Archive for August, 2015

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.

Mary Douglas: A very personal method — Anthropological writings drawn from life

August 10, 2015

A very good read — most of it (though I had to plod through some of the essays).

Here are a couple of samples of the writing.

On Levi-Strauss:

He thus claims to have answered the sphinx, unscrewed the inscrutable and effed the ineffable.

On her grandmother:

Sometimes I see her, unexpectedly in a crowded street. I turn a corner and there is someone coming towards me, someone very familiar, someone I am glad to see. I smile, and she smiles back — it is my grandmother! A split second later I realize it is my own reflection in the polished glass of a shop window.

A good one!

Battle with bottle…

August 9, 2015

And history of drinking in Tamil society — starting from Sangam times: A R Venkatachalapathy’s piece is a must-read:

Europeans have their first drinks in public and when tipsy move into the confines of their homes; Tamils, on the other hand, drink under cover and once drunk are out on the streets rolling in the gutter with scarcely a vestment on them, or so C.N Annadurai once observed with characteristic insight. Historically, societies across the world have consumed alcohol. But, following Annadurai, we can draw the conclusion that societies handle drink in their own way. As the groundswell of anti-liquor sentiment gains support across Tamil Nadu, we need to understand the history of drinking in Tamil society if we are to succeed in the battle with the bottle.

Here is the bottmline:

Yet, the call for total prohibition is misplaced. Its champions little realise that the social and economic costs might actually be higher. Banning liquor in the cultural context of a globalising India is not an option. The moral argument against drinking simply doesn’t work. Its killjoy attitude recalls what Macaulay said about the Puritan objection to animal-baiting: they objected not because it caused pain to the animals but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.

The state, in consultation with civil society, needs to work out a plan to contain the genie that is out of the bottle. Regulation, overseen by civil society, should be accompanied by a campaign of education. The anti-tobacco campaign and the polio-eradication programme can teach us much. As demanded by some peasant groups, the state ought to seriously consider legalising toddy tapping.