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.

Guru Greg ‘demystifies’ Tendulkar

With India out to conquer the ‘final frontier’, and the Australians in admittedly patchy form, Cricket Australia have taken the issues very seriously. To ensure that the Border-Gavaskar trophy does indeed stay down under, they have enlisted the services of Greg Chappel to ‘demystify’ Tendulkar who has remained an enigma to Aussies of this generation and the previous. Here is Guru Greg’s address to the team:

‘Right. Welcome, boys. I have been called upon to ‘demystify’ Tendulkar and I intend to do just that. First, you must have all read my book Fierce Focus available for only AUD 7.99 from all leading book stores. You haven’t? Shame on you. You really ought to have. Tell you what, I am going to extend this into a two-day session and your assignment for tonight is to go buy the book and read the Tendulkar-related sections in it. There will be a quiz tomorrow and that will contribute toward your selection for the first XI. Don’t think of cheating for I will get to know when I get my royalty check.’

‘Now that that is cleared up… Pup! Stop kidding around. You’re captain, for crying out loud! Punter, come off it; you’re not the captain any more. Deal with it. Don’t make that PontingFace again. There are enough memes on the internet as it is. Warner, put down those dumbbells. We’re finding it hard to make shirts for you as it is. Yes, Mike. The four hundred and sixty fifth run you scored was indeed a drive through the covers. Now stop it. Fierce Focus, people. Fierce focus.’

‘Now, Sachin. Hmm. Yes. Sachin. Good lad, that. Plays well and all that. A good player indeed but certainly not as good as me of course. But then again, who is? Ha! Anyway, yes. Sachin. McGrath, Warnie, Brett Lee and all those other bowlers tried and failed. You know why? Because they did not bowl to a plan. Fierce focus, people. Fierce focus.’

‘OK. Let’s do an analysis. First off, he is terrific off the front foot. So don’t bowl it pitched up on or just outside the off-stump. Next, he is brilliant off his hips. So don’t bowl it on his pads. Short of a length is most definitely a no-go for he will just punch it through the covers. Hmm. So that does pose a problem, what? Never fear. I do have a solution after all.’

‘As we Aussies say, “when it doubt, pitch it short.” OK, I just made that up but nevertheless, it’s true.  So that’s an area you ought to be looking at. Now again, there is a problem here. He is all of 5 foot 4. So pitch it too short and he is happily going to let it go and don’t pitch it short enough and he’s gonna wallop you through mid-wicket. So you ought to pitch it just about short. Remember, not too short. Not too not-short. Simple, no?’

‘Oh yes. Spinners. Do we even have those? Oh yes. I’m sorry Nathan, I forgot you were here. And while we’re on the subject, if you really want people to call you a lion, you really ought not to confuse people with that spelling of your surname. I’m sorry, pup. You can whine all you want but I’m still not calling you a spinner. But I will call you skipper, so cheer up.’

‘Ah yes. Spin. That lad is quite good playing spin, I must admit. However, there is a way to entrap him. There always is. The offie ought to pitch the ball just outside off and spin it inwards while the ball maintains its trajectory and goes on straight. He will perhaps think that the ball will spin(and you probably thought so as well) but it will hold its line and go straight on. You’ll be as confused as he is. I’ll have a chat with the curator. The leggie? Well, try not to sleep at night. Warnie had nightmares. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.’

‘Ah yes. I think that’s the end of my chat. I’m pretty sure I’ve demystified Tendulkar for you. There’s nothing to it, really. Just bowl in the right areas, get the ball to nip, cut, swing, spin and seam. All at the same time, of course. And, let me see. What did I leave out? Hmmm. Ah yes! Of course. Of course. Get the ball to do all those things and in the meanwhile, get the lads to do one more thing. Pray. But not to the cricket Gods of course. For if cricket is religion, then surely you’re praying to the wrong God for the wrong reason.’

The Island

I’m leaving on a jet plane. Perhaps not. I’m flying though. I don’t exactly know where I am but from what I can make out, it’s somewhere in Gujarat perhaps. I can’t see the coast but I can see water bodies. Large bodies of water that invade the land. They come tantalizingly close to the land and then recede. There are no waves though. The water is calm.

In the midst of one giant water body, there is a mass of land. An island. There is no connectivity to it. I look around. A few meters into the closest land mass, there is a human settlement; farmers, perhaps. But on this island, nothing. Just the island. Detached.

The island looks deserted. I see no vegetation. Perhaps there are shrubs and there is undergrowth on the sandy tracts but there is no significant vegetation. I am sure. Or so I perceive from high up.

So I see this island and am unable to take my eyes off it. I don’t know why, but somehow, it is gripping. Why would no one venture onto it? Has someone tried? Has anyone ever tried? Did they give up? Is there no point to it?

Perhaps life is like that island. An isolated landmass which in itself is, well, alone. Yet, it is part of something bigger; a country, or the world or the universe perhaps. At the crux of it, though, it is alone. It stands alone; it lives alone; it dies alone.

What larger purpose does it serve? Why is it there? The point is that it is there, whether it likes it or not. What does it mean? What does it signify? I don’t know. What is it that attracted me to it? Perhaps just that. That I don’t know.  And that perhaps I never will. Perhaps it symbolizes something. Perhaps not.

I seek it out for answers. I see it no more. The plane has moved.