The Musical Sheikh

The royal family was delighted when the Queen gave birth to her fifteenth son. The Persian royalty were not averse to girl children, but they had to preserve the family name. Now there was no chance of it passing into oblivion.


The old Sheikh (who will remain unnamed for political reasons) looked proudly at his baby, which didn’t care to return his gaze. “Fifteen should do it,” he thought to himself happily. “He’ll never be King, but it’s always good to have standbys. Just in case.” He was so sure that this son would never be called upon to serve his country that he decided to be innovative with the child’s name. “I shall call him Vell,” he decided.


The young sheikh had a happy childhood, growing up being bullied and kicked around by his fourteen elder brothers and one younger sister. By the time he was twenty, only seven of them had died in inter-family disputes and civil wars. Clearly, his father had been overcautious.


The kingdom was not destined to be his. He would not be allowed to strike fear into the hearts of his subjects, imprison his uncles and cousins or sleep with a knife under the pillow to deal with potential assassinators. But the young sheikh craved such things. With politics being a closed door, he knew that the shortest routes to an exciting career lay in acting or music.


He figured that he had a natural affinity for acting, judging by the excellent reception his portrayal of an old tree had received back in the third grade (in truth, the audience was too scared of the royal family to boo). Moving to Lahore, he tried to get the film world to accept him as a new star. But his royal name did not go too far in this country – the producers at Lollywood Lol’ed at the sight of him. But Vell would not accept failure.


With the world of cinema failing to perceive his obvious talent, he took to music. After playing around with some Arabic pop, classic rock and club music, he decided that his talents lay in pure gangsta rap. Once his creative juices ran amok and revealed enough songs to put together an album, he placed all of his energy into landing a concert performance contract. The (by now not-so-young) Sheikh was not a crazy idealist – as a relative unknown, he knew that his only chance lay in opening for another relatively unknown band.


His relatively unknown agent tried hard to find the least relatively unknown band that would agree. Finally, a rock band called United State of Electronica, or USE, heard his music and were convinced enough that they were better than him to sign him on as an opener.


The Sheikh thought about his father, mother, and siblings and laughed quietly. Soon, he would be a famous man, eclipsing everything they had ever expected of him. Back home, royalty-obsessed local newspapers ran large headlines about the upcoming concert:


“Sheikh Vell Before USE”


Yes, I wrote this whole story just so that I could throw that last sentence in there. Sorry.

An Indian Music Player

I manage my music on an Apple product called iTunes. I’m not particularly fond of the application, but it makes it easy to sync to my iPod. In the world of music software, iTunes is the best compromise. And by definition, a compromise lacks the inner quality that would make it a truly definitive, all encompassing, ZOMG-this-is-what-I-dreamed-of music manager.

To borrow from the IT man’s jargon, iTunes is definitely not feature-rich (who am I kidding, that’s not IT jargon). Some of the features it does include are about as useful as trying to paint a sinking boat; it just might come in useful, but it’s not worth the hassle. Think about the green + sign on the left corner of the app – it doesn’t maximize the screen but launches the ridiculous ‘mini’ player, which manages to take away even more functionality. Or the iTunes store which, at the click of an accidental mouse press, eats up my bandwidth and turns the Pause button into a Stop.

It seems that Apple wants to make a music player that is as anodyne as possible in order maximize its market appeal. When was the last time such an approach resulted in a Great Product? Compromise is the last thing a truly Great Product has in mind. Look at Bugatti, for instance. They didn’t give two square inches of carbon fiber about what Joe the Plumber was driving when they designed the Veyron. And they made the greatest car in the world. Tata didn’t have time for people who care about superficial and unnecessary modern luxuries like leg room, air conditioning and a ride that minimizes permanent damage to the spinal cord – hence was born the Nano. The best small car in the world.

Similarly, what I want is a music player with some character and gusto, something unabashedly calling out to me, damn everyone else’s musical interests. Unfortunately, it seems that only someone like Sonia Gandhi will have access to such sycophantic tools.

Those who have considerable collections of Indian music – film or classical – will agree with me on this, I’m sure. So, Apple, here are some things you can and should do for us folks me:

  • If I have an album of Indian classical music, I don’t want the track name containing everything from the song title to the raga and thalam. Give me tags for both. Right now, I make do with entering the raga under the mysteriously named Grouping tag.
  • Lyrics. I don’t usually pay attention to them but, when I do, I like to know who the poet is.
  • Auto-correct A.R.Rehman to AR Rahman. And Illaiiyaraajaa to Ilayaraja.
  • Auto-recognize these important genres of music: ‘Rajni Intro Song,’ ‘Deva Copy’ and ‘Vaseegara wannabe’
  • Delimit the artist tag. “AR Rahman, Shreya Ghoshal” is not one artist, but two. This would also help keep my account from going crazy
  • Crash if someone attempts to add a Himesh Reshamaiyya song
  • Insufferable fanboys We Tamil folk love giving our celebrities special titles. We therefore demand a special ‘title’ tag for the singers/composer. This way, we get to idolize and pay respect to demigods like UlagaNayagan Kamal, Isai Puyal Rahman, Maestro Ilayaraja, or even a Little Super Star Simbu (for those unfortunate enough to have an mp3 of Loosu Penne sitting in their hard drive).

As you are well aware, Apple is a company that listens to consumers and accedes to their requests at lightning speed – think about the commendable rapidity with which they brought copy/paste to the iPhone. Don’t be surprised if the next iTunes meets my demands. Just remember where the ideas came from.

The One with the Different Weeks*

Please to excuse the rusty writing. Normal service will résumé soon.

It’s been a while since I’ve updated Ready, Steady, Vetti. While I have been ready with ideas (and have had rather steady hands since birth), the only reason I can offer for my delinquency is severe scarcity of the crucial third ingredient – Vettiness.

Spring 2010 is not a kind, gentle semester.

Following the trend set by notable predecessors like Fall 09 and Spring 09, it’s making a very valid threat to kick my ass. In order to protect my posterior from this perilous hazard, I have been hard at work. Taking time out from playing Fifa on the PS2 and Braid on my Mac (have I mentioned Braid before? It’s an incredibly brilliant game), I’ve been trying to make sense of classes like Machine Elements and Mechatronics. The latter is turning out to be a one semester crash course in Electrical Engineering (there’s a reason I’m not majoring in EE), while the former derives untold pleasure from inflicting misery and suffering on its pupils (so why am I majoring in ME? Certainly not because of classes like this). Meanwhile, my writing has floundered.

In my 3rd year, I have come to realize that every week in college is a busy week. But there are different kinds of busy weeks.

  • The Sneaky One (aka the Mudhugu Kuththal Vaaram):

This usually happens to me when I don’t have any midterms or tests coming up. As a result, I end up signing up to do things I don’t normally have the time for. There are only so many games/movies/sports you can fit into an ordinary week before realizing that, when it comes to kicking ass, homework is almost as good as an exam.

  • It’s not my fault

This is the one where you don’t have any major assignments or tests due in the course of the week. You realize this on the Sunday before the week starts, and yet you sit down a week later without a clue about where all that time went. Maybe time warps are real.

  • No school work, but no play:

This is a week where you don’t have much due as far as classes are concerned, and yet you don’t spend time indulging in recreational vettiness. In a week of this kind, you end up spending all your time doing stuff for a student organization.

  • A Weeke Moste Evil

The worst kind. When you have 2 mid-terms, a quiz, a project, 3 homework assignments, an interview and a presentation all due in the course of 7 days – that’s when you realize how stupid you were during registration.

*You can tell I’ve been watching a lot of Friends lately

The picture above was composed using free icons and art from:
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A Short Listening Exercise

Listen to Mitwa, the famous song from Lagaan, paying attention to the tone of the plucked instrument in the first 60 seconds.

Listen to the beginning of another AR Rahman song, this time from the movie Indira (especially the portion beginning at 0:14). Listening to the rest of this brilliant song is an added bonus, but is beyond the scope of this exercise.

Pay heed to a song composed by Amit Trivedi from Dev D. The first 13 seconds would do:

Each of these songs has a distinctly different tune, but the similarity in the instrumentation is uncanny. Is it because of the instrument used?

What’s in a name?

Scene 1:
For the longest time in school, I went by Girish SJ. Obviously, my teachers in Singapore could never pronounce the full forms of my initials: the S (Sreenivas) and the J (Jayaraman) were way too hard for their untrained tongues. That’s not to say they didn’t try (their attempts can be a post in itself), but I tried to keep things simple. Girish SJ was simple.

Scene 2:
Zoom to Chennai, India. Here, students were attuned to placing their initials before, not after their name. I, however, continued with trusty old Girish SJ, despite disapproval from several quarters (and octants). I even had a close friend tell me once that I was disrespecting my father by placing his initial (J) after my name. I could go by J Girish S, but this wasn’t keeping things simple.

Scene 3:
A few years later, when SJ Suryaah hit the height of his fame (or should I say notoriety), it wasn’t too long before some genius discovered that my initials matched those of that thespian. Soon, everyone was calling me SJ Girish and followed it by giggling like blithering idiots. Which they were. Now, Girish SJ had survived a lot in its time, but comparisons with SJ Suryaah (“Are you his brother? Hehehe”) were too much even for its stoic character. I therefore felt obliged to switch to something else – and I turned to Girish Sreenivas J. My pens ran out of ink faster and it took me longer to finish my exams, but I wasn’t complaining.

Scene 4:
After arriving in the US for college, it was made clear that one’s last name could not be an initial. I was no longer Girish Sreenivas – I became Girish Jayaraman. More officially, I became Girish S Jayaraman. Even more officially, I became Girish Sreenivas Jayaraman. All 24 letters of it. After a while, even a new version of your name can grow on you. I now write “Girish Jayaraman” in my notebooks without batting an eyelid; in the past, I wouldn’t have considered such a travesty unless a country’s existence counted on it.

Scene 5:
In the online world, however, why worry about such formalities? When I started a Twitter account, I decided to go for a simple User ID – and what better than the astoundingly creative GirishSJ? Even when I started this blog and wanted a simple url, GirishSJ was the trusty friend I turned to.

Well, things were working out fine until, out of the blue, Twitter decided that it too must have some fun at my expense. A few days ago, for no reason at all, GirishSJ became girishsj on Twitter. Just like that. No request. No warning. No phone calls asking for my approval.

I am sure you appreciate the world of difference between GirishSJ and girishsj. The capital letters add a touch of class and elegance. More importantly, they make it clear that my name isn’t supposed to be pronounced ‘gireeshesju’ (a lot of people in this country have trouble pronouncing it as it is). Trying to control the damage, I went to my Twitter settings and tried to change things to what they used to be. But no – Twitter, known for its tremendous mood swings, didn’t feel like cooperating. The best I could do was Girish_SJ, but underscores are so 1998.

I guess Girish SJ just has to deal with all that life throws at it. If only the world liked simple things.

PS. I’m assuming that you type in to get to this blog. NOT No.