The thought of driving from Srirangam to West Mambalam, Chennai, all alone with no one to talk to does not give any comfort. Yet, I have to do it. Our official visits to Erode and Dindugal ended with my fellow passengers and the driver dropping out at Trichy.
This, however, was pre planned and I was trying to romp in Suresh. He loves highway driving and I love to be a good co-passenger. I don’t ‘back seat’ drive. In fact, I don’t care how the driver drives. Sure enough, what’s happening on the highway and what other drivers are doing is never my botheration so long as I don’t drive. Quite fatalistic about accidents, I should say. (pun unintended). Nobody I travel with and who is on the wheel wants to die. Definitely not by getting billed in a road accident. So, why bother? Only Sivasankar has this phobia. He always imagines someone from the adjacent lane is going to sway, hit the car in which he is travelling and the rogue driver is going to send his car in a tailspin.
May be someone will. But I have no reason to worry. My friend Bala is an astrologer of sorts. He has told me that I will create an empire in my sixties. So far, I have not even created the first square foot, in the remotest village of my empire. Surely, I have to live through my sixties for his prophecy to come true. So, I don’t care who drives. Least of all myself.
And I have music to keep me company, anyway. Back in 2010/11, I never missed a concert of T.N.S. Krishna, Amrutha Venkatesh and Abhishek Raghuram. Back then, all three, in their twenties, used to role out one weighty concert after another and of course, not many knew about them. Abhishek’s aesthetic brilliance used to floor the listener, not the display of technical prowess that his concerts are today. Amrutha’s concerts used to be pristine, not the tongue twisting very long and often meaningless swara sequences, post here tutelage by Prince Rama Varma, that we have today. Only T,N,S, Krishna retained his self and matured from there, though he reminds us of his father all the time. It would be T.N.S. Krishna. I have an outstanding concert of his in the pen drive plugged on to the music system.
So, off I went, after a sumptuous breakfast in Parthasarathy Vilas. As I was approaching the highway, I switched on the music system. Sikkil Gurucharan was in his Kalyani Alapana. This was a concert I attended. Anil Srinivasan played with Jayanthi Kumaresh and Sikkil Guru Charan for forty five minutes each. Percussion support was provided by B.S.Purushothaman. Set in the beautiful location of Luz House in Mylapore on a January morning, it was a nice concert. Gurucharan’s portion is only forty minutes. I’ll onboard Krishna after a while.
Just as I joined the highway Gurucharan started singing ‘Ambarame thaNNErE’. Immediately after I joined the highway, there was a U turn and there was commotion of sorts. Two girls in a scooter tried to take a quick U turn and, in the processes, hit the back of SUV in front. SUV driver got down and checked the damage. We good Samaritans waited patiently. He pulled the SUV to the side and the girls obediently followed him. As I was crossing through the space cleared by the SUV, Aandal was waking up copper bangle legged Balarama and his brother through Gurucharan’s voice. (செம்பொற் கழலடி செல்வா! பலதேவா! உம்பியும் நீயும் உறங்கேலோர்)
More meaty part of the presentation would come later. Before that, Samyapuram toll arrived. My Fastag balance has run out. Earlier it was lot simple. One could recharge online. Nowadays it is much more complex. One needs special log in with the issuing bank. Mine never had a log in earlier. So, I have to pay cash in tolls during this trip. As I approached the toll counter, the display board blared, ‘Fastag Blacklisted’. Don’t they have a better term? Why blacklist me and on top it, announce it to the world? This has happened once in Suresh’ car when we were travelling together. Who said, we learn from experience? I asked the man in toll booth if recharge is possible. He said in the affirmative. I gave it a try. Someone was standing in line. He seemed to be standing for eternity. I returned back to Brindhavani RTP. Apart from Brindhavani, Gurucharan used Chandrakauns, Hindolam and Sumaneesaranjani in Tanam and Pallavi. I have a special liking for these pentatonic ragas. Why there aren’t any major Keerthanais except in Hindolam? Unless there is a composition of Carnatic music trinity, that raga does not have a serious composition. Quite sad. Best song in Sumaneesaranjani, for example is “oru naaL iravu pagal pOl nilavu’ by Suseela – M.S.Viswanathan combine. I can’t think of anything other than Balamurali Krishna’s thillana in Brindhavani and the ‘Fat Ghost’ Abhang of Ranjani-Gayathri. (Bhutha Mote).
It was nice to hear the piece again. Anil Srinivasan’s piano interlude and Purushothaman’s non intrusive Ganjira playing elevated the mood. Often Anil Srinivasan’s Piono sounded like chord playing, though. That famous kurunthogai poem…
“யாயும் ஞாயும் யாராகியரோ
எந்தையும் நுந்தையும் எம்முறைக் கேளிர்
நீயும் யானும் எவ்வழி அறிதும்
செம்புலப் பெயல் நீர்போல
அன்புடை நெஞ்சந்தாங் கலந்தனவே”
… was very soothing. He pronounced ‘yaayum gnaayum’ as ‘Yaayum Yaayum’. Funny, lack of diction bothers nobody in carnatic music world. Least of all, the artist himself. Yet using an ancient poem is quite refreshing. Quite a few Tamil cine lyricists have paraphrased this song. Ancient literature has always been a fertile ground for Tamil lyricists. Is there not a Bombay Jayashree cine song that paraphrases this poem? Even Kannadasan, arguably the best lyricist ever, paraphrased Bharathi and Kambar quite a few time. What would he have done without them?
Gurucharan took the last line of the poem for some kind of neraval elaboration. Laced the swaras with the same four ragas. The presentation was neat and worth listening. The magic of pentatonic ragas. It is quite difficult to go wrong with them. I shifted to T.N.S Krishna as soon as the Kurunthogai was over, though Anil Srinivasan and Gurucharan had another ten minutes to go on. T.N.S. Krishna started with a Varnam in the Raaga Kaanada. He was half way through when I arrived at Thozudur Toll Plazza.
He then started Vatapi Ganapathim. Concert time is four hours forty five minutes! He must have occupied the dais at least 15 minutes before the beginning of the concert. Five musicians sitting on the floor of the dais and not taking even a bio break for five hours requires enormous fitness.
Suddenly gas station symbol started flashing in the odometer. Petrol levels are precariously low. I was hoping to cross Ulundurpet toll. There is a huge petrol station and an A2B in the same campus near the toll. It is advantageous. Petrol and coffee break can be two in one. The petrol station provides complimentary wind-shield wash. But I have to give Ulundurpet A2B a pass. I can never be comfortable without adequate petrol even if I have able company. The thought of hitch-hiking and fetching petrol in a Bisleri bottle is hardly enticing.
I slightly reduced the speed, moved over to the left lane and started searching for a petrol station. Ten kilometres must have passed and there was no sight of Petrol station. I’m sure there’s going to be a petrol station within the next few minutes. This is more a wishful thinking than out of any knowledge. If it doesn’t come in the next five minutes and if the car doesn’t stop, I will check Google Maps. In the next few minutes a HP petrol station was visible. Gnanam, who drove the car yesterday thinks, all petrol stations except the Bharat petroleum ones, cheat customers.
I went in to fill the petrol, refreshed a bit and started back again. By the time I hit the highway, Krishna has already completed his Panthuvarali alapana and Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi on Violin was nearing completion. Ever since I noticed that I was low on petrol, I have realised, my concentration was not on music. Getting back to music needed no effort because he started his father’s interpretation of Kambar’s famous verse.
இவ்வண்ணம் நிகழ்ந்த வண்ணம்; இனி இந்த உலகுக்கெல்லாம்,
உய்வண்ணம் அன்றி மற்றோர் துயர்வண்ணம் உறுவது உண்டோ!
மைவண்ணத்து அரக்கிபோரில் மழை வண்ணத்து அண்ணலே உன்,
கைவண்ணம் அங்கு கண்டேன் கால் வண்ணம் இங்கு கண்டேன்
It is quite famous. Many have written about it. It is a cliché. Yet, there is all round brilliance. Seshagopalan’s musical interpretation of Kambar, excellent rendering by the tuner’s son and Kambar himself. He uses the word vaNNam in every sentence and each time with a different meaning. ‘Thus’, ‘hues’, ‘colour’ and ‘prowess/valour’… Travelling in a car alone at one hundred and twenty kilometres per hour when the cabin is filled with all round brilliance is an experience by itself. Driving is not as mundane a chore as I think.
He did an elaborate and outstanding niraval in ‘mai vaNNaththu arakki pOril’. His niraval with ‘mazhai vaNNaththu aNNalE’, is poetry. He kept interchanging ‘angu’ and ‘ingu’ often mutilating the meaning. Again, diction and sticking to lyrics are not given to Carnatic Musicians.
His ‘mazhai vaNNathu aNNalE’, was quite penetrative. At the risk of repeating myself, I have to say, there was all round brilliance in the air. It is not just the musical interpretation of a nine hundred year old verse that was quite heavy, musically. It is not just the genius of Kambar. It is not just the prodigious singing by TNS Krishna. It is the general overall brilliance at exalted level. This kind of brilliance reminds me how woefully inadequate I am in whatever I have done or whatever I will be doing in future.
He wound up panthuvarali and has taken up ritigowLai. Suddenly there was traffic jam in the highway. Four cars in a row and mobility was in snail’s pace. I was wondering what was going on. After a while it was clear. A single truck was blocking the whole road. It was visible when it was climbing an over bridge .Over Dimensional Cargo! (ODC).
Some logistic company has made a killing. Transporting ODC is an expensive affair, what with multiple permissions, bribery and reparations that are involved. A policeman was standing at the first available service road and diverting traffic. When I stopped to take the photograph, one thousand horns blared. When I rejoined the highway, Krishna was singing shanmugapriya after he finished ritigowlai and gAnamUrthi, both of them I hardly paid attention to. Gopalakrishna Bharaathi was introspecting whether knowledge and training can remove lust from one’s mind. (கற்ற வித்தைகளால் காம நோய்கள் போமோ – பவசாகரம் கரை ஏறலாம் – ஷண்முகப்ரியா – கோபாலக்ருஷ்ண பாரதி).
He then took up the main raga of the day, Thodi. Excellent alapana followed by keerthani (kaddhanu vAriki by Thyagaraja) went on for close to an hour and two tolls. Mind was reverberating with Thodi. I needed some quite. I paused the music.
Not having music to concentrate induced me to think of a break. I felt a bit sleepy too. Took a break at Only Coffee past Melmaruvaththur. I started the car and put on the music back again. Thani Avarthanam started and full two hours are remaining in the concert. I don’t have two hours. I randomly fast-forwarded and rewound to reach the start of the Ragam Tanam Pallavi. It was again an outstanding RTP spanning three ragas – Ranjani, Sree, Sumaneesaranjani. When Sree Ragam alapana was going on, I expected Sriranjani as the third raga. His father has done quite a few of these combinations – vasntha-bhairavi-vasanthabhairavi, Kalyani-vasantha-kalyanavasantham..
Sumaneesaranjani instead of Sriranjani was quite welcome. Sumaneesaranjani has a mystique aura around it. Hardly elaborated in the past. Nearly one and a half hours RTP came to an end when I reached Ekkaduthangal. I reached home in less than five and a half hours. Not bad.
For the sake of brevity, I left a few details along the way. Prominent among them is, a man summarily crossing the road in front of fast moving cars and still living to tell the story
Overall, driving with TNS Krishna was quite pleasant.