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Monday, 29 December 2014

Sing Baby Sing!

Whatever our differences, nothing unites India like Songs do. Whatever the region, language or religion, music plays an important; nay integral part in our lives. Right through one’s life, from birth and the three stages of it and finally death, Indians have a song for every stage of it. And more than one song for every occasion of one’s life.  From a “Happy budday ttoo you Sunita” on the day you are born to “O Jaanewaale ho sake to laut ke aana” enroute to your last rites! Be it a festival, be it a season, be it various times of a day, be it hard labour or labour of love, be it success or be it failure. In short any sphere of human activity and we are just one song away from it.

Indian Music encompasses virtually everything from the deepest oceans to the tallest mountains.  Whatever the genre, we are spoilt for choice.  From Carnatic to Hindusthani to even an Ilayaraja symphony. From Ghazals to Thumris to Khayals to Geet to Nazm to Qawwalis to what have yous! An honest confession here. I can hardly spell Carnatic or Hindusthani. As regards the others mentioned above and million others not mentioned I can make them out from one another with great difficulty or as in most cases not at all. Yet! And yet as I said earlier I am one song away from anything and everything, thanks to Indian Cinema!

Suffices if I say that Indian Cinema is not Indian Cinema without its songs! In its earliest avatar, Indian Cinema was essentially a series of songs strung together with a few dialogues which lead to more songs. No wonder Indian Cinemas’ earliest stars were people who were singer-actors. Once playback singing came about, the actors who made it large were the ones who could lip sync to perfection! I don’t think Rajendra Kumar would have made it big but for his ability to emote so successfully in Mohd. Rafi’s voice to quote just one instance. On second thoughts, Rajendra Kumar’s son Kumar Gauravs’ claim to fame was his ability to do his father in Amit Kumar’s voice!  Such are the impact and importance of songs in our films that a taut espionage thriller ‘Andha Naal’ starring the then superstar of Tamil Cinema Sivaji Ganesan, flopped at the box office because it featured no song and the audience felt cheated!

Where are the songs?

Given the fact that I am a self proclaimed music critic, I am now going to propound my views on this act and art. And since I have already hooked you beyond the cursory two paragraphs, you have no choice but to hear me out! Also given the fact that I am not too well versed with the grammar of music, its various traditions, its nuances, its finesse etc., I stay away from the routine classification of singers viz, Carnatic or Hindusthani or Pop or light music and I thus draw my own classification of singers. The first category of singers as far as I am concerned are people who spend years in mastering the universe of music, its every note, its every bar to ultimately receive the grace of Goddess Saraswati herself. The next category are people who are not trained in music but achieve stardom through sheer natural talent and genius. The third category are people whose only qualification as singers is that they claim to be one! But my most favourite category are what I call ‘Bathroom Singers’! People who have talent but no avenue or wherewithal to translate it into success due to either their inability to struggle, for want of a lucky break or simply the middle class mentality. And hence they end up plying their trade within the confines of their bathrooms or office parties/picnics or Kalyana Nelangu levels as a hobby. Without taking away anything from them, maybe they were born a few generations too early from the days of Super Singers, Indian Idols and Sa Re Ga Ma!

One genre of music which has always held in utter dread is what we Indian generically refer to as Western Music. I have never been worried if I can’t distinguish between Rock, Pop, Jazz, Country, Rap or what have yous. What has often worried me is my inability to distinguish whether it is a man or a women singing. On second thoughts it could well be a machine doing it! 

And to round off this discussion, I am not only a self proclaimed music critic I hereby declare that I am a singer too! So check this out!

PS: Did you know that once Mohd Rafi sang playback for Kishore Kumar?  In the film Ragini!

Kalyana Nelangu: An family event in Tamil Weddings.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Dancing Peacocks and Danish Bar!

15.11.2014, 5.30 AM:

Ola Cabs messages saying the cab I booked has arrived before schedule and I can leave early should I wish. They also compliment me with an upgrade to a sedan. Good Morning indeed!

15.11.2014, 6 AM:

A spic and span Coimbatore Junction anbudan welcomes me! Even the tracks are bereft of you know what we find on railway tracks in most Indian station early in the morning! This I am told is not an exception or a photo-op for Swachch Bharat Abhiyan.  Sorry to disappoint you Modiji, this is the hygiene workers earning their honest bread. Bravo Coimbatore!

Swachch Coimbatore Abhiyaan!

15.11.2014, 7 AM:

Unlike the Coimbatore Junction, the Coimbatore-Mayiladhuthurai Jan Shatabdi express presents a poor picture. Run down coaches, wet washrooms and the stink. The coach I travel in doesn’t have a garbage bin to boot, the place allotted instead to stock the stale and tepid breakfast parcels. Note: Please carry breakfast from home or buy a parcel from Annapurna before boarding the train. And skip the watery liquid masquerading as coffee!

15.11.2014, 1 PM:
The train is late. A growling stomach forces you to detrain at Kumbakonam instead. A full fledged saappadu later, SETC ride to Mayiladuthurai is undertaken. A 50 odd KMs ride for just Rs.21.00. Well done! The bus could have however seen a doctor before plying I felt. The other highlight is a single lane state highway. Single lane yes but as with most roads in Tamil Nadu well maintained. A sort of Single lane- toll free- expressway!

(For those who came in late: The entire stretch of coastal Tamilnadu from Chennai through Pondycherry- Cuddalore- Chidambaram- Mayiladuthurai- Kumbakonam- Thanjavur to Trichirapalli is a veritable treasure trove of ancient temples and architectural wonders. A detour from the highway every few kilometers on either side takes you to further more equally ancient and equally wonderful temples. The standing quip is that it takes two lifetimes to visit all the places of religious importance in this region. And while at it how can one be far away from the very Idea of India. Among the various pilgrimage routes is the one from Mayiladuthurai to Thirukadaiyur, a holy town for Hindus, to Nagore, the city of the famous Dargah built over the tomb of the Sufi Saint Hazrath Nagore Shahul Hamid. Also the birthplace of Singer Hanifa who sang Islamic devotional songs in Tamil, and right down to Velankanni, the city of the holy Catholic Church dedicated to Our Lady Of Good Health.  Yes! This is India! Despite the efforts of fundamentalist of various hues, we are like this only!)


16.11.2014, 9 AM:

One of the most expensive taxi rides takes me to Tranquebar! Not a bar literally but a Danish name for the lyrical Tamil name Tharangampadi! The site of the Danish landing and trading centre in India in early 17th century post an agreement between the Danes and the Maratha King Raghunatha Nayak, of Thanjavur. The highlight of Tranquebar is the majestic Danish Fort built right on the beach adjacent to the Masilamaninathar Temple. A part of the fort is now converted into an Indo-Danish Museum. I will stop the narrative and let the pictures speak instead.  

Danish Fort, Tharagampadi Aka Tranquebar!

16.11.2014, 1 PM:

Among the heart breaking sights is the so called renovation/restoration being done by the Archeological survey of Tamil Nadu and the Archeological Survey of India to the Masilamaninathar shore temple. I don’t know whom to credit this disaster but once again let the picture speak for themselves!

Yeppadi Irundha Naan..............

Ippadi ayittaen!!!!

16.11.2014, 8PM:

Why do all European town be it French, Portugese or Danish exude the same look? This could well be a street in Panjim, Pondicherry or Tranquebar!

Panjim, Pondicherry or..............!

16.11.2014, 10 PM:
Onwards Ho to Coimbatore with Rathi and Meena for company!

Rathi and Meena!


PS: Mayiladuthurai literally means Land of dancing peacocks! How is that for poetry in a name! Thanks @ndranandraj!


Anbudan: With love
Swachch Bharat Abhiyan : Clean India Campaign
Sappadu: Tamil Nadu Full Meals.
Yeppadi Irundha naan, ippadi ayittaen : How I was and what I have become!

Monday, 15 December 2014


The recent churn of events in the retail sector of India has turned conventional logic topsy turvy. No, I don't refer to the on now, off now, piecemeal legislation on FDI in retail sector. I don't mean the oft repeated discussion about giant retailers swallowing the Mom & Pop stores. What has caused the churn is the latest disruptor in town the online retailers. Old hat in most developed countries, online retailing is making a splash in India and how. 

Post the plethora of deep discount offers dished out by the fledgling online retails armed with VC funded deep pockets, the first reactions I heard from the bricks-n-mortar store owners was that the new demon attacking the markets from cyberspace was indulging in unfair trade practice! Reminds me of "Frog eat insects, Snake eat Frog" story from Indian folklore! Flashback to a few years and you will see how the "Big retail" defended their right to "deep discount" on the back of volumes and VC funded deep pockets!
Cybermarket War!

However selfish the arguments of the Offline businesses may sound fact remains that Online retail given its wider reach, low overheads (in the long run), 24*7 timings and sheer convenience it offers is a adversary worthy of a digging in and fighting. Rather than bring in pressure through political lobbying and crying foul   about imaginary malpractices, the offline stores must look at ways n means to compete against a business model which offers value to a consumer. 

First things first. It would possibly be foolhardy for Offline stores to compete with e-tailers on convenience plank. They can probably on discounts but beyond a point below the belt pricing is a zero sum game or a me-too! So trying to ape online benefits in an offline environment can only take you thus far and no further.

Me-Too Discounts!

Learn from Lalaji/Sethji/Nadaranne!

A smart retailer today must offer what is possibly the most critical differentiator and in turn the crucial shortcoming of the online retailers, shopping experience. Shopping in India is more than just bargain hunting; it is the sheer pleasure of hunting for the bargain which gives us the high! Shopping is a family outing, a time pass, a relaxation, a hobby. Offline Retailers must today present a store which must enhance the 'Experience' element while shopping. Nice and friendly decors, easy to access displays, convenient zoning, sufficient parking etc are a given. The key to success is to offer all these concrete elements with the personal touch of
a Lalaji/Sethji. Make the consumer feel important, wanted and welcome. Be patient with multiple 'trials', suggest the products best suited, hang around to help   without being overbearing, be polite yet friendly. Post sales ensure to deliver the best in the industry after sales service. In short do what the friendly neighborhood 'Nadar Maligai' has perfected over centuries, make the customer feel like the King that he/she is! Remember every customer is a human being first. Treat them like the way you would like to be treated and you have a business good enough to beat any competition, offline and online.



PS: If the Lalajis/Sethjis could withstand the competition from Ambanis/Biyanis, they can well withstand the Flipkarts/Amazons etc. Like cockroaches, mosquitoes, Rats and Mallus, they are invincible!


Lalaji/Sethji/Nadar Maligai: Popular euphemism for ‘Local’ Businesses/Retailers. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Malang Man!

Gully cricket! Those who have played it know it has uniqueness written all over it. The rules of the game are as varied as the gully themselves. And the only common one among those varied rules is the absence of a Cricket copybook. Not for us the coaching manuals. You struck the rising ball pitched outside off to Rina aunty's balcony somewhere in the deep thirdman's direction to score the 'declared two'. You moved inside the line to scoop the full pitched ball straight above the mid on's head simultaneously imparting heavy top spin on it so that it misses Ghosh uncle's protruding television antenna and still hits the C Block water tank for an 'aththa'! You also cheekily but skillfully pushed the ball square to ensure it went below Raman uncle's Ambassador parked there since eternity so you can score a ' all run 3'. Imagine an 'all run 3'! In gully cricket! Now tell me when have you seen me do this? You haven't? Means you have not prodded your mind enough! I have seen me do it. I have seen you do it too! And I saw it everytime Virendra Sehwag padded up and took strike. That audacious 'upar cut', that walking away from the ball to nonchalantly scoop/hoik it above the mid on's head and yet place it beyond the unorthodox long on's reach or the cheeky push away from the slip to a ball which has beaten you on its flight. NOW you get the connection! 

Ganguly retired, a part of my childhood memories vanished. Dravid took away a portion when he hung up the boots. VVS did the same. And Sachin..............sigh! They all helped me get nostalgic. They kindled fond memories about my past. They made me miss some of the most beautiful moments of my life. But I lived on. But Sehwag? Sehwag killed my childhood! He was me! He was you! He was us! With all our shortcomings and infirmities. The lack of footwork and straight bats. He was that imp who stole an 'all run 3' in gully cricket. He was that supreme exponent with the bat who conquered the world with all our limitations, blemishes, drawbacks and weaknesses. I am Viru! The gully cricketer who could dream and then win the world. 

Topspin to take it past Ghosh Uncle's TV antenna! 
Cheeky push to send it below Raman Uncle's car!!
Malang! Mast Malang!!

Malang. Malang! No it is not an ode to Aamir Khan and Dhoom 3. Malang is a word used to describe the ascetics and sufis who live in a world of their own oblivious of everything that goes around them. In a communion with whoever they are in love with and despite the distractions of the world. Beyond love or hate, beyond the plethora of material needs at their disposal or none of it. In a daze, in a zone of their own. Nothing affected them, nothing could upset their veneer. A seering bouncer fended off awkwardly is wiped off from memory. An ugly swipe at the swinging delivery leaving you looking foolish. An unorthodox reverse sweep attempted off an express paceman. Nothing affected him, nothing could upset his veneer. All that mattered was that the next ball was on its way and presented an opportunity to belt it to the boundary or beyond it. Equanimity never lost and never needed to be restored. Peace reigned in his mind as the bowler lost it. MalangMan!

I have this nagging feeling that whenever the history of modern Indian Cricket especially its willow wielders is written the writer may run out of space, pen and ink by the time one is done with the Fab Four and leave a gaping hole in the narrative which will never be noticed by the generation to follow us. Mundane statistics will be quoted and what will be missed is the essence. You will talk about Dada's aggression with bat as well as a captain. Paeans will be written about Dravid's struggle. The languid slayer that the Very Very Special player was. And Sachin.................sigh! They gave joy, they offered delight, happiness from the platform built by a certain Nawab of Najafgarh! Remember the roller coaster, the giant wheel, the horror movie? They didn't give joy or delight or happiness. They gave you pure, unadulterated thrill! Thrill that the Sultan of Multan packed into every minute of his stay at the crease. Whether he scored 2, 22 or those monster  hundreds! THRILL! 

Rewrite the Books! It is Fabulous Fivesome!!


PS: I first heard Imran Khan of Pakistan call him 'Malang'. One of the few occasions post retirement from active cricket when Khan got something right!


Aththa : Delhi slang for the one which goes beyond the rudimentary 'Sixer', an 'Eighter'!