Song of Surrender

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Carnatic music— Stress buster or bolster?

By A.R.S. Mani
 
Music therapy using Carnatic music is gaining momentum and no one should really be cynical about it. After all, Carnatic music is all about creativity—manodharma sangeetam. That it has developed into a new branch of medicine is a matter to be proud of. It is widely believed that listening to Carnatic music helps ease tension and to feel more relaxed. But not for all, or so it appears from my interaction with the following (imaginary) characters.

I met this busy performer at his residence while he was preparing to go to a concert. I greeted him with a “Namaskaram”.

“Namaskaram. What is the matter?” he asked without looking at me as he fiddled with his tambura.

“I want your opinion …”, I said. He did not let me continue. He replied in an irritated voice, “What opinion? This is not the time for it. I have a concert in thirty minutes. I have to go.”

When I persisted, he looked at me and said apologetically, “Oh! Oh! I did not realise that it was you. I am sorry. You come with me to the sabha. We can talk in the car.” He struggled with the tambura strings and gave up after a while.

He screamed at his wife, “Is my warm water flask ready?”

She murmured something in disapproval and soon appeared with a bag containing two flasks. He almost grabbed the bag and shoved it in the car along with the tambura.

I sat next to the driver. Within a few minutes, I felt the aroma of Kumbakonam ‘degree’ coffee filling the car. I turned and looked at him enquiringly. He offered me a small cup saying “I had no time in the morning” and started enjoying his coffee.

“Sir, what do you feel ….” I started. He cut me short and said, “You see, I sang in the last slot concert yesterday and have the first concert this morning. Could not catch even a few hours of sleep. No akara sadhakam today.”

I nodded my head and continued “Sir…” “Look at the traffic,” he said, “I have to be there in 15 minutes.”

The driver assured him that he would reach the venue in time, but it failed to calm the musician. He diverted his attention to the tambura strings for a while. He looked out again and found that we had hardly moved. Feeling increasingly nervous, he hit the back of the driver’s seat with his fist. He then took out his cellphone and spoke into it in an extremely polite way. He kept thanking and praising the person at the other end. “That was the sponsor of today’s kutcheri,” he explained.

“Sir…” I ventured once again. He did not listen to me. He took out a small diary, flipped through the pages, and muttered under his breath that he would sing ‘Set no. 5’. He then explained to me what that meant. “I have about five or six sets of kriti-s listed here. I sing them one after another. So long as I don’t sing the same kriti in two consecutive concerts, it is fine. Beyond that no one remembers.” He looked out again and shook his head.

“Sir, I want to ask you...” I tried once more. He did not respond. Instead, he took out the newspaper and quickly turned to the Music Review column. “Useless people! They think much too highly of themselves,” he touched the tara sthayi. His face turned red and he crushed the paper in his hand. “Fellows who cannot differentiate between prati madhyamam and suddha madhyamam start writing reviews,” he said. I understood that he was upset about a review of his performance. He read out a line. “His Latangi alapana was like shades of Kalyani and Pantuvarali mixed together.” “What shades was she thinking about, I wonder. She should be writing about ‘pattu’ saree shades rather than the shades of raga-s!” He seemed to be enjoying his wit at the expense of the reviewer and guffawed. “Sruti magazine serves these fellows right,” he continued with a laugh which was interrupted by the ringtone of the cellphone.

“No, no. Don’t worry. I will be there in time. I am almost at the sabha, just a few metres away. No no, don’t do that. No need to cancel the kutcheri.” He switched off the cellphone and suggested some shortcuts, which the driver, however, refused to follow.

‘That was the sabha secretary. He wants to cancel the programme because I may be late. Do you understand my problems? I am always tense. I have to please the sponsor, the sabha fellows, the critics and so on.” He did not include the rasika-s in his list.

We reached the sabha and barely had we stepped out of the car than the Secretary, in a sweat, came rushing out and escorted the musician to the stage. The question I had wanted to ask the musician was: “If listening to music can be a great stress buster, what is it like for you, singing day in and day out?”

The concert started and the secretary came out wiping his forehead saying, “My God! That was close. I don’t understand why they can’t leave home early and reach 15 minutes before the start of the programme.” I wanted to ask him if he was ‘stress free’ since he was listening to almost 12 hours of non-stop music. So I began, “Sir…” He waved at someone and ordered a hot cup of coffee. “I need it, badly” he muttered to himself and stepped into his office. I followed him. The telephone rang and he confirmed some programme to the caller. The coffee arrived. He took a sip and shouted, “Hey, you know I am a diabetic. I always take coffee without sugar. Go, return this and bring another one.” Just then somebody entered and said, “Sir there is not enough phenyl to wash the toilets.” The secretary stared at him and without saying a word handed him a hundred rupee note. The phone rang again. As he was talking, he looked out of the window and found that someone had parked a car in the parking lot reserved for him. He hung up the receiver and called for the watchman and yelled at him. ‘How many times have I told you not to allow anyone to park the car in my slot!” The poor watchman fumbled for words and did not say anything. “My driver will bring my lunch from home. Take it and ask him to park the car outside somewhere.”

“Come let us go and listen at least to one kriti,” he said grabbing my hand. Before we could move, an electrician came there complaining that the air conditioners had stopped working. “What do you want me to do?” he shouted. Then calming down he instructed, “Please go and repair it immediately before the audience realise it.”

The secretary’s cellphone started ringing. He replied curtly, “Yes, Okay. I will take it.” He told me that was his wife, reminding him to take his blood pressure tablet.

An old man walked up to him and complained that the speakers were too loud. I saw the blood rushing to his face, but he controlled himself and promised to attend to it. He then turned to me and said, “Did you hear that? Musicians want it to be high! Whom am I to satisfy? Let me go and attend to the problems. At this rate, I get to listen only to Pavamana every day!” There was no need to ask him the question that I had wanted to all this while.

Inside the auditorium, I found that the man sitting next to me was a music critic. He was covering the programme for a leading newspaper. Gradually he became friendly and talked a lot. A new concert began.

As soon as the first song started, he looked into the Music Index Book and scribbled something in his small notebook. “You know, I have to be very careful,” he said. “Otherwise Sruti will list all the mistakes in my review. They have some jobless people doing only this. [Touché, Mr. Mani – Editor]. What if I write kodi janmamu or koti janmamu?” I clarified that ‘kodi’ in Telugu means ‘chicken’ and ‘koti’ means ‘crore’. He smiled at me approvingly. He kept looking at his watch and looked restless. “Any problem?” I enquired. “I have a very tight schedule,” said he. I have to cover two more concerts. Not only that. I have to send the reviews in time for the evening edition of the newspaper. It is really a tough life. May I ask you a favour?” I nodded my head. “Will you call me at the end of this concert and give me the list of songs? I have written the review already. I will fill in the blanks once I receive your call. I must send them for the evening edition. Please help me.” He hurriedly gave me his visiting card and left. If this job was stressful, surely he won’t go in for Music Therapy!

I was confident I would find at least one rasika who acknowledged that he had come to the concert to relieve his daily stress. I closed my eyes and was engrossed in the Kambhoji alapana. Soon, I had a new neighbour. After some initial hesitation, we started talking in whispers.

“Do you attend many kutcheri-s in the season?” I asked.

“Yes, wherever the admission is free,” came the reply.

“Do you enjoy listening to this music?” I explored.

“This music is definitely less noisy, though the artists do their best to make it otherwise. To answer your question, yes, I like it.” He continued, “I don’t know anything about Carnatic music. I do not break my head over identifying the raga or knowing the kriti. This is a good opportunity for me to escape from the clutches of my wife. If I stay at home, she would send me out on an errand or keep nagging me about some of my relatives. After sitting for a couple of hours, I go to the canteen and eat whatever I like. At home I am not permitted to eat sweets and fried items.” He looked at his watch, jumped up and said, “Oh! It is nearly 4 pm. It’s time for hot badam halwa.” He went out happily humming a film song.

At last, I had found a person whom Carnatic music was helping to avoid stress!

Tailpiece

The following is an incident that happened in the Mylapore Fine Arts Club during the ‘season’ 2006 concert of Sudha Ragunathan. Sudha was in the middle of the Reetigaula alapana. Someone fainted in the hall and she stopped until the patient was helped out.

Did Sudha administer an overdose of Reetigaula? Should Reetigaula be excluded from our medicine list? Was the man allergic to Reetigaula?

Over to music therapists!

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