It’s 4:30 am, and a drift of Carnatic music wakes me up, “Nee iranga yenil Pugal Yedhu…” (Rough translation – If you do not descend to my help, who else will?)
In my household, the month of December meant that Jaya T.V. would start to blare even before the crack of dawn.
I pretend to be asleep, but the compelling sound of the music draws me to the living room, and I join my mom, who would already be foaming up her tea by transferring it back and forth in the davara tumbler. “What Ragam?”, she quizzes me. No “Good morning” or “Hi” or “Sorry, I know you were up late last night, studying”, nothing. I grab my own davara tumbler, “Mom please. I am not in first grade. Athana. What did I miss?” “You missed a very good song. Tell me which Ragam”, she quizzes me again and proceeds to sing over the already blaring T.V., “Kanjadalayatakshi…” “Kamala Manohari“, I intercepted before she completed the line. I got a nod of approval much to my relief.
To be honest, I didn’t really know this Ragam, but had heard it enough times to memorize the name of the Ragam, and besides, the second word in the song itself is the name of the Ragam. I hoped she wouldn’t catch up on my trick.
Marghazhi, as this month is called in Tamil, is the month of music, devotion and God. It is better known as the Chennai Music Season. Musicians/Dancers and artists of all kinds from all over the world conglomerate and perform all over the city. Most concerts are free and open to all. If you are to visit Chennai, December is the time! Mumbai is also a great city to be at this time of the year and boasts of many popular artists.
Because we lived in Pune, my mom would make up for it either by having the T.V. on all day or making me sing, whichever her mood deemed fit that day.
“Identify the Ragam” is my mother’s favorite game to play. For those of you who are completely lost and have no clue what I am talking about, please read this first. (TLDR; Different variations of notes leads to more than one combination of a musical scale or Ragam, for example, the C# Major scale – CDEFGABC is the Ragam DheeraShankarabharanam in Carnatic Classical Music)
No matter where in the house I was, or what I was doing at that given moment, my mom would randomly sing a song and yell out, “Aishu, what Ragam is this?” If I did not reply instantaneously, she would downright threaten to disown me. Well, not really, but as punishment she would make me repeat the Arohanam and Avarohanam 10 times. (Arohanam is the set of notes that goes up the scale and Avarohanam is the set of notes that goes down the scale in a Ragam, like in the example above, CDEFGABC is the Arohanam and CBAGFEDC is the Avaronaham for DheeraShankarabharanam).
My dance teacher (a professionally trained singer herself) is also fond this very game, except I was seldom allowed to participate in it because I almost always knew the answer, unless it was a very rare Ragam. “How do you do it?”, my peers would ask me. At that time, I would only shrug my shoulders and say, “I dunno man, it comes automatically!”. Thanks to my mother, my brain has developed a Neural Network that can identify (most) Ragams! Did you know, the brain is a pattern recognition machine and that it is churning constantly? It is our very essence and the reason for our existence. Had the brain not been able to identify patterns, we would have been long extinct! For this very reason, I believe that there is nothing such as ‘tone deaf’ or ‘no musical ear’. ALL of us have the ability to identify Ragams. It is just the matter of developing that neural network 🙂
On that note, I wish you all a very happy and musical Marghazhi!
Fun links –
To give you an idea of what I used to wake up to at 4:30 am every December :
Nee Irangayenil Pugal Yedhu:
Identify the Ragam and tell me you find a resemblance 🙂