When I was a kid, my parents put me through Carnatic music lessons. My daily commute from Kodambakkam to my school took me 2-3 hours by schoolbus. The driver used to wander all over town before he reached school and ditto on the return trip. When I reached home around 5.30 PM, I'd find my music teacher waiting for me. To my eyes, she used to be the very devil who prevented me from eating and made me shout at the top of my lungs for 2 hours! I'd have a glass of coffee and start singing.
I don't remember anyone having ever explained to me the meaning behind having sarali varisai, jantai varisai, alankarams ,ragam, thalam etc...Don't get me wrong, my teacher was an excellent one. But I was the rambunctious kid that wanted explanations for everything. So, there I was - singing in some unknown language (Telugu, mostly) sans the meaning, without knowing the raga bhavam or the history behind the song. Besides, I didn't have any peers at school who were learning music. Or let's just say, I didn't know anyone who did and we never talked about music much. Film music was much more catchy and interesting and I understood the meaning of the lyrics (for good or for bad!). We used to discuss it on the schoolbus and the lyrics being in Tamizh did help. I don't find it strange that I gave up carnatic music when the opportunity first presented itself to me! It had no meaning to me.
We moved from Chennai to Madurai and my father kept pushing me to take music lessons,
"Child, you'll regret it later. Learn to sing."
I was reluctant. I didn't want to scream at the top of my lungs on an empty stomach again in some unknown language blah blah blah...
But my parents used to listen to a lot of carnatic music. One fine day, I ended up listening to the Late Maharajapuram Santhanam. It was a collection of "Oothukkadu Venkatasubbaier" kritis on Krishna sung live on Janmashtami. I was mesmerized. The voice, the ragas and the bhavam in his singing held me spellbound. For the first time in my life, I understood the meaning of the songs because they were in Tamizh instead of Telugu. It kindled my interest in music again and I started listening to more and more music. I learnt "Mohana rama" on my own with a vengeance just because Shri Santhanam had rendered it so beautifully! I think my teacher would've been happy if I'd applied myself with half the interest I showed in learning this song. :)
Anyways, many, many years later, I feel that now I have a better sense of appreciation for carnatic music than I did as a kid. I understand certain nuances that I didn't earlier. Its not like I am much more knowledgeable now. Maybe, age tempers you with experiences and stress that you realize the soothing quality of music? I don't know. But I completely agree with Suhasini's Sindhu in "Sindhubhairavi":
"Kavalai edhumilla rasikkum mettukudi
Cherikkum sera venum, adhukkum paattupadi
Enniye paaru, ethanai peru
thangame neeyum tamizh paattum paadu.."
[The rich don't have any worries and they enjoy music. But your music should also reach the poor masses. Think about how many people are out there. Thangame, please sing Tamizh songs also...]
Even today, when I sing a Papanasam Sivan krithi in Tamizh, I enjoy it much more than I do a Tyagaraja krithi. A while back, someone asked me to translate my Tamil blog on "Akhilandeswari" to English. I sincerely tried it for two days but I couldn't find the words in English! But when I thought about the same topic in Tamizh, I felt like I could write 10 more pages about it. Sigh. There's something about the mother tongue. Maybe I'd have continued music lessons if my teacher had taught me more Tamil krithis? :)
Regardless of how many foreign languages one is fluent in, the mother tongue will always rule the roost!
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