that makes us rush and tumble and run on. And our paths are paths interminable. The Mahabharatha has 214778 verses and the Ramayana 48000. Puranas there are endless and innumerable. We have neither punctuation nor the treacherous ‘ats’ and ‘ons’ to bother us – we tell one interminable tale. Episode follows episode, and when our thoughts stop our breath stops, and we move on to another thought. This was and still is the ordinary style of our story-telling. I have tried to follow it myself in this story.

It may have been told of an evening, when as the dusk falls and through the sudden quiet, lights leap up in house after house, and stretching her bedding on the veranda, a grandmother might have told you, newcomer, the sad tale of her village.

Monday, October 09, 2006

N. Ram hammers Shashi Tharoor

N. Ram writes in his article on R. K. Narayan,
There is a tendency among some lesser writers of Indian origin, the likes of Shashi Tharoor, to denigrate the literary art and achievement of Narayan. Among other things, his vision is held to be "narrow"; his concerns "banal"; the pool of experience and vocabulary he drew from "shallow"; his style "pedestrian," "metronomic," "predictable," "limited and conventional," and "impoverished" (all these adjectives must be credited to a Tharoor column). The birth centenary is perhaps a good occasion to proclaim that there can be no serious question about where Narayan stands in the literary world, especially in relation to his detractors.
Will Shashi Tharoor write something about this in his next week The Hindu column?
Keep watching.
Shashi Tharoor's article referred above is available here.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mozart Praha 2006

Some of our ideas, thoughts, and feelings are forever entwined with a place and its ambience. We can feel a kind of aroma of a particular place in our thoughts. Those personal sensitivities to such fragrances, often, lead to a deeper exploration of ideas, thoughts, and feelings.
Mozart once said, "My Praguers understand me."
He also said, "My orchestra is in Prague."
That was a matter of pride for Praha. Why did he say that? What is the connection between Mozart and Prague? You have to just explore this website for more details.
If anyone wants to explore Muthuswamy Dikshitar and Tirunelveli or Muthuswamy Dikshitar and Madurai, the above website will give a nice outline for how to go about creating such thematic topics.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Ilaiyaraja inspired a Paavani RTP

Bombay Jayashri, in an interview, has said that Ilaiyaraja's composition paartha vizhi, from the movie Guna, was the inspiration for her Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi in the raga Paavani. The full article is available here.
In her words:
... And so I (the author) remind her (Bombay Jayashri) of an instance during a December season concert where she did stress her listeners out a bit, performing a ragam-thanam-pallavi in the unusual raga Paavani — the only reference point for which appears to be a film song, Ilayaraja’s Paartha vizhi from Guna. I wonder why she didn’t pick a Todi or a Sankarabharanam for the exercise — instead of making her audience work hard with her in trying to appreciate (leave alone enjoy) a familiar form with such unfamiliar content — and she says, “I’m a huge Ilayaraja fan. Paartha vizhi has been running in the back of my mind since I saw Guna. At the December concert, I am bored of constantly singing Todi or Sankarabharanam. I imagined the audience would be bored too. So I tried to do a pallavi with the word Paavani.”

Friday, September 15, 2006

Manu mulls ...

On Little Prince by Manu

“Little Prince” – by Saint Exupery, one of my all-time favourite books… that, I believe, is seemingly addressed to children, but reaches out to anybody who seeks in it.

My favorite episode in the book is when the Prince meets the Fox, and gets enlightened about the only phenomenon that is worth knowing, love or “tame” as he calls it here.

Some of my favourite bits of their conversation:

  1. Fox explaining the meaning of “TAME” to the Prince: “To me, you are nothing more than a little boy, who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you TAME me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world.”
  2. On the significance of taming: One ONLY understands the things that one tames.
  3. Fox tells the Prince how he could be tamed: “First you will sit down at a little distance from me. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. But you will sit a little closer to me everyday”.
  4. On the limitations of words: Words are the source of misunderstandings.
  5. Fox’s parting gift, his secret, to the Prince: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; What is essential is invisible to the eye.


In a way, this is Manu's second post in this blog. The first one, a poem, is referred in an earlier post.

- Shencottah

This-or-that meets Pepo

Pepo wore a long white dress, looks more like a drape than a dress. But he is very influential and claims to be a representative of some species. He is known for his innovative dialogue-initiations. Just to illustrate his approaches and its effects:

Once This-or-that met Pepo along with two warring groups - let us say Group-1 and Group-2. Pepo told Group-1 that they were humans. Group-1 was insulted. Group-2 was very happy. Group-1 leader questioned the wisdom of Pepo. Pepo maintained that he was initiating the dialogue by insulting. He maintained further that negotiation-after-insulting is an accepted norm of dialogue in the present millennium. The two groups fought relentlessly and killed each other merrily. Pepo escaped and claimed he had solved the problem. This-or-that later told me the first group was actually a group of dogs.
I asked, "What about the second group?"
He said, "Another set of powerful dogs."
When I asked about the nature of Pepo, This-or-that smiled meaningfully as if he could unearth a cup of red river.
Other This-or-That features:

Friday, September 01, 2006

Rainy Day

It is raining outside. Leaves are Green. Fresh Green. Flowers are looking at themselves. Looking at their fresh and joyful faces. Rain is a river. Earth rejoices as the river flows down from Heavens.
I remember the words of Manu.
Rainy Day
I'd await the times,
Though it may never be.
When your heart beats aloud
To a forgotten melody;
And beckon with the smile, I once knew
To relive my spring with you.
The blushing earth,
Embraced so tight.
Its joys smell so sweet;
The grasses gasp
The undying kiss.
Its heart's forgotten beat;
The joys we've known, are all I can hold
If tomorrow brings on tales untold.
Will memories awaken a promise once said?
Will we walk the same road ahead?
Looking on and on - Lost in rain,
I wish I too could feel the way they do.

- Manu
Thanks to Manu who sent this poem to me few days ago.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Magic disappears

Ustad Bismillah Khan passed away.

1. The Hindu editorial
2. Violinist L. Subramaniam remembers
3. Gautam Chatterjee
4. Goutam Ghose remembers
5. On Wikipedia

Sangita Kalanidhi 2006

The Music Academy will confer the title Sangita Kalanidhi on vocalist Vidwan Madurai Shri. T. N. Seshagopalan at its 80th annual conference on January 1, 2007.

You may also see this forum discussion.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Colors speak -- This or that? - 2

Colors attract. Colors speak. No, it is not figurative. This-or-that can hear the language of colors too.
Once he was sitting alone in a park bench. He saw two colors speaking to each other. Speaking is a mild word. They are shouting at each other. One color was White - khadi white, and the other was Red. White was accompanied by a person named Economist. Excerpts:
White: "Ha..Ha..I am the ruler."
Economist: "Yes..Yes.."
Red: "You think like that? I will pull you down."
Economist: "Yes..Yes.."
Red jumped ferociously after this. This-or-that heard someone crying with pain. But it was not White's cry. This-or-that was puzzled.
White (meekly): "I am not the ruler."
Economist: "Yes..Yes.."
Red: "We will decide the fate."
Economist: "Yes..Yes.."
White: "No. I am not the ruler. We are the rulers."
Economist: "Yes..Yes.."

Red: "That's better."
Economist: "Yes..Yes.."
White: " Ha..Ha.. We are the winners. Winners take them all. Ha..Ha..Winners take them all from the London banks."
Economist: "Yes..Yes.."
They jumped with joy. This-or-that still heard the cry - the cry from the heart but he was puzzled as he could not see the source of that wail.
Red: "What is two plus two?"
Economist: "Yes..Yes.."
White immediately warned Economist that he was not supposed to tell "Yes" when a question was asked. Economist nodded his head at 50 cycles per second.
White: "Four according to Russian and Chinese mathematics books."
Economist: "Yes..Yes.."
Red: "Well done. Well done."
Economist: "Yes..Yes.."
They danced together. This-or-that still heard that cry. He decided to go a bit forward to see what was happening. He was shocked. White and Red were jumping on a poor old man - 59 years old man. The cry was from that man. This-or-that now knew the source of those cries. This-or-that had a hearty laugh when he came to know that White had told an American TV that two plus two was four according to American books. Economist, as usual, nodded when he was asked if it was right.
Previous This-or-that feature is available here.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Cartoon, Insensitivity, and Violence

The media and the western leaders have successfully projected the cartoon issue as a conflict between the great quality of western democracies, free speech, and the dogmatism of islamic society, intolerance. The violence that followed should be condemned in strongest terms possible. At the same time, why has the dialogue to evaluate the responsibilities of free speech not been initiated by media as well as by the rhetorical speech of western leaders. The insight into the reasons for lack of such dialogues within western society might possibly unveil the true nature of free speech as practised by western countries.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Cartoon controversy - Few questions

The cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) were first published by Danish newspaper. Several European newspapers have caused outrage in the Muslim world by republishing them in support of the vague concept, freedom of press. Two issues involved here are depiction itself and its offensive content. Let us just ask few questions first - only questions.
  1. How do you draw a line between "freedom of press" and "civic responsibility"?
  2. Do we understand the difference between "freedom of power" and "freedom of expression"?
  3. Can racially, or otherwise, offending abuses be justified in the name of freedom of expression?
  4. Is creating fear is the only way through which abuses can be stopped?
  5. Why do people, who say they are deeply hurt seeing their national flags burnt, are not able to see the hurt caused to the people by their "freedom of expression"?
  6. In our society where symbols have an extraordinary sense of importance and meaning, do media have enough maturity to glorify and/or demean those symbols?
  7. Why do we accept a societal model where innocents suffer?
  8. Does scientific outlook, whatever that means, have anything to contribute constructively in the above issues?

Friday, February 03, 2006

This or that? - 1

Once a person, whose name is This-or-that, went to a Quiz programme.
This-or-that now remembers only this question: Who is the prime minister of India?
Everyone answered this question correctly except one who put up a brave face saying his answer was right. The answer he told was Sonia and maintained that the principle of division-of-labor was at work. His name, This-or-that forgot, was some Man-moiety Singh or Mater-mohan Singh or something like that.
PS: This-or-that now reads a book written by an economist on how to do an obedient somersault before natives and native-foreigners.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Feynman lectures

Few links for those who would like to see Feynman in action:

1. Feynman's New Zealand lecture (streaming video in four parts), is available here.

2. What did he think of beauty, prize, and lack of knowledge? Three video clips are available here. Don't miss to see the extra glow on his face when he speaks of his father in the second clip.

3. Here is the link to view the special programme organized to remember Feynman. His daughter Michelle is also in the discussion panel.