Thoughts in the atmosphere

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Posted by desicontrarian on August 13, 2008

I grew up as a shy and introverted eldest child. My parents labeled me as muLumaan (tamil – silent one). I was also inarticulate, timid, studious (i.e. a square, as they say in Amerika) and passive. Growing up, I absorbed the argumentative, politically engaged, polemical arm-chair philosophy of my father, the English teacher. Still, I could never argue a point convincingly with him or any other members of my extended family, until I crossed the twenties. Intelligent, only enough to solve exam papers. Occasionally passionate, only to trip up in my thoughts. Generally inadequate, compared to what I wanted to be.

A voracious reader, I absorbed many “philosophies”. Reader’s Digest comes to mind first. What beautiful logic! How much one can do to self-improve! Boy, are the Russians evil or EVIL! This was the 1960s. My favorite aunt cried on hearing about JFK’s death. The Chinese invasion of India in 1962 caused a surge of patriotism and sense of betrayal by a false friend. Pandit Nehru cried when Lata Mangeshkar sang that non-filmy number “Aye mere watan ke logon”. He died of a broken heart soon after.

After the first 3 years of school in the local medium (ಕನ್ನಡ – Kannada), I studied the rest of my life in English. So I developed a ಕನ್ನಡ-my-mother, English-my-father attitude! It mapped physically on to my parents as well! On the one hand, we students had Kumaaravyaasa Bhaaratha, poets D.V.Gundappa, Raajarathnam, Bendre and Kuvempu. On the other, King Lear, Macbeth, Oliver twist. And then there were forms of life, arithmetic and “social studies”. Loved math, liked science, hated civics and geography!

My mother, a carnatic musician, trained me in saraLe varase, alankaaras, geethas, varNas and keerthanas. I had a high, female voice until it broke in my 16th year. Though I consider myself left-brained and logical, music filled the right-brain gap. Whenever I had trouble memorizing, my aunt (also a musician of the same age as my mother), would set the piece to a tune and it would become easy after that! The pleasure I get from good music generally is higher than any other. It has very little egoism in it, unlike things like good grades, promotions, wins in competitions & contests etc. However, the satisfaction from any achievement comes a close second, and it is of course egoistic.

Hindi film music of that time attracted us (me & friends) enormously. This was the last decade of the golden age (1960-69). Again, we had our favorites. Lata was and is a lifelong idol. Rafi’s songs, I could sing almost like him. My brother was a Mukesh fan. And of course we had favorite composers. I liked Dada Burman the most, but Salil Chowdhury and Roshan came close. On the whole, Hindi films and music connected us to the Idea of Hindusthan, quite different from Sunil Khilnani’s IDEA of INDIA. There was a non-anglicized, tradition-loving, soft, indirect, old-world values system in it. How romantic and coquettish the heroines were! And what skills with their eyes, flutters and hand movements! So we used to debate the best of them. Who was the most beautiful – Madhubala, Vyjayanthi Mala or Meena kumari? Who was the best actress, Nutan or Meena kumari? And of course the male triumvirate – Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Devanand. Easy to imagine as Trimurthis!

In my 50s now. Of late, there is some impulse to communicate my thoughts and find like-minded people. I have become a frequent letter writer to some magazines. I relate intimately to thoughts & ideas, both those that I like and those that I dislike. Too many people repeating similar ideas with variations makes me react. Especially in writing. Nowadays, the phenomenon that bothers me most is our (English-educated) ape-like imitation of the Anglo-Saxons. This is a degenerate form of worship of success. We do not delve deeply into the causes of this continuing success, but want short-cuts to the same status for “India”. I’d like you, gentle reader, to join me in exploring our roots, and find rejuvenation there.

Desi Contrarian


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