Monday, September 17, 2007

hastivadanAya namastubhyam

Ever since I read Dr. V. Raghavan's rapturous account of this kriti in the NCPA red book I had nurtured a wish to learn it. It wasn't until 1987 that I had the opportunity to learn it from Kalpakam mAmi. I still remember the thrill of taking the book - a new year gift from Appa and Amma - to veena class, going through the index of kritis in that book with her, and checking the ones she knew. Pretty soon every page was plastered with check-marks...

This kriti has been with mAmi for the past seventy years or more, and with me for a mere twenty. It's one of my favorites, and has been a staple inclusion in most concerts we've played together.

The impromptu recording above was made during my most recent class, a month after mAmi turned 85.
Lyrics of this and other gaNESha kritis of MD are available here in dEvanAgari from thanks to Dr. PPN. Also check out Dr. PPN and Vidya Jayaraman's English translation of Subburama Dikshitar's sangIta sampradAya pradarshinI, available on the ibiblio site. The correspondence between the notation (see page 321 of volume 2) and mAmi's version is uncannily close...


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

the feet

chintitArtha prada charaNAravindam mukundam

The baby feet which would originate in the maakkolam at the front door and lead inward into the home.

While most such representations were impressionistic at best - essentially triangles with squiggles for soles on one side and tiny circles for toes on the other - the ones Amma would draw were much more realistic, down to the relative size of the child's toes. Gokulashtami was easily one of my favorite festivals, and the day would invariably find the entire family singing or playing kritis on kRShNa.

nalina patra nayanam vaTa patra shayanam
nava champaka nAsikam atisIsumabhAsakam
natEndrAdi lOka pAlakam mRgamada tilakam

Tuesday was a busy day at work, with unplanned events such as a meeting with an officer from the IAS who was kind enough invite us over to a work-discussion on the holiday, and last-minute editing and cheque-signing in preparation for our trip to Salem/Yercaud.

Just before leaving the office, I recalled that the lady from the house next door - our office is located in a residential area - had sought a donation for the kumbhAbhiShEka of the little Pillaiyar who sits on the wall separating the two gates.

So I went over with my donation, only to be greeted by the sight of exquisite feet leading into all the rooms of their home. The lady was very nice, and offered me sweet and savory seedais, and showed me the puja shelves in her kitchen.

navatulasi vanamAlam nAradAdi munijAlam
kuvalayAdi paripAlam guruguhanuti gOpAlam

Then, back home and in the midst of preparations for my five-day trip to Yercaud, I went over to my neighbour's apartment to leave some money for the flower-seller whose monthly wages I haven't yet managed to give as our timings haven't overlapped in the last month. There too, lovely kolams, leading up to a nice kRShNa idol in the living room. Aunty (Sujatha's mom) gave me some paayasam, and walked me to the door. There she remarked nostalgically "I remember your Amma's kolams on all festival days".

So someone else did remember, too...

chEtas shrI bAlakRShNam bhaja rE rE

- blogging from Yercaud express
- many thanks to Sangeetha Jambunathan for allowing me to link to photos of her mom's kolam

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

these songs of freedom

On the eve of India's post-colonial SaSThiabdapUrti, Amit Varma of contemplates the freedoms still curtailed by the Indian constitution. Read his piece These songs of freedom here. Thanks to Doc for the link.

Monday, August 13, 2007

trolling on medline

I guess it was a tad too earnest for JIR

1: Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 1998 Jan;42(1):119-22.Links

Effect of the Karnatic music raga "Neelambari" on sleep architecture

Gitanjali B.

Department of Pharmacology, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education & Research, Pondicherry.

The raga Neelambari in the classical Indian Karnatic system of music is said to be able to induce sleep and also have some sleep promoting qualities. This hypothesis was scientifically tested using sleep polysomnography with eight healthy subjects who listened to either Neelambari (test) raga or Kalyani (control) raga. There was no difference in sleep architecture or in subjective feeling of quality of sleep. The anecdotal references to the quality of sleep promoting effects of Neelambari probably reflect a conditioned response since most lullabies in South India are sung in Neelambari raga.

PMID: 9513803 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Sunday, July 29, 2007

a random encounter

I had never met you before. And it couldn't have been food: I wasn't carrying or promising any. What, then, made made you follow me all the way from Elliot's Beach to 2nd Avenue, Besant Nagar, where I had parked? This much I do know: your friendly muzzle in my cupped hands, your eager paws up on my chest as you strained to lick my face, your wagging tail and eager whimpers as I fondled your ears and stroked your forehead - these gladdened my day and lifted my spirits as nothing or nobody else could have. Thank you.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

continental shifts

they disappear
taking some parts of our selves
not refundable

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Kolkata, June 24, 2007

While my acquaintance with the city has, until now, been limited to a few sporadic trips, it's always a pleasure to visit Kolkata and catch up with my friends, many of whom are colleagues from our local office at Salt Lake, volunteers, or members of partner NGOs and collectives.

Last Sunday I got to attend the first day of this year's Siddhartha Gautam Film Festival, an annual event in honour of the late lawyer and human-rights activist who was one of the first to raise the issue of rights of HIV positive people in the country. The film festival kicked off Rainbow Pride, a week of events celebrating queerness and raising visibility of gender/sexuality issues in the city.

In the photo below are Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta (right) taking questions after the screening of his film Strangers in the Rain, with actor (and SAATHII colleague) Anupam Hazra on the left. The provocative film, which is sure to raise the hackles of conformists of all stripes including gay ones, portrays an unconventional relationship involving a woman and two men, none of whom are married to each other, who decide to raise a child together.

Unfazed by the film, however, was the lovely lady below, and I'm referring to Smt. Chakraborty, Rajarshi's mom, who was there to attend an extraordinary meeting of parents, relatives, and friends of LGBT people.

Unfortunately I couldn't attend that meeting, as I had to leave for a book launch organized by Seagull at their resource center. The book in question, edited by Brinda Bose and Subhabrata Bhattacharya, is an anthology of writings from literary, activist, arts, and health perspectives, that examine the politics of sexuality in contemporary India. As one of the contributors (my essay, Putting the 'B' back in LGBT, looks at the constructions of bisexuality in HIV/AIDS discourse as well as in queer politics), I got to be part of a panel discussion, meet old friends such as Shohini Ghosh, and was among those visibly relieved that the book had finally been birthed, after an extraordinarily long gestation. The first copy was received by the legendary jatra performer Chapal Bhaduri.

On the way to and back from the book launch, I got to catch up with Santanu, Anupam, and Shoma, all from SAATHII's Kolkata office. We attempted unsuccessfully to find a table at the Dhaba, and ended up turning heads outside the restaurant with our photography session as we waited for Pawan to come and pick me up in a cab (I was staying over at his home).

Having bade farewell to Santanu et al., Pawan, Tirthankar, and I ended up stopping over at the home of another friend Kallol; and, after a late-night adda that spanned everything from astrology to mining, had a pre-departure photo-session (P=L, K=C, T=R):

Pawan and I returned to his home close to midnight, and gorged on delicious aloo parathas made by his mom. I left early Monday morning for Chennai, but not before another photo session...

Monday, June 11, 2007

vainika wiki

Thanks to Vidya's efforts, we now have associated with the vainika mailing list that was set up in March 2003.The lovely painting above is by Kerala-based artist Arun, and has been taken from Ludwig Pesch's site.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

siddhIshwarAya namastE

One of the songs that unfailingly moves me whenever I listen to it is the Muthuswami Dikshitar composition in nIlAmbarI siddhIshwarAya namastE, from the tiruvArur panchalinga series.

The recording is from an all-Dikshitar home concert my guru Smt. Kalpakam Swaminathan and I played at Kiran Kannappan's place in Bangalore in 2004.

Choose preferred download or streaming audio format from page here.

laundry disaster senryu

bedspread in washer
snowy towels turn dirt red
die, fabindia dye!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

making fusion music

One of my more impulsive decisions this past week was to take Wednesday (May 23rd) off, and participate a workshop on fusion music organized by Dr. S.A.K. Durga of the Centre for Ethnomusicology, Chennai. The event was held at the Savera Hotel. It was good to exchange views with Prof. Akin Euba, Niko Higgins, Dr. Durga, Dr. Lalitha, Siddhartha Patnaik, K Parthasarathy, and others. We also got to listen to audio clips of various intercultural/interstylistic experiments, of which the most striking was Vijay Iyer's desi-influenced piano/poetry.

Then we got to the business of defining what is and isn't fusion music, a discussion that promptly got us tied up in knots. Defining fusion pre-supposes two or more 'authentic'/'un-mixed' forms in the first place, and this rarely turns out to be the case. Even Carnatic music, as homogeneous as we think it to be, represents an amalgamation of various streams, including ancient Tamil music. And Carnatic-Hindustani fusions represent a coming together of forms which have diverged from a common (albeit hybrid) ancestry to begin with.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the day was the jam session, in which we experimented with different kinds of stylistic blending and improvisation. While the die-hard musicologists griped that this was not really fusion, and that fusion music needs a corpus of compositions to be worth its weight in theoretical salt, the musicians did have a whale of a time.

Two of my all-time favorite fusion music albums:

Meeting of Angels by Nishat Khan & Ensemble Gilles Binchois (1996), with Todd McComb's write-up here=>

<= Fra Senegal til Setesdal by Kirsten Braten-Berg (1997)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


mango tree in fruit
raucous parrots celebrate
many greennesses

Monday, May 21, 2007

Groovin' on Rives

Snooping around the site led me to this performance of "If I controlled the Internet" by poet/spoken-word artist Rives:

Curious, I surfed on to his website ShopliftWindChimes and found these two charming and evocative poems Kite ( video here) and Glaucoma (audio here)

These also brought back the realization that I haven't written poetry in way too long...

of chimps and confidence intervals

Doctor, humorist, and (think cricket-) commentator rolled into one, Dr. Hans Rosling is debunking myths about the 'Third World' with the best stats and data displays you've ever seen. Amazing way to present time-trends and pre-test questionnaires.

In case the embedded object below does not work, click here to view it.

From the TED (Technology Entertainment Design) site: "Even the most worldly and well-traveled among us will have their perspectives shifted by Hans Rosling. A professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, his current work focuses on dispelling common myths about the so-called developing world, which (he points out) is no longer worlds away from the west. In fact, most of the third world is on the same trajectory toward health and prosperity, and many countries are moving twice as fast as the west did.

"What sets Rosling apart isn’t just his apt observations of broad social and economic trends, but the stunning way he presents them. Guaranteed: You’ve never seen data presented like this. By any logic, a presentation that tracks global health and poverty trends should be, in a word: boring. But in Rosling’s hands, data sings. Trends come to life. And the big picture — usually hazy at best — snaps into sharp focus.

"Rosling’s presentations are grounded in solid statistics (often drawn from United Nations data), illustrated by the visualization software he developed. The animations transform development statistics into moving bubbles and flowing curves that make global trends clear, intuitive and even playful. During his legendary presentations, Rosling takes this one step farther, narrating the animations with a sportscaster’s flair.

"Rosling developed the breakthrough software behind his visualizations through his nonprofit Gapminder, founded with his son and daughter-in-law. The free software — which can be loaded with any data — was purchased by Google in March 2007. (Rosling met the Google founders at TED.)

"Rosling began his wide-ranging career as a physician, spending many years in rural Africa tracking a rare paralytic disease (which he named konzo) and discovering its cause: hunger and badly processed cassava. He co-founded Médecins sans Frontièrs (Doctors without Borders) Sweden, wrote a textbook on global health, and as a professor at the Karolinska Institut in Stockholm initiated key international research collaborations. He’s also personally argued with many heads of state, including Fidel Castro.

"As if all this weren’t enough, the irrepressible Rosling is also an accomplished sword-swallower — a skill he demonstrated at TED2007."

Monday, April 30, 2007

to April's ladies... and gentlemen

As April draws to a close and 2007 denounces all claims to being in its youth, I offer birthday greetings to all those of my friends who were born in April. Their proportion is significantly higher than 1/12 (p < 0.005). April 30 alone, the day of Amma's birthday, is shared by five of my friends or relatives.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

eyetracking to detect 'usability'

Following one of those late-night conversations with tech-writer buddy Benny Joseph, I've been thinking about how best to divide up document review, editing, and proofing among ourselves at work. A related set of thoughts has been around how to impart skills in producing good documents, whether they be monthly technical reports, event summaries, or research results, as this is something on which we're hoping to train NGOs and CBOs working on HIV/AIDS.

These thoughts and accompanying googling led me to interesting work summarized in Online Journalism Review, in which are suggested ways to make online and print material easier to read and recall. These are based on eyetracking research, and the article has cool graphics showing which areas of a page/screen receive more intense scrutiny before and after revision:

While I'll refer the interested reader to the OJR article for key recommendations, one couldn't help but snicker at the following tidbit on how men and women (ostensibly randomized with respect to sexual orientation) differ among themselves in the way they view photos:

"When photos do contain people related to the task at hand, or the content users are exploring, they do get fixations. However, gender makes a distinct difference on what parts of the photo are stared at the longest... [a]lthough both men and women look at the image of George Brett when directed to find out information about his sport and position, men tend to focus on private anatomy as well as the face. For the women, the face is the only place they viewed. Coyne adds that this difference doesn’t just occur with images of people. Men tend to fixate more on areas of private anatomy on animals as well, as evidenced when users were directed to browse the American Kennel Club site." [emphasis mine]

While blogger Jason Kottke wonders about the evolutionary interpretation of such gender differences, what I want to know is: what were the researchers thinking when they planned to include the AKC treatment in their experimental design?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

puliyogare 2.0

Whether this is considered an enhanced version or not depends on culinary conservatism of the reader, but I'd like to think it tastes way better than the standard preparation...

Locally available ingredients here in Chennai, apart from the predictable rice (the Ponni Raw variety that grows on Foodworld shelves) and MTR Puliogare mix, are soya chunks from Soy Day, shelled peas, garlic-chilli sauce from Asian Home Gourmet and gram-daal mixture. Variants on this theme include firm tofu instead of soya chunks, and spinach/keerai mixed in with the rice - my recipe from bygone Austin potluck days.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

cousins, babies, and blogposts

It has always been a peeve of mine that so many people leap into parenthood without thinking twice about what it entails. There is conspicuous absence, in the dizzying world of standardized tests, of a PAT - Parental Aptitude Test.

I was, therefore, quite happy to read my (photo below) cousin Manohar's reflections on impending fatherhood. Here's wishing him and Meera all the very best.

Related note #1 re: cousins+babies -> congratulations to Malini and Avnash on their second baby, born this past week; and best wishes to Vidya and Shiva who're expecting their arrival soon...

Related note #2 re: cousins+blogposts -> inveterate bibliophile Lavanya brings literature and history to bear on her thoughtful piece on Women's Day.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

count 'em calories

Not one to be particularly subtle, my housemate Jacob gifted me a bathroom scale (purchased ostensibly to weigh his luggage) before leaving for Kenya yesterday. Now I find myself weighing myself twice a day, and thinking actively of downsizing from 70 to 65 kg.

In the meanwhile, Civitarese and colleagues, writing in PLOS Medicine yesterday, report that caloric restriction leads to increase in muscle mitochondrial DNA, and decrease in whole body oxygen consumption and DNA damage. Efficient mitochondria -> lowered free-radical production -> slowed aging.

Ref: Civitarese AE, Carling S, Heilbronn LK, Hulver MH, Ukropcova B, et al. (2007) Calorie restriction increases muscle mitochondrial biogenesis in healthy humans. PLoS Med 4(3): e76. Read article here.

Coverage from the Telegraph, UK, is here.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

ICT4D: Feb 20-23, 2007

Returning to blogger after a long time, during which a lot has changed, and a lot hasn't. This post is essentially a placeholder for a photo-journal of my participation at the Pan-Asia Information Communications Technology Forum at Singapore earlier this month. The forum brought together practitioners of ICT for Development (ICT4D) from twelve Asia-Pacific countries.

Professors from the IITs rubbed shoulders with NGO social entrepreneurs from Mongolia and the Solomon Islands. A Microsoft representative had to reckon with Philipino activists promoting open source and inter-operable software, and t-shirts that proclaimed "No Windows, No Gates: No Bill, it's Free". Projects were diverse: an epidemic surveillance system for Dengue fever in Indonesia, a portal for homemakers in Malaysia, an Urdu font development project from Pakistan, a mountain GIS from Nepal... the list ran into about 60 projects, each more inspiring than the other.

Also got to meet new people, forge what we hope will be long-term partnerships, and make new friends.

My pic album is here, and pro Suchit Nanda has a selection here. An annotated selection will soon replace this placeholder.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Friday night

10 pm.

The call I've grown to expect hasn't arrived. My curiosity (or is it anxiety?) piqued, I ring.

"At my friend's place. Will call you in an hour".

Second evening in a row. I shouldn't jump to conclusions, however...

I decide not to wait. In any case, it's late, and I haven't had dinner yet. A quick googlechat confirms that Aniruddh is awake and game for a drive on ECR. To top it all, he invites me to eat at his place.

So I'm off to Tiruvanmiyur. Comfort food: rasam s'Adam, puLikAchchal, javarisi vaDAm, yoghurt. What more does one need?

In the car, I turn on the shruti CD. We head south.

Aniruddh sings a lovely periAlwAr piece in nATa pallANDu pallANDu.

Next it's kAnada, with yenna solli azhaitthAl varuvAyO. Quite appropriate, I think to myself. I follow up with vIra hanumatE naMO namah.

By this time we've passed VGP and are approaching the toll gate before Mahabalipuram. I turn left into some Nagar or other. Fortunately the street takes us directly to the beach. Parking inches from where road meets sand, we lower the windows. Rich tones of the tambura recording slice through the still air. We then sing kalyANI. E tAvunarA is a song I haven't sung or played in a long time. Following this, it's mangaLa dEvatE in mArgadEs'I.

We see four men approaching in the rear view mirror. I hastily roll up the windows and lock the doors. It's 12.30 am. One never knows. But it's only a group of friends out for a walk. I feel rather ashamed.

It's time to head back. bRndAvana sAranga and svAminAthEna samrakShitO'ham suggest themselves, as I U-turn back north. D (2 kaTTai) shruti being a tad high for my voice, I explore the lower octave, and the notes of amRtavarShiNI blend nicely with the kAkali niShAda and antara gAndhAra overtones of the tambura. tAna, then AnandAmRtAkarShiNI.

Tiruvanmiyur is here. Dropping Aniruddh at his place, I head home.

The promised call has not arrived. At this point, it doesn't appear quite as upsetting.

I light a votive candle and place it in the aromatherapy candle holder. Ylang-ylang suffuses the room and envelops me in a heady calmness.

I sleep, soothed.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Pongal o' 97, 05, 07

Catching up with Austin friends Sriraman, Shakuntala, and Rohit, I heard about the icy weather that has everyone holed up in their homes today. Reminded me of the ice storm in Texas on Pongal day, 1997:

boiling pots / sh
ivering cowboys
tamil nadu
harvest festiv
pongal arom
vermilion and sugarcane

bright saris
bullock carts


ice storm
frostbitten leaves

sleet on roads

skidding chevys

offices close
weather forecasts

Fast forward to Pongal 2005, my first in India after fifteen years of my US stay, and the last time Amma was able to celebrate it with kOlam, pongal and puja. We had just learned of her liver metastases over the new year, but she had taken the news very bravely.

Last year, Amma was too ill to celebrate Pongal and remained mostly bed-ridden.

Jan 15, 2007:
I was home most of the day, and took a walk in the evening to New Woodlands on Radhakrishnan Salai for an early dinner, around 6.45 pm. The flyover between Music Academy and Woodlands was all done up with lights, as was the gas station near Nilgiris. I walked back via TTK Road and Deivasigamani Street, past the vinAyaka temple outside Prof. SRJ's home, and the s'rInivAsa perumAL temple in Lakshmipuram.

Later at night, Aniruddh visited on his way back from the Book Fair: I dropped him back in Tiruvanmiyur and spent some time parked by the beach catching up with Ram, and listening to Bombay Jayashri's trayI - Tripura and the Trinity (2005, Rajalakshmi Audio). hiraNmayIm lakshmIm in lalitA and s'rI kamalAmbA in Ahiri are the most tranquil and soulful pieces in the collection.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

what listening to kIravANI can trigger

Listening to my recording of rAga kIravANI this Sunday morning brought back memories of my last Christmas-New Year break in the US, and sent me excavating my iPhoto archives.

The year transition was 2003-2004, shortly before my return to India in Feb 2004. I had gone to spend that break with Lars in Portland, Oregon.

I had taken my veena along from Austin: the idea was to leave it with him for safekeeping and as a keepsake. I arrived on Christmas with the veena safely ensconsed in its much-travelled wooden case.
Despite being tinged with sadness at my imminent parting, it was one of my nicest breaks ever. Lars, ever the gracious host, plied me with homemade pizza, my favorite raisin cookies from Fred Meyer, and wines from the northwest, Chile and Australia.

I also got to drive up Interstate 5 to Seattle to meet up with my friends Mala and Vega.

Back in Portland, we took night-walks through the Christmas-lit neighbourhood where children played with snowballs, made snowmen, and skateboarded on the slush. The starkness of barren branches and backyards laden with snow...

... was offset by the warmth and vivid colours of Lars' studio, where I spent several hours recording for an audio CD Taanam on Veena, my way of bidding adieu to my veena and making it feel at home among Lars' guitars.

We recorded using basic condensor mics on Lars' iMac onto Cubase, and Lars also captured some video footage for a test DVD made using iMovie and iDVD.

We also designed a CD cover...

And, yes, veena did appear to be at home among its European-origin cousins...

I did get one more chance to see Lars and veena, when I visited them in mid-February 2004, en route India. But that's a post for another evening...