A Prime-time Rendezvouz

Had an opportunity to have a dinner with the two most famous indian names in the world of mathematics in recent years. They were: Prof. Manindra Agarwal ('Primes in P!' fame - deviced the first deterministic polynomial-time algorithm to check primality of numbers which will be extremely significant for cryptography and many other things in future) and Narendra Karmarkar (invented a ground-breaking algorithm that improves the capabilities and lowers the cost of linear programming). We shared information, anecdotes and jokes (information coming mainly from their side...;-) over the dinner. Even after experiencing the pinnacle of world-wide fame, these two showed the slightest amount of self-indulgence, lack of idiosyncracies characteristic to world-famous scientists, and an extremely down-to-earth attitude.

Could not help comparing these two with the (now former!) Chief Minister of Maharashtra who did not even get up from his seat when two revered personalities like Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and Ut. Vilyat Khan (in their eighties and seventies) were standing on the stage on the last night of the Sawai Gandharva Music Festival in Pune. I expected the CM to eventually touch their feet during the felicitation, but soon found how naive my expectations were. The CM could not speak proper Marathi (addressed people as 'rashik'), but was quick to say 'alla-taalaa aap ko lambi umar de' to Khan Saab. I could just read it on his face that he was thinking about some probable minority votes while saying that. In a similar situation, however, the Prime Minister assisted Pt. Bhimsen Joshi by holding his hand and asking him whether he wanted some water, before he could drink his own! (Just a note: Though I do exercise my right to vote, I am not aligned to any parties and am largely disgusted with politics).

Felt lucky that most of the people whom I am likely be associated with do happen to possess the basic etiquette of (at least the minimum amount of) respect towards people.


The Punch-em Magic!

Recently attended a programme on RD Burman organized by 'panchammagic.org' on his nth death anniversary (n unknown to me). (Panchammagic is essentially a bunch of RD fans who have shown a great amount of dilligence and have put in loads of greatly appreciable work in collecting everything related to their idol, RD Burman.) Gulzar and Bhupinder also attended the programme and shared their memories of RD. Gulzar, especially, was were very entertaining with his tounge-in-cheek humour.

The programme featured song 'visualization' of RD, and there is hardly any doubt that he excelled at it. However, not all the songs/music pieces being cited as examples of visualization could qualify as great musical/visualization achievements. Just to give an example, 'do naino men aansuu bhare hain' from 'Kinaraa' was qualified as a great 'lori', but there are several examples of musically better loris, composed and picturized in a much more effective manner. I personally think that the organizers got somewhat carried away in their RD-bhakti in branding some of these examples as great works of art.

In fact, IMO, one aspect where RD has NOT always done well is composing music according to the requirements of the song and the lyrics. He composed unforgettable tunes for some songs but did not necessarily make justice to the content of the songs (many exceptions exist, the prominent ones being Aandhi, Parichay and most of the cabaret songs..;-))). In the programme, 'aate rahte hain' from 'Musaafir' was also shown as an example of great visualization (based on the truck viper moving in the same rhythm as the song), but IMO the song and the tune itself was too mature to be picturized on a truck driver. Gulzar's 'shaam se aankh me nami sii hai' as composed by RD is much less mature and more gimmicky than the jagjit singh version. 'tan kii laagi' (from 'dil padosi hai') is too westernized for the content of the song. In addition, several other tunes exhibited in the programme had very similar (and rather ordinary) tunes and did not really stand out.

Given all this, the organizers of the programme could be commended for being the most loyal devotees of RD, but then it was evident that they had lost the analyst's persective while acquiring the devotee status. So, even with all their enthusiasm and initiative, they seemed more like ISKON members ;-)

RD, surely, was a great musical phenomenon. I admire most of his songs for melodic richness, variety of temporal structures adopted in background rhythms, original experimentation and effective use of singers' individual abilities. However, I am not comfortable in branding him as the greatest composer in the history of hindi film music. There are several others who have excelled in various aspects of music and it would be a great injustice to the likes of SD Burman/Madan Mohan/Salil Chaudhari/Roshan/Naushad/Shankar-Jaikishan/Jaidev/Khayyam/Hridaynath (if you consider his marathi songs), if one were to single out RD as the greatest. All of them had certain strong and weak points, and most of them excelled at what they did for most of the time.

I also sense a sort of a sub-conscious effort on the part of media to bring out RD as the representative of the older generation of Indian film music. Such effort happens through re-mixes, since almost all the re-mixed songs happen to be RD songs (there could even be some re-re-mixed (tri-mixed?) songs for that matter. There is no rule regarding that. The only rule about remixes is that the total area of clothing worn by the people in the video of a remix is inversely proportional to the number of remixes the song has undergone). Such effort happens through local new-generation music channels like Radio Mirchi in Pune, where the 'oldies' being played the chirpy VJ's are pre-dominantly comprised of RD songs. I think, all this is merely based on the assumption that only RD music is going to survive the test of time, and it is this assumption that drives the availability of music! It is a vicious cycle, and you could indeed land up in a situation where only RD songs are available to the next generation. I do not object to RD music surviving since it carries the older generation's quest for high quality music along with it, but do feel bad about the possible extinction of cherishable music by other composers, solely due business forces largely ignorant about music. In such times, RD's music would indeed stand out as the best, but there would be no music around worthy of being compared to his music. Calling Einstein a genius would be meaningful only when surrounded by Schroedingers and Paulis, not when the only people around are Salman Khan and George Bush, Jr.

Content Advisory!
Mr. Ranjit from Nepal was specially invited for the programme, since he was an integral part of RD's rhythm team due to his excellence at playing a rhythm instrument called 'Maadal'. This invited an instant question from one of the witty (not the witty-danDu one!) spectators: 'What would Mr. Ranjit be called if he screwed up while playing 'Maadal'?' Of course, the answer was 'maadalXXXX' (experts urged to fill in the blanks). This was indeed corroborrated by Bhupinder later during the programme, when he said that the atmosphere during RD's rehearsals was so informal that people often used to shed 'maa-bahen gaalis' at each other. The witty spectator could once again instantly anticipate what RD would have said if the whole band screwed up....;-)))