Category Archives: Music

Pattum paatum

Briefly, very briefly, I enrolled for optional music classes in school. They were taught by a lady in her mid-thirties who was too sweet and gentle to handle 13-year olds. There were six of us in her class, which took place twice a week for an hour and a half.

At that time, school was small place – parents and teachers made friends, sometimes we grew to know their families and they ours. One Navaratri, Music Ma’am as she was called, invited our class home to see the golu and eat sundal. There was also something about singing a kriti she had taught us, but we paid no attention to that part.

Dressed in shiny pavadai chattais, four of the six of us arrived at the address she’d given us. Even before we had opened the gate, we could hear music. Inside, there were about ten girls and women of all ages, including Ma’am, singing Devi Neeye Thunai. At the back was an elderly lady in a rust-coloured saree, joining the rendition only occasionally, but smiling at everyone who came in, nodding happily when the higher notes turned out without apaswaram. She looked familiar, but I made no attempt to recall where I might have seen her.

After Devi…another kriti began (the one we had been taught!) and when this one ended, Ma’am got up to see to the guests. There were others who had arrived after us and those who were among the singers. A dozen conversations, swishing silks, someone humming, coffee tumblers clanging against davaras, the gecko-call doorbell, myriad sounds of a south Indian household in celebration swirled around the four of us who sat talking among ourselves, hoping for channa sundal, rather than payaru. Neat paper potlams appeared, we couldn’t see what kind of sundal it was. They were distributed and vettalai paaku was handed to everyone.

The namaskarams began as people started to leave – all of them for the elderly lady, who we assumed was Ma’am’s mother-in-law. A quick consultation among ourselves and we decided to would be safer to do a namaskaram as well, than stand out by not doing it!

Just as we were about to rise and say polite things before leaving, K grabbed my arm and hissed something in my ear. I could hear nothing of what she was saying, so she dragged me to a corner and said, “I know why that maami looks familiar! She is Pattammal!”

I could have fainted. DK Pattammal was a legend in our family. My grandfather thought her music vastly superior to MS’ and declared that she was the only woman he could bear to listen to. A perfect imitation of her rendition of Poonguyil Koovum was mandatory at bride ‘viewing’ events, and the first song my grandmother asked a new daughter-in-law to sing was Eppadi Paadinaro. My father had an old recording of a concert by DKP at Mylapore Fine Arts, which he made copies of and distributed to cousins who hoped to become musicians, with strict instructions to listen to it each morning and learn from it!

And she was here! I was in her house! And my music teacher was her daughter-in-law! I was practically her student! My head buzzed. I thought of the things my family would ask – they would want to know the exact colour of her saree, what sort of bangles and necklace she wore, if I actually heard her singing in her own house, if the sundal had enough salt, if other celebrity musicians had been there, oh, the grilling would be endless!

We did our namaskarams, with great respect and care. Pattammal said something about studying with shraddhai and doing well in life. Then it was time to say our poitu varens and leave. The family didn’t go as overboard as I had expected them to, but all Navaratri visitors that week were told that I had been to DKP’s house for vettalai paaku.

It turned out that Music ma’am was DK Jayaraman’s daughter-in-law, not Pattamal’s. For a few weeks afterwards, I actually practised and tried to sing reasonably in class. But even blessings from Pattammal herself couldn’t help with that.



Of course I make fun of it, of course I roll my eyes at the programming, of course I tune in only during elections, and only sometimes even then, but I have a lot to thank Doordarshan for.

From the mid-eighties to the early nineties, DD carried a number of absolutely wonderful public service advertisements – many commissioned by the PSBT, some by national programmes like the Literacy Mission and a few others privately produced. Among this galaxy of truly well-made advertisements was this one, which I loved:

A few years later I learnt that the song was in Raag Bhatiyar, a simple but lovely melody. My aunt knew a Marathi hymn in the raag, which I made her sing over and over, but never managed to learn.

So Bhatiyar had fallen out of my consciousness for nearly a decade, when I discovered this a couple of weeks ago:

A vachana (who sings them anymore?) by Akka Mahadevi in Bhatiyar with the lyrics explained! Was I delighted!

Promises to self

At sixteen (yes, how cliched!) I watched Charulata. And discovered the soft, gentle world of Bengali music I had only known in snatches until then, through the occasional performance during a school Annual Day. I also made a promise to myself – that The Boy would be one who knew and could sing this song:

A few years later, I fell in love. With a man whose films I wrote a dissertation on, simply so that I could lie in the magical light and shade of his movies, wallow in the searing lyrics of his songs, lose myself in the dark gaze of his eyes. And then I set down a new test, a harsher one. The Boy would know the lyrics and meaning to this song:

and be able to sing this one:

Boys came and went, few with any inkling that a man such as Guru Dutt Padukone once walked this earth. Those that did could not sing. One did attempt playing Chaudvin ka chaand on a jal tarang, but I will be kind to him and say no more.

Years later, I did find The Boy, but had forgotten all about my promise to myself. I think it may have been then the lilting Lalita he played or the haunting Sindhubhairavi or even the devout Kalyanavasantam that erased all memory of my strict conditions.

And then one day last week, I woke to a strangely familiar humming. The Boy had been up hours before me as always and was sitting at the desk, coffee in hand. He turned to me and asked, “Do you know the words to that Charulata song?”

A sweeter question has never been heard.


This most graceful of ragams has featured in many blogs lately. First Krish Ashok mentions it in the same breath as onion rava dosa and harp-playing angels, then Swaroop finds love with (in?) it and now, the beautiful Tamizh Penn asks for a boy who appeciates it charms.

One likes.


There’s a rendering of Janani Ninnu Vina by K V Narayanaswamy that I would like to post, but silly wordpress says I need to upgrade to do that. Time to move to my own domain perhaps…

Update: The KVN recording is available here. Thanks, Swaroop!