Saturday, January 29, 2011

More Tagore, More Music

This one comes with another little story. I had been sifting through some online music service, looking for more Rabindrasangeet songs by Suchitra Mitra, but chanced upon this one by Kavita Krishnamurthy. I was initially put off, wondering at why they chose to tune it to a typically South Indian raga, until I chanced upon this earlier rendition by  Kanika Banerji and realized that Tagore had originally intended for it to be sung in Carnatic raga Simhendramadhyamam.
The story behind this choice comes from this anecdote about Savitri Krishnan, one of what must have been the few South Indian students to go all the way to Santiniketan for their studies.
"A large part of the interview deals with the Carnatic tunes Tagore picked up from Savitri Devi to compose some of his most well-known songs. Even at the age of seventy, I think she did a great job in rendering the Tamizh and the Bengali versions.

There were two songs that she sang. The Bengali counterparts are "Basanti hey Bhuvanomohini" and "Bedona ki bhashaey re". I have cropped out the Bengali conversation from the interview and retained only the English words she used and the songs she sang (both in Tamizh and Bengali).

I have also added another famous Tagore song "Baaje karuno shurey". This was sung by Smt. Kanika Bandyopadhyay during Tagore's Birth Centenary Celebrations in 1961. The original Tamizh(sic) version "Nidu charanamooley" in the recording below was sung by Swagatalakshmi Dasagupta (1999)."
That brought me full circle to the original Thyagaraja krithi in Telugu (not Tamil as mentioned above) that was the  inspiration for Baje Karuno shure, sung by Rabindrasangeet expert Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta , which she has sung quite creditably well. She is trained in Hindustani singing, and the influence shows in her singing.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Caged Bird

One of my mother's first blog entries was this reminiscent article about how we acquired our pet parrot Sankaran. My sister, as a kid, wrote a little story based on an imagined conversation between Sankaran and a wild parrot outside, that was published several years ago in a popular children's magazine.
Today, as I flipped aimlessly through the offerings of an online digital library, I came across this poem from Tagore's translation of  "The Gardener", and was struck by how similar it was to the subject of my sister's tale. She had no exposure to Tagore's writings at that age, but came by her story from simple observation of our parrot and his calling out to wild parrots outside.

"THE tame bird was in a cage, the free bird was in the forest.
They met when the time came, it was a decree of fate. 

The free bird cries, " O my love, let us fly to wood." 
The cage bird whispers, " Come hither, let us both live in the cage." 

Says the free bird, " Among bars, where is there room to spread one's wings ? " 
"Alas," cries the cage bird, "I should not know where to sit perched in the sky." 

The free bird cries, " My darling,sing the songs of the woodlands." 
The cage bird says, " Sit by my side, I'll teach you the speech of the learned." 

The forest bird cries, " No, ah no ! songs can never be taught." 
The cage bird says, " Alas for me,I know not the songs of the woodlands." 

Their love is intense with longing,but they never can fly wing to wing. 
Through the bars of the cage they look, and vain is their wish to know 
each other. 

They flutter their wings in yearning,and sing, " Come closer, my love ! " 

The free bird cries, " It cannot be, I fear the closed doors of the cage." 
The cage bird whispers, " Alas, my wings are powerless and dead." 
Here is Suchitra Mitra's rendition of the Rabindra Sangeet version of the above song.

*Suchitra Mitra, a longtime exponent of Rabindra Sangeet, died earlier this month, at the age of 86.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

First Post of 2011

Happy New Year 2011 (and yes, I know it's already 2 weeks into the New Year.)

And, Happy Pongal, to those who celebrate it. I've been wishing all my near and dear ones a Happy Pongal every time that I pick up the phone in the last couple of days.

To what purpose ? I wonder. Does Pongal mean the same to me as it did when I was a kid travelling to the village with my parents, staying up in the early hours of the night helping with blotchy kolams on freshly washed packed mud floors in the central courtyard of the house? Or trying to pet the drooling calf tied up to the stone mortar in the corner with a small block of hay to munch on, while the cows trotted out through the front door on their field foraging for the day? Or the coughing and teary eyes that ensued from feeding dried palm leaves to the mud brick stove on which the large brass pots filled with rice cooking, waiting for them to boil over for 'Pongalo pongal'?

I'm very far removed from the agrarian roots of my father's boyhood days in the village, and can create no semblance of all those sights, sounds and smells in my urban kitchen. Even the pongal is a starkly utilitarian, ultra-hygienic recipe, with prewashed dal and rice, brown sugar from bags, instead of jaggery, melted butter instead of fresh ghee. Small wonder that the taste never matches up to the original that I used to partake of in my grandmother's house.

And yet, the urge to wish all and sundry a Happy Pongal still persists. Who am I kidding, is it for me or for them? It's for the memories that the word conjures up, I guess; and can't pass on in any direct form to my kids, except in these brief reminiscences, should they ever deign to read them some day.