Sunday, July 04, 2021

Remembering Raghu Mama

Yet another dear Mama has been taken away from us. Raghu Mama, the eldest of my mother's siblings was a pioneer of magnetic resonance research in India. After returning to India with a PhD from the University of British Columbia in the 70s, he was a professor of Chemistry at IIT Kanpur and then went on to be a founding head of the NMR department at AIIMS, New Delhi. Besides being a brilliant academician, he was passionate about cricket and Indian classical music. He had a keen musical mind and I've had some beautiful musical exchanges with him especially over the last one year. He had a vast knowledge of ragas in both Hindustani and Carnatic music and loved analyzing raga-based film songs. He also had a penchant for the English language (he was in fact married to a linguistics and English literature professor, our dear Vaija manni who passed away about five years ago) and loved indulging in word games and puzzles. Raghu Mama passed away on May 16th 2021 and has left behind an unfillable void. 

Amma had wanted to share with him this composition that she wrote and tuned 7-8 years ago. I kept putting off recording it thanks to work. Little did we expect that Mama wouldn't be with us for much longer. I'm sad I couldn't do it in time for him to hear it. Nevertheless, we'd like to share it today and dedicate it to him on his birthday (July 5th). He would have been 83.

Miss you Raghu Mama. Miss your brilliant mind. Miss your wit. Miss your music. Miss your affection and your towering presence as a role model to the entire extended family. Your memories will continue to inspire us. We hope you're in a better place.


This is a Tamil composition on Arjuna. Themed on the Mahabharata, it focuses on Arjuna's relationship with Lord Krishna. It was composed several years ago and Amma and I recently revamped it.

Ragam: Nalinakanthi Talam: Adi
Composer: Viji Bhakthavatsalam Lyrics and translation -
Pallavi: puNNiyam seidhanai nee pArtha kaNmaNi kaNNanin karuNaiyai peravE Partha (Arjuna), blessed are you to receive the grace of Krishna (kaNNan) Anupallavi: purandhidum paramanai un uravinanaai utra naNbanAi sArathiyAi AsAnAi pera To have the Lord who protects us as your kin, friend, charioteer, and guru (Blessed are you...) Charanam 1: pOrkaLatthil nee sOrndirundAi andru thErOtta vandhavan AchAryanAi nindrAn thannirakkam mElittu thavitthu nee nirkkayile unnidam dhayay koorndhu thanjam avan aLikkavE When you stood wearily in the battlefield The one who came to drive your chariot guided you as your guru As you stood consumed by self-pity He compassionately took you under his wing Charanam 2: pAdhai puriyAdhu bEdhitthu nee nindrAi kOdhaiyin kAdhalan bOdhaganAi vandhAn mEdhaiyin pin nindru mEdhiniyil uyarndhAi pEdhai nee teLivutru Athmanai uNarndhAi As you stood confused about the way ahead Kodai's beloved came to you as your preacher Following the master, you rose on this earth With newfound clarity you realized the Atman Charanam 3: pAdhagar nAm inRu bOdhanaiyai uNara - yem vAdhanaigaL neenga sAdhagam AnAi mAthavam yAm seidhOm mAdhavanai uNarvOm kAdhai nee AnAi nAyakanAi nindrAi You were a means for us all to realize his teachings And for our troubles to abate We did a great penance; let us realize Madhava You became a legend and stood tall as a hero ——

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Kiccha Mama

The fondness and affection you share with a loved one is beautiful in itself. Going beyond that to a shared love and passion for an art form is to me, even more beautiful and enriching. I feel extremely fortunate to have been born into a family so steeped in music, as a result of which, such has been the relationship I've shared not only with my immediate family, but with several folks in my extended family. One person in particular, who has been a hugely significant musical force is my uncle, my dear Kiccha Mama (Devanathan Parthsarathy). I write this with an unbearably heavy heart, on the fifth day since his passing. As our family is grappling with this profound loss, I attempt to put some words down in memory, honor, and celebration of Kiccha Mama.

Always gentle, soft-spoken, and affectionate, Kiccha Mama was a much-adored and respected figure. Humor was a big part of who he was. He loved joking around and amusing children. I distinctly remember this "magic" trick he'd show us kids, where he'd make it look like he was breaking off his thumb :) An electrical engineer by day, Mama was musically brilliant. He was a master accordionist and to us, his family, he was synonymous with the accordion. What a unique choice of instrument, and what a mastery he had over it! (He had imbibed harmonium skills from his father, and later learned some left hand playing and Western music from one Mr. Vaseegaran.) Many a summer vacation trip to Madras would be spent watching him play in awe. Mama was an ace keyboardist as well. His accordion and keyboard covers of Hindi and Tamil hits from the 60s through the 2000s are a testament to his perspicaciousness and tenacity. The kind of passion and obsession with which he would dissect a composition of say, Naushad, R.D. Burman, or Ilaiyaraja, is truly inspiring. Over the years, he has painstakingly recorded (many with authentic karaoke tracks) numerous songs. 

Sometime in middle school I attempted to learn keyboard fingering from him, but alas, I didn't really keep up and it is my regret to this day. Recently he shared with us a keyboard playing guide he had started writing - I hope to be able to learn something from that at least now. Mama was also a fine singer and composer and has composed a number of classical-based songs in ragas like Kalavati/ Valaji and Hamsanadam. I have had the good fortune of performing film songs on stage with him on two occasions - once in Chennai, and another time in San Jose. It is a pleasure watching him multitask on stage - switching from the keyboard to the accordion to vocals, with such ease. Mama was not just a musician, he was a true performer - he loved people, and he loved entertaining people, be it with music or humor.

Mama was ever so encouraging of my music and always had honest and constructive feedback on my singing. For the Chennai show some thirteen years ago (with his light music troupe "Supremes"), he pushed my boundaries by making me attempt an incredibly difficult song in Telugu, E Shwasalo. (I had written about the show and posted a recording here.) Moreover, he infused in me a greater love for Indian film music, especially for Ilaiyaraja's music - listening to him play covers of film songs would often bring about in me a much deeper appreciation for the melodies. More than anything, I am ever so grateful for the insightful conversations I have had with him on music. Through his experiences in the light music scene in Madras over several decades, he had amassed a wealth of information and would keep sharing anecdotes about some of the great masters' recording sessions, composing styles, orchestral nuances in various compositions, and more. A few months ago Mama was having some health issues and was in the hospital, but that didn't stop him from having a spirited discussion with me on video chat, on the Gruhabhedam relationship between the ragas Chalanattai and Shubhapantuvarali. I had just put out a video essay on this and Mama had some kind and insightful words to say about it.

Mama's life was inextricably tied to Tamil film music. He adored MSV and Ilaiyaraja - speaking of whom, of course, the name SPB is inseparable. Mama has played a large number of covers of SPB songs. Being from the MSV-Ilaiyaraja era, he obviously had a stronger connection to their music, but he particularly liked ARR's Anjali Anjali a lot and went on to cover that on the keyboard as well. Indians, particularly South Indians all over the world are struggling to come to terms with the tragic loss of the legendary SPB. Ever since SPB got hospitalized in August, Mama was worrying about him and praying for his recovery. But as things would have it, Mama turned out to be the first to go. In my mother's words, "Our dear Krishnan vanished to book a seat there next to him for his hero so that they can sing deva ganam together there depriving us of that boon." Normally, SPB's demise would have felt like a punch in my gut and ripped me apart. But after my dear Mama's passing, I think I'm either too numb and maxed out on grief, or just a little better prepared to deal with this other enormous loss. Whichever it is, it's ironical how one passing makes another somewhat more bearable. 

Although they both had so much more to give us, I just feel fortunate for all the musical wealth they have left behind. I'll leave you with two of Mama's recordings here. One is a beautiful cover of an Ilaiyaraja song originally sung by none other than the unparalleled SPB. This is an absolute favorite of mine. I find the tune incredibly haunting and meditative - and how SPB - and here, Mama - make it come alive! In the second, Mama talks about the great MSV's approach to SPB and other singers.

We miss you dearly, Kiccha Mama. At the same time, we are immensely grateful for all the love, light, and laughter you brought us. Rest in peace.

Cover of "kaeladi kanmani paadagan sangathi" - Ilaiyaraja/ SPB:

On MSV's approach to SPB and other singers (in Tamil):

And here is Mama's Facebook page with lots of video recordings:

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Sahana - Atana

Here's a wedding anniversary collaboration with the husband - meant to capture our typical arguments :)


Sunday, August 16, 2020

Two songs

One for dad - his favorite:


 The other by and for mom:

Monday, August 10, 2020

Cover of Shreya Ghoshal's chalo tumko lekar

I've always been a big fan of this song. Shreya who had just entered the industry was (and still is!) all the craze and sounded ethereal. My first take was on a casette with a karaoke track, back in the early 2000s soon after the film (Jism) had released. After all these years I got on Smule and this was one of the first songs I wanted to sing. Here goes - hope you like it.


Friday, July 24, 2020

Matthappoovu from Michael Madana Kamarajan- Cover

Here's a cover of a lesser known song composed by Maestro Ilaiyaraja and sung by Chitraji. I recorded this two years ago but didn't get around to posting it here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Vedanta Desika Suprabhatam

Here's the Desika Suprabhatam tuned as a ragamalika:

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Lesser Known Gruhabhedams: 2X4: A Typology of Gruhabhedams| Rasikapriya, Dharmavati, and more

Here's the last video in the Lesser Known Gruhabhedam series:

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Lesser Known Gruhabhedams: 2X3: Hindolam vs. Hamsanandi

Friday, May 08, 2020

Meghame Meghame - Cover

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Two Carnatic pieces

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Lesser Known Gruhabhedams: 2X2: Charukesi vs. Gowrimanohari

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Lesser Known Gruhabhedams: Season 2

Decided to make a second round on Lesser Known Gruhabhedam. Here's the first one in this second set:

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Concert in Chennai

I recently sang a short concert for the very first time during the Chennai Margazhi music season. It was for the organization Hamsadhwani and part of the NRI music and dance festival. Here's a recording of the concert:

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Dil dhadakne ka sabab - once again

Ghazal is a genre I love, but am generally apprehensive about singing since I'm always worried I'm going to make it 'sound Carnatic'. This particular one has been a longtime favorite and after many attempts through the years (one of which featured on this blog about a decade ago!), I couldn't resist recording and sharing this version. Asha, the one and only QUEEN - and Ghulam Ali, the maestro of ghazals - are the stuff that beauty and brilliance are made of. I wish some day my voice would roll with that kind of ease :/ Please compare this version to the original at your own risk.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Happy Saraswati Puja

May the force of learning be with you!

Monday, September 02, 2019

Jaya jaya gokula bala - Narayana Teertha

I learned this Narayana Teertha Tarangam about quarter a century ago along with my mom and sister from our then guru Smt. Ranganayaki Sridharan - resurrected it now thanks to my mom. Enjoyed recording this with the husband!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Brovavamma Bangaru Bomma - Nilambari

Thanks to motivation from the husband, I learned this gem of a song recently - the epitome of the tenderness of Nilambari.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Lesser Known Gruhabhedams: Lalitha and more

Here's the fourth and the last one in the Lesser known Gruhabhedam series.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Live concert at Bhairavi, Pondicherry

About a month ago, thanks to my father-in-law I sang a live concert at Bhairavi Carnatic Music Sabha in Pondichery. As always I was extremely nervous given that I don't do live concerts very frequently. While I think overall it turned out okay, there's a long list of things I'd do differently if I were to do it again, from the small fixes to the more long term changes: start the varnam at a slightly higher pace; practice a whole lot more so voice and shruthi remain stable throughout; try to reach a state where I can be more relaxed and enjoy the process more and be less tense. Anyway, here it is for you to appraise: