Paatum Naanae Pavamum Naanae

I recently met one of my relatives – a karnatic classical singer who sings for dancers.  Having just spent an evening with her, I could not but help dwell on my music endeavours.

Like most other tambrahm families, I was put in a paatu class at a young age. My introduction to singing I think might have started when my mother was singing lullabies to my brother. I don’t know if she managed to put him to sleep, but I sure picked up a few songs that I would sing along with her. About that time I was 6 or 7 years old, so my mother decided that perhaps I was old enough to learn music. So she contacted a paatu teacher, who came home one day. She interviewed me (made me sing), and she was interviewed by my mother, her tuition charges and timings were discussed, and I was officially a paatu student. She would come home every few days, make me sit down, and started teaching me sarigamapadani. I moved through 3 or 4 teachers after that, every teacher would restart from sarigamapadani, because they were never satisfied with the previous teacher – or may be they were not satisified with their work until they did it from scratch.

Paatu class to me was a boring thing. I never liked to sit in one place for so long, and sing the same songs over and over again. That was until I met M, a childhood friend of mine. She was a professional – she learnt both kuchipudi and karnatic classical and she was good at both too. Around the time we met her and her family, both M and I were at the same stage. So I was instantly accepted as a student of her guru. This guy was not one of the small time paatu teachers I had learnt from all along. He was teaching at a dance & music school. The place would be full of students every evening. He would teach M and me, and because I had company I liked, I was a little more interested in going to the class. Until, one fine day, M found a better teacher, and she decided to join that teacher. Meanwhile, this paatu master started teaching me at his home – I would sit in the gap between the bed and the wall in his modest residential quarters – he would sit on the bed and teach me. My mother ceased to be impressed. Time to follow M to her teacher. This teacher was kind of different. She was a very nice lady, sang very well, her senior students were treated as part of the family, and I was edging towards senior student. However, there were 2 drawbacks – she had a dog (which I loathed), and her home was kind of out of the way. So, I had to take a bus from school to her place, walk a km or so, eat my packed evening tiffin (that amma gave me in the morning). Still worse was the fact that she believed in teaching by memory. She would sing a few lines everyday for a new song, I would memorize it as I sang, and in a week or so, I should’ve memorized the entire song. Except, my memory was really bad (which is why I could’nt learn dance in the first place – I would never know which step was after what). So I was kind of stuck in this place where I was clearly falling behind due to poor memory and lack of practice (which was my problem from day one).

Finally my mother gave up. I was in class IX and studies were getting tougher too. There ended my music class rigmarole. I was happy at the least.

Another big relief was I didn’t have to show off my talent anymore. My pati was the worst at this. Every summer holiday, we’d pack off and go to visit my grandparents. Some maami or pati or aunty would show up – somehow conversation would steer towards music – they would be informed of my music training, and they’d say – “Oh appdiya.. Oru paatu paadu paarpom”. That would make me seethe in anger. I would fuss and fume, and say my throat was bad, and I was tired and I didn’t remember anything without my book. Somehow they would all push me to a corner that would be hard to get out of – my mother would suggest that she remind me of the words if I forgot, my pati would suggest a song which she said I sang well, and so on.

When I stopped learning, I was so relieved that nobody would ask me to sing anymore. I finally got out of the karnatic music league, started listening to more of Nadeem Shravan and A.R.Rehman and sang along all the time. I finally started enjoying my own voice when I got out of my teens, and I repented for not pursuing my music or learning and practicing more. I derived great joy out of singing along with the radio, or cassettes or cds, until one fine day, I realized I was not able to sing those songs anymore. I was pregnant and my voice turned hoarse. My pitch fell flat and I was no longer able to sing along with Chitra or S. Janaki or Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bhonsle. All I could sing along with was Bombay Jayshree or Vasundhara Das – not much there. I had this unconscious habit of singing along with any song I knew. Suddenly I found I couldn’t hear myself anymore. I sang deplorably. I lost my voice and I knew then I had wasted it as long as I had it.

18 thoughts on “Paatum Naanae Pavamum Naanae

  1. Pradeep

    First comment!!

    This makes me nostalgic. My mom is an outstanding singer.. Every now and then she used to tell me her paatu class memories… I miss my mom more than she missed her paatu class. 😦

    Rekha: ohhh.. 😦 listen to some sudha raghunathan and see if that cheers you up I say.

  2. This reminds me of my Key Board class ,
    i learnt key board classical
    i changed some 4 teachers
    and evrery time each teacher will make me start from the first , and everytime with each teacher i will finish till varnam and go through the whole process of basics to varnam once over again and similarly like u wen u came to 9th, i bid good bye to key board classes!
    today i know a few film songs to play on it is all i can show as proof of my key board knowledge 🙂

    Rekha: Ya.. I don’t have even that left.

  3. Ha ha 🙂

    My father used to say “Namma veetla Vathiyare Vendam ivala indha saregamapaveye fast track solla vechutta pochu” 😦

    Gues every person had been through this. I was very happy when my mother feeling pity on my squeezing schedule put me on to those Hindi Classes. Me merrily happy abt escaping from Paatu class got struck with another Roller Coaster Experience 🙂

    Rekha: Haha.. Paatu class wins over Hindi class hands down!

  4. Ah the sweetest songs are the saddest on earth-so said the Poet. Now that you want to sing, you’ve lost your voice?
    Perhaps you could turn into a connoisseur- a rasika with elegant tastes. What say?

    Rekha: Oh.. Connoisseur alavukku nammaku gyanam illayae.

  5. prem

    ah! i never knew a great singer lay beneath! this is news! so its not all about blogging after all!

    frankly, what i believe is this. music ..or any art, is not about voice. its not about talent. or about what you remember. or what you dont. its just about expressing what you are. the moment you think about how good you are, i think you lose the joy you get out of art. so why think so much? if you wanna sing…you just must! why bother about the neighbours? why think about how you sound? anyway you dont have to sing to bring food to the table!

    just do it! hoarse or a bray…why care?

    Rekha: There is a difference between those who sing badly and don’t realize it vs those who sing badly and realize it is wrong. For the latter, it is impossible to sing badly knowing fully well that the pitch is off or the tune is off. That is my predicament.

  6. Ayyo, I did hte same thing. LOL, I hated music classes. By the time I quit, the teacher told my mom, she is so not interested unlike her sis (my sis’d shake her head, smile, close her eyes and do all the drama!) 😀

    Rekha: lol @ your sis’s drama 😀

  7. Pradeep

    @ Ramya/Rekha,

    Don’t get me started on Hindi class. 😡
    I spent the first few years of my life in Delhi, and when we shifted to TN, my Hindi was as good as that of a native speaker. My people still made me join Hindi class just to keep me “busy”. I could have trumped any Hindi “ji” with my language, yet they made me write Prathmik, Madhyama etc etc. Heck they dint even let me appear for Madhyama directly.. 😡

    Rekha: ohoooo.. Hindi class ivlo periya tragedyaa? I attended hindi class for a short period of 1 month before class X. It was kind of a hindi class X crash course because I was so bad at it and really needed to improve.

  8. Pradeep

    In hindsight, that probably goes to show what a menace I was! 😛

    Rekha: Your mom would be happy that you finally understood after all these years 😉

  9. you do know that you dont need a good voice to sing classical? (but doesnt mean it is easy 🙂 ) ?

    I am learning now (starting in my middle-thirties), and it is a humbling experience every time I go to class.


    Rekha: May be I will do better with some practice and training. My voice is rusted and damaged a bit – hence the problem. Kudos to you for starting at this age – who knows I might have persisted had I started at 25.

  10. I just came across your blog, and I’m totally hooked!
    I spent most of this morning reading through your archives- and it was the most fun I’ve ever had on a Monday!
    Keep writing!

    Rekha: Thank you and welcome!

  11. Girish

    I badly wanted to learn music but couldnt as there was no class in and around my locality in Bombay. 😦

    Aana unga elarumodu exp padichu paatha, I was lucky I guess 😉

    Rekha: Haha.. No No.. I know many friends who did pursue with a lot of interest. One is a professional singer, and the M I mentioned in my most went on to do her MA in dance and music, still performs and also teaches dance. So may be you would have been one of those.

  12. chokkathangam

    i had similar experiences with karate.

    carnatic music was a turn off for me cos i did not find the drone of saa-rii-gaa-maa… chanted by all the other kids appealing. besides i am from a non-brahmin family and there was certainly no familial compulsions. although some of my relatives are accomplished carnatic musicians.

    Rekha: Karate was never attempted on me. I wonder why.

  13. Bhuvana Murali

    This takes me back back to the days when I was forcing my eldest son to learn carnatic music. The same thing.. Three or four teachers.. Each one of them starting from the basics … Sa ri ga ma… Finally when he was in 5th std. when his paattu teacher questioned him why he was not practising at all, he could take it no longer.. He told her frankly… ” I am not interested.. Only my amma is forcing me… ” I was rudely shocked (Though I knew it all along, it hit me hard to hear it spoken by him.) Tears welled up… in my eyes , of course… The teacher consoled me and left… for good. My son is in college now. A good bathroom singer….

    Rekha: Ayyo.. that is so sad. Your son will repent one day for not learning. May be he is already thankful that he is such a good bathroom singer.

  14. Music class, keyboard class, karate class all tried but no use.

    A frnd(guy) of mine sings well and I sometimes wonder if I had continued, I could have matched the others raagam for raagam. I could atleast identify the tunes of songs and then jazz them up to make them blogworthy!

    Same with keyboard, I want to create music now, but didnt learn it properly then. Everytime I watch a martial arts film, I think of my green belt in karate and how its all wasted. I wud love to break bricks with my fists!

    I landed up choregraphing dappan koothu songs and taught kids in grad school…

    Rekha: Sakalakalaa Vallavano??

  15. Nanduri Hamsaanandini

    Hey super blog!! I have always been a great fan of your writing. I myself being a karnatic singer and having learnt music for quite a few years now, have seen lots of these things. The most unforgettable part of these classes used to be the “denammum practice pannanam” lecture, with different levels of geetopadesam for different age groups!

    Rekha: Welcome to my blog! Ha..ha.. “denammum practice pannanum” – I thought it was imaginary and impossible, until I met a friend who was a professional singer, and she really did practice everyday. I was like – “wow.. they really DO practice everyday!”

  16. Rohit

    At least you had the opportunity.. when i was in school, i was condemned to singing songs like pappara paravaikku passporta, rekkaya viriccha tata !!! funny!! cant believe ppl used to like it in the first place in my school in erode.. ;-D
    in any case, i have become a regular at your blog, now that i have permanent internet access in office!!!

    Rekha: Good to see that you are regular at something (hehe)
    Well, for what it was worth, they did give you a title of ‘Isai Gnyani’ or something like that.. while I was boohed everytime I attempted Karnatic music on stage.

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