Friday, July 28, 2006


Withal, Eftsoons and Quotidian Certitudinaly, this is dedicated to our James Joyce.

A light rain in Bangalore and thoughts turn to Malhar.

This beautiful family of Raags is extremely fulfilling when heard during the monsoon. Something in Malhar captures moisture and the touch of wet earth, of grass in ecstasy as water caresses it, of trees in love with nature and fresh clean air. The birds sit quietly on branches letting the heavens bless them with water.

Malhar emerges from the Kafi thaat (root), noted for its use of both Gandhars. But the beauty is actually in the slowly undulating Nishaads; thats wherethe actual Malhar effect comes in. The cadence is slow and unhurried. The glide from one Nishaad to the other is constant but gradual, so gradual.

Played in the middle octave, Malhar is one of the most effective in capturing seasons. There are others like Basant and Hemant, true, but the association of Malhar and rain is immediate.

Here is Mian Ki Malhar by Ramakrishna Bua Vaze. A nice one by Mashkoor Ali Khan. An outstanding example on the Sarangi by Abdul Latif Khan.

Here is Ramdasi Malhar by Mashkoor Ali Khan (and a short extract from my 'book')

And then, without warning, came that brilliant movement between the two Gandhars!

Shuddha Gandhar trembled, caught between the quicksand of the Komal and the embrace of Shuddha Madhyam. Without a break, the Gandhar dipped and rose, serpentine, beautiful, glorious, brushing against the Madhyam. What joy! What wonder! The other notes seemed to hold their breath and watch, from across the other octaves. The Nishads must have asked who these usurpers were, behaving as they themselves were supposed to, but an arms length away!

I felt my father's chest shudder. His breath stopped and his heart beat faster. I looked up in alarm. His eyes were open and he was rigid. He looked down at me and exclaimed, "Did you hear? Did you hear?" And without waiting for my response, he fell back in his armchair, breathing deeply, smiling the sweetest of smiles.

And here is Surdasi Malhar (Sur Malhar) by Vinayakrao Patwardhan. And another example by Mashkoor Ali Khan.

Faster expositions, but distinctive Nishad movements; perhaps you noticed something.

We also have Anand Malhar, here by Kishori Amonkar.

Megh (Malhar) is another Rain Raag, again resting on the Nishaads, but bearing mild theoretical similarity with Brindavani Sarang.Amir Khan's Megh is here. Another example, Purnima Sen.

Bahar: This Raag is pretty much like Malhar except that it has a restless character and is executed more effectively in the upper octaves. Bahar is famous for its grafting with Basant to give Basant Bahar, a brilliant but hideously difficut Raaga to play. Another stunning example of Basant.

(Digression: Songs from that great movie Basant Bahar are here; you'll have to click selections.)

Here is Mian Ki Malhar followed by Gaur Malhar by Amir Khan. Another couple of examples of Gaur Malhar.

Shubra Guha
Buddhadeb Dasgupta

This monsoon, enjoy Malhar.

WARNING: I am not an expert. Do not follow any suggestions or misleading information here. Just enjoy, if you care to.

Marwa - wah!

Here are some small extract from one of my books on Raaga Marwa, a deep and grave Raaga. Marwa is related to Sohini.

You can listen to some examples of Raaga Marwa here. Warning - its a very very grand Raaga. Contemplative to the extreme. You may no longer see the value of living.

Baksh Gullo

Munir Khan

Nikhil Banerjee

Bhajan Sopori

Rais Khan


Father was obviously a deeply spiritual person; he saw divine plans in the infinite permutations of the notes. A true student to the end, each new discovery enthralled him and he gasped aloud like a child, even in public, when a phrase manifested itself in his mind. What must it be like, I remember thinking enviously, to be so thoroughly soaked in music, and yet find contentment in keeping it private?

In the evenings, Father and I used to stroll down to a lake about a mile away from our house. It was my special treat. Whether or not he was able to tear himself away from the obsession that ruled his life, I had him all to myself. One day it would be silence as he thought of this or the other Raaga, another day a discussion of my friends and what I had learned at school. The long walk to the lake, the half an hour or so sitting at our favourite spot feeding a few ducks and then the return just after sunset – these vignettes remained vivid in my mind as I grew. The association of his Tanpura was so strong that when he lifted me in his arms to begin the walk, I thought the sounds actually originated from him. His arms and chest seemed to vibrate with the Tanpura’s notes. In my innocence, I used to think that the Tanpura was echoing Father!

I cannot ever forget those walks. Secure in my father’s arms when very young and then walking with my hand in his as I grew, it was an experience intrinsic to my own existence. It helped me to understand him very early on. And it helped me to love that most complex and satisfying Raaga, Marwa.

Father would hum Marwa very seldom. He held it in awe and felt he should hum it only when it came to him on its own; he did not think he could evoke it himself, or that he had any right. “Such majesty!” he would say, “Much more than I can safely handle. And certainly not for a little girl like you!”

One such magical evening, when I was still small enough to be held easily by my father, we walked down the small path to our lake. Father was silent. The Tanpura within him sounded different. I pressed my ear to his chest. The Pancham had vanished, replaced by Nishad. Even the Shadaj seemed reluctant to express itself. Even I, a mere child, could detect that something was different. The canvas of the Raaga was being laid. In the sky, birds were returning to their nests after a long day. In the trees that we passed, they chirped loudly, preparing to roost.


Deep and grand, mysterious and grave. With rules few can understand and fewer act on. Do you seek peace and tranquillity in the evening? Do you seek shelter from the heat of Life? Do you crave an existence without turbulence? Do you find wisdom in a rock, waiting patiently for aeons for a reason for its being? Then I, Marwa, command you to sing me."
Marwa! The evening’s signature, bidding goodbye to light while preparing for the night. How bold, how indifferent! Teevra Madhyam seems to be the source of energy, hinting at secrets and solutions. See how the water in the lake seems to be less fluid as it moves imperceptibly towards this man sitting by the edge. The trees above are almost frozen and the birds on the boughs are silenced by these notes, though the wind blows powerfully, responding to the disturbing challenge of me, Marwa. Each note within me radiates boldness, power, gravity and understanding. They challenge the mind that seeks self-control. The notes merge with each other without haste, savouring each other.

Meditate. Be still. Let your mind cease to think.

Let your mind cease.

The Swans, thus far in attendance, lowered their slender necks in homage, turned and slid away silently into the water. It was almost night, and so my father got up, held my hand and we started our walk back home, in silence.

Behind me, it seemed that the still waters of the lake still hummed Marwa.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Dying Cactus

Eftsoons a harsh day
A whirlwind of unheard pain
The love of a child

A piquant summer
Suppression of all desire
Fragrance of Java

Irritants withal
a chance to reconsider
The comfort of time

Glacial Summers
Winter, many drops of sweat
An imploding mind

Now time moves backwards
Filaments of lonely words
A dying cactus

Iridescent love
A fraying Satin blanket
A blind hate consumes

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Introduction to Eternity

Much too soon, the elegant end
arrives - detached, indifferent
to the sounds of panic
A welcoming cloak of finality
about me; mixed feelings swirl
Memories and dreams collapse.
And point
to a black hole in the future

And littered at the entrance,
of black flowers,
wilting to a dark sun's
reluctant gifts.
Smoky cadavers of the good
and the kind
Trampled and pushed aside
For you see,
in death too, evil wins -
Annihilation is faster.

I shall search for them
in this darkness
Those I had met in the light
A desire mutated,
by comforting solitude.
Then I shall see, I hope
A single sharp unending tone of beauty
cleaving through the clouds
I shall hold on to it
and ride in lonely comfort
into the darkness.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Black Clouds and Haikus

Black clouds, black edges
The future, a memory
Infinite blankness

Troubled mind in grief
Blue concave shapes of sorrow
A lone eagle glides

Slippery roads glide
Mocking masks breathing contempt
Black dog licks cold feet

Echoing jeers
bounce off cold merciless walls
Blossoms in concrete

The smell of wet blood
Malevolent bubbles form
A child holds my hands

A fermenting thought
An accelerating clock
A welcoming void

How then shall this end?
cold steel disguised in soft words
The Eagle takes flight

Monday, July 03, 2006

Wat Pho in Bangkok

Wat Pho in Bangkok

What for should we visit Bangkok?
Its a truly great city. Quite clean for the most part but
turn a corner and there'll be this amazingly filthy canal,
absolutely black, stinking to high heaven. Otherwise there
are quite a few waterways and plenty offerries and many
transport options. The people are quite nice and there's
plenty to see.

So then, after an excellent time in coma at Peachy, we
decided to visit a few more sights. We had been forewarned
that there would be many confidence tricksters about.

We went down to the Chao Praya River Express dock to get
onto the ferry toTha Thien, the stop for the Wat Pho and Wat
Phre Kaew temples - and also the Palace. Along the way we
were accosted by a confidence trickster (who I asked for
directions - a mistake) who assured me that the Ferry stop
was closed and he would accompany us to the next place.
We ignored him. Sure enough, the ferry stop was right there
and functioning well.

It was a pleasant enough ride along choppy waters and we got
off without incident at Tha Thien. First stop - Wat Pho, famous
for its gold-plated reclining Buddha.

As we crossed the road to the Entrance, a gentleman accosted us.

"Wat Pho? Closed today. You come this way", he said, pointing
vaguely,far away.

We ignored him and walked on, which was good. The Wat Entrance
was Open. We bought our tickets and went in.

Here is a glimpse of the huge Reclining Buddha, an absolutely
mind boggling sight.

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The wonderful thing about many Buddhist temples (Wat/Vat) are the lovely paintings and murals on the walls, reaching to the ceiling. It takes an enormous amount of time to fully understand how the narration goes - for it is a narration, not one static painting. Wat Pho has such paintings.The Buddha itself is reclining, in the state of near death. The feet are decorated with mother of pearl and the designs have esoteric significance.

I decided to take a National Geographic-suitable photo of the temple and setup the angle and spoke for some time about perspectives, light, composition etc. I finally got the frame I wanted to. I clicked.

Sadly, the batteries had run out.

I purchased very expensive batteries and returned. But now it was raining, so I failed to get that once in a lifetime shot.

Onwards to the Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, both of which happened to be nearby.

Along the way we were accosted by many individuals who offered to show us the Emerald Buddha. We strode on.

As we turned the corner heading to the entrance of the palace, we found this huge sign

Entrance to Temple of Emerald Buddha

0.0 m (<---- zero point zero metres)

We had apparently reached. It seemed credible.

A smart lady and a smart guy came up and asked us what we wanted.

"We want to see Palace and Emerald Buddha", I announced.

"Closed today", said the man, shaking his head, grieving for me. The lady clicked her tongue, disappointed for us.

"Why?" I asked.

He pointed to his watch and said "Look at time! Now ceremonies. Closed!"

He laughed a gay light laugh, rubbing it in, incredulous that I didn't know this elementary fact.

It was 11 am and it seemed a strange time for ceremonies.

The lady said "No problem. I show you Standing Buddha. I belong to Royal Palace. Don't worry. Standing Buddha that way." She pointed to an area away from the Palace.

Smelling rats, we declined the offer and strode on, feeling sad that we had missed seeing the Emerald Buddha.

But wait, right in front of us were a bunch of tourists streaming in andout of the Palace gates. I was befuddled. I inquired with the guard and he waved me in saying "Tickets inside".

So evidently we had just escaped being victims of a rather brazen scam. (On a serious note, scam artists are really doing well in Bangkok, announcing the closure of attractions and then taking you elsewhere and getting you mixed up in buying fake gems. Here is a link to a story about exactly that.)

Wat Phra Kaew is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha within the Palace Grounds. It seems to have a very interesting history, having been found centuries ago and been taken away by marauding Laotian soldiers to Vientiene and then recovered after almost three centuries. The Buddha is actually made of Green Jade, not Emerald, but the name has stuck.

The Palace is quite fantastic with way too much to describe here. Worth mentioning are the Indian legends beautifully painted on all four walls. The Ramayana is particular is very important to the Thais. Here is an example of a mural. Its a scene from Ayodhya though I don't recall what it is about.

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And here is a picture of the palace from an unusual angle.

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Then there is a museum with Royal Jewellery, coins and memorabilia. I was surprised to learn that the King was actually born in Boston. He is the oldest reigning monarch and the 60th anniversary of his ascension to the throne had just concluded.

We finally left, determined to reach this exotic Vegetarian restaurant called Alloy near the palace. After a lot of meandering about, we did reach it. The fare was disappointing; the staff and management were engrossed in a discussion and were not pleased to have clientele.

We left, ate Guavas and Pineapples, and retired to Peachy