I was listening to A R Rahman’s song “New York Nagaram Urangum Neram” from Sillunu Oru Kaadal this afternoon. Seeing as I was slightly free and wanted to relax, this seemed a good choice. Now, this is not the first time I am hearing this song, nor is it the first time I actually paid attention to the lyrics. But, today was different. Feeling slightly depressed as I was, thanks to the rain in Paris, the lyrics got an entirely new feel. I had never before noticed the astounding complexity of sounds in the song. Rahman is known for using many layers of sound to create his truly unique music, but this one takes the cake. The song, about a young husband spending time away from his wife in faraway New York, touched a chord. The sheer pain of separation and the desire to get back as soon as possible came through every word of the song. How did I miss this one? Given that it is the ringtone of my phone, I get to hear it quite often. But it never touched my heart the way it did today.

That set me thinking. How many songs have I heard that makes me want to cry, laugh, feel nostalgic or express some emotion in some way? Well, the answer is clear. Not too many. The ones that do are few and far between. One song that never fails to elicit some kind of reaction from me is the song Mettuppodu from the movie Duet. It really is beautiful. I reacted with confusion when I first heard it. I was quite young, still a teen. I had no idea language could mean so much to someone. And I frankly could not understand why someone would want to sing about the Tamil language of all things. Today, I have come a long way. And I do agree that the language has a beauty that none other can really match. I am not an expert in Tamil. Indeed, my first attempt at reading anything more than road signs in the language came when I was 17. But, as I discovered the world of Tamil literature, I realised that it is a language that was more beautiful than Milton’s English or Racine’s French. However, my primary languages remain English and French. I would not want to torture my poor readers by writing anything in Tamil. Today, I hear the same song, and I feel a sense of nostalgia. I wish I could abandon clumsy attempts at explaining Indian cuisine in French and English and just revert to Tamil. With the nostalgia comes a sense of shame. Shame that I know English, French or even Tamil better than my own mother tongue, Kannada. Hell, I can even speak, read and write Hindi. But I cannot distinguish between Kannada and Telugu. Some Kannadiga I am!

Anyway, with that observation, I go back to listening to music. And yes, much as many find it difficult to believe, I prefer Indian music any day to anything western. Maybe it is just me, but I need to feel the words, understand them with my heart and not my brain, and above all, relate to it. Indian music lets me do that. Pop, rock or jazz do not. It is as simple as that. I prefer the beautiful and melodious voice of Nithyashree Mahadevan supported by only a tambura, or the Instrumental theme music of the film Bombay to Britney Spears singing in an accent that is as alien to me as Swedish is to the average Indian. Music, poetry, literature and language can all heal the soul and make one happy.

On a totally unrelated note, I just wish people would stop associating Tamil with the LTTE. I speak Tamil, live in Tamil Nadu, and love the sound of the language. It doesn’t make me a terrorist!! Argh! I just wish they would stop.

The Sound of Music and the Power of Language

One thought on “The Sound of Music and the Power of Language

  • May 19, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    It was interesting to go through your thoughts in your blog.
    Since i’m an avid lover of music especially tamizh i wanted to pen some comments with regard to music.
    At first, about ARR’s New York…, it’s a good song with some mind blowing lyrics (one can really feel when one is alone!) But I was not happy with the music of ARR. The mixing of the instruments are very puzzling and gets even more puzzling when the chorus joins. I started realizing this nitty gritties when i started listening to the songs of Harris Jayaraj (HJ) who is a master in mixing. Have you listened to any HJ’s songs?
    I can understand how much you want to learn tamil. It’s not late… you can always learn to write and speak tamil fluently since you have that interest!

    Your article about cooking was also too good. I’m really amazed with the kind of varied thoughts you are coming out with.

    Lover of Tamizh Music.


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