It was not inherent.
As am listening to this beautiful rendition of Tunbham Nergayil by Sanjay Subramanian, I awe at the beauty of dEsh. This version is so incredible and indulgent that it has slowly transformed into a leitmotif for Sanjay himself. I can’t write about the intricacies of the composition like Brangan or spin an imagery on the swaras like Aparna. Like most arts, classical music and especially Carnatic, is an acquired taste over the years.
There was a time when I used to protest playing Carnatic songs in the car. It used to annoy me to no end, and mom would silently comply. As a kid though I was made to sit through the various Ram Navami celebration concerts during the month of March-April every year at Sri Ram Samaj, more popularly known as Ayodhya Mandapam in West Mambalam, Chennai. Bragging alert, kindly adjust: My late maternal grandfather was one of the founders of Ayodhya Mandapam back in the 1950s and it has now grown to be a major landmark in this part of Chennai. My grandad’s house was in the street right across, and they used to tie speakers to the coconut trees in the garden. The house is still there and they do it to this day. We didn’t even have to walk to the temple to listen to the performances but the worth of all that was quite lost on me back then. The only instances I remember back from those wonder years are going to pick up Mandolin Shrinivas for an evening concert, with my dad in a white Ambassador, hogging the tamarind rice and curd rice late into the night after the concert was over and other minor games we used to play in the sand(The place is all concrete now).
My mom and her elder sister have performed on the stage in the Samaj. Maybe if they had continued in the music line, things would have been different but that didn’t happen. I went to Bombay in 1996 and only the memories of the Ram Navami celebrations remained with me. That was till about 2003 when, not only did I return to Chennai, but returned to the house across Ayodhya Mandapam to live with my grandfather and aunt(mom’s elder sister mentioned before) and do my engineering. Again the speakers were up on the tree trunks, Ram Navami celebrations happened like always, and my favorite spot was the swing in the balcony. I had a book in my hand, usually for the exams that came around the same time(or at least the Anna University preparatory holidays) but that was just a prop.
Some of the regulars there were Unni Krishnan, Sudha Raghunathan, T.N. Seshagopalan, Nithyashree, Ganesh-Kumaresh etc(post-1994-95). The 10-15 days of blissful carnatic music frustrated a college friend of mine living in the same street. He found it hard to study for the exams with the speakers blaring and I must admit he had a fair point. I never challenged his statement but used to quietly listen to his rants against the whole noise pollution, as he used to call it. But over the four years that I lived there, the birth of interest in Carnatic music came about, gradually developed into a hobby and I graduated from the swing in the balcony to the front row seats for selected concerts.
Once again, after three years, I find myself back in Chennai, with all these things accessible. It was T.M. Krishna yesterday at Sri Ram Samaj and I took that front seat, thanks to granddad’s legacy. As brilliant as he was, it was great to know that something like the Ayodhya Mandapam was a reason for nurturing interest in the classical arts, even though theoretical knowledge still eludes. Listening, obviously, is the first step.