La Sa Ra and Raja Rao

September 21, 2015

My two favourite authors. This is not the first time that I make this comparison: see here for example. I am (re-)reading some of La Sa Ra’s books; I completed his book called Darisanam and recently read Chinta Nadhi. Currently, I am reading Paarkadal. I see one more similarities between the two. Raja Rao started with Kannada and French and moved to English. La Sa Ra seems to have moved from English to Tamil.

Aaa Iraa Venkatachalapathy’s Novelum Vasippum

September 18, 2015

A great read. I especially liked this description by (who else?) Pudumaippiththan of stories that used to be written in olden days:

பரமசிவனஂ வந்து வந்து வரங்கொடுத்துப்போவார். பத்தினிக்கினஂனல் வரும். பழயபடி தீரும்.

Strongly recommended!

Oliver Sacks’ On the move: a life

September 17, 2015

A good read. The photographs are great too. I specifically liked this idea:

… I rarely look at the journals I have kept for the greater part of a lifetime. The act of writing is itslef enough; it serves to clarify my thoughts and feelings. The act of writing is an integral part of my mental life; ideas emerge, are shaped, in the act of writing.

My own experience, when it comes to technical writing is exactly the same. Writing helps me formulate ideas and better understand them.

Ka Naa Su’s Pudumaiyum pithamum

September 16, 2015

A short but wonderful read. Makes you want to read all Pudumaippithan stories once more — should be read along with Aadhavan’s short story “Pudumaippiththanin droham”!

Paul Bahn’s Archaeology: A very short introduction

September 16, 2015

A wonderful, fun read! Strongly recommended.

Louise Penny’s Nature of the beast

September 5, 2015

A good one.

Vadivasal and Chinta Nadhi

September 5, 2015

Read Vadivasal of Si. Su. Chellappa for the first time. A short but very good read.

Read Chinta Nadhi of Laa. Sa. Raa after a long time. It is a very positive and uplifting book; and, a book worth revisting.

Remembering Nagarajan Sir

September 5, 2015

Today is Teacher’s day — a good day to remember Nagarajan Sir. Nagarajan Sir was the head master of the panchayat union elementary school in which I studied from second standard to fifth standard. Being the head master, of course, he taught fifth standard. He cycled down from a village that was about eight to nine kilometres from my village. He was rarely late. There were three more teachers (teaching Standards 1, 2 and 3) who were from my village itself. But, he ended up reaching the school almost always first.

Nagarajan Sir was not particularly liked by the other teachers. His work ethics was very different from the others. He also has problems with a couple of teachers who were relatively violent and especially with one of them who was an alcoholic. He did not like the demeanour of one of the teachers (who wore dark cooling glasses and a very colourful kerchief around his neck).

We loved the strategies that Nagarajan Sir’s taught us — especially, his method of teaching us to read English (which, according to my father, by the way, was not the right method) is to write down the most probable sounds for the english letters (and sometimes combinations of english letters) in Tamil; then, using this chart as the guide, we were supposed to read English. I also distinctly remember his teaching subtraction as an inverse addition (which I use till date when I do paper and pen calculations). He had to do all these and spend lots of time with us because we came with not so good preparation to his classroom and he just had one year to bring us up to speed before we left for 6th standard  — in a new school in a nearby village.

Even though Nagarajan Sir spent lots of time teaching us English and Mathematics, the subject he loved to teach was history. Learning history from him is to listen to riveting stories; the story telling was a very dramatic too; there will be pin drop silence punctuated by excalamations and laughter from us.

Even before I reached fifth standard, I spent lots of time in his classroom. Once in a while, the class teacher will ask me to bring him or her a tumbler of water. The water pot was kept in the Head Master’s room which was also the fifth standard class room. While returning the tumbler back to its position, instead of returning to my classroom, I used to just stay near the door of his classroom and listen to his stories.

Nagarajan Sir’s handwriting was very beautiful — be it Tamil or English. He tried to get mine better in vain (though after a couple of years Padmavathi teacher managed to improve it).

There was a huge wooden box in the Head Master’s room. One day, Nagarajan Sir, in spite of vehement opposition, decided that the box needs opening and the books in that box need distribution among the students. The thrill of seeing those colourful books and the pleasure of having them given to us for readiing is still fresh in my mind; I feel the excitement even as I write this post.

Unfortunately, Nagarajan Sir passed away very young. I was too young to know the details of his illness. But it was one of the first deaths I remember which made me very sad.

Whenever I think of Nagarajan Sir, I remember his big eyes, slightly protruing teeth, his lean body and visage, his black and white, shiny and curly hair (which he tried to fashion in what was called as American crop, I think), and his fascinating description of the city of Bombay that he visited and the difficulties that he had in crossing a busy road.

Nagarajan Sir was the one of the many great teachers I was fortunate to have had . But, he is special because he is the first teacher (if I leave out my family members — especially my grandfather and an aunt of mine) who made a real difference to me by kindling an interest in learning. He will be remembered for long.

Oliver Sacks: RIP

August 31, 2015

One of my favourite authors passes away! Here is Hindu and here is NYT obituary.

Why music moves us by Janette Bicknell

August 22, 2015

A good read; however, too western music oriented.

Two differences stood out especially for me. One is the importance given to instrumental music over vocal in western tradition while in Carnatic for example, it is the vocal music that is given primacy; instruments such as Veena are hailed because they sound as close to human voice as possible. The second is the idea of sublime; the “awe-inspiring” or sublime music (the equivalent of “bhayankara”) is not the primary concern for many rasikas of Carnatic music (I think!).

The one time I got high listening to music was a concert by T V Sankaranarayanan in Odukaththur mutt in Bangalore and the piece that induced the altered mental state (which lasted for about a couple of hours) was Thiruvadi charanam in Kambhoji; especially, the nerval of the lines “Aduththu vantha ennai thallal aagaadhu; hara hara endru sonnalum podhaadho”; I believe that the deep immersion that happened to me primarily happened because of the meaning of those lines and the emotions that TVS brought while singing them.

Another singer who produced similar effects for me is MS: she has a way of emphasising some words by changing the thickness/thinness of voice for some words — for example, when she sings “Naalu puram nokki, nani naan” she will make the word “nani” sound a bit thin compared to other words which produces a wonderful effect.

Similarly, when Mansur sings Akka kelavva he somehow emphasises on the urgence of the singer to make the other person listen to her experience; in his way of singing the description of the experience itself does not get much emphasis; Mansur does this by repeating akka kelavva several times in what I can only describe as “requesting tone” and the tone is the most important part of the effect.

Of course, it is quite possible that in the way I immerse myself in classical music is through words and language and for others words are not that important. However, some of the the traditional ways of appreciating music — for example, the long exposition of  Sri Subrahmanyaya Namaste by Kanchi Chandrashekharendra Saraswati  and his explaining the word “Vaggeyakkara” by its emphsis on the linguistic aspects — makes me think that this is one of the accepted, traditional ways of making meaning out of classical music. And that is in contrast with most of what Janette Bicknell discusses.

Having said all that, I still think it is a good book and worth reading once — at least for the kind of questions it raises and the kind of issues it addresses. I only wish that somebody familiar with Indian classical tried a similar study.


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