Musical Marghazhi

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 🙂



Movies that have the power to move you

Today, I had the privilege to watch a movie called, Loving Vincent, a biopic on Vincent Van Gogh. Although it only cost $6 for the ticket, I am still going to call this a privilege, because this movie is one of a kind – it is animated, and each key frame  was hand painted in the style of Van Gogh by over 100 artists. A total of  65,000 frames were painted for this 90 minute movie.

Very few movies have the power to move you, and this was one such movie.

Loving Vincent revolves around his death with its protagonist trying to investigate how it happened. “You want to know so much about his death, but what do you know of his life?”, said a character in the movie. It is common knowledge that Vincent shot himself, but the movie explores other possibilities. “How can a man go from being absolutely calm to killing himself in 6 weeks?”. Well, nobody knows. Not even Theo, Vincent’s biggest critique and brother who supported him all through his life.

Vincent suffered a lot of mental problems, STDs and was also diagnosed with bipolar disorders by experts. he died a tragic death, yes, but he lived a more tragic life.  He painted over 800 paintings, and sold only one whilst still alive. Today, he is known as the Father of Modern Art. Fun fact, he only picked up a brush at the age of 28 as an adult and continued to paint for 8 years! So if you ever catch yourself saying, “I think I am tool old to learn that”, think again. If Vincent could, you can too. But then again, he was a genius… A genius, who was bullied and rejected by society. Misunderstood by society. What loving Vincent taught me was, even if people around you do not appreciate your work, or scoff and ridicule you for it, it speaks nothing about you. It speaks about how society is failing YOU, failing to understand you and failing to fulfill its own responsibility. This movie was so powerful, it triggered all my bad memories with bullying. But I have decided that I am going to care less and less about it. If something/someone makes me unhappy, I am going to be vocal about it. I am going to call out on such people, and remind myself, I haven’t done anything wrong and it speaks nothing about me or my work.

But it also triggered another sentiment – the art in me. Lately I haven’t been drawing much. The last I drew was for a friend for her birthday about a couple of months ago. Somebody I knew laughed at it and called it lame. That kind of depressed me and I thought, have I been drawing in vain all this time? And mind you, I have been drawing forever now. From what my mom told me, during the holidays, I would sit and draw endlessly. I would draw because it made me forget everything around me. I remember, this one Summer holiday afternoon, there was a power cut and I didn’t have anything to do, except draw of course. I re created this Van Gogh –


I wasn’t a painter, and made this with pastel crayons instead. I had only recently discovered Van Gogh and was very fascinated by his style. Of course my drawing does not have the same bold strokes as the original, because I wasn’t using a brush. Although I had made this years ago, I still have it safe here with me all thanks to my sister, because I had a bad habit of making drawings and just tossing them carelessly in my room, making it look like a shabby art gallery. “You need to start respecting your own work’, she said. I have now started to organize my drawings properly.  This movie is going to make me go back to my crayons and drawing book again. Call me lame all you want!

If you get a chance to watch this movie, I urge you to watch it, watch it for the genius Van Gogh is, watch it to rediscover what passion is…


Fun links:

Loving Vincent trailer

This youtube video shows ALL of his work. If you know Van Gogh’s work, there’s so many easter eggs throughout the movie!

The psychology of bullying

Forgive me for writing about a deathly serious topic, I promise I have a funnier one lined up for this weekend.

As a child who was always bullied for being dark, not in my wildest dreams,  had I imagined, that this monster would come back to haunt me in my adult life too. Only this time, it is a different kind, more subtle, but enough to make me feel uncomfortable. It’s a feeling best described this way – imagine you are minding your own business, and this pesky mosquito keeps buzzing near your ear, and every time you try to swat it, the wretched creature of hell dodges away. It keeps singing in that monotonous drone –  mmmmmmm and bites you on an exposed part of your body, and you try to swat it, and miss again. Mildly annoying, but annoying enough to make you leave that room!

Thankfully, all the bullying I was subjected to, has always been verbal. As always, it took research papers (links at the bottom, if you’re a nerd like me) and a good, long talk with Akka, to come to the conclusion – bullies that use this form (verbal), are often passive aggressive. It also came to my notice that – it’s not what is being said by the bully, but how they make you feel that matters! So would general teasing qualify as bullying, you ask? Yes, if it is repetitive and the same goddamn thing every time, it borderline qualifies as bullying! Do not get me wrong, this does not mean I am intolerant towards general teasing and banter (I highly appreciate an intelligent insult or comeback, those definitely get a laugh out of me), but it’s quite easy to identify such verbal bullying/teasing. More often than not, the teasing will be unwitty. I mean, of course, the last thing to expect out of a bully, is eloquence. But that is a general pattern, and I have started to grow weary of it. Sometimes, bullies may also try to ostracize their victim. (Dear bully, if you’re reading this, I bet you had to Google what ostracize means).

I have always been an anxious person, but these days, it has gotten out of control and has made me vulnerable. I feel bullies have sharp noses and can sniff (vulnerable) blood like man-eating tigers. It’s like they are on the prowl, waiting to eat on their victim’s already draining energy. I am working on being a more composed person, and it is taking a lot of guts to open up like this, but yes, I am getting there, slow and steady, trying to maintain dignity. But to be honest, it is rather difficult, when more than half your energy is being used to veer away from these energy sucking leeches. It’s all about power for bullies, and sadly, they seek it from people they deem powerless.

I am not complaining, or moping, or trying to gain sympathy with this post. I am trying to spread awareness about this issue. It is rather sensitive, and needs immediate attention. If you are being subjected to any form of bullying/unfunny teasing that bothers you, you need to act on it. The first step of action is to avoid these people at all costs, it is no use trying to talk it out with bullies, bullies suffer from psychological issues and insecurities, and it is a matter of concern for their mental therapists, not you! Try talking to somebody close about this, somebody you can trust and knows you inside out.

Remember, you are only the victim if you allow yourself to be victimized. Stay strong, you are more awesome than you think, sending loads of love your way.

Links for my fellow nerds:


What’s it like to lose a wallet

In one word, it sucks. It sucks big time. I am writing about it, while it is still fresh in my memory. I am generally very careful with my wallet and keep doing random pocket checks. During one such random check on my way to the BART station (San Francisco subway, stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit) this morning, I couldn’t feel anything in my front pocket.  I slipped in my fingers to confirm my worst fears, my wallet was gone!

I am going to come clean here, I suffer from severe anxiety and my first reaction was to hyper-ventilate. I managed to whip out my phone from my other pocket and dialed Akka’s number. Gasping for breath, I tried to tell her what had happened.

Akka is the most level-headed person I know. She is the Krishna to my Arjuna, the Tenali Raman to my Krishnadevaraya, the Chanakya to my Chandragupta Maurya. You get it, right? I basically turn to her for advice.

“Okay, first, BREATHE!”, she said. “Second, come right back home and take some cash from me, this is fixable”. “Kay”, I managed to say through all my incisive breathing. I looked around as I walked back home, a five minute walk took me 10 minutes to complete!

Akka then instructed me to call the bank and cancel my card, while she worked on canceling my clipper card that was on auto-load. (For those of you who don’t know, a clipper card is a smart card, that needs to be tapped at the entrance of the subway. Most cards need to be loaded with money at vending booths, but I wanted my clipper card to be smarter and had linked my bank account to it, so that every time it ran out of money, the card would be automatically loaded).

I was pleasantly surprised when the Bank Teller told me that somebody had already called in to report that my card was missing. Mind you, this was just within 10 minutes of me losing my wallet and somebody had found it, and was considerate enough to actually call my bank to cancel my card! Whew! Humanity existed!

“So that’s all with all the immediate money, right?”, Akka asked. “Yeah! That’s it!”, I said, feeling much, much better after the call. “Being poor is great!”, I said to her, “I don’t have much to lose!”. I instantly regretted saying that. I mean sure, I only had under $4k in my account, but I had worked crazy hard earning that money. I had worked during Winter Break when all my friends had gone back to India to enjoy with their family. Heck, my mom had come over to SF and I couldn’t spend time with her. Why? Because I was busy earning money that would go towards my tuition…

I got to work feeling super low, because now I would have had to spend time re-constructing my wallet, and what saddened me most is that, the wallet itself was lovely and fitted in my pocket so nice and snug. Moreover, it was gifted to me by Akka. But here’s the thing, my wallet actually had the words “I’m feeling lucky”, inscribed on it. (Perks of having a sister working at Google – you got snugly fitting wallets as gifts), so I had this gut feeling that my wallet would find it’s way back to me.

I called up USF Public Safety to see if a lost ID was reported, but no luck there. By the end of the day I had lost all hopes, but then, around 4, I got an email from a person who claimed to have found my wallet, and had gotten in touch to confirm it.

I was blown by the astute detective skills! This person had managed to find my id. Maybe they got it off my LinkedIn? I can’t think of any other place I have mentioned that particular id.

Turns out, this person stayed in my neighborhood and had found my wallet on their way to the BART station. I picked up my wallet from their place and profusely thanked them and gave them a small thank you note and a bar of my favorite chocolate as a token of gratitude. They don’t make people like that anymore.

I had replaced most of the things in my wallet, including my USF ID card, but was just glad to have my wallet back because of the sentiments attributed with it.

This incident changed one perspective in Life. Sure, I would have also returned a lost wallet, but only because would have felt guilty and it would have hurt my conscience. The intentions thus far were purely selfish.  I am now going to return lost items not because wouldn’t be able to live with myself, but because the concerned person may have worked crazy hard for it…

On turning 24 and what it brings along.


I just turned 24 a few hours ago, at least according to India time.

I am going to be entirely honest, I am positively terrified, apprehensive and perturbed by the prospect.

This (irrational?) fear triggered recently when I was contemplating on my life thus far, and what I expected of it and what lay ahead, in store for me. This thought niggled me for a while, until I decided to actually deal with it. I began by reading philosophical articles and blogs on the Internet. I happened to stumble upon a scientific research paper on human behavior from one such blog (I cannot find the link to the paper for a strange reason, so you have to take my word for it). The paper said, humans try to find meaning in life when they are about to enter their 30’s, 40’s, etc. After more such extensive reading, I was rather relieved to learn that it is human nature to assess and measure the meaning of life from time to time, to be more specific, when they crossed a significant milestone in life. And here I am, trying to audit life at 24.

To me, my fear made perfect sense. I mean, Steve Jobs died at the age of 56. So does that mean I am fast approaching the end of the first half of my life and have only 32 years remaining to achieve something significant? Steve co-founded Apple when he was 21. What do I have at 24? A student debt? I shared my perturbation with my elder sister, who is 10 years older than me. “I am 24 and I have nothing to show for it. Is it acceptable if one has lived an insignificant life?”, I asked her with a furrow on my brows. My Akka, the all knowing and wise person that she is, just smiled gently and directed me to this article.

Just to clarify, I am not as paranoid as the author is. Did I fear death? Not really, I just feared not living  a meaningful life. Doesn’t matter if nobody understands the meaning of my life, all that matters is, it should make sense to me! I have let go of the worries over things I cannot control. Can I control the H1B bill and prevent it from being passed? No! What I can control is, work on building my skill set so that I am a desirable candidate in the tech workforce, so that employers will be willing to pay me $130k.

Amma had a very practical take on this. “What are you going to feel when you turn 30 or 50? There is no way around this, everyone has to age. You need to accept the fact”. She went on to quote, “Parivartan hi sansaar ka niyam hai!” (Change is the only rule of the Universe).

All this pondering and introspection made me realize, I have a very hungry soul and I need to keep feeding this seemingly gutless, yet hungry monster. The only activities that seem to satiate my appetite are Bharatanatyam, Carnatic music, writing, doodling, reading and learning new things. I have been pretty active on Quora lately, so at least my need for reading and writing are being fulfilled. I have been completely neglecting Bharatanatyam and music and have decided to take it up once more. One of my goals this year, is to perform here in the Bay Area. As far as music is concerned, I am trying to learn from Amma via video calls as much as possible, the fact that I am getting to sing is in itself satisfying. I am learning a lot of new technologies  at school and my Computer Science learning curve is becoming steep, so that department seems sorted too. I am taking control of things like this, and trying to give life some meaning. Hopefully, everything will work out.

That said, I may still take my time to come to terms with being 24 and continue to strive to attain meaning in life.

I appreciate all those in India who stayed up till 12:00 AM and beyond, to give me birthday wishes! It is rather exciting and thrilling to get so much attention for two whole days!