This was the first concert that I went to after the Remember Shakti one in Feb. I got in full what I got a glimpse of in the Shakti show. Vikku in full flight.

The line up was fantastic. There was Shankar Mahadevan. There was Shrinivas. There was Vikku. There was Ranjit Barot. There was Aditya Kalyanpur. There was, of course, my personal favourite – Selvaganesh. As Jeeves would put it, ‘Capital!

Now, I must confess that I had not really heard of Aditya Kalyanpur before. I had heard the name Ranjit Barot but had not really heard his music. The concert was scheduled to start at 7. I reached about 10 minutes before that. I took my seat. I waited. The clock struck seven. No sign of the show getting underway. It then became 7 10. Still no sign. An announcement: ‘We apologize for the delay. People are stuck in traffic and hence we are waiting for the audience to come in. We are sorry for the inconvenience but we will be starting shortly.’ The show started 15 minutes hence.

A small thing that I have noticed off late. Too many shows starting late. Not a healthy trend at all. Just a personal remark, that’s all.

So they came on stage. Shankar, Selva, Shrinivas, Aditya and Ranjit. There were 4 ghatams on stage. I was piqued. Vikku, however, abstained. I was disappointed.

My disappointment, however, did not last very long. Shankar took off in Hamsaswani and the piece was quite fantastic. I did, somehow, find the drum to be at odds with every other instrument on stage but after a while, I got used to it. The thing that took me back most about this piece was that there was a very very loud bass beat that ended every rhythm cycle. I thought that the drum kit was louder than necessary. It was only towards the end of the piece that I realized that it was not the drum but Selva on the kanjira. Mind = blown. I could’ve sworn that it was the sound of a drum. I did not really know that a kanjira was capable of sounds thus. More on that later.

The next piece was one in atTAna and was quite beautiful as well. Shankar was, as ever, in his element and the jugalbandi that he and Shrinivas did was something to behold. he, with the swarams, Shrinivas with his mandolin. Brilliant.

Then, at long last, the moment I had been waiting for. Vikku came on stage. He was accompanied by his grandson, Swaminathan, Selva’s son. Incidentally, Swami also plays the kanjira and is quite brilliant himself. I saw him perform in Pune along with Selva, Vikku and Zakir among others and even in that stellar company, he managed to hold his own; so much so that even Zakir was visibly impressed.

Anyway, Swami chanted the Ganapati tAnam and Vikku played it on the ghatam. Ghatams, I should say. There were four of them andhe went on to illustrate the difference in sounds of the four. He then went on an epic solo in which, at one point in time, he was playing all four simultaneously, that it sounded exactly like a jaltarang. Whatay!

Shankar, Selva, Vikku and Aditya then left the stage for Shrinivas and Ranjit to take over. This was, perhaps, the part of the show that I liked the least. Shrinivas was epic, as ever but somehow, I did not care too much for the drumming. Perhaps because I am not really a big fan of the huge drum kits. Perhaps because I prefer a tabla or a mridangam or a kanjira to a Western drum kit. Then again, that’s just my opinion. Judging by the applause, the audience did indeed enjoy the drum solo.

The artistes (barring Vikku) then came back on stage and Shankar sang a beautiful Krishna bhajan. As a prologue, he told the audience the story of how he learnt this bhajan. Many years ago, it was Ranjit who gave Shankar his first break in ad jingles. It was on one such occasion when Shankar was jamming with Ranjit at his house that Ranjit’s aunt, Tara Devi, called Shankar and asked him, ‘gana seekhoge?’ Shankar hesitantly said yes and this was what she taught him. He said that this one bhajan gave him material enough for ten years of performing. Such was the depth.

So we had had a ghatam solo first and then a drum solo.  It was time for the tabla. Before Aditya started off, Shankar introduced him thus. ‘Do you people remember the Taj Mahal ad many years ago? The one that Zakir bhai composed? He was there  in front of the Taj with a small kid and the both of them were playing the tabla? Well, this is that kid. Of course, he is no longer a kid. He almost has a kid now.’ Interesting bit of trivia there. The tabla solo was brilliant too.

So, what was left then? Of course. Selvaganesh. The kanjira solo. Good god was this epic. I have said this before and I will say it again. The range of sounds that that man produces with that small frame drum is quite unimaginable. This time, he replicated the sound of a train amongst other sounds but the highlight was when he actually mimiced the bass guitar on the kanjira. Mind = blown. Again.

Vikku then came back on stage and there was a piece in kalyani to finish the evening off. The piece was going on when, out of nowhere, it suddenly started sounding extremely familiar, and bang! Out of nowhere, Shankar started off breathless. Accompanied by the kanjira, the mandolin, the tabla, the ghatam and the drum, the superfast rendition of breathless was mesmeric. Absolute genius.

The show ended. The usual ponnAdais were pothified. Parity was restored. They called it a night. An epic night.

P.S Something that I was cribbing about before the Shakti concert, viz, the ticket pricing, these chaps got spot on. The entire balcony was priced at 200 which was very well played, I think.

The concert

It was one of those days you wanted to cry out with joy but before that you had to cry for the choices you had to make for that joy. February 12th was one of those days.

A culmination of a 3 year dream was upon me. I was to watch Remember Shakti perform live for the first time ever and perhaps the last time ever.

However, it was also the day of the biggest game of the season for Man United. The game against the old enemy – ‘em Scousers. The Suarez angle only made it even more intriguing.

Choices. Sigh.

So I made a choice. I went to Music academy well in time. The gates were to open at 6 45. I waited. They opened at 7. I went and sat inside.

Text message from Arun. ‘First half. High drama. Suarez refuses to shake Evra’s hand. De Gea refuses to let go of Suarez’s hand and Rio refuses to shake Suarez’s hand.’

He went on to describe a few more events of the first half and then it was almost 7 15. The show was about to start. Text. ‘The scouser scores.’

‘God damn it’, I reply.

‘The scouser born in Everton scores. :D’ Arun, you ass!!! Well played!

In one second, despair to joy. Rooney had scored. United were in the lead. And before long, United had made it two. Rooney had made it two.

Relief. Joy. Etc.

The phone was to go into flight mode now.

The curtain rose. It was 7 30.

Before the concert, I had pictured this scene many times. I secretly wished that the curtain would rise and that there would be a ghatam on stage and Vikku would be sitting on stage as a special guest only for the Chennai show. There was a ghatam. Vikku was indeed sitting. Only, they were at different places. The ghatam was on stage. Vikku was in the first row of the audience. Oh well!

…and so it began. 5 in the morning. 6 in the afternoon. Quite a brilliant start to the evening.

The next piece was Anna. Selvaganesh exchanged the kanjeera for a ghatam and just before the piece started, he looked at his father in the first row and bent his head to get his blessings. Apparently, he did get the blessings for he was smiling after that. I don’t know how many in the audience actually saw that. What a sight.

The stage was slightly empty until now. There was a gap in between John and Shrinivas. This was, of course, to be filled by ‘the voice of Shakti’, as Zakir called him. Shankar Mahadevan came on stage. Giriraja Sudha followed. Need I say more? I think not.

After this, came Ma No Pa. Only, this time, there were lyrics. Shankar experimented with some lyrics at the beginning after which they played something that resembled the original. Brilliance.

After this came a new piece. A fast paced number with prominent vocals, mandolin, guitar and the tabla with subtle mridangam undertones. Zakir said that it was a work in progress and that it was tentatively called seven. It did appear a bit rough ’round the edges at places and I’d love to hear the final version of it.

‘And now, for a golden oldie-doldie’, Zakir said. ‘And for this golden oldie-doldie, we would like to have a golden oldie-doldie on stage. Vikku-ji please come on stage. We are in Chennai and we could not pass up the opportunity to play with Vikku-ji especially now that he is here.’

Hope is a good thing. Sometimes the best of things – Shawshank Redemption.

And so Vikku proceeded onto the stage, took the mic and said, ‘ this was composed when I was a member of Shakti. I am old now. I don’t know if I can play well. I will try. This is a test for me. I did not know that they were going to call me on stage. Let’s see how it goes.’ Vikku said this in Tamil. The crowd applauded. The applause died down. ‘Now, can you repeat that in Urdu please?’ Zakir. Ever the witty showman. The crowd was in splits.

Bridge of Sighs followed. If you’ve heard the original, you will know that most of the sigh-ing effects were because of Shankar’s violin pieces. With no violin here and with Vikku, it was only sigh in name. It was quite joyous, in reality. Sometimes, wishes do come true. Vikku went on a mini solo too. Eat that other venues. Madras got to see Vikku play. Ha!

The next piece was Sakhi with Shankar in his element. Mesmeric it was.

Zakir then looked at the time and mouthed, ‘it’s getting late, isn’t it?’

I had an inking of what was coming. I was right.

Lotus feet. With just a hint of Shankar’s vocals. Bliss. That is all I can say. Bliss.

I thought it was over but the epicness of the evening had just begun. The last piece was, well, no recognizable piece. It started off in the normal fashion but soon everyone just let go of their instruments, a la laying down their arms. Everyone, that is, except a certain Zakir Hussain. They all turned to him. The crowd turned to him. What he did over the next 15 minutes or so, I don’t think I can describe. I don’t think anyone can. All I can say is that he was just being Zakir Hussain.

Then came Selvaganesh’s solo on the kanjeera and when I looked at the audience, I saw that same expression on people’s faces that I saw during that concert in Pune when he finished his solo. They were quite simply astounded as to how such a small instrument could produce such a wide array of sounds. Breathtaking.

As they say, all good things must come to an end, and so did this show. Unfortunate, yes but such is life. United won 2-1.

Before the show, countless others and I cribbed about the ticket prices in Chennai. While tickets started from Rs. 200 in Mumbai and from 500 in places like Hyderabad, the tickets in Chennai only started from Rs. 2000. I paid 3000 for mine and did my fair share of whining about it. In fact, there were quite a few people cribbing about the prices right before the show began at the Music Academy even.

In the end, though, don’t remember any of that cribbing. Don’t remember any of that whining. Don’t remember anything else. Only Remember Shakti.

Remember Shakti

February 2009.

A friend came to me and said, ‘machan! Listen to this da.’

Naturally defensive me. ‘What is it da?’

‘Dai! Listen da!’

Skeptical me. ‘OK.’

I put on a elaborate show of cleaning the ear-buds.

I hit the play button.

There was this most amazing sound with a nasal twinge.

‘What is this da?’

The answer was that it was a morsing.

I did not hear the answer.

Immediately following the morsing was a sound of the ghatam playing. Suddenly, a guitar strum. Suddenly a violin joined in.

I opened my eyes. Five minutes and forty eight had elapsed.

Mind ecology was the piece.

I was hooked.

I looked at my friend. He grinned and said one word. ‘Shakti.’

That was the beginning.

Next, I listened to Peace of mind. I lost track of time. I had heard of music being able to elevate you but I did not believe it. That was the first time I truly felt it.

That was around the time I got an iPod. Unfortunately, I had no access to the internet to download the songs. I contented myself with listening to the few tracks that my friend had on him. In the meanwhile, I did a lot of research about the band, found out the history and found out about Remember Shakti.

I listened to Giriraja Sudha. I then listened to Giriraja Sudha. I then listened to Giriraja Sudha. And then I …. You get the point. Shankar Mahadevan’s epicness with Shakti was a little overwhelming, to say the least.

I then got all the songs and then listened to them over and over and over. ‘Finding the way‘ is a very special track. That was when I fell in love with the kanjira. Selvaganesh’s solo just left me mesmerized. I could not believe that such a simple looking instrument could produce such music. Epic is probably the only word. I subsequently even went out and bought a kanjira (a lizard skin one, not a synthetic skin one but that story is perhaps for another day.)

Anyway, I became a huge fanboi, bought the documentary, the way of beauty (I recommend you buy it too. The best 500 odd Rupees I ever spent in life) and generally evangelized Shakti wherever and whenever I could. All this while, I had this one regret. That I would perhaps never watch Shakti live.

Then came February 2011. Being pretty poor when it comes to Hindustani music, I did not really know who Kishori Amonkar was but there was a two day fest celebrating her 80th birthday, Sahela re. The fest was brilliant with some spectacular renditions of the various gharana styles but I will always remember t for the ending. The fest ended with a taalam kuchcheri. It had Zakir (tabla), Vikku (ghtam), Selvaganesh (kanjira), Bhavanishankar (pakhawaj), Swaminathan (Selvaganesh’s son – kanjira) and Sabir Khan(sarangi). I can still remember the energy of that night. I thought that was the closest I would ever come to see Shakti playing. I was wrong.

Anyway, the reason I remember that so much is because of what happened after the show. It was late and people were leaving. A few people went backstage but were not really allowed into the room where the artistes were. I went backstage and waited for the car park was there and the artistes were scheduled to leave soon. I figured that I could talk to someone. I was right. There was a big mob around Zakir while there was hardly anyone with VIkku and Selvaganesh. I spoke a few words to them but I had to talk to Zakir.

The crowd was too much. Zakir’s tabla was loaded into the boot. He was getting into the car. This was the moment.

‘Zakir!!! Will Shakti ever perform again?’ I shouted.

‘Shakti has been performing, man!’, he replied and then drove away.

That was the story of how I had a conversation with Zakir Hussain.

I still did not have any hopes of watching Shakti live. I have since watched Shrinivas and Selvaganes together but I had all but abandoned hope of ever watching Shakti live. That was until December of 2011 when I saw that link on some website. It said something about there being a Remember Shakti tour. I scoured the net and got the details. There were concert tickets on the net for the ones in Hyderabad but nothing for Chennai.

I called up the Shakti foundation office only to find out that the tickets cost 2000, 3000 and 5000. Oh Oh! Trouble. I tried all avenues to see if I could get passes. Alas! No avail. Well, long story short, I am going to the concert on Saturday and my wallet is lighter by INR 3000. My bank balance is at undergrad levels. Oh well!

Wait. The story does not end there. This is where the sad story starts.

Now, naturally, I started plugging it on twitter and spreading the word in class. No one was interested but I keep telling people again and again that a couple of people said they’d go. Now, they had to go to the Shakti foundation office to get the tickets. All’s OK until now. This is where I die. Slowly.

These people not only got the tickets (which they paid for, of course) but also got tee shirts, some other stuff and … and … passes to the after-event dinner at the Taj with all the performers. Imagine. Standing a couple of feet away from Shakti. Imagine. Now imagine sitting at home. The former is what I will not be doing. The latter is what I will be doing.

Of those two people, one knows about music, the other knows the spelling. Perhaps. I can’t be sure.

All I can think of was something that Calvin had thought of and brilliantly articulated.


No good deed goes unpunished. I have irrefutable proof now.


India Inc. bats for team India

With the Indian team drawing flak from former players, commentators, pundits and armchair twitter pundits alike, support has come in from unexpected quarters. Captains of industry have lauded the Indian team’s performance and have cited it as a major reason for the increase in productivity of employees.

‘We have noticed a remarkable increase in the productivity levels of the employees over the past fortnight. Every time India plats a series down under, we find a lot of cases of employees turning up for work only post lunch time’, said a manager of a leading IT company.

‘In the past, we have had cases of Melbourne morning sickness, boxing day bugs and Sydney sinusitis. All of these health conditions, of course, miraculously vanished after lunch time but since we trust our employees to the hilt, we did not think it was linked to the cricket. In fact, we have even had reported cases of bachelors’ spouses falling violently ill. One employee suffered the tragic loss of several relatives on five consecutive days and one person’s grandfather even died four days in a row. It was most torturous. Bless his soul’

He continued, ‘this time, however, the appalling performance of the Indian team has led to employees coming to the office on time and in many cases, well in time. We have found people coming in at 5 A.M to avoid switching on the television only to see the score and get depressed. Further, we have found that the number of people logging on to websites to check the score during office hours has reduced drastically. Even water cooler conversations about cricket are barely heard. I would like to express my heart-felt thanks to the Indian cricket team.’

Support has also come in from a lot of Indian fans who have traveled to Australia to watch the cricket. ‘Thanks to the woeful performance of the team, I have been able to explore much more of Melbourne and Sydney. I thought I would be hard pressed for time between the first two tests but the team duly obliged by finishing up the first test in three days and a half,’ said one fan. ‘ My wife, who was constantly complaining about me putting cricket ahead of her, was most thankful to the team for we got so much more time to go sight-seeing and shopping ’, quipped another.

A young fan said, ‘I thought that test cricket was going to bore me out of my wits but thankfully, I now have so much more time to watch the Australian IPL. I won’t lie, I love watching Sachin and Dravid bat and even my coach sir asks me to observe their batting closely. (Sir, if you are reading this, I did study their batting very closely but I think Zaheer is better; he at least hits sixes) But by getting to watch Gayle and McCullum and Afridi and Hayden, I got a lot more entertainment than I bargained for. Thank you, India! Jai Ho!’

Buoyed by this unexpected level of support, team India is now hoping to continue its excellent showing by wrapping up tests quickly. Just Well-In-Time match completion methods are now being offered as electives in the National Cricket Academy. The team is also reportedly working on publications like middle disorder and No joy in the morning and a blockbuster movie How to lose a test in three days.

Uncommon man

I had heard many people talk of him but only fleetingly. I did not really care to listen to too much because they would be talking amongst themselves and I would just pass through.

However, I moved to Pune in 2009 and I went to meet my aunt. This was the first time I was ever going to see her. She is my mom’s cousin and truth be told, I learnt of her existence only a few days before I went to Pune. So, not that close an aunt, as you can imagine.

I went to her place on a Saturday morning and sat down with a cup of coffee. (Filter coffee after a bloody long time. Bliss, already) I started talking to my aunt (who I grew very fond of and who often let me treat her home, and her amazing library, as my own, and who I visited many many times during my stay in Pune) and she was asking me the usual questions of where I studied etc. Out of the blue, she said, ‘your grandfather was a very fine man.’ I was quite taken aback.

A little bit of family history here. My aunt is actually my mom’s mom’s cousin’s daughter. So, my mom’s second cousin from her mom’s side. And here she was talking about my grandfather, who I did not know how many times she had even met. My aunt’s dad (or my grand uncle) moved to Pune well before my aunt was even born and my aunt has been to Madras but only on vacations.

She went on and told me that every time she went to Madras, she used to go to my mum’s place and sit and talk to my grandfather. She said, ‘you know, he was such a cultured man. He used to make us sit around and he spoke to us in such a way that we felt as if we were equals.’

And then I met my grand-uncle (aunt’s dad) and he too said some glowing things about thatha. After that, I started asking my mother for more stories about my thatha and grew ever more fascinated by the man.

I went on a trip to Kerala with my parents and my mama (amma’s brother). My mum grew up in Kerala and we went to Quilon, where she lived for a few years. We met one of her old old friends (one she hadn’t seen for about 40 years!). Quite a reunion that. He had some wonderful things to say about my grandfather as well.

And then my mom told me that in those days, the import of rice into Kerala was not allowed. And in those days, it was almost impossible to get white rice. It was predominantly the par-boiled rice. So my thatha did something quite brilliant. He had an old FIAT. He hollowed the back seat and put rice into it and drove across the border. With my mum and uncle as kids sitting on the seat, no one even bothered to look.

He used to love driving and every trip was fun. Apparently, he was the epitome of the saying that it is the journey that is the point of the journey and not the destination. He used to stop all along the way whenever he saw fresh fruits along the side of the road or when he saw some cashew nuts or dried fruits. Every year, he used to drive to Tirunalvelli (where my uncle was studying in a boarding school), pick up my uncle and then drive on for a holiday somewhere, finishing the trip in Madras before going back to Kerala.

I also learnt some remarkable things about him. I learnt that from 1958 to 1982, he kept a record of the expenses of every single month, right up to the annas and paisas. I learnt that he wrote a diary every single day. I remember seeing him write. He had this wonderful scrawny little font and he wrote every single day, unerringly.

This was a story that will forever stay with me. My mother was born in the end of July. Since everyone thought it was the end of July, her date of birth was entered officially as 31st July. Then, many years later (I think when she was in class ten), an uncle of hers (who was an astrologer) got a doubt. Apparently, another niece of his was born on the 1st of August and she was of another Nakshatram(star). ‘There cannot be a gap of two nakshatrams in one day’, he said. And he was sure that his other niece was born on the first of August.

They checked it in my thatha’s diary and sure enough, the entry for the 30th of July read thus,

‘Am in Bangalore. Have come here for a conference. Got the news. A healthy baby girl was delivered today…’

A remarkable man, my grandfather was; one of those very few people who can truly be called that. He died in 1996. I was barely 9. I wish I had known him better. It’s his birthday today. He would’ve been 89.

Happy birthday thatha.