The urge to write it down: the list-maker and the note-taker inside you!

ArunN has a nice post on book and concert lists; as usual, it is humorous, very nicely written and showcases the keen and observant eye of Arun:

Nowadays, almost all of those who attend Carnatic music concerts, including the accompanists and sishyas on stage, seem to make these lists.

The Carnatic music concert list contains unique nomenclature. For instance, each song apart from the raga, tala and composer, would also be accompanied by letters R, N, S, T, i.e. if the list is in English. The R denotes whether the song was preceded by a raga alapana; the N signifies a neraval at an appropriate juncture, an elaboration of a suitable lyric section, during the exposition of the krithi; the S tells us whether the particular song had swara-kalpanai or creative extempore of raga swaras; the T means thani, the percussionist solo usually rendered as a tail section of the main piece of the concert. When a separate pallavi section is delivered, it is marked as RTP, the Ragam Thanam Pallavi, in our concert list.

I enjoyed reading Arun’s post; but, it also set me thinking about my own propensities to take elaborate notes in general, and making lists in particular.

In my case, the tendency to carry a notebook with me and note down things were not just restricted to concerts I attended and books I read; of course, I almost transcribed entire books on to my note book — the one book I remember reading in this fashion is Schnroedinger’s What is life? In fact when I think about the book the two images that come to my mind — one is the cover of the Canto edition that I read and the other is the large sheaths of paper filled with my transcription — I am afraid to use the word notes because, like some people who underline almost all the sentences of the book that they are reading, I wrote down every sentence (and, those of you who follow my blog do know that I quote and I quote extensively; and mouse mask, cut and paste has only made my job easier).

I went for talks and wrote down almost every sentence that the speaker uttered on to my note book.

I wrote down the movies that I went to.

After getting married, in the first few months, we went to lots of temples, and I made a list of all the temples that we visited — which must still be somewhere in the pile of notebooks at home.

For every trip that we take, we still write down the things that we carry with us, the things that we buy, and the places that we visit in a notebook (in this regard, I am very lucky to have a companion who also is an inveterate list-maker and note-taker!).

I also wrote down lists during my discussions with my thesis advisor; I remember, one day he kept telling me of the things that we were supposed to do; and, I was not jotting it down (as was my wont). Mid-way, he stopped, looked at me and said  “Guru, you want to jot it down?”.

Why did I (and, in some cases, still) write such lengthy and elaborate notes and lists (and, continue to in some cases)? There are plenty of reasons; but I want to draw attention to two possible reasons — with the caveat that these are not the only two reasons, nor for every case these two hold.

I personally feel that that I somehow felt that by writing it down, I was making the experience (be it reading the book, or watching the movie, or visiting the temple, or listening to a concert) more tangible; Arun also talks about the note book induced nostalgia of concerts; this is also further confirmed by the fact that the most memorable concert that I attended of TVS in which he sang “Thiruvadi Charanam” in Kambhoji, I did not write anything down; for that concert, writing down the names of songs would not have made the concert any more tangible or memorable; in fact, to have recorded that experience by writing down the song and raga on the paper sounds blasphemous to me!

At some level, in some cases at least, it also speaks of some amount of insecurity; I stopped transcribing lectures on that day when I paid more attention to the speaker and enjoyed the talk  — I guess, before that, I somehow thought that instead of allowing my memory to keep track of the ideas and concepts that I heard, I will transcribe them in my note book so that they will be available for me forever — this is the equivalent of making a photocopy of a paper rather than reading it or bookmarking a post rather than reading it; this is not to say that I do not reach for my notebook when I am in a lecture these days; but they are only for jotting down a reference or some phrase (of course, Google makes it easier to locate papers and documents knowing minimal amount of key words if one knows what one searches for).

That I can think of these two reasons does not mean that I am going to stop writing lists and making notes; Leela Prasad, whose book on Hindu ethics that I completed reading just a few days ago talks about her recording every conversation using audio-visual media to the surprise of her informants; she also speaks about revisiting her notes and transcriptions later to find fresh perspectives and newer meanings; in my own case, I would love to be able to jot down all the ideas that come to me and all the mistakes I make in my derivations/calculations and all the bugs that I discover in my code; it would certainly improve my performance on the professional front. But I have at least graduated to making sparse notes during lectures and fewer lists of songs of the concerts that I attend!


4 Responses to “The urge to write it down: the list-maker and the note-taker inside you!”

  1. Raj Says:

    Fascinating. I think it has something to do with the sensory route one is most comfortable with. Some are strong on the “audio’ route. They can absorb quickly by listening and can communicate well by ‘speaking’. Some ( I am one of them) are more comfortable in reading or viewing something, and in communicating in a written form. If you are one of the latter group, you will tend to take more notes- transferring the audio inputs into a form you are more comfortable with.

  2. Arunn Says:

    Ah Guru; thanks for the link and related thoughts.

    Do you know of this famous quip from Eco, “We Like Lists Because We Don’t Want to Die”

    I have left out enough material for another essay, on what you write — taking notes from, a la transcribing, books. Interestingly, I have also done it with What’s Life, as you describe here.

    I didn’t maintain lists of movies I had watched; too few on theaters and too many cramped per day on fast forward mode during vacations to remember.

    The other list I maintained is the cassettes and in general the music I listened to. That is for perhaps another essay.

    Assuming you read Tamil, here is my longer Tamil version of my essay (shameless plug of course), which some of my bi-lingual readers think was actually humorous and has a “personal feel”… you decide for yourself…;-)


  3. Jayan Says:


    Recording what you witness is an old habit, I guess. Taking pictures where you have visited , taking notes of the books you read and noting down the list during the concert all fall under the same.

    I’m not much of a photo taker, but do attend concerts and take note. One its stimulating to guess and figure out the raga ( for a non trained listener ) that can be referred and compared (!) later.

    Books are very different experience. Unlike the concert listing, it take longer to copy sentences and paragraphs while reading, whcih disrupt the flow . Hence I keep a paper and note down the page numbers, which I refer back later for copying.

  4. audio visual service in Leeds Says:

    audio visual service in Leeds…

    […]The urge to write it down: the list-maker and the note-taker inside you! « Entertaining Research[…]…

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