The loss of taste for poetry and music is a loss of happiness – Charles Darwin.
‘Aaroha’ means love, but it has a musical connotation too. The ascending notes in a musical scale is called ‘Aaroha’. A recent play, produced by Bhoomija to celebrate its tenth year, straddled the worlds of poetry and music and was titled ‘Aaroha’. Both music and poetry held their own independent place in the play, but at some point they came together as if it was inevitable.
The elegant stage was studded with 20 young musicians — 12 on the violin, and the rest on sarangi, flute, mandolin, cello, keyboard, guitar, mridangam and tabla. To the faint strains of the violin, veteran actor Srinivas Prabhu, known for his impeccable command over the Kannada language, rendered lines from a poem that drew up an unconventional idea of home. In the Vedic analysis of negation and inquiry – Neti Neti – home is not physical structure, home is a sensorium of sounds and emotions, of people and voices, and like the Vedic interpretation, also an expression of something inexpressible. Every musician therefore — big and small — comes home to ‘Lambodara lakumikara’, an early lesson in raga Malahari . A mellow, and leisurely rendition of this initiation song for students of Carnatic music drew members of the audience into the performance.
From the very first song, it was evident that senior violinist Mysore Manjunath, adept in both Indian and Western classical styles of music, had conceptualised the show with immense clarity and brilliance. The idiom was Carnatic, but the execution was Western. Unless the violinist was playing solo, most collective renditions were minimal on gamakas. Given the orientation of the music and musicians in manodharma sangeetam, scaling down the gamakas gave it a fine sense of harmony. The tone and tenor, volume and texture of the ensemble was on an operatic scale — it worked like a whisper, subtle and nuanced. The young musicians were in total sync with Manjunath’s vision and executed the pieces flawlessly.
Along the way, poetry pushed the theme of love to the worldly realm, giving it a romantic twist.
Juxtaposed with this was also a poetry that described the mother-child bonding. Poets like Bendre, Narasimha Swamy, Kuvempu, Shakespeare and more made their appearance on the same stage as Tyagaraja and Purandaradasa. Rich metaphors and stunning imagery shared space with the creative magnificence of great music masters. Kiravani, Nalinakanti, Charukesi,… flowed with amazing restraint creating an oeuvre of dignity and grandeur. Manjunath’s violin renditions were brilliant, even his vocal exposition was striking for its emotive quality.
Sound design of the play needs special mention. Even a slightly higher output would have altered the entire experience. The play ended with Gandhiji’s favourite ‘Raghupathi Raghava Raja Ram’. Like a tree that has many branches but is bound by a single root, should the country also have one prayer that celebrates the plurality of its gods and people?
Playwriting, design, and direction were by S. Surendranath, and art by S.G. Vasudev. Through the play the title ‘Aaroha’ grows in meaning, after all art is an ever-expanding idea.
The Bengaluru-based writer is a freelance journalist.