Of how you grow up with music, listening, learning and nurturing the interest — and yet yearning for more

Amma, this song is like “Vaathapi Ganapathim baje.” Yes da kanna, that is the Hamsadhwani ragam.

Thus would my mother patiently reply to my frequent questions of its kind. As the youngest of the family I had the privilege of accompanying my parents to concerts during the season at the Kamakshiamman temple. My two elder brothers and two elder sisters also had their share of music — Carpenters, Billy Joel, Mukesh and Rafi. As a kid I grew up listening to various genres, and our home reverberated with music.

Those days, in the late-1970s, AIR Coimbatore used to play musicians such as GNB and MDR from 6 to 6.30 p.m. Though our typical middle class family could not afford a stereo system, disciplined listening to music on the radio and at a friend’s place fuelled in me the love for music. When my brother bought a stereo system in the mid-1980s, we let the whole neighbourhood know of our acquisition with “Money for Nothing” in full blast.

When I grew up I realised my keen ear for music. You also begin to like a particular song, not listening to that only for the first time but getting to listen to it more frequently. You get to appreciate the melody, the rhythm. Songs based on classical ragas had a magical effect on me and I listened to them more and more, much before I could appreciate the raga nuances.

When I entered college in the mid-1980s we got to form a band, all amateurs from different classes who shared the passion. Wins in a few inter-collegiate competitions encouraged me to follow music more closely. We grew up with Ilayaraja and MSV.

Later with the advent of channels, Mohan Vaidya was conducting a programme in which he had the Carnatic composition in the beginning. Playing film-songs based on that raga gave me a decent knowledge of the various basic ragas. I would not know the aarohana or avarohana, but would get the raga of a song quickly. Then I was able to appreciate the songs, especially film-songs, for their ragas, for how each music director treated the raga in their own pani.

It was during a family function that I got the chance to display my talent to all family members — aunts, their children, my cousins… After the morning muhurtham and before lunch all of them would sit around and sing. My sister and my cousin just finished “Kalyanarama”, in Hamsanadham when I got into my elements to announce the raga and took off on two compositions of Ilayaraja: thendral vandhu ennai thodum, and a faster number, swargame endralum adhu nammooru pola varuma. I could see the gathering enjoying it. Then came a few more raga alapanas. I could connect with the group ranging in age from six to 60 years.

Hello and welcome to yet another edition of Colours of the Raga, G. Ravikiran, the host in Channel Sruthi of WorldSpace, would announce, back in 2004.

I enjoyed it on Friday evenings, from 9.30 to 11.30 p.m. There was the explanation of the raga aarohana and avarohana, compositions sung by Semmangudi, Ariyakudi, Alathur brothers, MDR, MS, MLV and so on, including latter-day artists. Just when things were going great, the company went bust and I was denied that regular dose of music.

But gone anyway are those days of leisurely listening to music at your own pace as a young man. You could listen to various genres of music even subconsciously, which had an indelible impact.

Yes, when you were young you had the advantage to simply tuning in and listening to whatever you wanted. When you move on in life, the hurly-burly of corporate life does take its toll.

venkynat.venkatesh@gmail.com

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