There is no greater state to attain in Life than when you are able to recognize that you are merely an instrument for divinity to work through you, for your spiritual talent to flow through you.
A couple of evenings ago, my soulmate Vaani and I visited Chennai’s famed Ragasudha Hall, an intimate performance space in Mylapore. It hosts music concerts all through the year. And particularly during Chennai’s music and dance season in December, it is abuzz with some great music and performances.
When Vaani and I decided to go to Ragasudha, we were simply hoping to listen to some good music. We did not know who was performing in the prime time concert slot that evening. Before we entered the hall, we paused to look at the board that lists the day’s performances. It read: Grand concert by Alamelu Mani.
Who is Alamelu Mani?
“Who is Alamelu Mani,” we wondered, as we seated ourselves.
A felicitation ceremony was underway on stage just then. The speaker, dancer Nandini Ramani, was paying glowing tributes to her guru. We soon reckoned that the guru was an old lady who was seated on the stage. What was striking was that the old lady was unmoved by all that was being spoken about her. She sat there, looking content; perhaps even a tad uncomfortable with all the attention she was receiving. When the old lady delivered her acceptance speech, she was modest and brief; she graciously thanked her gurus for their guidance and blessings.
We soon gathered that she was Alamelu Mani.
I thought to myself: “Wow! This lady looks very old, very senior. She must be in her late seventies, early eighties. Is she the one who is going to perform?”
Intrigued, I googled her name. I was amazed by what I quickly read up online. Now, there were very few links on her. But the couple of links that I read got me acquainted with this quiet, grand, old lady:
- She’s 87.
- Music has guided, led and shaped her whole Life.
- She’s been performing for over 75 years now.
- She’s been teaching music at the South Indian School Of Music for close to 60 years; she’s the principal of the school.
- She lost her husband, H.A.S.Mani, when she was barely 28. He was the founder of the music school and was the one who had initiated Alamelu into carnatic music.
- She’s the mother of acclaimed singer Hariharan.
I shared the links I had read with Vaani. And urged her to look them up too. As the felicitations continued, Vaani and I hung on to every word about Alamelu. One of the speakers called her a banyan tree that had embraced many, many students and shaped their musical journeys. Another speaker called her a maestro and crowned her the “queen of raga purvikalyani” – saying none can sing the raga like the way she can.
A grand concert, indeed
And then Alamelu performed. Her performance was a quiet celebration of her mastery, her poise and her grace. It was devoid of any frills. It was precise, wholesome and endearing.
I must confess that I don’t know carnatic music at all. I can’t recognize compositions and certainly can’t tell whether a raga or a kriti is rendered well. So, I am not an aficionado. But I truly relish being at concerts. Almost always, I am in admiration of the rigor and precision that singers and performers bring to a concert.
Despite my inability to understand carnatic music, I can tell when the music connects with me. Alamelu Mani’s music connected with me that evening. Instantaneously. Witnessing her performance was like watching a batter on song in cricket. Alamelu was fluent. It was clear to me that her music was flowing through her.
There is no greater state to attain in Life than when you are able to recognize that you are merely an instrument for divinity to work through you, for your spiritual talent to flow through you. Alamelu exemplifies being in that state when she performs. There’s an effortlessness, there’s a joyful flow, which transcends the human form. This happens only when the divine is expressing itself through you.
As Vaani and I soaked in her music, we realized that the hall had filled up. Some of the people in the audience were in a state of rapture. And others were raising occasional toasts to Alamelu’s musical nuances, to her brilliance: They were either nodding feverishly in appreciation or were blissfully, unwittingly, making soft, affectionate, remarks in celebration.
I could discern that this experience was truly precious for anyone who was in the hall. I sat back to reflect on the magic and beauty of the moment: When we had walked in, we had no clue who Alamelu was. And here we were, basking in her aura, mesmerized by her mastery, her story – and her music.
There is a phrase in Urdu, “gustakhi mauf”. It means, “forgive (my/our) insolence.” Vaani and I seek forgiveness from Alamelu Mani, and from all connoisseurs of carnatic music, for us both not knowing of Alamelu earlier.
Why Alamelu Mani is important
We now surely know whoAlamelu Mani is. Plus, we also know why she is important. Indeed. Not just to the world of carnatic music, but to all of us.
In today’s hurried, impatient, world, she reflects a tehraav, a rare stillness. While everyone is chest-thumping on social media and crying hoarse saying, “Look at me, look at how great I am”, Alamelu makes no noise. She is unpretentious, humble and, in fact, invisible. She has no internet footprint to speak of. Period. This, despite all her experience, expertise and influence in the world of carnatic music. Now, that’s true greatness.
Someone performing a full-length concert at 87 is rare. In being able to do that, Alamelu showcases the enormous potential that the human form offers us if it is looked after well. It enables us to keep going despite the storms we have to weather in this journey called Life. It enables us to live well, to live happily and to express ourselves creatively. That’s one more context in which Alamelu is inspiring.
When an artiste offers their spiritual talent boundarylessly, limitlessly, without any expectation of any return, it shows. It shows in the way they are – dignified, calm, content and soaked in bliss. They glow with an inner joy. This is how Alamelu shone last evening.
The experience of getting to know of Alamelu, and of being touched by her music, is one more important milestone on our journey of distilling lessons on Life and Happiness from human stories.
Clearly, someone like Alamelu Mani is a beacon of light and hope in this broken world. In fact, every once in a way, it takes an Alamelu Mani to make a statement, firmly, strongly, with the sheer power of their spiritual talent. A resounding statement that drowns and silences the cacophony that has rendered most of the world tone-deaf.
Alamelu’s way of Life and her music remind us that to live fully, to thrive, we need to have devotion and discipline. Her Life teaches us that you don’t need acclaim or validation, you don’t need followership and you don’t need fame. You don’t need too much money either – just some money to provide for a few basics will do. What you need though is to follow your bliss: Do only what you love doing and do it diligently. All else always follows. This is intelligent living. It holds the key to contentment and Happiness.
The importance of being Alamelu Mani is more relevant than ever in today’s world. It is not just in her music, not just in her being a great teacher, or a powerful performer, it is in her very being. Even as everyone is rushing to become someone (else) or achieve something, she’s just being who she is, doing what loves doing. And she is doing it so, so well.
That is why she is important.
Additional, relevant, links:
- Rise In Love – a 2015-documentary, made by a young filmmaker Shalu C. While focusing on the journey of Vaani and AVIS, the film explores how love thrives in the face of adversity. Viewing time: 30.18 minutes.
- Fall Like A Rose Petal – AVIS’ first book. It is the true story of AVIS’ and Vaani’s Life. It captures learnings from the excruciating, fascinating, Life-changing, experience – a crippling bankruptcy – that they are still going through.
- Click here to know more about the happynesswalas TM, Vaani and AVIS.
- If you wish to seek Vaani’s and AVIS’ perspectives on a Life challenge you are faced with, please reach out here – Let’s Talk Happyness TM!