Strings That Tug At Your Heart

Once upon a time, there was a little boy who was the most active, mischievous, and funny little boy in all the world. He loved to play, have fun, and laugh all the time.

The little boy’s mom was crazy about music. She hoped her kids, a little girl, and the boy, would grow to love music just as she did, growing up with music as she herself had. “Vividha Bharathi” in the mornings for Hindi and Tamil songs from movies, Ceylon Radio while doing homework, and haunting Carnatic instrumental at night that her parents/grandparents liked to play right before bedtime. She imbibed most of the classical songs she knows not from lessons, but through listening without even knowing she was listening. Music was, is, the constant in her life through the good times, and the bad, especially the bad. Music gave voice to her emotions when she couldn’t.

Therefore, she had this (annoying to the kids) habit of always playing music – Indian film, Indian classical, western popular, jazz, … – in the car, at home, and everywhere.

The boy, who didn’t look like he was paying any attention to the different kinds of music, would surprise her every once in a while by singing a Tamil movie song, pitch perfect. He was not yet 5. The girl, who was learning to play the piano, composed a little endearing piece that she named “Contrary Motions” on the piano when she was 7 years old. Mom was thrilled to bits.

When the boy was 5, mom decided he was ready to start music lessons and chose violin.  And thus started 5 years of fighting before every class. The boy would come home from school, having finished what little homework he had at school, drop the backpack, have a snack and run out to play with his neighborhood friends until it was dark. Mom dragged him to his violin lessons once a week, kicking and screaming, away from his playmates. But once he got there, he was okay. His teacher could tell he was good, but didn’t really enjoy the lessons especially in the warmer months when he longed to be outside, and the winter months when he loved to play in the snow.

His first violin recital was plucking just 3 notes, (G-D-G) with a little foot stomping after the 3rd note. He looked adorable in his white shirt, hair all combed back, and a pint sized violin – the smallest there was. His little heart was stressed before the performance, but ace it he did, especially with the foot stomping after the 3rd note, bringing the house down. Afterwards, he came running to mom, and fell asleep on her shoulder immediately, not even touching the cookies his teacher had made.

His violin lessons continued until he was ten, when he entered middle school and he could choose an instrument of his choice, offered through the school band. He chose the trumpet, mostly as an act of rebellion, but excelled at it too.  He was first chair in the high school band, and was a member of the city’s youth symphony orchestra. Mom was just happy he was still playing music.

Dad especially loved it when, some nights, he sat at the top of the stairs, after lights out, and played soulful music on his trumpet.

Over the years, even though the music lessons stopped, mom and son continued to bond over music– the Beatles, the theme music from the West Wing, Godfather, to name a few. They once sang to an entire album of The Beatles on a late night drive home from Indy to Muncie.

Fast forward 13 years. The boy is now working, after his undergrad, and living away from home. One day, he calls mom and dad and says he has a surprise for them. Mom holds her breath. The surprise was this: he was starting music lessons again. And the instrument was…not violin, as mom had guessed but close. He chose mandolin.

He loves it. And facetimes mom and dad so they can hear him practice. The first piece he’s learning is the Wedding Tarantella. Mom requests he also learn “Speak softly” from The Godfather – both their favorite. And some Beatles songs. Michelle. He looks up sheet music online and tries them out while on the phone, and promises he would call for more practice sessions on facetime.

This mom is thrilled and is looking forward to, as the boy puts it, “wow mom we can now bond over the Beatles in a different way”.



I’d Like To Make It With You…

I’d like to make it with you…

It was the early days of our courtship. When everything was new, the sky was the bluest of blues, the flowers vividly colored, even in the Madras heat. I already knew he was one of the most intelligent, most mature guys I had ever met. Respected by the bigwigs in my company, as well as the Railway officers –we were both on site at Central Station in Madras, implementing the passenger reservation system for Southern Railways. One of the railway officers, a good friend of us both, in fact, had an eye on him for someone in his family—who was actually more qualified, as an Iyengar. (Me being a mere Iyer, more on that later)

But discovering each other’s personality was something else – would he turn out be a non-reader? Or worse, someone who I cannot laugh along/laugh at and be silly with? Or, horror of horrors, would he hate music?

A couple of things happened that put my fears to rest. One, we did the Hindu crossword every day together—the cryptic ones, not the quick ones, to boot.

Two, he doesn’t remember this, but he read “To Kill A Mockingbird” which I had passed on to him, and said to me: “I know why you like this book so much” and quoted from the book, with page number, Atticus Finch’s take on integrity.

Nerd –

(I haven’t read the sequel, or rather the prequel to TKAM—yet—Atticus still lives in my heart as the one whom Scout adores, the one who is not a bigot).

I didn’t know this then, but the lasting passion in my life would turn out to be music, as I got older. And he had me when he gave me this, his first gift to me.


Thene Then Pandi Meene

It was the reverse of the “ponnu paakara” ceremony. This was the tough one—meeting his formidable future sisters-in-law. It was like the Spanish Inquisition. After the initial “interview”, my sisters wanted him to, gasp, sing!

Would he pass? I had never heard him sing. And our family is notorious when it comes to guests and singing. The poor guests usually are flattered by the requests to sing, hardly realizing the minefield of snickers, guffaws and mockery they’re unwittingly walking into. In other words, the only intention in asking someone to sing was to make fun of them after they left—sometimes we couldn’t even wait for that. I had butterflies in my stomach. Would he pass?

He did – with this gem:


It was the day after we got engaged/had gotten the blessings of both our families. Our manager, coincidentally, got the team together for some work celebration at a five star restaurant in Chennai. And Raj teased me when this song played:

Kalyaana Maalai

It was our honeymoon in Ooty/Coonoor. K. Balachander’s “Puthu Puthu Arthangal” had just been released. The song “Kalyaana maalai” was playing everywhere. And to my horror, I discovered that the love of my life didn’t always quite get the tune right. In fact, he sang the first line incorrectly, almost every single freaking time!

But we were on our honeymoon. What are the rules? Could I criticize my newly married husband on his singing? Or let it go, and pretend it didn’t bother me and turn my face away every time he sang it wrong, because I visibly winced. I struggled, tortured in my soul, for a couple of days.

In the end, the musical purist in me beat out the newly married, stars-in-her-eyes bride. We were standing at some bus stop/taxi stand, waiting, when he did it again. That was it. I couldn’t take it anymore. And told him he was singing that line wrong, right there, in the middle of the street, a mere few days after we had gotten married, the turmeric in my “thaali” still very yellow and fresh!

Our first argument after we got married! (Needless to say, I won.) It’s taken 25+ years, but he finally can sing that line right—although sings it wrong sometimes, just to annoy me.

Aasai Mugam Marandhu Poche

As our young family grew, as we raised children, and got busy with our careers, we still listened to music but not so much together. I started to listen more to what my kids did, driving them around. He was lucky to listen to any at all! But still managed to keep up with the desi music scene, even if a couple of years behind. He became more familiar with the likes of Karthik, Srinivas, Sriram Parthasarathy and other young talent than I was.

The hundreds of cassette tapes we had accumulated became a source of contention for the space they occupied. Once in a while, when he got time, he would convert some of them into cds. One of those was a beloved album of Simon and Garfunkel that he lovingly imported into my itunes library, that I still listen to.

We celebrated his 50th with a few friends, listening to a collection I made of his favorite songs—Ilayaraja hits from the 80s.

But since the kids left home leaving an empty nest, we have rediscovered our passion for music and listen to classical/semi-classical, Carnatic music together. There are many many songs we enjoy, but this one by Karthik is my favorite. Especially when he is away on his long trips. A version of this Bharathi creation by Maharajapuram Santhanam was our favorite in the early years of our marriage. I can listen to this in a loop while his is “Bantureethi kolu”—any version of it.

I’d like to make it with you

Last week, I was at Mayo Clinic for an appointment, when I heard a familiar tune being belted out on live piano. I knew it was familiar but couldn’t place it. As I sang along in my mind, following a flimsy thread of memory, I realized it was this, one of the first ones we had listened to together:

I think he did!

Tiger, Church and Scrabble: Rants and Musings..

I have to warn – there’s going to be some ranting in this entry.  So if you’re not in the mood to be at least mildly outraged, skip to the bottom…

For someone who hasn’t been paying too much attention to what’s going on in the world other than my family, work and friends, I was more than irritated this week by a few news items that I couldn’t avoid – unless I was hiding under a rock. 

In no particular order, here they are:

Tiger Woods – Golfer, not God:

Leave the man alone –  he just plays the game of golf really well.  That doesn’t automatically make him a saint.  Golf is apparently not about character.  It is JUST A GAME!   It irritates me to no end when all these sports and other public figures who are simply good at what they do,  are elevated to heights  that they’re not able to live up to by the adoring public.   Who then get outraged at the apparent falling down .   Seriously people – enjoy the golf, leave the personal life alone. 

This is my theory: if all the adulation hadn’t gone to his head, he probably wouldn’t have done what he did.  It was all a power trip.  Stop the madness, and just enjoy the game.  Don’t elevate a sports star to God status and then act outraged when he doesn’t live up to it.

Nike’s ridiculous ad this week had me scratching my head.  Is there anything that this country will not commercialize?  Here’s the ad played ad nausuem – of Tiger’s late father Earl Woods scolding him., i

(BTW, there were so many parodies on YouTube on this I had trouble finding the original Earl Woods one.)

And of course, left themselves open for all kinds of mockery on the latenight circuit and YouTube:

The Catholic Church: Boy oh boy….(no pun intended):

For those who are living under a rock, the gory details can be found all over the internet.   In essence, the church has been molesting boys – which had been brought to the attention of the higher ups – including the Vatican who all had turned a blind eye and let it continue unchecked, unpunished and unstopped.

Read Maureen Dowd’s excellent commentary in the New York Times here.

Again, it boils down to too much power in the hands of the wrong people.   This one seems to be a universal sickness – I am thinking of the Sankara mutt controversy, Nityananda and countless others. 

Leave the children alone! Don’t take their innocence and their lives away from them!

Can you spell OUTRAGE? (aka Scrabble for Dummies)

 My last irritant last week was this news item on the BBC news site.   This one is serious guys!  And has the potential to affect all of us, lovers of that classic game Scrabble personally!  Mattel is introducing a new version of the game that will change the rules of the game to allow proper nouns.  What?  And totally dumb it down?  Where’s the creativity in that? 

What will they do next?  This is the culinary equivalent of changing apple pie recipe to allow bananas.  Adding garlic to Parthasarathy kovil puliyodarai.   Thayir saadham with a side of paayasam.  Some things are best left alone.   Don’t fix it – it ain’t broken!

The good news is it’s only going to ruin the gaming lives of the Brits – who cares about them anyway ;).  Not North America or Canada.  So we’re safe now.  I will refuse to play with the new rules if it ever comes out here.

On a happy note….

And lastly, spent a fabulous evening with some friends last night.  A few friends are planning to meet once a month and just jam!  Priti, your dad has a soulful voice.  Super talented!  Loved, loved, loved his singing!  All that was missing was a harmonium!

That’s all for now, folks….happy Sunday!