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From today's Aval Vikatan magazine:

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Oh, don't bother coming home!
It started about a year ago. Everywhere I went, someone (say, A) would introduce me to someone else (say, B) as a Carnatic vocalist. B would look at me and his/her face would light up with instant recognition. "I've seen you on TV!"

The first few times I was amused. "No," I would politely say with a wide grin, "the last time I sang on TV was when I was 9 years old!"

Some of the B's (a small minority of them) would say "Oh, but you do look very familiar!" and move on to more consequential topics of discussion.

But a vast majority of them would persist. Relentlessly.

"Oh, but you sang in Airtel Super Singer, didn't you?"

"Are you sure? I'm verrrryy sure I've seen you on TV!"

"Really?! But I've seen you on Raja Geetham!"

Substitute Airtel Super Singer and Raja Geetham with all the other music-based reality shows and you pretty much have all the replies I got from the B's of the world.

And so it went for a few months. After the first few times (especially after one particular day when 3 people said the same thing within 2 hours), it didn't surprise me anymore. But I often contemplated sticking a label on my back that read "No, you've NOT seen me on TV!".

Then suddenly, this January, just when I'd almost gotten a designer label printed out for my back, I got a call from Doordarshan. In a week's time, I was the host of my own show 'Puduppunal' on Podhigai, Doordarshan's regional channel in TamilNadu.

In the next two weeks, all the B's of the world had actually seen me on TV. So now, when they say "Oh, I thought you looked familiar! Of course, you're the one that hosts Puduppunal. I saw the episode featuring Mandolin Sisters/ Keyboard Sathya/ Athira/ Iyer Sisters/ Jananiy/ Shruti Sagar/ Bhageswari/ Oxygen," I can't help but believe them.

But if you thought it ended there and that I've been living happily ever after, *sigh* nope! This is where it gets juicier.

Ever since Puduppunal happened, life has become much easier for the mamas and mamis of the world whose sons/ grandsons/ nephews/ neighbour's sons/ friend's sister's nephews are between 23 and 27. They don't have to bother coming home now - they see me on TV (the ponnu paathufication is done!), do some preliminary enquiries and...call my mom. Who, thankfully, politely tells them that I'm not interested.

And oh, please notice that age is the only criterion for the boy. He need not know music. He need not have a good academic background. He need not look good. He can even be unemployed ("He's looking for a job. He's bound to get one soon," a mami explained about her friend's sister's nephew.). I, of course, have to have this list of characteristics.

1. Fair
2. Good-looking
3. Must know music - that I perform is a bonus
4. Must be academically "well-qualified" 

But then, there was one mami who assumed I was in school and asked mom if I would marry her nephew who is currently doing his B.E. No, I didn't make this story up.

5. This is an unwritten rule - I must shift base to wherever the boy lives. (The fact that I'm building a career in music myself and that I'm not going to shift out of Chennai is trivial and need not be given any consideration.)

There was another mami who was campaigning for a boy who had no great academic qualifications, but whose family was very rich. "They've decided that their son should marry your daughter," she told my mom, with a beaming smile, indicating that the family was doing me a great favour by deciding that their son should marry me! Bah!

But there was one mami who beat 'em all, hands down. She got my address and phone number from a neighbourhood newspaper that carried a small article on me. She called me one day when I was going to music class. After the initial inconsequential banter, here's how the conversation went.

Mami: You've already done a music album...aren't you very young?
Me (Ok, she just wants my age): I'm 21...
Mami (jumps to the next question): Actuallllllyyyyy, I'd like to speak to your parents and congratulate them for having such a talllllennnnted kid. Are they around?
Me (Oh no, I know where this is headed. If a mami wants to speak to mom or dad, it can only mean one thing.): Ummm, I'm on my way to music class, so they're not here. Why don't you call home in about 2 hours from now?

But this mami was so excited at having found the *right* girl for her son that she called home immediately. My grandmom told her in no uncertain terms that I'm still too young for marriage. But the mami wouldn't give up. "Why don't we get them engaged now? They can get married three years later." Even my grandmom was stunned. "No," she said. And hung up. 

But the mami would still not give up. A month later, she and her husband came home, unannounced! I was sitting on the sofa in my nightdress, working on my laptop. "My husband thought we should call you before coming. But I told him that we're not thieves after all, so we can go unannounced," she declared, grinning at me and priding herself for such a brilliant explanation. "We just came to see you."

Oh, great, I thought, this was the official ponnu paathufication! My mom made polite conversation with them, in the course of which we learnt that the mama knew Carnatic music. Just when we were hoping they'd leave, the mama asked me to sing. Now, that's something I never decline, so I promptly sang a kriti. At the end of it, the mama mumbled a "nice". Mom was surprised, but obviously she didn't let it show. For the next 10 minutes, while my mom politely refused their offer, the mama went on humming, non-stop, weaving seemingly complex sangathis with his hands, loud enough to disturb the conversation. After they left, we realised that the mama had asked me to sing because he was hoping that I would ask him to sing! :D

My mom is still getting calls from mamis she's never seen or heard before. So to the mamis of the world - I'm still single (the fact that I'm not interested can be overlooked, can't it?). Start by tuning in to Doordarshan Podhigai every Wednesday at 9 pm and every Thursday at 11 am. And if the boy has no knowledge of music, hasn't studied much, is unemployed and does not look good, but has lots of money, search no more - I'm your girl!

Annual Day at Kidzzone Kindergarten
My cousin runs a huge sports academy called S.R. Sports Club in Nanganallur, and along with it, a school called Kidzzone Kindergarten. The annual day of the school was held last sunday and well, I was the Chief Guest :D

Here're some pics. The expressions on the kids' faces are priceless.

(Click on the pics for bigger versions.)

Got a standing ovation for yesterday's concert! Yay!
Yesterday I performed for 40 minutes at a festival called the Manavar Kamban Vizha. Two days before the concert, someone from the organization called and asked if I would be able to tune and present verses from the Kamba Ramayana as a concert. I said I would and they sent the verses over. The tamil in the Kamba Ramayana is very different from the kind that we're used to, so I took a Tamil poet's help to understand the meaning. There were 8 songs, which I tuned to Arabhi, Hindolam, Mohanam, Kurinji, Pantuvarali, Bilahari, Revathi and Madhyamavathi.

A day before the concert, the organizers wanted me to do a rehearsal. I did and they said they were "stunned". Now, that had me stunned. But I was happy anyway.

Yesterday, I thought the concert went smoothly. But as soon as I finished the last piece I was stunned again when the entire audience of about 250 people rose in unison and clapped for a full 2 mins! The audience consisted of Tamil poets and scholars including a Kalaimamani! Yay! :)

The Youth Association for Classical Music (YACM) asked me to write an article for their magazine Dhwani. I wrote what I've posted below. It is a topic I feel very strongly about. But I guess it came out too strong for publishing, so I had to edit it. But here's the original.

Rasika Leela

They’re the show stealers. One sees them in dozens, even hundreds, in every concert hall. They’ve discovered a 101 ways of using concert time effectively, only one of which is listening to the concert – which leaves us with no doubt that they, the rasikas, are the real show stealers in any concert!

But sometimes, the show-stealing isn’t restricted to the concert hall, as I learnt a month ago. At a musician-rasikas chat show with a famous vidwan who plays the Chitravina, a mami asked the maestro if he only sings or has also learnt to play any instrument! Understandably, it took me a great deal of effort to keep a straight face. The vidwan, try as he might, couldn’t!

Inside the concert hall, the scene is nothing short of spectacular – what with glittering silk sarees, dazzling jewellery and shining veshtis and jibbas on display from the audience. Some rasikas staunchly believe that all talams are two counts long and consist of only a thattu and a veechu. So they demonstrate their superior talam-keeping skills proudly to the rest of the audience - thattu, veechu, thattu, veechu and nothing else but thattu, veechu - even when the artiste is singing or playing in Sankirna Chapu. There are others who give every artiste a small, neatly folded chit that invariably reads ‘kurai onrum illai’. Obviously, Carnatic music = kurai onrum illai, for a significant proportion of the audience!

While these quirks are amusing, there are some things that downright smack of disrespect to the artistes. The ubiquitous mobile phone, for instance, that rings when the vocalist is singing a breathtaking karvai at the mandra sthayi shadjam and the entire hall is listening in awed silence. Or the mama who talks into his mobile phone at regular intervals, loud enough for the performer to hear. Or the gentleman who finds the concert hall the best place to read and re-read that day’s newspaper and rustles it so loudly that even the snoring mama next to him wakes up. Or the mamis who chatter away endlessly with one another because they’ve come to hear the next concert and are not in the least bothered about the current performer. Or the section of the audience that walks out as soon as the tani avartanam begins.

Yet it’s the rasikas who decide every musician’s career graph. It is they, with or without their idiosyncrasies, who decide who gets the prime slot and who gets the afternoon slots. Consciously or sub-consciously, it is the rasikas that most musicians hope to please. And so, with due apologies to Tygaraja Swami, “Endaro rasikajanamulu, andariki vandanamu”.

The December Season
It's been a very hectic one and a half months.

Some things I did:

1. Performed 5 concerts. Here are a couple of pics from my Chennai Sangamam concert at Tower Park, Anna Nagar. Thanks to photographer Nachiketha B.Phathanjali for the photos.

(Click on the pics for bigger versions.)

2. My album Guru Kripa was released and I've received a lot of nice comments. Thanks, everyone! :)

Listen to Appa Rama Bhakti (Ragam Pantuvarali) from the album:

3. Hosted a chat show from the 20th to the 31st of Dec, at Sangeetha Fast Foods, R.A.Puram. Interviewed Aruna Sairam, Unnikrishnan, Chitravina Ravikiran, Gayathri Venkataraghavan, Ranjani and Gayathri, Sangita Kalanidhi Umayalapuram Sivaraman, Priya Sisters, Sowmya ma'am, Anuradha Sriram and Sriram Parasuram, T.M.Krishna and Sangeetha Sivakumar, Sikkil Gurucharan and Anil Srinivasan, and Sudha Ragunathan. The audience response was absolutely overwhelming.

Here's a pic from Ranjani and Gayathri's interview:

(Click on the pic for bigger version.)

Some videos of the final day's show, featuring Sudha Ragunathan, for which Kavingyar Vairamuthu was the chief guest, are here, here and here.

4. Worked with Shashi sir on his Times of India articles. You can read them here.

5. Shashi sir's book Carnatic Fun-task-tic (about which I've written here), which was released in January last year, was completely sold out by the end of November! Thanks to everyone who e-mailed Shashi sir and me. :) We're working on the second edition, besides a couple of other books.

6. My B.E. convocation was held on January 10th. The Director of India's moon mission Chandrayaan - I, Dr.Mylswamy Annadurai, was the Chief Guest. He said that he used to walk 10 miles to school everyday, as a kid. I thought such things existed only in stories. It felt nice to get my degree from such a great man. Got gold medal, cash award and four certificates - two from the college and two from the university. :) Dinamani carried the photo:

(Click on the pic for bigger version.)

7. Will be hosting a new 1-hour show on up-and-coming musicians on Doordarshan from next week. I'm hoping the shooting schedule doesn't interfere with college.

Been doing a lot of other things too. These days, it takes me some time to even remember what day of the week it is. But oh, I love life and I love music! :)

P.S.: The album is available in music stores in Chennai. It hasn't gone to other cities or to the U.S. yet. So if you're outside Chennai, please drop me a mail.

And the big news is...
...my music album 'Guru Kripa' will be released by the Additional Solicitor General of India, Shri Mohan Parasaran, and Cleveland Shri V.V.Sundaram, this Saturday morning at 10:30 am, during Carnatica's music festival Samarpanam. :)

Venue: Tattvaloka Auditorium, No. 76, Eldams Road, Teynampet, Chennai

Here's how the album looks:

Click on the image for a bigger version.

Upcoming Concerts:

Carnatica's Samarpanam - 21st Dec - 1:30 pm
Mridangam: Kum. Rajna Swaminathan
Violin: Kum. Srividya R.S.Iyer

Nada Sudha - 1st Jan - 4:30 pm

Chennai Sangamam - 11th Jan

Pictures of me, taken yesterday. Click on the pictures for bigger versions.

Database of Carnatic music gurus
Shashi sir and I are in the process of creating a public database of Carnatic music gurus across the world, for the benefit of music students. If you know teachers who would like to have their names included, or if you're a teacher yourself, please mail me at nivedita.narayanan@gmail.com

We'd like to have the following details:

1. Name of the guru
2. Whether they teach vocal or instrumental music (if the latter, specify which instrument)
3. Whether they teach online/direct or offer any specialized courses
4. Address
5. Telephone number
6. E-mail address
7. Website (if they have one)

Thatha's thiruvilaiyadal
My mom's dad is Narada in human form. When he's not looking up a cow's backside or a dog's uterus (he's a vet), he likes getting people into trouble. This incident happened sometime in March this year, but to give you some background info, I'll take you back to 2002.

March 2002:

I was 14 years old and had been learning music for several years from a mama who used to come home every Saturday and Sunday and teach me. During those years, I hated music. I almost never practised. Sitting through a concert was sheer torture.

I remember that mama once taught me to tune and play the tambura. I never got the hang of it - so much so that _every_ time I tried playing the tambura, I would break a string! I would get the broken string replaced and promptly break the new one!

Every weekend I would hope that somehow, mama would not turn up. But he would. He would be late invariably, but he would always come. More info on how I learnt from him is here.

It was at this point of time that by a quirk of fate, I started learning from Shashi sir. But I had not yet quit learning from mama, because I didn't have the guts to tell him. But from the very first day of starting to learn from Shashi sir, I fell in love with music. I would pester him for class everyday. I would talk non-stop to my school friends about music. They only knew carnatic music as 'saami paatu'. They thought I was crazy, but they put up with me.

When I had exams in school, I would finish the paper early and then sit and write the names of the 72 melakartas over and over again in all my question papers, until the teacher let us out of the hall. In chemistry class, I would look at the teacher, nod occasionally and pretend to be taking notes, while I was actually working out combinations of shruti bedam for the melakartas.

In short, I was crazy about music - and I mean, good music. Which means that I did not like mama's music. So I mustered my guts and told him that I was quitting paatu class. There was no way I could have told him that I was quitting because I had found the best guru in the world, so I told him that my school work was taking so much of my time, that I couldn't concentrate on music anymore! (Ha ha!) Incidentally, mama started teaching my uncle (my mom's brother) after that.

March 2008:

It was a Sunday and I was at my uncle's house for a family get-together. We had just finished our lunch when the doorbell rang.

"That will be paatu mama." my uncle said.

"Wha...?!" I started, but even before I could finish, he had reached the door.

In that fraction of a second, I decided it was dangerous to meet mama, because if anyone in the family accidentally let it slip that I am now an upcoming vocalist, it would be too embarrassing!

So I ran. And hid. In the kitchen.

Then my uncle opened the door, paatu mama came in...and instead of heading straight to the music room, settled down comfortably in a couch in the living room! The kitchen is attached to the living room, so there was no way I could come out of the kitchen until mama left for the music room. But I didn't mind it; my aunt has a nice kitchen.

Now this was when my thatha decided to have some fun. He went and sat next to mama. Then, "Niviii, come out!" he called out, looking towards the kitchen. I didn't budge. Then he turned to mama. "You know, Nivedita is here. She is hiding in the kitchen because she doesn't want to meet you"

I fumed! Staying in the kitchen wasn't an option anymore, so I walked out into the living room. And exchanged pleasantries with mama as though nothing had happened! In fact, I managed to look like I was excited at meeting him!

Thatha's best was yet to come. "See, she is a performing artiste now." he declared. "She's a disciple of Vidwan Shashikiran. And she sings so well these days."

Ah, I thought, it couldn't have gotten worse than that. I looked at mama, wondering how he would take it. "She's MY disciple, that's why she's singing so well." he told my thatha.

I did the only thing that came to my mind at that moment. I fell at mama's feet and got his aashirvaadam.

Thankfully, the others realised what was happening and mama was soon ushered into the music room. And with the exception of my thatha, all was right with the world again.