Feb 25, 2017

Thank you - for all the inspiration

Considering I haven't updated the blog recently, I thought of cross-posting the following from a Facebook status update.
Almost three decades ago, my dad, who's a semi-professional mridangam player, gave me some lessons in mridangam, hoping that I would take it up as an instrument. I wasn't particularly interested in mridangam or Carnatic classical then and did not persist with it. Instead, I started tinkering with the Indian flute (inspired partly by my uncle, who wasa professional flautist) because I was more interested in popular music

Two decades ago, I picked up the guitar after being coaxed into it by my sister Vidhya Venkitachalam. Around then, I started jamming with my friend Sumit Pillai on drums, also picking up basic drumming concepts. After a couple of years with the guitar, I bought myself my first bass, starting my journey as a bass player. I have weilded the bass in most gigs since then, but I also have had some opportunities to perform at gigs on the guitar, shakers, and drums.

In the last few months, however, I have had the opportunity of re-exploring my "percussive" side, with several full-length gigs as a cajon/percussion player. I can't believe the kind of fun I have had doing that. Ironically enough, my cajon technique is rather similar to what my dad taught me for my mridangam (especially right hand), and I'm able to generate a rather unique snare sound with this technique. Talk about completing a circle!

At this time, I would like to thank the following people for inspiring/encouraging/helping/supporting me in various stages of my journey as a musician, especially in the context of cajon/percussion playing.

Thank you! <3
  • Aarifah Eve Rebello (for letting me "shake" at random gigs)
  • Abhishek Dasgupta (for pushing me at improving myself as a musician)
  • Anurag Mishra (for encouraging me at gigs)
  • Jairaj Joshi (for introducing me to the cajon)
  • Pritesh Prabhune (for inspiring me and helping me with concepts and tech)
  • Reinhardt Dias (for inspiring me)
  • Rohit Chabria (for gig opportunities and letting me use your cajon)
  • Roma Kunde (for constantly supporting and encouraging me)
  • Shaival Chatwani (for encouraging me)
  • Sharanya Natrajan (for gig opportunities and supporting and encouraging me)
  • Sumit Pillai (for all the years of jamming)
  • Teemeer Chimulkar (for gig opportunities, trusting in me, and supporting/encouraging me)
  • Varun Sood (for inspiring me, teaching me, and helping me bounce off ideas)
  • Vidhya Venkitachalam (for pushing me to take up guitar)
  • Vigneshkumar Venkatraman (for such an incredibly positive attitude and inspiring me)
  • Vijayalakshmy Venkitachalam (for marrying my Dad?)
  • Vishal Mallu (for inspiring me and lending the cajon)

Sep 22, 2016

The story of Ugly and my response

*For some weird reason, My friend and fellow book club member forwarded me a story of a cat called Ugly (see attached image). Although the story is graphic (in a negative way about Ugly being treated badly), it ends with the author(s) being positively influenced by the valiant cat.

(*Edit: Since I published the post, my friend and I had a conversation. She thought that despite the sad story, this was a a good example of unconditional love by an animal, which I would related to because I'm a cat lover; of course, her intent was not to make me feel bad or to trigger traumatic memories. This conversation happened on the book club group chat, and one other member pointed out the perils of feel-good stories: "Always missing the point that not everybody reacts to the same to a scenario."  A very valid point, I think.)

I have had a storied life of being traumatized by experiences of cats in peril. Ugly's story thus forced me to respond in the following manner:
Sorry for the essay response, but I had to.

I don't know if you know this, but I have been at the wrong end of cats being mauled. In Kerala, I have always had cats/kittens with me. Some of my dearest cats have died grueling deaths thanks to packs of dogs mauling them. I would be woken up in the middle of a rainy night just to hear the last part of the fight, and I would be so bitter and upset with myself of not having been there to help them. The next day morning, I would have to find their bodies and bury them. Happened to me at least thrice, and I have always had a problem trying to get over this.

In fact last year, there were a couple of nights when I couldn't sleep because I thought Spock (image below; Spock with KiKi), who was a kitten then, was getting mauled by dogs (or other cats) and I have been out searching for him late in the night, after apparently hearing sounds of a cat in distress (which others didn't hear). I eventually found only his mom and his litter mates and would come home and be on the verge of a panic attack and would have had trouble falling asleep. None of the others would "get" my feelings/panic. J would realize that there was something that had triggered me like very few other things do, but was unable to exactly understand the gravity of the situation.

Both of these Spock nights had a happy ending (so to speak) because I would leap out of my bed at dawn and go out to search for him, and I would find him safe and happy somewhere. However, these did trigger a few of my older (PTSD-triggering memories) and have been the focus of a couple of my therapy sessions.

About cats dying in my arms -- yes, I have had a couple of such experiences as well. They were not directly due to mauling, but because of infections because of mauling or abuse. Those are such strong memories, and I think, just like how this story describes it, are life changing.

Unlike the author in the story, I have never really gotten over these in a positive way. What this has made me is to be fiercely protective of the people/animals that I love, which sort of manifests in me being extremely aggressive toward people to mistreat animals. At least people who were at the table at the last Annual Meeting party would remember how I was about to pick a fight with a waiter because he was trying to shoo away a cat that was rubbing up against us under our tables.

In conclusion, I don't know why you specifically tagged me, but it made me revisit a strong/painful series of memories. But it hasn't evoked a panic response yet. So I guess it's all right. :)

Feb 20, 2016

Pop-culture bullying - Oh yeah, it's damn real, and you are a loser too!

I want to take this opportunity to discuss and raise awareness regarding a grave social issue traumatizing millions of people on a daily basis, both in real life and social media. It is called pop-culture bullying.

Fans/followers of any particular pop-culture phenomenon (hereinafter referred to as superiors) look down on people who haven't had the chance to experience the said phenomenon or those who couldn't care less about such phenomena in general (hereinafter teetered to as losers). In fact, it has been scientifically proven that such superiors make judgements about losers as intellectually barren, worthless souls within moments of encountering them. In addition, the superiors form the me/us vs. they social delineations faster than the well-established biological norm of 180 milliseconds of coming in contact with perceived threats.

One striking aspect of this bullying is that the superiors of one pop-culture phenomenon can be losers of another. This, of course, holds true for losers as well. Previous research findings indicate that  the superior:loser ratio for phenomena is generally 1:10,000. Studies also indicate that ratio of the phenomena in which individuals consider themselves as superiors to those in which they are considered as losers by others is approximately 1:10,000. The similarity in the ratios is so uncanny that some researchers have claimed that it may be universal constant similar to the speed of light. Further research is required to confirm/deny this claim.

Readers may identify as victims (losers) for several phenomena without having a friggin' clue about them being the culprits (superiors) in the few phenomena that tickle their brains. It is needless to reiterate that the several million losers (like you) need need support from other losers (like you) to resist the superiors in the respective phenomena. Superiors, on the other hand, must come to grip with the fact that what they consider themselves as superior in is just another pointless, annoying side effect of human evolution, which has resulted in the constant, demotivating struggle that humans have to be in with their relatively primitive bodies/brains.

In conclusion, it may me useful to remember that you are a loser in more aspects that you can possibly comprehend and that losers like you need support from other like-minded losers. Because you are always more of a loser than a superior, all self-identifying superiors need to chill and reflect on how much of a loser they really are on phenomena that they don't have a friggin' clue about.

Be supportive of losers because in all likelihood you are an equally big or bigger loser.

Jan 14, 2016

LGBT comic book characters

Hi, guys! Happy another-completed-revolution around the Sun. :)

Just thought of sharing New York Times video about LGBT characters in comics that J shared with me this . Pretty cool, don't you think?

Oct 11, 2015

My life, in a nutshell

So my friend Ray asked me a seemingly innocuous question on Whatsapp.

Ray: "Hey buddy, what's happening?"

This is my rant as a reply:

"I'm busy with a bunch of things. Work, music, boyfriend, socializing, reading, learning, etc.

I have recently started following politics because of the increasingly worrying situation in India for minorities--sexual or otherwise. So I've subscribed to Indian Express, Mint, and India Today on my Kindle. That's about an hour of reading and comprehending/framing opinions.

Plus, I'm part of a book club. We just read Still Alice by Lisa Genova (about a middle-aged researcher diagnosed run early-onset Alzheimer's). The other members and the discussions are very intellectually stimulating.

On the side, I'm reading Harry Potter series, Dune (Frank Herbert), India: A History (John Keaye), etc.

Music scene has been busy with two bands being really active. One of them (SpaceHuggers), in which I'm the primary songwriter, is planning to record an album. So that's a lot of preparation and working on songs.

Work goes on as usual.

Plus, when you are seeing someone for a bunch of years, socializing with the respective friend circles also becomes a lot of "work." That takes up a whole bunch of evenings.

In the middle of all of this, I'm trying to find some time for myself. For example, I watched today's match. :)

Sorry for the rant but I had fun summarizing my life to you.

Oct 1, 2015

My thoughts on the concept of nationalism

This is primarily inspired by the concepts of the historian Yuval Harari, the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind + skim readings on the internet.

George Carlin said this: "I could never understand ethnic or national pride. Because to me, pride should be reserved for something you achieve or attain on your own, not something that happens by accident of birth. Being Irish isn't a skill, it's a f*cking genetic accident. You wouldn’t say "I’m proud to be 5"11". I’m proud to have a predisposition for colon cancer." So why would you be proud to be Irish, or proud to be Italian, or American or anything?"

Yes, nationalism is loyalty to something that we did not have any choice in attaining. I think it is inherently dangerous.

The Free Dictionary defines it as follows:

Nationalism (n.)

1. Devotion, especially excessive or undiscriminating devotion, to the interests or culture of a particular nation-state.
2. The belief that nations will benefit from acting independently rather than collectively, emphasizing national rather than international goals.
3. The belief that a particular cultural or ethnic group constitutes a distinct people deserving of political self-determination.

In history, nationalism worked as a concept when humans had align together to stay safe, and loyalty to one’s own society made sense. This is not the true anymore, is it?

Problems with it:

- It allows the authority/government to control the country on the premise of national pride.
- It has been, and is still, used as a propaganda tool to manipulate people into buying into the authority/government agenda (e.g., Nazi campaign in WWII. The Iraq/Iran wars, and Russia). So it is primarily used as a tool for controlling entire nations of people.
- It impedes relationship at levels above (international) and critical thinking toward one’s authority/government.
- It encourages xenophobia and racism.

I think loyalty to one’s nation does not have a social meaning. Until we find other planet with intelligent life worms, we should consider life as belonging to Earth. Instead of focusing on how to improve one’s own country, we should be focused on how to improve humanity—and on a wider scale, Earth—as a whole

- http://www.debate.org/debates/Nationalism-good-or-bad/1/
- https://www.quora.com/Is-nationalism-good-or-bad

(PS: If you want to read arguments against it, my literate/educated friends on FaceBook are presenting a whole bunch of counterpoints to this on this thread.)

Jul 7, 2015

Performing in front of an unreceptive audience

Musicians are often requested to play/perform songs in a private party environment where they are basically a part of the party party and are not performing as such for the party. If you are lucky, people can be genuinely interested in your music. Most times, however, they just want a change in the flow of the party up until then. They also want to do something cool – like singing along while someone plays a guitar.

In either situation, you can get interrupted distracted by people being disinterested in the performance or, even worse, loud conversations. As a performing musician, I’m used to such experiences and I modify my performance accordingly. However, if someone else is singing when I’m playing the guitar, they often feel so dejected that they ask me to stop the performance.

There are two things wrong here. People talking when people are playing/performing itself indicates selfishness and lack of respect toward the performers. However, if performers reciprocate by stopping abruptly, they are just being selfish and being unprofessional.

So here’s my suggestion – do not stop in the middle of a song!

So what to do? As a preventive strategy, I wait until it’s the right time (or as late as I possibly can) to bring out the guitar. Once the initial fervor has settled down, I am quick to take the guitar back out of the party floor to avoid such experiences. When these interruptions become annoying, finish the song and slyly get to your drink and get involved in a conversation. If you can guage the audience before starting the song, don’t start it at all.

Once again, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t react to the audience. But please don’t stop midway through a song just because someone is talking loud.