Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

Ragas Revisited

My parents had a bunch of Tamil VCDs with them, so I ended up watching a few of them over Thanksgiving. One of them was Mani Ratnam’s Roja, which, like many of his films, occurs against the backdrop of current events. In one of the opening scenes, I noticed a tune that sounded extremely familiar. In fact, it was in a song from the movie Hindustani called “Telephone.” The strange thing about the tune was that it was being used in a religious context in Roja, but the song “Telephone” hardly rang (no pun intended) of anything religious.

When I mentioned it to my mother, she pointed out that what I was hearing was actually the raga Ananda Bhairavi, which is often played during auspicious occassions. A.R. Rahman, the composer of the song “Telephone,” was simply using the same raga for his song. I took some basic lessons in Carnatic music about 14 years ago, but my studies never went beyond the most basic scales or ragas. Therefore, my understanding was superficial at best.

Why did I stop learning Carnatic music? It was partly because the lessons occurred during a trip to India and partly because of a lack of interest. My parents were never ones to keep me in extra-curricular activities that I didn’t enjoy. However, hearing this song (re)kindled my interest in Carnatic msuic. Before long, my mother brought out her notes on the different ragas (no pun intended here either), and I started refreshing my memory on the basic ones.

One might point out that had I stuck with the lessons, I would have been able to appreciate the songs I heard in Bollywood movies more. It is reasonable to assume that those with knowledge of high culture would be able to appreciate certain experiences on a level that would be lost on others. However, a tension exists if the people did not enjoy the enculturation (not found in the dictionary) that heightened said experience.

Enjoying Carnatic music now without being forced into it, even if that makes me less than refined, is a tradeoff for which I have few regrets. Then again, it would have been great to have made this connection earlier.


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  1. Pingback: Past Posts « Dirty Hands

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