Sunday, October 21, 2007

Guru Dakshina

The sound still echoes in my ears. Tha … Dhi … Dhom … Nam ….. Rao sir repeated the first lessons in Mridangam to his dazed six year old disciple. It was Vijaydashami (1984) … an auspicious occasion, which in South India is considered suitable for Vidyarambham or initiation into any new realm, especially into fine arts. My parents had spotted in me an aptitude for percussion instruments and decided to initiate me to the rhythms of Mridangam. Sri Nandikeswar Rao - or Rao sir as we used to call him – my mother’s colleague in the Fine Arts Department of a PSU, was to be my Guru. In accordance with the established norms of traditional propriety I offered him the Guru-dakshina and touched his feet to seek blessings ( a gesture which means to say -"I am willing to accept your tutelage in all humility and am ready to imbibe all that you have to teach, in the way you wish it to be imparted" - not that I understood any bit of that back then).

Rao sir was a strict disciplinarian during our regular sessions, mostly held in the living room of our quarters, with the furniture temporarily rearranged to make space, just enough for a rug to seat us. I would sit on it intently listening to the chollu (verbal codes for beats) emanating from his mouth and then would strive to reproduce it on the instrument. He would stop me the moment I went off-beat or he felt that the tone of a beat is not as it was supposed to be. I would then continue playing that bit for as long as my fingers hurt bad enough for my inflated ego to allow tears to appear. His face would soften up instantly.... but he recovered quickly, made a stern face and told me "go, wash your face ... and come back quick".

We slowly graduated from the basic lessons to more complicated rhythmic combinations. After the classes he would patiently note down the days lessons meticulously in a note-book so that I could practice in my own time ( which rarely hapenned). The frequency of the sessions increased as we approached a music competition or a concert at the local temple and decreased during my school examinations. He occassionaly used to take me to his guru Nandu Master (a near centenarian who had a saintly demeanour and a graceful smile that could inject humility into any haughty head) to obtain his approval of my progress. I can distinctly remember the gleam of satisfaction on his face when I qualified for a national scholarship in the discipline of classical percussion instruments. Every year on Vijaydashami day my father would drive me on his scooter to Rao sir's house where we would repeat the customary rituals of Vidyarambham followed by a sumptuous breakfast.

with Rao sir and Nandu master

Rao sir inadvertently wanted to live his dreams through me and actually considered me to be like his son. I however, did not in those days fully comprehend the intensity of his desire to make me a good mridangist. Though I loved playing, I somehow knew that I was not cut out to take it up as a profession. I left home after twelfth and adopted a profession that kept me away from classical music. It was only when I went home on leave that I saw him and could always spot a strange sadness whenever our eyes met.

I was on leave a couple of years back when the news of his being at the hospital reached me. He was asleep when we entered the ward ... a frail reflection of his real self. We were told that he was not in a position to recognise or communicate with people. A peculiar emotion .. a mixture of grief and guilt came over me ..... and I mentally requested for forgiveness ... for not being the person he wanted me to be. I almost got instant deliverance as he slowly opened his eyes, gave a weak smile and raised his hand as if to bless. He passed away in a few days.
Today is Vijaydashami ... and I offer this post as Guru Dakshina to the most dedicated teacher one can ever get and the most honest and sincere person I have ever met. May peace be with him.

African Safari III follows ......

Friday, October 5, 2007

African Safari Series II - Masai mara

Nairobi is like any average Indian town .... the hussle-bustle, traffic jams... road-side vendors ... tuk-tuks (auto-rikshaws) ... bumpy roads's all there.The Satya Sai/Jalaram temples and healthy number of the Indian fraternity on the roads made us feel at home as soon as we landed in town. The weather too was pleasant with the temperatue ranging aroung 19/ 20 degs C. Elijah, our jovial tour operator introduced us to Maina the tour guide who would take us through the tour and Daniel his chela (or shinkidi as in coloquial malayalam). I was pretty much impressed with Matatu the safari van that Maina was driving and which would be our vahanam for the next five days. After a quick bite we set forth towards the famous Masai mara wild-life sanctuary.

We had two halts, the first one to get view of the Great Rift valley from a vantage point and then at a place called Naroak to have lunch. We reached our destination a couple of hours before nightfall and straightaway proceeded for an evening game-drive. Believe me, all fatigue caused due to two days of non-stop travelling was forgotten in a matter of minutes. A band of wild-elephants of varying sizes and ages passed by our vehicle compelling us to shake off our sleep.

Two juvenile pachyderms were enjoying a wrestling bout and another was relishing a mud-bath. I could relate to the fellow as kindred spirit on spotting that impish grin .... the sort I used to sport while returning home from school, with the all-white uniform turned virtually brown. The kiddos were tagged along by the older ones, visibly displaying aggression as if to accentuate their protective intentions. As we drove on ... zebras, wild-beasts, hart-beasts (kongoni in swahili) and various species of antelopes lined the track to welcome us into the animal kingdom. Even as twilight was fast approaching our probing eyes were on the look-out .... keen to spot some members of the big-five club, as they call it. It was then that a leapord walked right in front of our vehicle unannounced and gave a feline pose. It is a pity I couldn't capture him .. on camera, of course. The big cat being totally unaware of my genetically lethargic motoneural response vanished into the flanking tall grass even as I was trying to fine-tune the focus of my snap-gadget. Maina tried in vain to pursue the fella.I guess the matatu was no match to him in matters of pace and stealth.As darkness descended we retreated to the camp site where Ben, our gregarious host awaited us with refreshing cups of tea.

I had opted to stay in tents instead of lodges mainly due to limitations imposed by a strained purse.This, however turned out to be a blessing in disguise. A room would never have afforded us the thrills of camping.The next day was dedicated to a full day game drive. After a heavy breakfast of porridge, pancakes - which Sudha savoured, thinking them to be dosas or goacho polo (konkani) to me precise - and eggs, we headed back to be amongst the beasts.

We were previleged to be granted an early audience of His Majesty. The King of the wooded- world was enjoying a morning siesta when the matatu's engine sounded reveille .... and to our discomfort, the boss didn't seem a bit amused. His ladies were busy with their stretching routines a few feet away. [Lions are amongst the more sociable of predators.They hunt in groups and share the food, much unlike leapords and cheetahs, who believe in doing it all alone].

As we ventured further, the radio (every safari vehicle has one) suddenly started registering more traffic, warning us of some action ahead. Maina deciphered the conversation and drove us quickly to the scene of action. A Cheetah was stalking a bunch of antelopes, but quickly got into the bushes on seeing the vehicles approaching. We waited for about an hour and patience paid dividends as the cat sprang out from an adjacent bush and walked past us (with a look that spoke it's mind - why don't you guys let me hunt in peace). He looked visibly tired or rather hungry as saliva profusely dripped out of it's mouth. Maina had a good look, took a few moments to think and passed an expert's verdict that the Cheetah would rest for a while before venturing again.We moved on after offering a mental apology to the cheetah.[Cheetah is the quickest animal that walks the earth. However they are sprinters and cannot sustain a run of more than 100m , after which they get too tired to continue.They therefore, stalk the prey to get as close as 40-50m and then unleash their stored energies on the hapless victim].

The gait of a giraffe reminds one, of the lanky ladies with attitude (no taunt intended ..:)) who walk the ramp. Perhaps the term giraffe-walk is more suited to their glamorous perambulations than the oft used cat-walk.This analogy was confirmed to be appropriate when I saw traces of envy on someone's face even as I was engrossed in taking snaps of a Giraffe family.

The mara river which flows along the Kenya-Tanzania border has numerous hippos and crocodiles. The mara stretches into Tanzania and is called Serengeti across the border. That's where the wild-beasts, zebra's etc migrate to in Jan-Feb every year only to return after six months. [The Hippos look docile and lazy during day and mostly remain in water. At night they move on land and are violently aggressive. The males mark their territories in a unique way - you may call it the motion-fringing method - and do not entertain any intrusion into their sovereignity even by their own offspring].

We were fortunate to witness and experience many more situations that were simultaneously exciting and pleasing. I'll mention a few. Vultures swooping down on carcasses and tutoring their young ones on the techniques of scavenging ...... a mother cheetah putting her cub to sleep (the scene reminded me so much of my granny putting babies - ranging from my nephews to cousins - to sleep, that i could almost hear Omanathigalkidavo the popular malayalam lullaby ) ....... a filthy hyena chasing a hapless bird ....a Lion family sharing their food ....... I can go on.

you may visit my snapshots for a few more snaps

On our way back to the camp after an action packed day we visited a Masai village.The tribals still dressd in their traditional attires (they seemed to love the red colour) and live a primitive lifestyle. Many however spoke english (courtesy,the missionary schools) and had perfected the art of milking the tourists. We visited a few homes, witnessed a celebratory dance and a surveyed an artefacts market before heading back to our tents.We had a livelier evening than the one before.Read about it and about the rest of the journey in the next post .............. & thanx for being here ....... :-)

to be continued ....