Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Here's one reason...

... why you should go to Sikkim.

Gocha Peak and the south-east face of Kanchenjungha, from a viewpoint near Gocha La, May 2005
(IIT Kanpur Adventure Sports Club trip)

PS: For a sense of scale, the S. Summit of K'jungha (in jetstream) is a little over 3.5 vertical km above us.

Photo courtesy Alok Sharan

Shreyansh has lots of other good reasons.

Rob McFarlane's recent book, Mountains of the Mind, tries to answer what exactly about mountains draws people to them so strongly. Judiciously mixing personal anecdotes and well-researched historical accounts, he presents an enthralling narrative, albeit slightly dated in its scope. The best part of the book is the section on the author's trip to the Tien Shan, camped on a glacier surrounded by unnamed peaks and utter desolation. McFarlane ends in slightly cliched fashion with a chapter on George Mallory, who died during his third Everest attempt and has come to symbolize man's obsession with the high mountains. Expedition colleague Noel Odell recalls that on June 8, 1924:
"The entire Summit Ridge and final peak of Everest were unveiled. My eyes became fixed on one tiny black spot silhouetted on a small snow-crest beneath a rock step in the ridge; the black spot moved. Another black spot became apparent and moved up the snow to join the other on the crest. The first then approached the great Rock Step and shortly emerged at the top; the second did likewise. Then the whole fascinating vision vanished, enveloped in cloud once more."
Neither Mallory nor his climbing companion Andrew Irvine were ever seen alive again, and whether they reached the summit or not (29 years before Hillary and Tenzing) is the greatest open question of mountaineering history (to add fuel to the fire, Mallory's petrified body was recently discovered on the talus slopes of Everest above 8000m).

A very good book, and unusual in its objective.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


They're nice guys, really...

... but they sometimes go onstage too.

Indian Ocean, Live at Foothill College, Los Altos, CA.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Random snaps

From San Jose and Stanford:

And today I finally sold my soul to the devil and photographed the tourist "ishpot" in Stanford -- the Oval, with the Memorial Quad and the Memorial Church beyond it. This place is filled all day with click-happy tourists (mostly, for some reason, South-East Asian) and sunbathers. It's not uncommon to spot a wedding party either. And that phallic symbol is the Hoover Tower, named after Herbert Hoover, one of those US presidents who didn't go to war in Iraq.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

From the concert hall

Padmavati Shaligram, 87-year-young doyenne of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, performed at the ITC-SRA Sangeet Sammelan last November. I know certain readers have reservations about this institution, but there's no disputing the fact that they have excellent concerts and put some very fine stuff online. So do check out the videos of this still amazing singer -- Nand (the traditional favourite "E bari sainyan sakala bana bana ke"), Jaijayanti ("Kahiye sakhi shyam sundar so"), Pilu and Pahadi. Listen to those pinpoint, soaring aakar taans and remind yourself (possibly with some difficulty) that this lady has spent seventy-five years on the stage.

In my last years of school, our house got an extension and I got the resulting room on the roof. I had scrounged up enough cash from birthday money et al to buy a cheapo double-deck music system, and that sustained me for many many solitary hours. There used to be this radio programme on Monday mornings which played classical songs and popular numbers based on them -- and it had this incredibly irritating host whose voice I couldn't stand. So after recording everything I used to painstakingly clip out just the track announcements and join them with the songs themselves. If you've never done deck-to-deck editing of raw radio recordings (or physically transferred entire reels from one cassette shell to another) you haven't lived :). There were also a couple of boxes of gramophone records and a cranky player with speakers which frequently had to be banged hard to stop a strange humming noise whose provenance I have yet to discover.

After long evenings usefully spent examining the ceiling of that room, Padmavati's Nand was pretty much my standard bedtime music. Switch off the lights, turn it on, wait for oblivion. The voice has lost a little of its mellifluity now, but who's complaining?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Just another song

Abhishek Singh of UIUC recently sent me a recording of Ulhas Kashalkar singing Nat Kamod at a SPIC-MACAY concert at Urbana-Champaign in 2004. Ulhas also sang Kaushi Kanada, Shankara, Kafi, Desh and Bhairavi that night, but the Nat Kamod is the piece de resistance, and brought back so many memories. The classic bandish "Nevar baju re" with its dramatic octave-spanning gamak leading up to the sam has seen many great renditions in the past. Laxmibai Jadhav's drut version is busy, sparky, with little pause for thought. Mallikarjun Mansur takes a more relaxed approach, his trademark gamak-laced bol-taans highlighting the region around the sam. Kesarbai Kerkar produces probably the classic rendition, a masterpiece of warm, fluid waves of sound washing over one another with the nyas on individual notes and the prolonged aakaar taans going just that little bit further than seems humanly possible. Ulhas' version follows the Kesarbai mould, not quite in the same class but seeking the same sense of delayed climax and drawn-out, modulated sentiment (he also has a very pretty drut, "Sachi kaho tum", but let that pass).

But the rendition that sticks in my mind most is from the Agra fold, by Sharafat Hussain Khan. I first heard it on a tape of the AIR National Programme broadcast a week after Sharafat's death in 1985, sandwiched between, I think, a Kafi Kanada and a Khamaj thumri (the classic "Na manoongi"). I have never heard anything to equal his attack on the sam in this bandish: the andolan on the word "nevar" has to be heard to be believed. And really, other than maybe Faiyyaz Khan himself, only Sharafat could have pulled it off without reducing it to machine-gun chatter. It's been a long time since I heard that version, locked away on a cassette at home, and my current three minute mp3 is probably a different recording.

Here's a link to the Kesarbai version, if anyone's interested.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Some sam!

Ustad Allauddin Khan (sarod), Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (sarod), Shri Nikhil Banerjee (sitar), Pandit Kanthe Maharaj (tabla), Shri Ashutosh Bhattacharya (tabla), Shri Aashish Khan (tanpura)
Tansen Sangeet Sammelan, Calcutta, 1952

Photo courtesy Shen Flindell