28 October 2006

Jasmine Vs Jewel

I went to see Ramaa Vaidyanaathan's bharata naatyam concert last Saturday. It was a memorable experience. All the while I was watching the performance, I couldn't help compare it with another dance concert called "Silappadikaaram" my friend and I saw a few months back. These two concerts are very different - Silappadikaaram is a full blown dance ballet with scores of dancers and stage decoration and props etc., whereas Ramaa Vaidyanaathan's performance is a solo dance recital. Except for the fact that both are bharata naatyam performances, there is no comparison between the two. But Silappadikaaram has become a yard stick to me. After watching it, I started comparing every ballet, every solo performance with it.

I watched another Odissi ballet called "Rudrakshya" a month back. It had five male dancers and four female dancers performing various items, some all-male, some all-female, and some combination. There was a male dancer called Lingaraj Pradhan who caught my attention immediately. He looked like "Radha" in male disguise. They performed a couple of items about Lord SriKrishna and Gopikas in Brindavan - one dancer portraying Krishna and the rest as gopaalakas and gopikas. Lingaraj Pradhan looked like he is a gopika. He was not at all effeminating. He is as masculine as they come. But when he dances, that far off look on his face, that smile touching the ends of his lips, that light in his eyes, that gaze filled with devotion makes you wonder if he is really a gopika in disguise and is beholding Krishna in front of him right there and then. I have never seen a person transforming so much, crossing all the barriers of gender, location, space, and time and becoming someone else... so convincingly. It didn't appear like he is a dancer performing and emoting on the stage. It appeared like a gopika trapped in Lingaraj Pradhan's body is pouring out her devotion.

Many times, our own state of mind, sentiments, emotions, feelings flow out and create an aura around people and make us think that we are watching their performance where, in fact, we are watching our very emotions being enacted by them. We see things in the light of our own emotions. But that was not the case here. It was not my imagination. Lingaraj Pradhan was truly showing the audience glimpses of his soulful performance.

I drifted. The topic of this post was not Lingaraj Pradhan. The topic is Ramaa Vaidyanaathan. The concert's highlight was the varNam. She chose Swati Tirunal's "Saatura Kaamini" set in Kalyani and performed that item for almost an hour. The theme of the varnam is the dancer addressing Lord Padmanabha and pleading on behalf of her friend who is in love with Him.

The song says - "O Lord Padmanabha, my friend is madly in love with you. She is consumed with desire and has become very weak. You're the master of all the worlds. You take care of every single creature in this entire universe, yet you are not seeing her misery and removing it. She cannot take your separation anymore. Oh lord adorned with Kasturi on forehead, the fragrance of Kasturi is making her miserable with your thoughts and separation. Be compassionate. Don't disappoint her and remove her misery."

Ramaa Vaidyanaathan's choreography and performance to this song was so original and beautiful that it brought tears to eyes a few times in a span of 45 minutes and made a lasting impression I will cherish for the rest of my life. The moments I remember vividly even after all this time are -

While doing sanchaari for the word "sakala lOka naayakaa", Ramaa shows different living beings in the world such as animals, birds, humans and enacts how Lord shows love for them. She depicted Krishna taking care of the cows, petting parrots, embracing gopikas and thus making all of them happy. At one instance, She became a cow. I cannot forget the way that cow raised its head and gazed so soulfully to get Krishna's attention. You can see the love, loyalty, devotion and innocence in that cow's gaze. Ramaa disappeared and Krishna's cow appeared there. It was magical.

Another highlight was the way she depicted the girl smelling Kasturi in a dream-like state and going after it. The girl is already suffering pangs of separation from the lord. She sits in a garden pining away for him and falls unconscious. In that state of unconsciousness, she smells Kasturi. Do you remember how they show in the movies a heroin sleeping and her soul raising from the sleeping person and going around singing a song with the hero ? You can see both the sleeping heroin and the soul heroin in the same frame. That is made possible with the technology there. Here, on the stage, Ramaa makes you feel like there are two persons. One is unconscious with greef, and the other one is raised from unconscious person and goes in search of the source of kasturi fragrance. I couldn't believe my senses. That was the greatness of Ramaa Vaidyanaathan.

Finally the girl finds the source of Kasturi fragrance. She sees lord and embraces him with joy. The fragrance is transfered to her body. She starts smelling like him. And suddenly he disappears from between her arms like a dream. And the unconscious person wakes up. Next morning her friends take her to the river. They all are about to get into the water for a bath. The girl refuses to bathe because she doesn't want to part with the fragrance on her body that reminds her of her closeness with the lord. This was a scintillating moment in the entire performance. I believe I saw a few wet eyes including mine.

Ramaa Vaidyanaathan's speciality is, she doesn't rush with her mudras and abhinayam. She gives it time to register with the audience. Each mudra is performed with such leisure and perfection that you can appreciate the beauty and the technique. Each expression and emotion is performed with such clarity that you get time to relate to it and experience it yourself. You soak yourself in the performance and at the end feel like you've performed yourself. You come out of the concert hall blooming and engulfed by the fragrance of the devotion.

Silappadikaaram is a fast-paced ballet with zero-defect perfection, crying beauty and blinding brilliance. It will leave you breathless. I kept comparing Silappadikaaram to the concert and at the end of the concert, the conclusion I came up with is -

Silappadikaaram is a jewel and Ramaa Vaidyanaathan's concert is a rare fragrant Jasmine.

If you are still curious about Lingaraj Pradhan, I still maintain that he is a gopika who got lost and is trying to find her way back to Krishna.

13 October 2006

This man is my hero

Dr. Mohammad Yunus, a professor, economist and banker from Bangladesh was announced as Nobel Peace Prize winner for 2006 today.

Why did they give it to him for "Peace" and not for "Economics" ? You'll love the answer - "Because he worked to remove poverty and removing poverty is key for maintaining the world peace". In the Nobel laurate's own words, "Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty".

It all started with 27 dollars. Dr Yunus once met a woman who makes beautiful chairs and stools out of bamboo and sells. He came to know that she makes just 2 cents in the whole day out of this business of hers. He didn't understand why anyone with such wonderful art and skill should work for such pittance. She told him that she doesn't have enough money to buy bamboo. So, she has to borrow money from a trader who loans money. The loan condition is that she has to sell him the finished product at the price he decides. As a result, she never made more than 2 cents on her work. The money she borrowed is less than 20 cents.

Dr Yunus asked his student to research and find out how many people are there, in need of small amounts like this woman. He came up with a list of 42 people and the amount of loan they needed to put their lives on track is a mere 27 dollars. Dr Yunus loaned them this money out of his pocket. This enabled them to sell their product whereever they got a good price. He later approached banks to ask loans for the poor people and the banks turned him down saying the poor are not "credit-worthy".

This was the beginning of "Grameena Bank" started by Dr Yunus for giving small amount loans (microcredit) to poor people. This started way back in 1974 and now Grameena bank has over 30,000 thousand branches in villages of Bangladesh. They lend money to over 1.5 million borrowers. The average loan is 75 dollars. Repayment rate is 98% . This bank works exclusively for the poor people. The Grameena bank's microcredit model has been exported to poor nations around the world.

While the traditional banking system is designed to be anti-poor and anti-women, Dr Yusuf's revolutionary microcredit banking system is exclusively designed to empower poor and women in particular. That is why I say the Nobel peace prize can find no better candidate than Dr Yusuf.

Lastly, this great man says he wants to start a company that makes low-cost, high-nutrition food for poor with the 1.4 million dollar Nobel prize money. He wants to construct an eye hospital to serve poor with the remaining money.

Isn't he your hero too ???

08 September 2006

A Million Pieces

If a book has ever made you so mad you wanted to tear out the pages, well... here is your opportunity.

The controversy over the book "A Million Pieces" by James Frey caused the publishers DoubleDay and Anchor Books to take an action that was unheard of before - Refund the Books. Anybody who is not happy with thier purchase of the book can send the publishers page 163 or the coverpage torn from their copy and the publishing house will reimburse their $23.95


This book is categorized as non-fiction and is a memoir about James Frey's days when he was an alcoholic, drug addict and criminal. The book was so powerful and shell-shocking that it became an instant success.... to the extent that Oprah Winfrey selected this book for her book club. James Frey was hailed as "The man who kept Oprah awake at night". The book sold more than 3.5 million copies and was a runaway hit.

Later, after a six week investigation, it was proved that Frey had fabricated and embellished many of the incidents and memories in his book... just for the shock-value. The memoir was after all not completely true. Parts of it was fiction. Same of the readers who were in awe for the book felt they were defrauded.


I honestly didn't understand this part. What was the complaint again? That the memoir was not honest? What did the people who bought the book paid for? For the author's honesty or for the content of the book? If I want to pay for a book of facts, I would go buy Guinness Book of World Records, or a text book of Science or Mathematics. If I bought "A Million Pieces", it is because the book shocked me, impressed me and the something in the book appealed to some sense of mine. If these were the reasons, why should I feel so disappointed and cheated when I come to know that some of the incidents in the book are fictious ? I would rather feel happy that all that misery was not true, some of it was just invented to take the "craft of shocking" to higher levels.

I applauded the author in the first place for his forceful and power-packed style of writing, not for his drug-addiction or alcohol abuse or criminal record. Those just were the tools he used to convey a story. The expression and style was what the book sold for, not the facts or fabrications.

When people in Oprah's show and outside lauded the book as revelatory, emotional and nothing like they ever read before, the book served its purpose. How does it matter whether what's written in it is a fact or fiction?

I have a feeling some people are pissed at this book because it made them applaud and hail the guy for no good reason. You see, it's like this - "I cried for you and sympathized with you because you were an alcoholic criminal drug-addict. Now that I know you are none of the above but just a plain liar, I'm not THAT impressed with you anymore. How dare you make me cry at a pack of lies?"

31 August 2006


There are dreams to fill the heart
And love to make it bleed
But sadness is a different animal altogether
So keep a friend to beat it


The fragrance of the moon-lit night beckons me
Colors, dreams, scintilating desire, stabbing pain
This fragrance has everything in it...

This fragrance opens doors to the forgotten memories
Of all the unfinished sojourns that once hugged my feet

This fragrance that made me abandon my home
And wander about to get a glimpse of bliss
Has filled my every pore and every crevice
To make me sparkle and melt in the sweetness of it


07 January 2006

Akasavani, Visakhapatnam Kendram !

This is a loose translation to Sri Ramanadh Kandala's wonderful column 'nAri gADi sOdi' that ran for a year in SujanaRanjani monthly magazine. Thanks to siliconAndhra.org. For the original telugu version,



The other day, I was going to Anakapally from Vijayanagaram and this happened -

It was right after the bus moved... I heard "chaak chiklet chaak chiklet jaam jaam jackpot" blaring on the bus stereo. I looked questioningly at my next seat neighbor and he said, "Long journey, isn't it? So they are playing some songs to entertain." I couldn't figure out that it's a song till my kindly neighbor enlightened me. In my village, when our temple priest used to wear trousers and shirt instead of his regular dhoti to go to the neighboring town, I could never recognize him in the disguise. I felt exactly like that now. To me, songs are an entirely different experience. Long time back....

"Eti gaTTu kaaDa... rAvi cheTTu neeDa.... nalla kanula naaga swaramu oodEdi evarO..." (on the banks of the creek, under the shade of the tree, who is playing the flute?)

when that song used to play on radio, I used to rush to it from whereever I was in the house like a needle towards a magnet. My mother used to say, "are you going to get inside the radio?" and laugh at me. That song is like that!

Not just this one song ! Great number of songs... who wrote the song, who composed music to it, who sang it, who sang it on the screen.... I used to have all this information at my finger tips. My friend Satthi is a bigger fan than me. He used to wake up promptly when the radio lady used to announce - "AkASa vANi, viSAkhapaTnam kEndraM" and read out some frequency numbers of the transmission, and greet "Good Morning". He used to hit the sack only after the radio gentleman says "Our radio transmission will resume tomorrow morning. Good night". He used to enjoy the radio and I used to enjoy his craze for radio. Leaving that aside -

According to our Visakhapatnam radio guy, songs are two kinds: Great songs and not-so-great songs. NSG songs (not-so-great songs) can be heard anywhere and at any time... while cleaning your bicycle, or washing clothes, near the corner paan shop or at Krishna Vilas... anywhere. But great songs can not be enjoyed like that. There is a time, a mood and an ambience required to listen to these songs. In the sultry humid afternoons when you're sweating and irritable, you can listen to "kArmikula kAryakramam" (blue-collar workers program), but not the great songs. The mood won't be right until after nine in the night for great songs. Radio guy used to play all GhanTasAla songs then. If there is a SPB (SP Bala Subrahmanyam) song by mistake, my friend Satthi used to get irritated like Viswamitra whose meditation is disrupted by Menaka. He didn't like to hear SP's voice at night times. And this same Satthi used to go on and on singing SP's "veeNa vENuvaina sarigama vinnAvA" (Have you heard the tune where the Veena has become the flute?) the very next morning.

My day used to start with "puShpAnjali" at eight in the morning while his day used to start early with "bhakti ranjani" at six. If somebody is still not sure about what day-of-week it is after hearing bhakti ranjani, pushpanjali used to clear that doubt. If Bhanumati came and sang "SaraNam nee divya charaNam" (Your divine feet are my refuge) on puShpAnjali, nobody had guts to say it is not Saturday. In case the radio guy played this song on Thursday, somehow it used to feel like Saturday only. Sometimes, they used to play "neevunDEdA konDa pai" (You reside on that hill) on Saturday and Satthi used to take a nap listening to that song. He used to wake up after the song to say, "there is some drug in this song that puts me to sleep". If it is Tuesday, the song "SrI AnjanEyA prasannAnjanEyA" from the film Superman has to come on radio. I never knew before that the Superman film had devotional songs...

If it is Sunday, there is no doubt about it - they used to play "naDipinchu nA nAvA" (row my boat) at bhakti ranjani time. The days I woke up hearing that song, I used to feel all mushy with sentiment. In puShpAnjali, "daya chUDu yEsu prabhuvA" (show mercy o jesus) or "karuNinchu mEri mAtA" (show mercy oh mother mary) is guaranteed. Sometimes, they used to play some song that has lines like "muLLa kireeTam peTTAru, nA kOsam EDavakanDi" (they made me wear the crown of thorns, don't weep for me). If that song came, it ate up the whole fifteen minutes. There wasn't any space left for another song. My mom used to say, "Those are not our songs" but I never paid attention.. when it came to songs, I had no discremination.

So, like this, Visakhapatnam station guy used to distribute the whole week among different gods and religions. It was not easy - three crores gods, jesus, his mother, muslims' god, saints, godmen, lady saints - there are way too many of them and just seven days in a week! Poor guy! What can he do? Anyway...

I guess the spirituality and religious mood goes down as the sun goes up. In just an hour's time from puShpAnjali, the film songs used to come. People used to be busy packing lunches and getting to schools, colleges, and offices at that time.

There was a song once on radio - "veeNa nAdi, teega needi" (the instrument is mine, the strings are yours). Satthi joked, "What a distribution song ! Are they going to break that veeNa into two pieces and take a piece each?" And again he used to hum that same song the whole day. Apart from these 'Distribution Songs', there used to be 'Condition Songs' that specify some logic and condition like - if that happens like that, then this will happen like this. For example, there used to be a song where the hero sings "Alaya Sikharam nuvvaite, patram, pushpam, etc. anni neeke" (if you are the temple tower, then the leaves, flowers, so and so forth are all yours). Satthi used to comment on this song - "If his girlfriend is not a temple tower, why should he rush and give all those leaves, flowers and etcetera to her? Is he crazy or what? So, if she becomes that, only then he will give her this... this is what I call a conditional song!"

Now coming to 'Permission songs'. The songs that sound like, "nannu ilaa unDiponee, ilaa cheyyanee, ikkaDa paDukOnee" (Let me be like this, let me do this, let me sleep here)... they sound like applying for permission. Satthi used to joke, "What's all this begging?" And again, he used to beat rhythm on the table and sing the same permission song "nee naDumu meeda cheyyi vEsi naDavani, nannnu naDavani" (let me put my hand around your waist and walk with you).

There used to be 'Dialogue songs' with dialogues in between. Those were absolute favorites. In some movie, ANR interrupts the song to say, "aapEsEvEnTi SArada, Apeyyaku, naa paaTa, nee dance, ilaa chilakaa gorinkallaa unDaali"(Why did you stop dancing Sarada? Don't stop... your dance and my song... we should be together like this always..) and something else like that. We used to strain our ears to listen to that dialogue. There is another song, "vinara sooramma koothuri moguDA" (listen O sooramma's daughter's husband) we used to love that even more. We used to increase the volume and wait to hear Rajababu's boorish laughter in the song.

And then there were 'Laughter Songs'. There used to be laughter either in the beginning or at the end of the song. Sometimes, the laughter used to continue throughout the song. There was a song "sirimalle poovalle navvu"(laugh like a jasmine). It used to sound okay in the beginning but towards the end irritated the hell out of us. Satthi used to comment, "Is she out of her mind? Why is she laughing like that for no reason?" There was another song. SPB used to sing, "navvave naa cheli" (smile my dear) and his girl used to sing "navvanaa naa priya" (shall I smile, my dear?). Like this, the whole song is his asking her to smile and her asking him if she should smile. He never stopped asking her and she never smiled. And the song was over without a single smile.

'Sad or Weeping Songs' were really sad. If the song "ee veeNaku Sruti ledu" (this Veena has no tune) comes on radio, the day used to look cloudy and dull even if it's a bright, sunny and shining day outside. Since we never saw the movie, we used to imagine the song as sorrowful as possible. So, sometimes, the sadness used to be really overwhelming when we hear the song. If the GhanTasAla song from the movie Chiranjeevulu "kanupApa karavaina kanulenduko" (what's the use of eyes without sight) comes, my mother used to joke "don't forget to keep your hand kerchief, you'll need it after the song" Right after this overwhelmingly sad song, the radio guy used to play the cheerful song "navvutu batakaalira" (you should laugh and live your life) and play ping-pong with our emotions.

Now, if you have to talk about afternoon songs, you must talk about Ceylon station. I used to imagine Meenakshi Ponnudurai and get Sarojini Naidu's picture in my mind. Once I mentioned this to Satthi and he laughed saying, "What do you care how she looks? She is not the one who sings. she only plays those songs on radio." But how can you not imagine a person after hearing the voice? I could never do that. Ceylon guy used to play songs for fifteen minutes, then play the gospel, then agains songs for fifteen minutes, then bible reading... he used to alternate like this. May be he knows that nobody will listen to the program if he plays only the gospel or the bible all the time. To attract crowds he used to play songs... he knows the technique! Anyway, there used to be a lot of songs on Ceylon station, but never songs like "SaraNam nee divya charaNam" (your divine feet are my refuge). May be he doesn't enjoy devotional songs!

Apart from this, there used to be 'Question-Answer Songs', 'Brother-Sister Songs', 'Moral Songs', 'Vulgar songs', 'Hiccup Songs', 'Philosophical Songs', Songs that you can't understand unless you watch the movie... how many varieties! How to count?

Whatever the song was, we had never let it go... we used to listen to each and everyone of those. That's how it used to be. But now, TV has come and songs are 'viewed' now, not 'heard'. Those days, we used to listen to the song and imagine the scene in the movie. You can categorize the songs "challani vennelalo" (in the cool moon light) and "chali chaligaa undiraa" (o dear, it's chilly and cold) into one category or the other. But I didn't understand which category this "Chiklet" song belonged to. When I expressed this, Satthi said very lightly - "No big deal. These 'Chiklet' songs are always there. These are the songs that float in the air and go... not the kind of songs that you pay attention and listen to. That's the category for these songs."

That's about the songs for today! It's already dark. Let's go home!