Archive for January, 2011

Bharadwaj Rangan’s bitty ruminations on Bhimsen and Hindustani

January 26, 2011

How can I resist the title or a link to the nice piece? I see that but for Bangalore AIRs Geetharaadhana and Dasara padagalu, I also would have taken much longer to discover Panditji!

One among the hardest of farewells

January 26, 2011

is probably this! I guess, more than the coffee itself, it is the cultural association that is associated with coffee drinking that is hard to leave behind. It was never just a cup of drink — but a culture, you see!

Bhimsen: some personal reflections

January 24, 2011

Like MS, Bhimsen is also a musician from my childhood, and is probably the only Hindustani musician that I heard growing up. In those days, my grandfather will switch on AIR at around 5:45 am and listen to Vandemataram, followed by some Nadaswaram instrumental music, followed by the 6:05 news bulletin, followed by a programme in Bangalore AIR called Geetaraadhana. In Geetaraadhana, once in a while, depending on whether it was Monday or Thursday or Friday, one got to hear Bhimsen singing Kailaasha Vaasa or Thunga Theeradhi or Bhagyadha Lakshmi. Bhimsen sang Bhagyada Lakshmi baaramma with much stretchings unlike the corresponding carnatic version; my father always felt that such stretchings made the music sound very sad and depressing rather than happy; in spite of his comments, we all listened to and liked listening to Bhimsen.

Later,  I got to hear Hindustani musicians like Mallikarjun and Kumar Gandharva and got moved by their music. During this period I also listened to Bhimsen’s Hindustani pieces. Though I liked (and found some of his pieces to be meditative at times — one Hamsadhwani of his at least that I remember), I always found his music touching me when he sang daasara padagalu. Of these three musicians, Bhimsen is the only one I have heard live — in Bangalore’s Ambedkar Bhavan. He sang only Daasara Padagalu. In spite of being told that the master has lost the magic in his voice, his bhava laden music still touched me. And, much later I learnt that Bhimsen’s voice was thanks to his hard work and relentless practice.

My daughter became a fan of Bhimsen’s Deva Bandha and when she was about an year old and she used to jump and dance whenever she heard that song. I was happy to see the musician that entertained my grandfather’s and father’s generation, liked by me, also being liked by my daughter. And, Bhimsen will continue to be just that for me — a musician who sang soulful devaranamas that touched one’s heart.

I played his Guru Vandane CD this evening on coming back from the office. I look forward to many more such evenings! Aren’t we lucky to be living in this age when a musician might pass away, but his singing never does?

Bhimsen Joshi: RIP

January 24, 2011

I understand Pandit Bhimsen Joshi passed away (thanks to a note from Hariharan on Google buzz). I would like to (re-)share this story from one of my earlier posts:

On this occasion, after Bhimsen Joshi finished his recital, Pahadi Sanyal asked for the name of the last raga sung by him. Bhimsen came over and touched Pahadi Sanyal’s feet and said, ‘Isko Chayya kahke seekha hamney (I learnt it as Chayya).’ The confusion in our minds was due to Bhimsen dwelling on the nishad in the ascending scale, which neither Pahadikaka nor myself had ever heard in Chhaya or Chhayanat. Fifty years ago, Bhimsen was a young musician who had already made a mark in Calcutta while Pahadi Sanyal was a well known aging film star. That Bhimsen touched Pahadi Sanyal’s feet was not particularly unexpected but noticing the embarrassment on Pahadi Sanyal’s face he said, ” I don’t think you have spotted me, Sahab, I am the same Bhimsen who came to you for training when you lived in Raja Basant Roy Road.’

‘Good lord!’ said Pahadikaka after the usual pleasantries were over and Bhimsen left us. ‘I can’t believe it is the same boy. He came to me all the way from Poona to learn music. He had a voice like a buffalo calf with cold. I told him he had no future as a singer but I might be able to find him a petty job in the New Theatres Studio. He lived in my house for a while. I would pay him a tenner or two for running errands and then he suddenly disappeared one day. Good heavens! Astafullah! How can this man be the same Bhimsen?’

Ram Guha once said that in this country only two sets of people try for greatness — sportsmen and musicians, and probably only the later achieve it. Bhimsen is certainly one of those who achieved it, as is clear from the story above.

Nimgade’s In the tiger’s shadow

January 19, 2011

Namdeo Nimgade’s In the tiger’s shadow: the autobiography of an Ambedkarite is a socio-anthropological, historical, and elevating document. It is manages to move you even as it brings a smile to your lips.

After reading the book, I was reminded of  Ram Guha’s thesis that in every thinking Indian, there is a struggle between Marxism and Gandhism that is going on; I believe, reading books like this, will also bring in Ambedkarism to the struggle; and, as Ram Guha himself had noted in one of his recent pieces in the Telegraph, may be it is time to combine at least Gandhism and Ambedkarism; may be, even a bit of marxism to the mix is not bad.

Anyhow, a  book that I strongly recommend. Have fun!

PS: Here is a review for the book from DNA by Anand Teltumbde.

Reproducibility: the key to good research

January 18, 2011

Via Abi, I came across this post on making your papers reproducibility friendly, which, as the paper itself notes, is becoming more and more difficult with more computation oriented papers. You should also take a look at this page that the post links to. Here are my own thoughts on reproducibility in computational research (and, there are some interesting stuff in the comments section of that post too).

An ephemeral snapshot

January 10, 2011

Here is a nice piece (as you can see below) by Bharadwaj Rangan on critics and their profession that touched a chord with me because it set me thinking about teaching and grading.

The idea that I find to be the most difficult to communicate to my students (most often) is that though I set the question paper, and that I have corrected and given such and such grade, the grade by itself does not tell anything about how “good” or “bad” the student is in any absolute sense (to paraphrase Bharadwaj Rangan, from here).

As teachers, in addition to teaching, we are also forced to give exams, evaluate students and give our stamp in the form of grades (like Rangan and his ilk who are asked to give stars and rating numbers in addition to reviews). And, much like Rangan, I also feel that this entire system of grading is

vestigial remnants of a long-established and corrupt system, necessary evils we have to live with, and they deserve nothing but contempt

As Nana Patekar says in his Ab Tak Chhappan, “Mujhe bhi accha nai lagta hai; lekin, karna padtha hai”.

The only reason I would like to give exams to my students is to check how far I think I have been able to communicate what I wanted to communicate and for the students to evaluate how far they have understood what they think they have understood; however, grading, and the pressures associated with grades (if I do not have such and such grade I will not get this admission or that job) interferes with this process.

I would love to see that day when grading gets separated from teaching!

Books that change you!

January 8, 2011

It is not often that one reads a book that changes ones world view, ones philosophy and ones outlook completely. Lucky is the man who can find one such transformation inducing book. Ram Guha, in this Telegraph piece talks about at least four books which had a profound influence on him. A nice piece (and, I am looking for a copy of Flaming feet for myself).

On Higgins Bhagavathar and classical music on TV

January 8, 2011

Here is Sriram Venkatkrishnan on Higgins Bhagavathar:

Jon Higgins, who combined research with a performer’s career, was therefore something of a wonder. His singing and his pronunciation, as though he had spent a whole lifetime soaking in Carnatic music, amazed everyone. After all, as Higgins humorously observed in an article written for The Indian Fine Arts Society’s souvenir in 1967-68, “is it not an obvious prerequisite that one must be born on the banks of the Cauvery” to be able to appreciate, let alone sing Carnatic music?

While we are on the topic of classical music, Doordarshan continues its incomparable service to classical music with its specific time slots for classical music — be it national, podhigai or chandana. Of the satellite TV channels, it probably is only Jaya TV that gives some classical music; all the rest  give film music, reality shows and bhakti music but nothing that is truly classical. A pity! Wouldn’t a classical music TV channel be a great idea?

The essential writings of Dharmanand Kosambi

January 8, 2011

I had a chance to read Dharmanand Kosambi: The essential writings, edited by Meera Kosambi. I can not say that the book is uniformly good; however, there is enough of interesting history, social anthropology and some glimpses of a scholarly mind at work to make it a worthy read. If your interests are in history (of religion and Buddhism in particular), or social anthropology, this is a book that you do not want to miss. Here are some sample passages from the book for your reading pleasure.

With ample textual substantiation Dharmanand narrates the salient features of the Buddha’s life — first that his name was Gautama and that he was never named Siddhartha; then that he was the son of a wealthy Shakya landowner dependent on agriculture, but not a king or emperor; that the story of his having lived in three lavish palaces during the three seasons was a myth (although Dharmanand earlier believed it to be true); that he practised Samadhi since childhood; and that the reason for his renunciation was not the improbable incident of seeing an old man, a diseased man, and a corpse for the first time in his late twenties, but his distaste for violent quarrels such as those erupting between the Shakyas and the neighbouring Koliyas over the water of the Rohini river (although a general awareness of the frailty of life was also a contributory cause (From Meera Kosambi’s Introduction in the book, pp. 34-35) .

I would really love to read the book mentioned in the passage above, Dharmanand Kosambi’s Bhagavan Buddha.

We went to Ashoka’s stone pillar, inscribed on which are words to this effect: ‘Lord Buddha was born here; therefore I came in person to worship here, and erected this stone pillar’. (p. 177)

By the way, from the book, I also learnt that Ashoka exempted the village where Buddha was born from taxes and even gave some endowments; so, it looks like though Guptas methodically used grant giving to temples to further their imperial agenda, the example was set much earlier.

Among them was found a rock pillar of King Ashoka, on which appears a Pali inscription as follows:

Twenty years after his coronation, Priyadarshi, the Beloved of the Gods (i.e., Ashoka), came here personally and offered worship because Shakyamuni Buddha was born here. (He) built a wall of stone pillars on all four sides and erected (this) stone pillar. The Lumbini village was exempted from tax because Lord Buddha was born here, and some revenue was assigned (to the vihara?) (p.245)

Apparently, this stone pillar is what makes Buddha a historical person, and not a Puranic deity derived from sun worship (as some scholars believed).

Lord Buddha would rise at dawn and meditate or walk back and forth quietly outside the vihara. In the morning he would go into the village [or town] to beg for food. He would answer any question that anyone asked, then preach to him and lead him on the right path. …He would return to the vihara with the begging bowl in which the cooked food given as alms had got mixed up, and had his meal before noon. After eating he would rest a little and then meditate. In the evening he would preach to householders or or monks. Late in the evening he would meditate again or walk back and forth. At about midnight he would go to sleep, lying on his right side, placing one foot upon another, and using his hand as a pillow. This sleeping position is known as the sleeping position of the lion. (p. 257)

There are more information about Buddha’s travel habits in that section, which, again I enjoyed reading.

Till I read the book, I did not know that Vagh Bhatta of Ashtanga Hridaya is a Buddhist (and, that Maitri is an object of meditation for attaining samadhi).

Also, by far, of all the writings, I enjoyed Kosambi’s the translations of the rock edicts of Ashoka and his The Buddha, The Dhamma and The Sangha the most (from which the above quotes are taken).

Kosambi’s writings on socialism, nationalism, reasons for the downfall of the Buddhist sanghas, and his feminist ideas make very interesting and thought-provoking reading.

Let me end this post with a quote from the preface of Kosambi’s play called Bodhisattva (which, in some way, for me,  indicates the importance that films started gaining in the Indian entertainment and edification landscape in 1940s).

Anyone desirous of making a film or a talkie on the basis of this play should take advance permission from me, and make changes–if any–only under my supervision.

Have fun!