'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

"Henry Ford Believes..."

"Henry Ford believes that even a machine needs rest.

"When asked why he favored short hours for workers, Henry Ford said that no good engineer will run even a machine at the limit of its power and speed for very long.

"It hurts the machine. It is NOT sentimentalism to take care of machines - or men. It is plain common sense and efficiency.

"Sleep recharges the batteries of energy. It repairs and keeps in working order the fine mechanism of the human body. When you are tired or run down, sound sleep winds you up for the succeeding day.

"It is good judgement and economy therefore to own and use the kind of BEDDING that will give you deep and restful sleep.

"Spare ten minutes tonight to get acquainted with the bed you sleep on. Then go to your furniture dealer and compare what you are using with the SIMMONS springs and mattresses he offers in a wide range of styles and prices.

"Weigh the facts and decide whether you are getting the energy-restoring rest your living machine needs - and can now enjoy at such moderate cost"


The above is the ad for Simmons "Beds, Mattresses and Springs (Built for Sleep)" from the August 1923 National Geographic Magazine.

Here in Pune, you sometimes find old and very old National Geographics at 'book fairs' which keep happening at the 'Institute of Engineers'. I am trying to collect them for their ads - and also occasionally enjoy the 'datedness' of their articles!

Some Thoughts On 'Synaesthesia'

Happened to read the Wikipedia article about Synesthesia and a lecture by V.S.Ramachandran (the 4th lecture in a series called 'Reith Lectures' - titled 'Purple Numbers and Sharp Cheese'; available online) on this very interesting neurological phenomenon. This post is from a layman's perspective.

- "When I listen to an old, sad melody, I experience a breeze within - a soft, cool, gentle, BLUE breeze."

To self, this statement describing a complex interplay of sensations of sound, color, texture and temperature captures the quintessence of of synaesthesia.

The association within Hindustani music between Ragas and times of the day and seasons is often uncannily resonant. They way 'Lalit' sounds before daybreak, how 'Bhoopali' captures the atmosphere of the dawn perfectly and 'Darbari' and 'Malkauns' enhance the tranquility of late night really seem to be truely synaesthetic experiences.

One of my vivid memories from the mid 1980's is of a long car journey on a monsoon day - it was pouring all the way and very gloomy and the car had a tape player running the same set of songs over and over - among all those songs the Malayalam song 'Thengum hridayam' had made a very unique impact. Many years later, I found that it was set in the Raga 'Megh' which is said to be perfect for the rainy day.

Still, I cannot quite classify my experience (and those of millions of other Hindustani lovers) as definitely synaesthetic; even earlier in life, I had seen movies *showing* 'Megh songs' in a rainy setting and thus it probably was only a case of a subconscious association made between the song and sound patterns heard earlier in a similar setting. More recently, I happened to hear some 'electrified' folk songs from the African country of Mali (album: 'Mali - Acoustic and Electric' from the series 'Hemisphere'). The basic pattern of most of those songs could be mapped to Raga Megh. And it would be very unlikely that the people of Mali (which lies deep in the Sahara desert) would have associated this pattern with *rains*!

The 'synaesthetic' quote at the top, if I remember right, was due to the late Malayalam movie actor M.G.Soman. Many years ago, some Malayalam magazine had conducted a survey among celebrities with the question: "What is your favorite color?" and this sentence was part of Soman's response - obviously, he chose 'blue'!


Indeed Ramachandran's 4th Reith Lecture tries to develop a comprehensive theory on the very origin of language based on 'Synaesthetic Bootstrapping'. I have an issue here. Although he almost summarily dismisses Chomsky and Pinker's thoughts on the origin of language, to self, Chomsky's take that Homo Sapiens has something qualitatively unique ("miraculous") among animals for it (us) to have something like 'language' and the mechanism Ramachandran proposes do NOT appear to be in conflict. It can even be argued that the latter has actually produced evidence for the Chomskian picture by postulating a possible mechanism by which something very special could have happened to our species. It is common knowledge (say for instance in Physics) that even a gradual increase in complexity in a system can sometimes lead to DISCONTINUOUS change(s) in its state, with fundamentally different new properties emerging. So, once the "cross-wirings" in the brain increase beyond a certain threshold (by 'normal' evolution, as Pinker said), we might just have completely new effects emerging, possibly via synaesthetic bootstrapping - language, music, religion...- although even the sheer number of such unique attributes our species enjoys is mindboggling!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A Musical Evening Full Of Surprises

Attended the 'Sawai Gandharva Music Festival' yesterday. 'Bhartiya Baithak' (you sit on hard ground in various contorted postures and keep craning your neck in various directions determined by the movements of guys in front of you, to retain a glimpse of the action on stage) was a pain at the obvious spots when persisted with for a long time. But then, how else can one get over 6 hours of live concert music for 100 Indian rupees?!

Violinist Kala Ramnath performed solo, more than a decade after I saw her accompany Pandit Jasraj at Kalakshetra in Chennai. I can't comment much on her virtuosity although her music sounded very pleasant; and yes, her smile still is what it then was!

Jasraj, who performed last, provided a few surprises.

- 1. He joked with the audience in Marathi sophisticated enough to elude my own grasp of the language - felt bad about not being much more than a rank beginner at it (and this is my sixth winter in Pune).
Today I came to know that his wife is Marathi so the surprise is a bit reduced. Still, my task remains cut out.

- 2. He sang with as much power and energy as he had done at Kalakshetra. Some of his 'taans' and other flourishes showed amazing energy and control - the technicalities therein are beyond me to comment upon. Age seems to have simply passed him by, touch wood!

- 3. He presented a 'khayal' in Darbari (I guess) which went: "Hazrat Khwaja...". That was something new; I never knew there were khayal compositions in honor of Sufi Muslim mystics!

Note: I used to know a certain eminent and 'much decorated' Indian Physicist with very 'westernized' values who once declared (he also held strong political(ly correct) views and was very articulate and influential - often devastatingly so - in certain rarefied circles): "This Jasraj fellow, I can't stand him. He is probably the only insider who says 'Hindustani' music is basically 'Hindu' and should be 'purified' of all Islamic influences. Pathetic, in a realm such as Music, one has characters like that!" I had never heard anything at variance with (or for that matter supporting) this judgement. So, surprise 3 was actually a 'double surprise'. Of course, I have no intention arguing with the Physicist.

And yes, on the way back home around midnight, while crossing the Yerawada bridge, I saw a near perfect half-moon hanging just above the western horizon, leaving a long trail of pure silver over (of all things!) the incredibly putrid waters of the Mula-Mutha. That was surprise number 4 for the evening!

Update for 9th December: Gundecha Brothers performed in 'Dhrupad' style. They were remarkably matter-of-fact - they came, saluted the audience and the stage, tuned their 'Tampuras' very meticulously, sang a longish spell of Raga Marwa with just 'noon's, 'te's, 'nee's, 're's (and did it marvelously), sang a short lyric in the same Raga, said: "We will now conclude with Charukesi", presented a short composition in that Raga (again doing a wonderful job), saluted the audience, declined fervent cries of "one more please!" with smiles and more salutations and left.

The brothers made quite a pair in resplendent yellow kurtas. And yes, they seem to have aged noticeably from the young faces that had featured on the blurb of their 'Young Masters' series cassette.