Noted Carnatic vocalist TV Sankaranarayanan

Noted Carnatic (South Indian Classical Music) vocalist TV Sankaranarayanan passed away couple of days ago. Wanted to share my own TV Sankaranarayanan (TVS) personal experience. Dates back to early 1980s. Classical music used to be played regularly at home, on radio and cassette player, as both mom and dad are classical music lovers. In addition a local music association in my Mumbai suburb, Mulund Fine Arts, used to arrange concerts by professional musicians one weekend in a month. At that time I was more into old Hindi movie songs, not that I did not like classical music. Movie songs offered instant satisfaction similar to fast food whereas classical music required some patience and more discerning taste to enjoy fully, similar to a multi-course meal. One weekend dad was either out of town or had some other prior commitment and he couldn’t attend that weekend’s concert. The performer scheduled to perform was TVS. Typically concerts started at 6pm and ended by 9pm. So, mom went by herself and asked me to reach the concert venue before 9pm for the walk back home after the concert. I went there before 9pm and waited outside. By then the singer had sung the more elaborate songs and was moving into short pieces (tukkadas) which, like desserts, are very tasty and crowd pleasers as those pieces can be appreciated even without technical knowledge. TVS was singing a familiar song (Srinivasa Thiruvenkata) starting with a prayer called viruttam. In the context of a meal viruttams are like free bread or chips and salsa offered to set the stage for the piΓ¨ce de rΓ©sistance, the main course, to follow. I like viruttams quite a bit (just as I like the bread/olive oil, chips/salsa and wouldn’t mind eating them as entire meal πŸ˜ƒ). I digress. As TVS sang a familiar viruttam (before the main song Srinivasa Thiruvenkata, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpzI3BpCmU8 , I stood transfixed. As the singer moved to the main song I found myself drawn into the performing hall to hear even closer. That song was followed by another favorite of mine song “Eppa Varuvaro” ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVMkzDWhMII ) and followed by the popular English note (starts at 2:16:35 of this video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjegI6T9JJc ) . I realized then even a classical song can be enjoyed without much technical knowledge if the lyrics are divine and the singer is inspired. At the end of the concert as we were walking back home I was speaking with an elderly gentleman from my neighborhood who had more knowledge and finer taste than me. I mentioned to him I really enjoyed the concert and he said it was inded a fantastic concert. Sometime later I remember reading it was one of the best concerts organized by the organization, Mulund Fine Arts. The concert venue was an open hall in a pre-school (called Shishu Kunj). Not exactly a location that was acoustically designed! TVS probably has sung better and in better venues but his singing that night was special for me. In the intervening period of 35+ years some things have changed (music is now available on demand anytime, anywhere πŸ‘), some things haven’t changed (my knowledge is still the same as is my love for fast food πŸ˜‚) but some memories are indelible πŸ‘Œ. Thanks for creating that moment for me, TV Sankaranarayanan. Rest in peace πŸ™

Paradise Lost!

Playing Scrabble against a Grand Master rated computer opponent, after couple of consecutive wins I tried to make it a hat trick. At one point trailing 264-309 I found the perfect opportunity to take the lead when I hit the jackpot! Or, should I say I found paradise? 😊 With the word “paradise” I hit both the TWs (Triple Word score) at the right top. The result: I got 158 points (12 * 3 * 3 + 50) to zoom to 422 and take a handy 110+ point lead! Generally the computer blocks opportunities to score big by somehow finding words to place in squares with point multipliers. The reason I got an opportunity this time was because the computer struck the dagger first by playing “soulmate” and scoring a 50+ point word in its previous turn! We were both trading haymakers rest of the game. Things appeared to be going swimmingly for me as my score reached 487 with 5 pieces remaining for me to play and I had a 80+ lead till right before computer’s last turn (as it turned out). Astonishingly the computer not only managed to strike a dagger it managed to twist it for good. Using all the 7 pieces it had left it scored 83+ points to take the game 491-487. The win was also aided by the fact computer got credit for all the points in the 5 pieces I still had left to play. Another high scoring thriller turned into a heartbreaker. Such is a game and such is life! 😭 How did I feel afterwards? What I felt must have been akin to what Smokin’ Joe Frazier might have felt after his “Thrilla in Manila” battle with Muhammad Ali! Battered and bruised, fighting a bigger and more fancied opponent, an opponent with a bigger reach (in Scrabble terms more expansive dictionary) as Smokin’ Joe was getting ready to fight the last round his corner threw in the towel as both his eyes were shut with the blows taken earlier in the fight and he had been fighting practically blind the earlier rounds (He did not have vision in one eye in his fighting career, in this fight the other eye was swollen and shut with the blows taken). A practical move that ultimately might not have been needed! If Joe had been allowed to fight the last round he would have won the fight as Ali collapsed with exhaustion as he as he got up from his stool ready to fight the last round. Did not matter. Joe’s corner had already thrown in the towel. 😒
Yes, like Joe, I felt a bit robbed πŸ‘Žand it felt like “Paradise Lost!”. Would be poetic justice if I could the word “paradise” again in another game and win. That would make it my own version of “Paradise Regained!”. πŸ˜ƒ
Sorry, John Milton ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Milton ) , did not mean to appropriate your work in any way and you can rest assured the chance my version of “Paradise Regained!” working out is slim to none! 😊
Life lesson: Results may not always match effort, expectation or seem fair. Doesn’t matter if one is able to get up with determination to fight after being down. πŸ‘πŸ™

(Un)fun words of the day: Beerier, Sorptive, Vivat!

Let’s take a look at the meaning of words of the day.
beerier: 1. smelling or tasting of beer. 2. given to drinking beer
sorptive: 1. The process of sorbing 2. The state of being sorbed [Back-formation from absorption and adsorption.]
vivat: A cry wishing someone long life and prosperity

I am not going to try to use beerier, sorptive or vivat in a sentence. Those words are not part of my regular vocabulary and will not make for interesting read. A story is more interesting though! Here we go!
What is life without a challenge? Dull and uninteresting, right? That was my thinking when I decided to take on grandmaster rated computer opponent in Scrabble word game. How has the experience been? I have been getting schooled pretty much every game πŸ˜ƒ Good old fashioned country ass whooping would be a fair and more colorful description. πŸ˜‚ Akin to a chess enthusiast playing a chess grandmaster. Let’s take a look at one of the games (picture attached to the post). It started promisingly when I started with a 50+ score for the word, ralline (which means of, relating to, or resembling the rails), a word I was not aware of but tried in desperate way to start strong and apply pressure. How did the computer respond? With back to back 50+ scores playing the words “wargamer” and “ukuleles”, sending me staggering back. The coup de grace came when the computer played “yatching” for a triple word score with a 50 point bonus thrown in for all using 7 seven letters in a turn. Against lesser rated opponents one or two 50 point bonus scores and final score of over 300 is good enough for a win by a comfortable margin. Playing against the grandmaster it’s just good for a crushing defeat. Some games after scoring over 400 I have found myself losing by over 100 points! Overall it’s been a humbling and learning experience for sure. In one game finding myself trailing by quite a bit spotted an opportunity to play the eff word. No luck, the word used to express a wide range of emotions was not recognized by the game even though it’s a valid word and supposed to be a Scrabble word πŸ‘Ž WTHeck doesn’t pack the same power as WTF. Sounds unfun, eh? Sorry, mate, we are out of luck there too. 😑 Unfun may be a valid word in urban dictionary, meaning lack of fun, but it’s not a valid scrabble word.

With just a lone win and dozens of losses to show why do I still play against grandmaster rated computer opponent? That’s a valid question as it seems like a lost cause. Few reasons. Playing against stronger opponent is a way to measure one’s level, improve and stay humble. It’s just a game and unlike real life where at times all may appear to be lost when one’s words may get twisted, one’s intentions may be doubted, one’s actions may be questioned. By people who should know better. For no good reason. In real life perception and emotions reign supreme, right or wrong. Life still goes on. πŸ‘ You play hard but fair, you win some, you lose some. There is something to be said about losing with dignity. Nothing is lost if dignity stays intact IMHO. That’s a great life lesson and worth learning πŸ™

Words of the day: Jo, Ka, Ki, Qi, Xi, Za!

Today’s theme is 2-letter words with emphasis on Scrabble word game. Six words, not very verbose! The words of the day are Jo, Ka, Ki, Qi, Xi, Za!

Without further ado let’s start with dictionary meaning of the words. In alphabetic order below are the words and their meaning.

Jo: sweetheart, dear. Often used in addressing a person

Ka: (in ancient Egypt) the supposed spiritual part of an individual human being or God, which survived (with the soul) after death and could reside in a statue of the person.

Ki: A term indicating intrinsic energy; usually associated with martial art – karate, judo, aikido, etc – practitioners who consider ki important to performing at the highest level.

Qi: the circulating life force whose existence and properties are the basis of much Chinese philosophy and medicine.

Xi: the fourteenth letter of the Greek alphabet. In astronomy the fourteenth star in a specified constellation

Za: short for pizza

No post is complete without a story though πŸ˜ƒ

In recent times I have been playing Scrabble on my tablet with virtual opponents. Why virtual opponents? They are always ready to play and there is no risk of offending them inadvertently unlike humans who can get emotional at times and react strongly, justified or not. There is no risk of pissing off virtual opponents πŸ˜„

The advantage of using above words is that it’s easier to use high scoring Scrabble letters like J, K, Q, X, Z (due to relatively lesser # of words in the dictionary with those letters) for words on the board as they just need a supporting vowel already on the board. Also, there is less dependency on other supporting letters that may be needed generally. For example, every word other than “Qi” that I know with letter “q” needs the letter “u”. A strategically placed high score letter like Q and Z can also yield high-yielding dividends if they are placed on double or triple word or letter squares! However, it can also be a double-edged sword. Let me explain. When I first started playing, I noticed that the virtual opponents were not using the above 2-letter words much and I was getting away with high scoring words easily. After I played the virtual characters more often, I noticed lessons of previously played games were absorbed and used against me 😑 While working hard to create high scoring position for difficult letters the virtual opponent would swoop in to play words to block my high scoring opportunity. So, a square with letter ‘a’ on it and a triple-word square available above or to the left would turn into a high scoring “Za” for the virtual opponent leaving me shaking my head in frustration. 😑 Hard to imagine a slice of pizza leaving a bad taste but that’s how it feels when that happens 😭 Even in that there is a life lesson learned. In real life there are times when one does all the hard work only to find someone else take the credit. As in life, so in game! There are opportunities to learn life lessons anywhere, anytime, any occasion! πŸ‘

Guilty Pleasures Series: #2 – Nature and wildlife documentaries

I am always filled with amazement whenever I watch nature and wildlife documentaries on TV. The majesty of huge trees in woods, the feline grace of a wild cat, the natural beauty of flowers and birds, the grandeur of high mountains and big rivers, the vastness of the oceans and the variety of marine life are all awe inspiring and humbling at the same time. They are worth traveling many a mile to catch a glimpse of. The next best thing of course is watching them in the comforts of the living room (Sorry, no TVs in my bedrooms πŸ˜ƒ). As impressive as the sights are equally impressive is the passion, dedication, patience and effort put in by the crews working on the documentaries. It’s always a pleasure to appreciate the beauty of nature.

What do I feel guilty about? Me being me about a few things.

1) There is always a sense of sadness on seeing that flora and fauna alike are getting endangered alike due to increasing demands of human race. Forests appear to be making way for fields to grow food grains or for construction. Bodies of water are shrinking to accommodate human water needs.

2) While it’s thrilling to watch a wild cat hunting for its prey and that’s its natural instinct it’s sad to see any life getting lost. I still distinctly remember a wildlife documentary about Africa in which a pack of lions attack an elephant at night when elephants do not have good sight. During the day and when elephants are in a group the lions do not stand a chance. So, the lions gang up, isolate an elephant at night and attack from all sides.

3) With so many plants and animals thinning in numbers I wonder if we will be the last generation lucky enough to see tigers, elephants and other endangered plants and animals in person. Will posterity be content on watching how it used to be on video?

Wouldn’t it be great if humans and animals can communicate with each other in a language both can understand and speak? Humans could learn a few things from animals like being able to sense changes in weather and also learning to survive in extreme conditions without needing much. Animals could learn from humans to be more organized and harnessing natural resources for their needs. I wonder about what goes through the mind of animals that are in danger and running for their dear life. What is the thought process of all the small fish that get gobbled by bigger fish. There are insects with a life span of just a few hours. If God has created everything there has to be purpose for every living thing. Without a purpose it doesn’t make sense. I keep asking myself a basic question. What is the purpose of everything that has life? πŸ™

Learning while playing!

It’s been another turbulent week for the world. Seeing people leave everything behind for safety has been distressing to watch. Such is human conflict that it affects the most vulnerable the most. Hopefully there will be a peaceful resolution soon and the damage can be limited to what it is at this time. On to something light to lift up the spirits.

It’s amazing that one can learn in the most unexpected places. I was playing scrabble online with a virtual opponent, Freya! For those interested Freya is a mythical Asgardian appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics, based on the Norse deity of the same name. Within the context of the stories, Freya is the Asgardian goddess of fertility. She appears as a supporting character of Thor. The game started and Freya played the word CUE. It was a miscue as the pieces I had gave me an opportunity for a bonus. Guess what the word was that I played? OLIGARCH! Got a 50 point bonus for using all seven letters in one try. I am thinking oligarchs still have high value on a scrabble board at least. The game progressed and virtual opponent Freya pushed her luck when she snucked in a Y after OLIGARCH. Too bad for Freya because by then the bite of sanctions had started to sink in and the value of OLIGARCHY had already started depreciating πŸ˜‰ Game mirrors life at times and reflects current reality. Norse character Freya/Freyja is supposed to be in charge of love, fertility, battle, and death and this is one battle she lost. The lesson: Betting on a oligarch may work once but in the long run betting on oligarchy is risky! πŸ™

Not a bad life lesson to learn playing a word game, eh 😊