I Bow to Thee SVK


After the first (read the first few sentences in that link to get the context), here is the second re-review on the series of English to English translation of Shri. SVK’s Victorian Carnatic music reviews appearing in The Hindu. This week he has done two reviews but we shall take up only one, because unfortunately, I also happened to attend that concert. I feel I am indebted to set things reasonably tilted on either side – i.e. SVK’s inside and SVK’s outside.

image001.jpgThe reviewed artist is unfortunately Sanjay Subramanian. Sorry Sanjay; nothing against you here. You are a brilliant singer who by the vice of living in kaliyuga is ordained to be reviewed and re-reviewed.

Now for the review and its translation

Implementing his provocative bhani through ear-friendly passages, Sanjay Subramanian raised his kutcheri to a high level in the Krishna Gana Sabha Gokulashtami series.

[translation] Sanjay Subramanian gave an excellent vocal concert at the KGS.

The immediate objective seemed to convey that his method was off the beaten track. With broader manodharma and assertive classicism his venturesome approach has sealed his reputation.

You know, he is good. You know he IS good. You know, He, is, GOOD.

Though to a great extent he has succeeded in smoothening the rough edges of his robustness particularly in the tara sthayi, there is still vast scope in him to explore the soothing touch of ‘sogasu’ to his exposition.

Although he has improved his singing even in higher octaves, he can still improve so that in enough years he could think of impressing me really.

His musical impulses always led to look beyond hackneyed strands of raga sancharas or sangatis in songs.

He experimented with ideas rich in imagination.

The first raga essay was Nalinakanti. It was a long journey seeking the nooks and corners of its topography.

Nalinakanthi raga exposition was very long and tested my patience.

He stamped flair and focus and more than his fervour the enormous achievement called for attention. The precision and variations, toughness and clarity made the raga appealing. Musical contents and expressive craft were well-aligned.

But nevertheless he delivered it very well. Still I didn’t like his enthusiasm to take up vakra ragams for exposition. I shall pass it for today.

The kirtana was ‘Manavyaala’ in which Tyagaraja has packed Nalinakanti’s beauty in brevity, the sangatis elegantly graceful. His rendering moved with effectiveness and experienced expertise drawing out the niceties and nuances of the song.

I (SVK) shall pass it because he sang the Tyagaraja song that I like very much.

At this stage I (writer of this post) should digress from the explicit translation and point to the readers at least one implicit effect of Shri SVK’s writing. It is the extraordinary ability of Shri SVK to juxtapose two either synonymous, or antonymous, or completely different quality adjectives in his writing to express simple thoughts.

For instance, notice in the above sentence of his the usage of “the sangatis elegantly graceful”. Try comprehending what that means. The sangatis, for instance, can perhaps be elegant. Or they can be graceful. Being elegantly graceful at the same time is something like “of a high grade or quality pleasing or attractive in form”, if you permit me to place one after the other, the meanings of these words taken from online Webster dictionary.

Why does the sangatis require a double qualifier like “the sangatis [are] of a high grade or quality pleasing or attractive in form”?

Never mind; let us continue with the translation of the review.

With impeccable direction, he collected in his Kalyani vinyasa sheaves of sancharas marked by ability that sprang from intuitive instincts.

Notice the passable “impeccable direction” and the delectable “intuitive instincts” in the above sentence. Impeccable direction translates to “free from fault or blame directions”, which probably means Kalyani found the correct way out of Sanjay’s mouth – instead of going inward, it came outward in the general direction of the audience.

But look at the phrase “intuitive instincts”. From online Webster we can find the meanings for the two words as follows.

Intuition: quick and ready insight; the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference

Instinct: a natural or inherent aptitude, impulse, or capacity; a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason

To make sense of the phrase “intuitive instincts” let me try connecting the above meanings.

First combination is: a quick and ready insight with a natural or inherent aptitude, impulse, or capacity. Obviously, a “quick and ready insight” is available only to people with “natural or inherent aptitude”, so it couldn’t be this combination.

Second combination is: the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference [and] a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason. Obviously, the sentence before and after the [and] means almost the same thing, wouldn’t you agree?

For thinking of such a double adjective combination as this ‘intuitive instincts’, I prostrate at the feet of Shri SVK. Just for this single phrase his works should replace the Voynich manuscripts for the height of incomprehension.

Following with the review,

His uncanny insight into the core of the raga with the madhyama sthayi negotiations with controlled vocalism spoke of the compositional quality of the alapana. It revealed his mind that took delight in Kalyani’s lyrical visage.

The raga delineation was replete with startling vakra sancharas, revealing in the process, he felt that each time a raga or song is sung there was much to learn and improve.

He sang Kalyani with good imagination and ideas but revealed to me (SVK) sitting huddled in the audience personally that he is learning well and fast improving every time he sings Kalyani. May God bless this kid.

The kirtana, ‘Bhaja Re Re Chitta’ lent distinction to his interpretative process. Without any pretence of profundity, he sang the song in such a way as to successfully convey its structural grandeur.

The song was nicely sung without any ‘imaginative interpretations’ to borrow a weak SVK double adjective, in a way without appealing to the intelligence of the audience but only to their ‘heart’. I (SVK) liked it very much.

Notice here the inappropriate usage by Shri SVK of a ‘structural grandeur’ to qualify a song, as if the song is a civil construction.

Sanjay elaborated at great length Natabhairavi followed by the song, ‘Sri Valli Devasenapathe’ This happened to be the main item.

I (SVK) cannot use expletives in the Hindu review, but short of it, I denounce Sanjay for singing Natabhairavi as the main piece. Is there any Tyagaraja song that could be sung in this raga? I already know when the alapana began that the song will be Sri Valli, a shoddy attempt by Sivan to imitate Tyagaraja. I don’t like it one bit. Sanjay always lets me down by doing something like this. Burn a dharbai grass in his tongue!

I (SVK) have mentally tuned myself off from the concert from now on. Let me walk out even though there was a Ragam Thanam Pallavi – the hall mark of any competent concert – session after this one [*]. Anyway, Hindu Ram will always pay me for doing this service until I die. Why bother staying till the very end and do justice to Carnatic music?

As regards the accompanists there was a cordial relationship between the vocalist and the violinist M.R.Gopinath. The solo response in designing the ragas was on the lines Sanjay transmitted his mind-set to him.

Over the years I (SVK) have witnessed in many concerts, the accompanists and the main artist exchange blows and engage in fisticuffs and pulling of each other’s tufts. Given this violent situation that I am used to in Carnatic music concerts, I am surprised that not once in this concert did Sanjay show his fist in the direction of M. R. Gopinath and neither did M. R. Gopinath even once poke Sanjay with his violin bow. They shared a cordial relationship.

Further, while I use a head-set to listen to music that I like even while sitting at other concerts, Sanjay shares a mind-set with Gopinath so that he is able to play the same things that Sanjay wanted him to play. Amazing, what technology can do nowadays.

The percussive wing in the hands of Guruvayur Dorai and T.V. Vasan (ghatam) was tuned to gain the approval of the vocalist. The thani was punching.

K. GayathriThe play by Dorai and Vasan on their respective instruments were liked only by Sanjay. I didn’t like it one bit. But anyway, to end this review with a punch line I (SVK) shall do it by writing ‘The thani was punching’.

There ends the translation for this week.

Let me enjoy for now the good looks of the lady in the picture here, whose concert was the second review by SVK this week, which I shall skip for now. May transcendental peace descend on you all, but only until next Friday.


[*] the RTP at the concert was in the rare raga Komalangi, a janya raga of Charukesi, without the dha swara of Charukesi. Sanjay did a very good job of singing it with a nice thanam answered well by Gopinath on the violin. The adi tala pallavi was the modified first lines of M M Dandapani Desikar’s song. The ragamalika swarams were done also in Anadhabhairavi and Yadukula Khambodhi.


Original version written on Oct 05, 2007