Sunday, December 31, 2006

Dec 31st and New Year 2007 eve

Had a tranquil Dec 31st. My friend Chandra Balachandran (who's visiting from Bangalore) and I had breakfast at Saravana Bhavan on Radhakrishnan Salai. There we were entertained by the antics of what-we-were-sure-was an NRI family visiting Chennai for the music season. The NRI hypothesis was hastily and unequivocally rejected when we observed the dad slap the kid for some unknown transgression.

In the evening, Chandra, Ram, and I tried to attend a harikatha on Parvati Kalyanam by Smt. Vishakha Hari at PS Higher Secondary School in Mylapore. The Dakshinamurthy Auditorium was packed, so after some 10-15 minutes of listening from the courtyard, we conceded defeat to the marauding mosquitoes and went over to Coffee on Greenways Road for some South Indian filter coffee and adda.

Later at night Chandra and I attended about an hour of the New Year's Eve musical celebrations organized by and the Madras Music Academy. We walked in to a soulful Tukaram abhang by Dr. Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande, and then got to listen to the Mambalam Sisters, Gayathri Girish, and Gayathri Venkataraghavan, before the New Year lamp was lit by Academy's Murali, and a whole goshti joined in with MSS' rendition of Maitreem bhajata and then sang Endaro mahAnubhAvulu on stage. Following this was a song in kalAvatI by the Malladi brothers and their father. We left after RK Shriram Kumar's vocal rendition of shrI rAmam in nArAyaNagauLa.

In the Academy lobby I ran into my friends Uma and Ramdas from Austin. We reminisced about the music scene 'back home', the scene of which I had been a part from 1993-2003.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

kAmAkShI: yk swarajati

I learned this swarajati in yadukula kAmbhOji in 2003 in preparation for Shyama Shastri Day 2003 in Austin. The mp3 is from Sundar Subramaniam's archive at UT Austin, with DB Aswin singing and me on the veena - we had fun learning from Smt. Vidya Shankar's book and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer's recording, and then teaching it to the rest of the gang - ranging from UT students to a smattering of Austin maamis and everyone in between.

Listened to TM Krishna's CD recently, and then discovered to my dismay that I had forgotten large chunks of the composition.

Monday, December 25, 2006

music returns

My Carnatic music dry spell ended yesterday as I met up with my friend Sriraman Padmanabhan (visiting from Austin) and we sat in for about 15-20 minutes of Gayathri Venkataraghavan's concert at the Music Academy. We entered during the Dhanyasi AlApanA, and left during the bhairavI. Also ran into Dr. Bhamathi Sudarshan from Austin, Dr. KG Vijayakrishnan from Hyderabad, and test-drove one of Radel's electronic veenas while at it.

This morning (Christmas, Dec 25 2006) I got to attend Professor SR Janakiraman's lec-dem comparing themes of Annamacharya and Tyagaraja. He was also awarded the title Naada Yogi by Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha and was felicitated by Nalli KC, the sabha secretary, and PSN, among others.

A couple of clips from the felicitation, truncated by camera battery running out:

Sunday, December 24, 2006

be careful what you (don't) wish for

Just three weeks ago, I had blogged on my techno/geeky obsessions, indicating, however, that the USB beverage chiller was not one of them.

Well, guess what Subha gave me yesterday...

I suppose I should start denouncing any interest whatsoever in the MacBook Pro, after all ;)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

December 14, 2006

My first birthday without either parent. Feels quite strange.

For the last two years I had been with Amma here in India, and she had been able to wish me, even though in Dec 2005 she was so weak she was having difficulty writing.

I found one of her hand-painted cards, and would like to think she would have given it to me with birthday wishes this year.

It was incredibly sweet of Aniruddh's mother to gift me her fabric painting of Ganesh last week, perhaps the best gift I could have had.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Karthigai Deepam: Dec 03, 2006

One of our all-time favorite festivals. Mrs. Sujatha from next door was kind enough to place a couple of lamps at our door, and Esther - who was one of the people who had taken care of Amma when she had been ailing - brought and stuck a kOlam sticker at our doorstep.

Inaugurated the Canon.

Then, went to Marundeeshwarar kovil in Tiruvanmiyur, met up with Ram, and observed the last set of evening pujas culminating in the diety being taken over to Tripurasundari's chamber.

Dinner at Eden with Ram, short walk to Besant Nagar beach, and some time at Tiruvanmiyur.

Back at midnight.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

techno/geeky obsessions

Topping my wish-list is the MacBook Pro, though I'd feel guilty abandoning my faithful ol' jyeshta, G4 Powerbook. Not to mention that one could get two PC laptops for the price of one Apple, should one be in the market for a new laptop to begin with. Cousin Manohar has finally seen the light and gone in for an MBP, kaLappifying my vayaththeruchchal in the process...

My obsessions with technology notwithstanding, I don't think I'll be acquiring this USB beverage chiller anytime soon.

And in the not-techno-but-geeky-nevertheless department, one was momentarily (sensu stricto, not sensu americano) distracted by the Periodic Table shower curtain...

Oh, and I almost forgot: procured by Rohit in Austin, lugged over to Bangalore by Kiran, brought to Chennai from Bangalore by Vijaykrishna: the smoky black Canon S3 IS :

Sunday, November 26, 2006

India Together article on HIV

The HIV epidemic has brought into focus multiple public health issues facing rural India today. In this respect, it presents us with an opportunity to deal with issues that have been neglected and even been actively ignored for too long, writes Supriya Kumar in her India Together article of November 2006, titled An opportunity to end health care slumber

Monday, November 20, 2006

Art and Amma

My friend Rohit Dhamankar sent me a message from Europe, where he is currently travelling: "I very much remembered auntie while seeing a museum in Florence. The museum had gorgeous mosaics of colored stone fron 16th and 17th centuries. The birds with all the shades showing were simply wonderful."

As coincidence would have it, I had gone today to buy some blank CDs from the stationery+art store located on the first floor of the Vitaan building at the intersection of Lloyds and Royapettah High Road. Looking at the rows of acrylic and oil paints, brushes and easels, I relived some of the excitement she (and I, vicariously) would feel on entering an art store, either this one or Michaels in Austin. The void was physically painful today.

Art, nature, music, and writing remained Amma's passions till the very end. The pic above is of her last painting, completed in August 2005, about five months before she passed away. Lavanya wrote a moving piece about this on her blog some months ago.

Barbara Ehrenreich's piece on the breast cancer culture in America brought back painful memories of Amma's struggles over a period of 2.5 years. Watching her deteriorate before my eyes, and being unable to do anything about it - other than try to convince her to go in for more chemotherapy (she had twelve sessions in all) - was an agonizing experience that's been haunting me today as I look at her art all around me: the kolam-like work on our veenas, the baby Krishnas on the wall, the sketches I discover tucked in between pages of her favorite books...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Dikshitar concert, November 12, 2006

I guess time, tide, and the Hindu will not wait for me to update my
blog with October 2006, for the review of last Sunday's concert has already come out, see here:

The concert of Kalpakam mami, for which I was fortunate to be
able to accompany her, was organized by students of the Kolkata-based
music school established by her guru Kallidaikurichi Ananthakrishna
Iyer in the 1940s. Ananthakrishna Iyer and his brother Sundaram
Iyer (of Dikshita Kirtana Mala fame) had studied with Ambi
Dikshitar, and had managed to hand down many rare kritis through
their branches of the Dikshitar shishya parampara.

It was nice to meet this group of n-th generation Kolkata-settled
Tamilians, speaking chaste Bengali, and all obviously so
dedicated to preserving and rendering Dikshitar's compositions.

Click here for a 12.4mb mp3 file, or here for a 128kbps streaming version of the kRti AnandEshwarENa samrakShitO'ham in Anandabhairavi.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

blogging September 2006

I admire those (non-professional) bloggers who manage to update their sites daily or even weekly. Even once a month seems to be quite a feat for me. Anyway, I'm starting to rely on the dates on the photos saved in my camera photo gallery to reconstruct the events of the past few months.

Cat on a Mac, Sept 6, 06: This smoky grey/black kitten sprang out at me from underneath a parked car near my office, and began rubbing himself against my ankles and purring loudly. I had no option but to take him in. He stayed with me for a few days, greeting me noisily every evening and complaining about being left behind all alone while I was away at work. My colleague, Vilasini, was kind enough to adopt him, and he seems to be having a great time at her home in Velachery, with a garden and other felines and humans for company.

Delhi - Sept 17-20, 2006: My colleagues Subha, Pawan, Kaveesher, Vilasini, and I participated in a Visioning workshop being organized by Dr. M. Rafique and colleagues from the AIDS community Solution Exchange initiative of UNAIDS-India. The idea behind the workshop was to bring together individuals who had posted messages in the AIDS forum of SE, and get them to brainstorm on various issues such as care and support for HIV-positive people, tackling stigma, and discrimination, etc.

While in Delhi we got to stay, courtesy UN, at The Imperial, which was so plush that I couldn't help but feel guilty. Scents from aromatherapy candles suffusing the corridors, exquisite statues and figurines on display, comforters that made one want to stay in bed all day....

Besant Nagar, Sept 24, 2006: On one of those many pre-departure evenings before Felix left for Tiruvananthapuram, a few of us - Ram, Felix, Rahul, Adarsh (not in pic), Aniruddh(n.i.p.) and I, met up for icecream at Cool Cats. Tres sinful!

DLCC Training Needs Assessment, Salem, Sept 26-28, 2006: In preparation for the District-Level Communication Campaign on HIV/AIDS being carried out in Salem, Erode and Karur, the organizing agency APAC-VHS had requested SAATHII to carry out a training needs assessment for the NGO staff, peer-educators, and advocacy partners from these districts who were to be involved in the DLCC. The TNA was organized at Salem by YWCA, with chief functionary Mrs. Ruby Thiagarajan, coordinator Mrs. Kirube Jingle and team being perfect hosts. The SAATHII team tried to assess their training needs with respect to documentation, basic facts of HIV/AIDS, myths and misconception.

While at Salem, we also had a planning meeting with recruits from SAATHII's new field office in Salem - in my hotel room!

And, on the 28th of Sept, we managed to visit Yercaud, the hill station in Salem district with its troups of bonnet macaques on the way, and the Nagalur primary health care centre. The Salem project of SAATHII, which has just taken off, aims to train doctors and paramedical staff from primary (PHC), secondary (taluk) and tertiary (district headquarters and medical college) hospitals in the government sector. Shown is Dr. Parthiban, coordinator for the new project, termed SAATHII-CSS (Care and Support, Salem)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

much water...

Almost a month since I blogged last. During this period several friends have moved out of the country (Praveen, Ganesh, and Bala to the US; Vijay to Singapore) for work or higher studies. Chennai is not quite the same without them, and I particularly miss the late night conversations with Praveen and Vijay. Of course, they are still just a phone call away, but international calling, time zone differences, and work schedules do take their toll.

Preeti, volunteer from the University of Minnesota, spent two weeks here in Chennai brainstorming with us on ways to include issues of violence against women in HIV-related counseling. It was really good to work with her and have her stay chez moi. She was in India on a fellowship and volunteered with SAATHII in Chennai as well as with an HIV physician Dr. Rakesh Bharti in Amritsar. We got to learn from her of the health and human rights situation in Punjab.

In August, we also got really busy with preparing posters for the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto, in which SAATHII participated. There was also an evaluation visit from Prof. Richard Scott, an e-health expert from the University of Calgary to our office, and we learned from his extensive experience with offering online courses.

Aug 24-27 I was in Maharashtra, during which I spent two days in Kalyan visiting the Thane Network of People living with HIV/AIDS. Atharv - my new researcher-colleague - and I met some really inspiring people such as Shabana, Bharati, Dinesh, Prashant, Sanjay, Sanjeevani, Kavita, and Ashok D. These folks have been doing wonderful work to reduce stigma and discrimination and empower the local HIV+ communities through advocacy, counseling and and overwhelming committment to whatever they've been doing, be it public speaking, giving radio interviews, training, counseling, or accounting.

Apart from work, I got to catch up with the newly dreadlocked Laxmi, just back from Toronto. And this Sunday (yesterday) I hung out with Sachin, Vikram and Alok. Sopan and Manohar left me comatose after a wonderful lunch including modaks in honour of Ganesh Chaturthi. Actually, I just got back from Mumbai, where valiant efforts to blog from the airport were thwarted by a misbehaving wifi connection.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

ration cards and human rights

Turns out this is not a new proposal and that Tamil Nadu under the previous government had already made provisions for Aravaanis to receive ration cards. Nevertheless, the news item did help bring concerns of transgendered people to public notice in a non-judgemental and non-patronizing way. And I liked the professionalism of the reporter, who readily obliged my request and ran my quotes by me before publishing the note.

The larger issue of transphobia and discrimination is not going to be addressed by such measures, I suspect. For anyone interested in learning more, I heartily recommend PUCL's 2003 report of human rights violations against the trans community in Bangalore, which may be downloaded from Professor Lynn Conway's site at the University of Michigan, or obtained from Sangama in Bangalore.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

work, family, friends, introspection

The past few days have been busy and eventful in some ways.

There was travel to Bangalore two weeks ago, to hire and orient researchers who will be working with SAATHII in Karnataka, to document good practices of district-level networks of HIV-positive people. And then there was a two-day methodology workshop at our Hyderabad office last week.

These trips and the days in Chennai have been peppered with such pleasant moments as getting to meet my first and second cousins, aunts, and uncles - from the Jaya Paatti, Jana Chitthi and Gowri Chitthi clans - at the wedding of my cousin Shreyas, marvelling at how much my nephew Dhruva and niece Kirthana have grown up, and hanging out with buddies Dea and Ram, among others.

And then I've had the pleasure of hosting - on consecutive weeks - two friends from Bangalore, Chandra and Kiran, both of whom are amongst the most pleasant and considerate of guests one could possibly have.

Despite (or because of?) these, I suspect I'm entering another of my asocial and introspective phases...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Blogspot and Typepad blocked?
Looks like blogspot isn't working for me either.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

blogito ergo sum

Nothing profound to report from the Delhi airport, except that I feel quite wired, being able to log in to the airport wi-fi an' all. I'm sure it's been done before, but, as my blog title reads, I'm just catching up...

Oh, and here's a pic I lifted from Lars' collection. Depicted veena is in Portland, being kept company by this and other guitars. I miss my veena :(

Thursday, June 29, 2006

so right to me

My first attempt at being a song writer, way back in 1997. Sung by Lars.

And yes, that is a Radel shruti box drone you hear in the background, and not a particularly well-tuned one at that. But somehow that didn't seem to matter very much...

Click here to listen to song

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bombay Jayashri by the beach

Tuesday night Praveen dropped in bearing gifts of two CDs of Bombay Jayashri: these are the first recordings I have of hers. Following dinner at Spice Kitchen in Alwarpet, we drove to Besant Nagar beach around 11.30 pm. Turned out there was a power outage - the area was pitch dark, and it was raining to boot. Lovely. We parked by the beach and listened to songs from her Subramanya Bharathi collection AtmA (Charsur, 1999). I particularly liked her ninnai charan aDaindEn in punnAgavarAli, notwithstanding the instrumental asampUrna vivAdi mEla interlude. And mazhai was quite delightful.

A different texture to Wednesday night: this time Tiruvanmiyur beach at midnight with UFO. Had had an exhausting day, and was generally subdued and contemplative for many reasons. varuvAi varuvAi varuvAi kaNNA and suTTum vizhi resonated the most, as we watched frothy waves dissolve into the inky blank shore.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

mothers and breast lumps

Tuesday morning began with the sombering news that the mother of Mrs. S., my next door neighbour, had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and had just had a mastectomy. What shook me up was that she had discovered the lump nearly seven months ago and hadn't told anyone. The news hit too close to home. For nearly four or five months after my mother had found her breast lump, she had kept her discovery a secret, and it took my return to India (in Feb 2004) for her to share this with me - and show me the tennis-ball-sized thing the day I landed in Chennai.

Why do some people conceal such a discovery? Denial? Fear of the worst possible outcome? In the case of my mother, she said she didn't want anyone else to worry about her or take care of her, other than me - her son and only immediate family. And she hadn't told me earlier as she hadn't wanted to have me drop what I was doing and leave the US in a panic in the middle of my academic (teaching) year. Utterly incomprehensible to most, but she was so steadfast in her conviction that she had done the right thing by not telling anyone that I couldn't help but respect her decision retrospectively.

Amma passed away Feb 3 this year, after battling the cancer for nearly twenty nine months. It is hard to comprehend how Mrs. S's mom, who stays next door for most part, could have known all about my mother's battle with the disease and yet have chosen to keep silent about her own, not even telling her own daughter. Then again, maybe not so hard to comprehend after all.

This is for all the mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, and girlfriends out there: please detect AND let those who love you know if you find something out of the ordinary. We would rather know sooner than later so we don't live with the knowledge we could have caught it in time if...

Monday, June 26, 2006

mAmi plays mAnjI

This recording of my guru Smt. Kalpagam Swaminathan playing the Muttuswami Dikshitar kRti rAmachandrENa samrakShito'ham (rAga: mAnjI, tAla: rUpaka) was made by Srini Pichumani in 1997 at mAmi's Indira Nagar home in Chennai. It has recently made its way to the internet, thanks to Ramji and Vidya.

I have listened to this rendition so many times, and never cease to be amazed by the precision with which she plays it. Or you can listen to what I - my own harshest critic - would consider a pale imitation (requires Real Player).

The antara gAndhAra is probably the only feature that sets mAmi's version apart from the Semmangudi/MSS version. It also figures noticeably in her rendition of the other MD kRti shrI sarasvatI hitE (also requires Real Player).

Friday, June 23, 2006

podcasting for fun and (non-) profit

My current explorations around audio-blogging and podcasting are restricted to music and poetry: but what I really would like to do is to make some of my online courses available with audio and video. Googling for antecedents I just came across this news- now several months old - that a Harvard University computer science Ph.D. student is offering an introductory computer and internet course in audio and video podcast format. And now Stanford and University of Michigan Dentistry School are podcasting lectures hosted on Apple's iTunes U. Very cool, but not without its discontents.

Hmmm... much as I despise separating out my life/blog into mutually exclusive compartments, maybe this does call for a separate blog like this.

Monday, June 19, 2006

mishti lover

kolkata cravings
i taste your juicy secrets
sticky-fingered bliss

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Dhanyasi and more...

A pleasant Sunday, all things considered. Woke up at 10 am to a call from Aniruddh inviting me over for lunch, prepared by him. Pulao, mouth-watering bhindi masala made specially for this okraphile, tayir-saadam, home-made pickles, appalaam, topped off with mango custard. Caught up with his parents who are so utterly warm and gracious. Browsed through the spoils of A's recent book&reprint hunting expedition to Bangalore, and took his extra copy of Epistemology of the Closet.

Then, off to veena class with Kalpagam maami at 2 pm. We've been stuck on this Mahalakshmi kritis project for a while, and are now due to
complete mangala dEvatayA before taking on s'rI bhArgavI. Some snippets of the
dhanyAsi AlApana included here for the benefit of Satish, a friend from Orkut.

Grocery shopping at Nilgiris with plans of resuming cooking after a hiatus. Rs. 600 for three measly bags of stuff. To be on the safe side, got mostly frozen stuff - the last ambitious trip had resulted in a kilo of tomatoes that efficiently proceeded to decompose after one or two fortunate(?) ones found their way into a hastily-prepared omelette/scrambled-egg hybrid.

Evening trip to Besant Nagar (unbelievably crowded) beach for Processing with UFO. Post-processing, we walked over to Canton/ Beach Palms, with a power-outage making for a pleasant candle-lit dinner, marred only slightly by the rivulets of sweat that consumed a good 15 paper napkins until the electricity made a cameo reappearance. Then we sat in the car and listened to four tracks from Sinead O'Connor's Faith and Courage.

On the way back, said hi to Praveen and Felix at Adyar Cafe Coffee Day which was bursting at the seams with soccer-enthusiasts glued to the tv.

Listen to rAga dhanyAsi from today's class (mp3 6MB, 3MB, and streaming audio formats)