Sunday, April 23, 2006

Phnom Penh to Bangkok for $10!


I have purchased a ticket on Air Asia from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Bangkok for $10.00 Ten.

But Taxes are another $19.50!

And Airport Departure Tax is $25.00!

I think I still have good deal. What do you think??

Friday, April 21, 2006

Effective Proposal Writing

Ahhhh...well, signed a lucrative multi-million dollar contract for my book "Effective Proposal Writing" with Sage Publications.

Thanks to all who helped me!

did I say "Multi-million"?

Disregard that totally! :-)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Two Concerts

After a very very long time, I attended a concert. Not one, in fact, but two.

The first- on Saturday - was in honour of the KC Das centenary. It started with a bang with us meeting the great Manna Dey himself and taking his autograph!! Wow!!

Then followed the inevitable delays and we finally came to the music.

Here goes.

First we had a young lady sing. She sang very well indeed. Oddly she did not sing any classical stuff - well, maybe a bhajan or thumri or so. She was accompanied by some other fellow (her husband?) on the Harmonium who was loud and painful. More on this fellow soon.

Then followed pain and misery. The daughter, a cute little thing, all of 4, was forced to sing Miyan ki Todi and Mian ki Malhar. Why?

The great man himself sang. With two tanpuras, a tabla, a harmonium and a swarmandal to help drown out his voice, he launched into an extended torture session. First he gave the usual spiel about how the great Gurus had blessed him etc. Absolute rubbish and fake nonsense. Then he sang a blood-chilling version of Jaijaivanti, a proper rendition of which, by Faiyaz Khan, is here.


Unfortunately, due to his obsession with himself and his family, he cut into the time of the brilliant and rather unassuming Sitar player Kushal Das, who's been mentioned in my entry about Todi. Here is his Bilaskhani Todi again. Superlative is not the word.

He played Rageshri and then Pahadi, examples of which are here and here. I loved his fluency and brilliance. No nonsense and in very very sharp contrast to the other clown. He gave no speeches about God's divine blessings. He just did what he had come to do. I was thoroughly impressed and the prior torture was worth it. I felt furious that I could listen to Kushal Das for such a small period of time, just because of some idiotic megalomaniac.

On Sunday, Sarang and I went to Fort High School to listen to the Ramanavami Music celebration concerts. The concert started an hour late. It featured Mysore Manjunath on the violin and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt on the guitar. They played Charukesi. It was technically brilliant but it lacked soul; it was played on predicatable lines and did not have the gravity and softness I was hoping for. They might as well have played any other Raaga. Mostly histrionics. I was more impressed by Mysore Manjunath than Bhat. His bowing was simply wonderful!!

We left after a while and did not listen to the rest. Perhaps it was nice...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Bunch of Haikus

Elusive friends in
Many Capitols Unearthed
Koto in Maryot

a gray sky fails to becloud
March Friendship unseen

Distortion reigns on
friendship in a foreign land
The ethernet's quiet

The trees bend low
Leaves melt in the heat
friends in shadows

softly silent mind
A cold winds murmurs, afraid
Lost Samurai

A Cold Rising sun
Haunting are the Gulfstream Blues
a quixotic vanishing

My Koto's tunes jar
strings untaut rust patina
missing friend; come back

Far in Sapporo
DC beckons brutally
a good heart beats on

A Written poem
An Invisible Inkdrop
An Eternal clasp

A hot sun blazes
Cold is my heart, but alone
Your call I await

Children in a bed
Here I breathe strange lonely air
A good friend comforts

Blue Moon; A dog howls
Silent night an odd strange land
Safe Viriginia

Of Vicissitudes
Many aborted meetings
a cold barren heart

Pure is my Promise
Lincoln, so near yet so far
Torture Chronicles

Silently arrive
metal wings across cities
Breakfast is burnt toast

Who is Vasudev?
sad to see a doubting friend
Bald crow in winter

Accusations hurt
many contrite shrinking hearts
White House is quiet

public scorn of pal
prurient analysis
a calm lake disturbed

sorry, snarling friend
scared Japanese; a koto
dry autumn in spring

Hotels without walls
a sweet internet friendship
koto falls silent

Raging Potomac
Apologies for trouble
The Art of Living

A final goodbye
old age, perhaps a meeting
Glacial melting

Music in tune with the Divine

Music in tune with the Divine

Vasudev Murthy

First Published in the Deccan Herald on August 30, 2005

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Thyagaraja's inspired dialogue with a benevolent God, via music, is made more believable because of what we know of his simple lifestyle.

Just as the music of Tartini and Paganini was believed to be inspired by the Devil, there are other kinds of music that have strong religious connotations; melody, harmony and rhythm have been used to persuade invisible powers to shower grace and favours on a person or persons. Martial music is perhaps an exception. However, even military tunes have a purpose - to enthuse, to motivate and to convince soldiers or a nation that righteousness was on their side and the forces of darkness would shortly be annihilated.


Indian music has been blessed in many ways. Apart from the rigour of a grammar and taxonomy in both major streams of classical music via Sarangadeva and Venkatamakhi, the religious traditions of the country have sparked musical creativity to the extreme. Most examples are well known. Surdas of the Bhakti movement found inspiration in the life of Krishna to burst forth into song. Mira Bai was obsessed with Krishna and created bhajans spontaneously. She and Kabirdas were major figures of the Bhakti movement. Except perhaps for the period of Aurangzeb who frowned on it, music and religious dedication have been respected in India for centuries, and virtuosity has been admired rather than looked upon suspiciously.

Surdas Mirabai Kabirdas

A lesser known example of the tight bond between classical music and religion has been in the Sikh tradition. Guru Arjan Dev, the Fifth Guru, set the entire Guru Granth Sahib to about thirty different classical raagas. Knowing how the mind reacts to various raagas, he took extreme care while choosing them.

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The lessons of the Granth Sahib thus prescribe correct behaviour and clean living through music; this is not imagination -- the feeling of elevation and the desire to do good does take shape if you listen to well sung shabads in certain raagas - try Ramkali, for instance.

Guru Arjan Dev was obviously gifted and understood group psychology and the power of music in shaping religious sentiment. This effect is seen elsewhere in choir music, bhajans and qawwalis alike, where the musicians and the audience collectively enter some kind of a rarified collective mental state for a period of time. This mass demonstration of piety via music is intended to inform a compassionate entity (God) of their devotion to Him.

And not too long ago, while Paganini was being looked at jealously in Italy, Thyagaraja (1767 -- 1848) performed musical miracles and composed hundreds of kritis across the entire complex spectrum of Carnatic raagas. Whether he was extremely pious and was consumed by the need to see Rama and therefore composed so many kritis or whether he was musically gifted anyway and found bhakti to Rama as a perfect channel to vent the music is a pointless debate. An obsession with his concept of the Supreme combined with musical genius gave us expressions of immense musical creativity which are unlikely to be ever surpassed. Thyagaraja was lucky - and so were we - that the social environment he lived in - Thanjavur in this instance - respected music and he was given recognition while he lived. He had exalted company - Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Sastry lived in the same area at about the same time - and was sufficiently motivated to enhance his genius.

Dikshitar Thyagaraja Shyama Sastry

Some people are tone deaf while others are believed to have a perfect ear for detecting variations in music. But generally, the range of audible frequencies means that our musical experience is limited by the construction of the ear and the etrainingf that our neurons receive over years - and occasionally genes. In our tradition, we also speak of anahat - the music that cannot be heard except by the spiritually exalted. We would like to believe that many geniuses derive inspiration from an unknown benign source because the extent of their musical experience is beyond the normal and they can perhaps access the anahat due to 'spiritual purity' or, at any rate, some peculiarity.

A Thyagaraja Composition
A Muthuswami Diskshitar Composition (Veena)
A Shyama Sastry Composition (Violin)

Thyagaraja is no longer available. His inspired dialogue with a benevolent God, via music, is made that much more believable because of what we know of his simple lifestyle and true rejection of the material world. It is fashionable today for modern musicians to refer to their 'divine' experiences and to mutter some intelligible shlokas, while having a keen eye on economic benefits and possible felicitations and awards in the pipeline. It is rare to find 'inner peace' in most of today's concerts, though one might find technical perfection and even a pleasing experience.

What set the music of - for instance -the late MS Subbalakshmi, Nikhil Bannerjee and Pannalal Ghosh apart was a definite element of inner contentment in their music and a distinct lack of interest in playing to the gallery. They communed with an invisible world via music while they were alive. Their music leaves clues to us about the Great Beyond.

Tartini Thyagaraja

Tartini and Thyagaraja. One spoke to the Devil and the other to God. And music was the language they both chose.


More links:
Here is a link to a Sikh Shabad in Ramkali

Some more classical pieces

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Utopia Today - Reality Tomorrow

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I am most delighted to inform you that my story-essay on the 'Universal Declaration of Equality of Species’ figures in a new publication

'UTOPIA TODAY - REALITY TOMORROW - A vegetarian world'

Here is the blurb

The European Vegetarian Union is happy to announce that the book is now available!

Thirty five authors - nutritionists, medical doctors, authors of bestsellers, founders of important organizations, researchers, IT-specialists, philosophers, sci-fi fans, musicians and talented individuals - generously contributed to this EVU fundraiser project. The authors come from a variety of countries, cultural backgrounds and religions but they all have one thing in common: the conviction that a more compassionate world is not only possible but inevitable if humanity is to prosper.

I invite you to take a look at more detailed information here.

Other names you may recognize in the list of contributers include Ingrid Newkirk of PETA, Alex Hershaft, Mark Bekoff and Neal Bernard (President, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine)

136 pages, 35 authors from 11 countries, ISBN 3-909067-05-0

This is not about ME. So rather than congratulate me, please do spare a thought for those who cannot express their suffering and live out a life of pain and misery.

The Violin and Devilish music

Published in the Deccan Herald on August 29, 2005

Note: I have provided very small music samples here to illustrate a point or two.

The Violin and Devilish music

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By Vasudev Murthy

There is no culture that has not developed music in some form. The general stress on harmony in Western classical music, where multiple notes might play together for a pleasing effect, is not pronounced in Indian classical music, which is more preoccupied with the importance of single notes within a larger sequential context. Japanese gagaku, Korean hyangak or traditional Icelandic music might sound strange to those accustomed to something else but it works for those who live in those countries nevertheless. Each culture needs to produce music for whatever reason.

Various parts of the brain apparently work together in the understanding of melody, harmony and rhythm. Classical music in particular stimulates those parts of the brain that deal with mathematics and spatial reasoning. Those who are musical seem to have an intuitive grasp of mathematics (though - empirically - the converse need not be true) because of the need to process variations in pitch and time.

But science apart, music's peculiar agony is that it thrills and troubles us. Why do we like music? Why are some better at it than others? Why does it drive us mad, motivate us, or cheer us up?

The desperate need for man to want to believe he is not alone in this Universe and has some kind of a benevolent figure or figures watching over him, picking and choosing acts of good and evil, punishing and rewarding and generally keeping an idealistic sense of order has developed the institution of religion.

The effect of music has long been interpreted as a means of communicating with the unseen and unknown. It is no wonder that classical music everywhere has strong roots in the devotional or meditative side of existence - and not always in a positive way.

Music (and even dance) causes a peculiar ecstasy or disconnect with the immediate world and is interpreted as a spiritual flight of fantasy. Whether Gregorian chants or bhajans, Dhrupad or the recitation of shlokas, Buddhist chants or Turkish Sufi music -- the cadence of religious music acts as a pleasing soporific and a temporary escape into a personal mental space that is satisfying because we are trained to believe we are close to the supernatural at that time. The Voodoo ceremonies of the Caribbean, as another example, consider music and dance as an expression of a connection to the spirit world.

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The violin was considered an instrument of the Devil and blamed for all manner of abnormal behaviour. Nero continues to be falsely accused of having fiddled while Rome was burning - implying perhaps that he was so absorbed in playing the violin (which hadn't even been invente then, by the way) that he was impervious to everything else around him.

Used as an accompaniment to dance in Europe, the violin was condemned as being a catalyst to bad morals and an agent of the Devil.

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Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770), then the violin's greatest virtuoso, is credited with the Devil's Trill or Devil's Sonata. He claimed that the Devil played it for him in a dream.

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I heard a sonata so unusual and so beautiful performed with such mastery and intelligence, on a level I had never before conceived was possible! I was so overcome that I stopped breathing and awoke gasping. Immediately I seized my violin, hoping to recall some shred of what I had just heard - but in vain. The piece I then composed is without doubt my best, the Devil's Sonata, but it falls so far short of the one that stunned me that I would have smashed my violin and given up music forever if I could but possess it.

The Devil's Sonata is indeed quite bizarre and does seem supernatural. Tartini's other work does not resemble this piece at all! One speculates ... when normal dreams are so strange and so quickly forgotten, is it impossible that one hears music in them?

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Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840) was another brilliant violinist who was under suspicion because his virtuosity was just a bit too unbelievable. He handled the violin like a toy and could do things with it that no one else could even dream of. The German poet Boerne, after hearing a concert by Paganini, said: 'It was (a) heavenly and diabolical enthusiasm'.

Many believed he was the Devil himself and it did not help that he had dark hair and a pale face. Mme Blavatsky's chilling story, The Ensouled Violin, talks about a violin teacher's determination to have his student get the better of Paganini ('It was rumoured that the strings of his violin were made of human intestines, according to all the rules and requirements of the Black Art') in a duel. He sacrifices his life and forces his student to use his guts as the violin strings.

The story ends with the wraith of the violin teacher rising from the student's violin (His viscera were protruding and the ends of the intestines stretched on the violin). For his pains, Paganini was not allowed a religious burial when he died. His music was not Godly enough - it was too devilish.

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End of Part One

Monday, April 03, 2006

Todi: Soul Food for Ascetics

Warning: I am not a musicologist. I am just interested in music. Do not quote me or act based on the information available on this page. You can collect and collate information in the same way as I have. These are from public sources such as,, and others. This is only an indicative article and I do not claim its correctness or its completeness. I don't want credit for anything. Thank you.

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For my Excellent Friend in DC, David Raphael Israel


Soul Food for Ascetics

The Raagas of the Todi Thaat (Root) are regarded with much apprehension. Extremely hard to handle by most musicians, especially instrumentalists, it is also not the easiest to fully unravel by the listener. One practical reason is, of course, that the Raagas that owe their existence to this Thaat are all executed in the morning when most concerts are not scheduled anyway. Thus the rarity.

As a result, names like Khamaj, Bageshree and Bihag etc. are far more familiar as they appear in the evening/night when people are possibly more disposed to relax and listen.

Highly cerebral and intellectual Raagas like Todi do deserve much more than a cursory glance. Two quick appetisers - here and here.

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Todi is highly reflective and meditative. We visulize a merging with a greater consciousness, an endless time, fleeting and evanescent life-blips. I am aware of one musician who was sucked in so badly by this Raaga that he possibly went mad. The shades and depths of this Raaga are not for the timid.

They emphasize, in my mind, a stern and uncompromising internal focus on something elusive but clearly present. In short, the soul.

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The Todi for Hindustani Classical corresponds to Hanuma Todi of the Carnatic school, whose Todi is different. I digress.

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This figure explains the strange undulations of Todi in the ascent and descent. The symmetry is broken by the unexpected and delicately introduced Pancham. An analogy might be the Teevra Madhyam of Yaman which is conspicuous by its sparing use. The determined non-usage of Pancham results in Gujari Todi, which also has a different lilt. But it is not as easy as that. If it were, the mere removal or addition of notes ought to result in millions of new Raagas. This is not true; some combinations are indeed considered 'unmusical'. The manner of exposition is also important. A fast Bilaskhani Todi will sound jarring without a proper buildup or a slow Brindavani Sarang is meaningless. Or a Nand without adequate interspersing of silence violates its essence, though it may sound okay.

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Another simply classic example: the Sarangi of Munir Khan.

Here you have Faiyaz Khan singing Todi.

A much longer version by Parveen Sultana is available here. If you listen carefully, you will find a few errors, which merely shows how difficult this Raaga is, and not necessarily the caliber of the artiste. These things happen.

Bilaskhani Todi is a misnomer, though understandably so. It technically belongs to the Bhairavi Thaat. It's pathos must be remarked upon. The story is that as Bilaskhan, the son of Tansen, created this Raaga at the funeral of his father. You are unlikely to find a more brilliant example than that of the late Pandit Nikhil Bannerjee's Raga Records production example (no audio here, sorry).

Here is a beautiful example, otherwise, by his student Kushal Das.

What marks the special searing pathos of Bilaskhani Todi? First is the missing Madhyam on the ascendent, and the pair of Gandhar and Pancham. Further, while ascendng, if Madhyam is touched, a descent is forced. And then the quadra-set of Dhaivat, Nishad, Nishad and Madhyam. Odd? Hmmmm... that is the soul-disturbing pain of Bilaskhani Todi, an extremely moving
Raaga. Here is Amir Khan.

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From an unknown manuscript, unlikely to ever see the light of day, Bilaskhani Todi speaks as the flames in a pyre:

As we lick this pyre singing Komal Rishabh, we wonder at our task. As we creep over his body, we peep at his face and reach for the Pancham in exclamation, astonished at his nobility. Yes, he knew us, your Father, and now we know him.

Komal Rishab Asavari Todi. The challenging Raag derives its name from the use of Komal Rishab rather than the Shuddha Rishab of Asavari. Asavari is another Thaath from which Raags like Jaunpuri, Darbari and Adana emerge. You'll like this.

Some argue forcefully that it belongs to the Bhairavi Thaat. These little differences make for enjoyable analysis.

Bhupal Todi is merely Todi with the film of Bhupali overlaid. Specifically, the removal of Madhyam and Nishad. Thats the mathematics, but, as explained previously, that doesn't suffice.

Here are two more important variants.
Bahaduri Todi Mallikarjun Mansur uses both Rishabs with gravity and care. You will also find both Madhyams, the lower an accent from Bilaskhani Todi. Not for the faint hearted.

And Gujari Todi

Here you have a lovely piece in Todi by Abdul Latif Khan. Worth many listens.

Asa Todi, or just Asa, is a rarity mostly found in Sikh Shabads. I found a nice one by Bhimsen Joshi. It is a blend of Asavari and Todi.

Two relatively popular Raagas that derive fom Todi are Madhuvanti and Multani. Multani is restless, while Madhuvanti is sweet. Multani shares the notes of the base Todi, while Madhuvanti deviates in the use of Rishab. One may argue it does not belong to the Todi Thaat

Here is a Sarangi piece by Nathu Khan in Multani

And here is Inayat Shah on the Dilruba playing Madhuvanti

We end with this Todi and here are Ustad Bismillah Khan and the late Pandit V G Jog (who explained Todi to me and a young Dutch violinist so many years ago in a small room in Kolkata, which we then played together somewhere and made a mess of.)

Enrich your lives and those of the next generation now! Listen to Indian classical music!

Cordially and Goodbye.


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The late Pandit V G Jog in concert accompanied by Anand Gopal Bandopadhyay on the tabla. That's me in the yellow kurta.