Well, today's post is loosely speaking about the man on the left, A. R. Rahman. I say loosely speaking, because it is more about how he came into my life and how he has stayed in it all these years. There are events in life that you never forget. Like, people in our generation will be telling their grand children what they were up to on the morning of 9/11 when they saw the towers fall (I was doing my quantum mechanics homework that was due that afternoon and did not realize anything was wrong till a friend called me). Those from an earlier generation remember what they were doing when they heard of the JFK assassination. These are rather grim examples. But I am not able to think of anything else that would serve as an example of what I am about to say. I remember when and where I first heard A R Rahman's work and surprisingly many tamil people of my age group remember too.
We were living in Coimbatore at the time and I was in the 8th grade. I had gone to get a haircut with my brother to our regular hair salon. In those days, that was where I heard most tamil songs for the first time, for our hair stylist's brother owned the adjacent cassette shop and the day a cassette was released our guy would get it and play it through out the day, and if it sticks, through out the week. I happened to go there three days after the music of the movie Roja was released and several days before the famous Oliyum OLiyum that most of my friends remember as their first encounter with Rahman. And luckily the song I heard first was "Chinna Chinna Aasai" (I say luckily because if it had been Rukumani Rukumani instead, the story may have unfolded differently). I was floored. My first thought was "What has come over Illayaraja? This sounds so strange and so different." It was a natural first thought for me because up to that point all songs I had liked were by Illayaraja. And the hype and chatter about the revolutionary music of Roja had not yet started, or at least I had not heard any yet as this was pre "internet and instant information proliferation era" in India (and of course I would hear a whole lot shortly through the slower media that were around).
Another fortunate occurrence of the day was that my dad had no change in his wallet that morning and hence had given us a hundred rupee note to take with us. So, I did a reckless thing. After our haircut, I dragged my brother over to the cassette shop and bought myself a Lahiri cassette of Roja. It cost me something like 23Rs I think, but I am not really sure. This is reckless for I was not allowed to spend money without approval from my mother. This was the starting point of my addiction. Throughout the rest of my years in India, I went out to buy A R Rahman's new releases within a few days of them coming out, almost never being able to afford them, but unable to help myself. And, when I went back from the United States for the first time, I had some money of my own to spend for the first time in my life and guess what my first major expense in India was? I went to Music World in Spencer's Plaza in my Madras Nalla Madras and bought all the AR Rahman CDs they carried at the time. It cost me 4500 Rs and my mother thought I was crazy. But all I could think of was the fact that I could not get Pudhiya Mugam and May Maadham for they did not have it.
But I digress, back to the early stages of this love affair, the "love at first sight stage". For what must have been months, Roja was the only cassette I heard. I cannot describe how magical that felt, largely because I don't remember :). But I know for a fact that I listened to the cassette a whole bunch of times because I ran through 3 tapes of Roja before Pudhiya Mugam came out! The third one stayed with me for 10 years before I lost it while moving. And of course as time passed, I, along with everybody else in India at that time, realized that we were witnessing a revolution. Nothing would ever be the same again in the Indian music scene. And also, as time passed I learnt more and more about Rahman's music, this was the progression of the love affair beyond the "can't keep my hands off you stage". It was only with May Maadham that I realized that A R Rahman grows on you, that first impressions are never right. The way this happened was that the cassette my dad bought for me was a combination one with Kaadhalan on one side and May Maadham on the other. For the first couple of months I hardly heard May Maadham at all for my first impression was that it was not very good. But now, some of the songs in May Maadham are on my all time favourite list. The next thing I learned was that you have not really heard Rahman till you have heard him fortissimo on a good music system. This was when I heard Thiruda Thiruda for the first time in my dad's new car almost a year after I had bought the tape. And so my learning grew and our relationship (me and Rahman's music, in case you forgot during the course of my rambling) progressed.
There is one thing that Rahman has done for me without which I would have missed out on an important experience until perhaps much later in my life. I had heard that art can move you. I ahd no clue what that meant until Rahman. When heard at a vulnerable moment, En mel vizhundha mazhai thuliye, Vellai pookkal, Kaalaiyil dhinamum, Yeh jo Des hai and more recently Lukka Chuppi to name a few, bring tears to my eyes. They are not tears of joy, they are not tears of sorrow. They are tears associated with this inexplicable feeling of being moved. And of course many a times I have jumped for joy for the shear energy in songs such as the now legendary Chaiyya Chaiyya and Veerapaandi Kottaiyile.
Nowadays, I have fallen behind in my listening of Rahman's compositions. I heard Bombay Dreams almost a year after the music came out. I am yet to hear Mangal Pandey. I have been hearing good things about Guru, but have n't had the time to make a proper acquaintance with the album. So, I guess I am not the "fanatic fan" anymore. But the magic that Rahman has brought to my life remains unparalleled (probably because I am too old for magic to happen anymore) and I reflect the sentiments of a lot of people of my time and geographical coordinates. Love you, ARR and thank you.
PS: This of course is a subjective account of MY experience. But the www is full of more objective accounts for example see this and this.