Saturday, June 5, 2010


She went about in her own silent way, touching all of our lives, skimming in and out of the big picture. She hated to be called for or recognized in public, even if it was to tell her the kolam looked incredible that day, or that the puli saadham she'd made for the temple was out-of-the-world delicious.

Losing your mother that early in life has an effect on you, she'd said, in one of her rare talkative moods. Its hard to impose yourself on people when you don't know what it feels like to be truly wanted by somebody. And then she'd clammed up, flustered at her implication that her early life was anything but perfect. Of course, she wouldn't hear anything against her father, him with the wide brow and the big turban. Him with the unfair eye, who regarded her as a devil-child, who would let her use only the brass vessels at home. Who got her married off as soon as people spoke of her monstrous musical talent.

Even years later, one would catch her humming to herself in the old kitchen, and then stopping abruptly, casting furtive glances at the yard, wondering if her father's spirit had heard and disapproved. But past her fluidity and evident concern for 'periyavaaloda' opinion lay a great diffidence for criticism, one that helped her raise a child found abandoned outside her doorstep, that helped her stand her ground and refuse when her 'well-wishers' spoke of getting her husband remarried to supposedly dispel his Irish curse.

Self-sufficient was she, so much that she insisted on rubbing turmeric on her own feet on the day of her wedding, squirming as her arthritic mother-in-law did it as keeping with tradition, wheezing and coughing. She'd squirmed in a different way altogether when her husband touched her toe, as he slipped her metti and looked up at her, like she actually mattered. Which was why, to her, regardless of her ignorance of the ideal of love and eternal bonds, he was the only one, impotence and the drinking habit and all.

The day she found Aarabi, or rather, the day Aarabi found her was something she'd never tire of talking about, except when her mother-in-law was around. Her love for music had finally found an outlet in her daughter, whom she said was born 'of her heart'. Aarabi started singing at the age of 4, in such adherence to Carnatic style that it was enough to stop anyone in their tracks.

I remember the day I saw her first, sitting backstage at one of Aarabi's concerts. Firstly, my eyes were riveted on Aarabi, and thank the good lord, her soaring, divine voice gave me ample, legitimate reason to stare at her so. As (underpaid, overworked) Cultural Correspondent of a prominent newspaper, it was none of my cheek to wonder angrily at how the mother of such a lovely catch had allowed her to be paraded in full view of public view like this, how she had allowed all and sundry to be witness to such purity, but I did so all the same.

And then I saw her. Eyes closed, fingers tapping against the impeccable folds of her brown nine-yard, drowning in the music like nothing else mattered. Until that moment, I knew nothing but Aarabi's main piece of the evening, in Hamsanandhi. The raw power of the composition, her versatile voice thriving on the Kakali Nishada, effortlessly jumping down to the Prati Madhyama. Hitting the higher swaras with ease and having her way with the lower ones too. Above all, the presence of her voice and sheer command over everyone present. The way she'd almost tease the accompanists with her intricate neravals, daring them to toy with the raaga as she did. The way she possessively caressed every note, with a kind of flamboyant arrogance, the kind that came only with true, unquestionable love.

But the minute I saw her mother, I felt as though every musical vibe in the hall emanated from her, as though she was why the song existed, as though she was one with the song. Hamsanandi, with its ups-and-downs and resplendence cloaked behind simplicity, was her. She was Hamsanandi.

One very happy married life with Aarabi behind me (a complicated story, I shall leave it for another day, but it has a most satisfactory ending), I knew my initial gut feeling about my wife's mother(/best friend/mentor) was true. She was a star in every way, braving the colds that came with her every rain-dance, the scratches that came with her every game of hopscotch. She would flit in and out of our lives, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, but she would always remain.

This piece comes right after Aarabi's first concert post her mother's demise. I have never discussed with her how Hamsanandi was synonymous with her mother to me, but if Aarabi's (coincidental?) main piece today was any indication, I have proof that my wife and me share more than just a bedroom. Today, Aarabi's Hamsanandi was repressed, dignified, melancholic, strong. Very much like her mother herself.
Sundar, good job as usual, but I don't think a write-up about your mother-in-law will help us much. A dispassionate review of your wife's concert, if you will. Also, everyone at the paper knows you were paid an obscenely low salary 20 years ago, stop mentioning it in every article. - Ed.

-April 9, 2010.

1 people shouted back:

straight from the heart said...

Hey your blog is still alive :)
As I said before, this one I really like. Story it should be.Expand .

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