‘Madhirakshi’ is the album I am talking about here. The cover of the album tries to describe it both in words as well as pictorially through the imagery of red earth and pouring rain; the yearning for the ultimate union, the feeling of unrequited and unconsummated love, the dejection at being cheated, the bliss experienced when the dual merges to one wholesome entity.
I must admit here that I began listening to this with a certain degree of skepticism. Not being too impressed with the attempts that many of our classical musicians make at ‘fusion’ (most often resulting in a lot of ‘confusion’), I thought this was just another run of the mill album of the artists who were seeking a more mass appeal. But Sikkil Gurucharan, the vocalist in the album and a Carnatic vocalist on the threshold of glory in the world of the art form and Anil Srinivasan, an accomplished pianist proved me completely wrong. It also opened my eyes to the perils one faces due to the tendency to pre-judge a work of art! If you thought that Carnatic music was just about rhythm and complex tala patterns, a zillion percussion instruments beating their heads off in the tani phase to a crescendo of cacophony at times and the leading artist vigorously tapping his or her lap to demonstrate the talam--- think again! That the characteristically dynamic art form can also be beautifully transformed into a lilting melody, one that soothes your nerves and slows the gush of blood therein, one that stops you to ponder and introspect, one that does not just eulogize gods and goddesses of some distant unseen planet but one that people can relate to and empathize---Madhirakshi certainly brings these aspects out in an aesthetic manner.
Indian art forms- music, dance or literature have always been inspired by the core philosophies of Dualism and Non Dualism. The Advaita or the non-dualistic approach harps on the fact that the Supreme Consciousness that we might call as God or Brahman is both the material and instrumental cause of the Universe. This is of course extremely hard for the mind to visualize or grasp, since the mind engages constantly in making distinctions and rejecting or transcending them is onerous. All our visible and perceivable art forms begin with the concept of Dualism that the common man can associate with- God and the devotee variously personified as a master-slave or as two lovers pining for union. But the ultimate state of bliss still happens to be that of union, where differences cease to exist. When viewed through the mundane eyes that most of us usually have, it seems vulgar and a eulogy to sexual union. But on the metaphysical level, it transcends to something subtle and spiritual. Madhirakshi too starts off with this very idea of dual energies either pining for or ultimately becoming one vibrant single entity.
Coming back to the album itself---skeptic me put it on and decided to multi task with the plethora of jobs that I usually juggle with while listening to music. But presto! With the very first strain, I left all else and sat rapt. The sorrows of the past and not-so-happy-times that have gone by me are things that I usually keep under wraps and camouflage with a pretence of cheerfulness and almost always succeed in convincing the person with me about my wonderful state of mind. But then these are like a heap of clothes stacked into an old cupboard, locked up and the key tossed through the window! But then Ragas like Jhonpuri and Subhapantuvarali, among many others, and lyrics like the ones used in this album, do me great disservice by acting as that very key that I threw away; open the cupboard and cascades the heap out. That is exactly what happened with me while listening to the opening piece ‘Asai Mugam’ in Jhonpuri; a composition of the celebrated Bharatiar. Quite involuntarily I felt the hair on my hands standing at their ends and the eyes turning moist. It was cathartic.
Being in chaste and literary Tamil—a language which happens to be my mother tongue but strangely discomforting--- it was a bit difficult to catch the word-to-word meaning of every lyric. The gist and summary of course did come across. But what the heck! True and good music is one that moves you beyond reason and certainly beyond the boundaries of words and lyrics. Like the barriers of caste and religions are totally man-made and artificial, so too, in the realm of music the boundaries and prejudices that have been created by stratification and classification into styles like Hindustani, Carnatic or Western is our problem, not music’s. For an artist a work of art is an expression of one’s experience, a universal language of deep human emotions. Art is a great unifier and a real artist is above all false divisions among humans, because a good work of art is appreciated everywhere , as human experiences are fundamentally the same- people weep everywhere, smile everywhere, love everywhere! These unsophisticated expressions of one’s inner being have a universality about them. Hence the coming together of rigid and orthodox Carnatic music and its western cousin seemed to signify this very worship of Nada Brahma or the Ultimate Sound- one that has broken these false and ridiculous barriers. That in itself is another example of Non-Dualism that we were talking about earlier!
From the poignancy of losing the memory of something that you love so dearly and cherish, in Jhonpuri, the journey slowly meanders to explore other emotions. In a direct contrast to the first piece, the one in Latangi craves for a carry over of experiences and memories of one birth to the next- a kind of seamless transition that ultimately frees one from the bondage of life and death (again a pet theme of the Advaita philosophers!) If Brindavana Saranga lilts you to the state of triumph achieved through the attainment of this union, the piece in Nadanamakriya expresses complete hopelessness and helplessness at being cheated into belief and then left in the lurch to berate at one’s destiny and loneliness. What can be more poignant than having the object of your utmost desire right in front of you, but not being able to attain it? But yes, a lullaby in between soothes the sorrowful nerves—as if trying to console you saying its ok, there is always another chance! All through, the piano acts as a soul mate, a patient listener who is never too jarring, never too judgmental or nosey. It almost feels that the “Thozi” or friend that the voice seems to seek for and pour her sorrow to, seems to be these quiet strains that gently cajole, console and caress the damsel in distress.
While I write all this, for a minute I stop to think am I biased? Does the fact that the vocalist of this album- Gurucharan- happens to be a very dear and loveable friend of mine have anything to do with all that I felt and wrote? That Charan is someone who quickly and unwittingly galloped from being a complete stranger to a nice acquaintance to somebody with whom I have shared more than what my laconic and reticent self generally lets me to with people i have known for only that long a time as him and whom I aptly name as a diurnal addiction these days----all remain where they are. But it’s the power of the melody that has been created that overpowers more than the personal affection or camaraderie I share with this amazing young man that makes me melt each time I hear the album!
I started off saying I didn’t know what to write and ended up writing so much that I scroll back in utter disbelief! May be that’s the power of music- one that stirs you from within and forces you to articulate the deepest of emotions in a manner you thought you couldn’t.
A “must-listen” for all true lovers of music with a heart that beats and a mind that feels!