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Articles on Carnatic Music

Listener's Choice
by Janaki Narayanaswami

(This is the sixth of our article entries. Here we will print several entries to our article contest for your benefit.)

This incident happened nearly 50 years ago, but is still fresh in my mind. I had just completed my graduate course in Chennai and had gone to Kolkatta to stay for some time with my sister and her family. In one of the flats in their apartment complex, an old lady lived with her son’s family. She was something of a terror to all the residents in the complex. She very often used to take them to task for something or the other, say, if the children made a noise when playing in the courtyard, or, horror of horrors! If a ball flew- in through her open window etc. Everyone, therefore, gave ‘Komalipatti’ a wide berth.

Navarathri festival came and we were invited to their house for ‘kolu’. My niece and I went over, and as is the custom, the lady of the house asked us to sing. As we were clearing our throats and getting ready to sing, the old lady who was sitting slightly apart in semi-darkness, suddenly said, ‘Sing Thyagaraja’s Thulasithalamula, if you know it’. My niece had not learnt the song, but I had, so I sang it. When I had finished singing she said in a soft voice, ‘Good song. I am happy I could listen to it’. ( Nalla pattu, kekka sandhoshama irundhudhu.) She also explained the meaning of the song to be that you can offer many beautiful and fragrant flowers to Lord Rama but what pleases Him the most, is the offering of the Tulasi leaf. Even today whenever I sing the song, I remember Komalipatti - getting praise from this hard-to-please person was an achievement indeed but what brings me greater pleasure is that I could bring an old lady a little happiness. And after all, is that not what music is all about? Music has the ability to confer happiness on both singer and listener.

Smt. Janaki Narayanaswami lives in Manhattan, New York. She has an MA in English. She has trained in Carnatic music and participated in amateur performances.

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updated on 08/23/2006