Thursday, March 12, 2009

The value of Tenacity in Youth

Recently, I had attended a Music Programme by the University Brass Band of my alma mater. The programme, I think, might have been, part of the farewell season. The stadium stage was very elegantly decorated. Lemon juice was being served optionally, to riverside walkers like me who insist that music, cool winds, gang chat and late evening moonlight should always be accompanied by a glass of drink. I thought of insisting on pop-corn, but I dropped the idea, thinking that they may be forced to put a footer in the email invitation next time, saying attendees may please bring their own pop-corn. The performance was electrifying and included a couple of spiritual remixes of my favorite Rahman tracks, and was probably one of the biggest in the few years. In the end, they invited one of the veteran singers in the community, to speak a few words. I think, he must have been invited ad-hoc from the stage after the performers spotted him in the audience. He was full of praise for the way in which the Band has consistently grown over the years saying 'We may not participate in the inter-collegiate competitions which is held elsewhere, but the talent we have at the Hostel is one of the best.' However, this post is not about how great a particular band is and some other is not. It's about the connection between music and college education in our times.

Many of these students hadn't had a formal training in music before they were picked up to train for the band, that's the beauty of the event and a demonstration of the value of tenacity in a right learning environment. There is usually a little test of music sense held a couple of weeks after you join the degree course. If you clear the test, you would be picked up for being groomed for the brass band or other music groups. I remember very well how I flopped terribly at this test, for all the music I thought I always had in my heavy head. While I had conjured up non-existent questions like the difference between Ada Taalam and Adi Taalam, the test turned out to be a simple but effective one, just to quickly check whether you had a music sense, not whether you were a musician. The examiner asked me to sing or hum the first few lines of a popular Ganesh Bhajan, which he confirmed from me that I was familiar with. I messed up the beat right in the opening word. The next flop was even stupid. He asked me if I can hum a tune that is played by a band during March Past. As I raked my brain to recollect that tune which was just below my throat but refusing to bubble up, he probably thought I didn't know what a March Past was, and helpfully hinted "you know, the music they play when they march left-right". Hehehehe, I had heard it, but again hehehehe, I sheepishly gave up. He didn't have to comment regarding the result. That day, I also understood the inner significance of why my violin teacher, eight years earlier, had told me that I will flourish well in tabla instead of violin. Ahaaa, why did he have to be so diplomatic to a teenager ? May be, he didn't want to hurt the sentiments of someone who purchased a second-hand cycle and a second-hand violin and travelled 3 km each way for 3 months to find out that certain areas of interest should be earmarked for future births. However, this post is not about the ones who failed, but about the ones who succeeded by their tenacity.

I remember my room-mate and classmate during my MBA, who went through the same test. No one even faintly guessed he had a musical streak in him but he was selected to train for the band, on cymbals. I am not sure if he still continues his interest in music while working with SAP. I used to admire the way in which these guys would apply themselves regularly and consistently, starting almost from nothing. Most of the time, the 'teacher' would be mostly a college senior, a member of the band who plays the same instrument and may be in his final year. Other times, you were your own teacher. They would be found practicing in groups or repeating and perfecting what they have learnt earlier, sometimes near the library, sometimes at the stadium, sometimes on the Hanuman Hill and all the time humming at their cupboards. Their public performances would have to be of impeccable quality and they would leave no stone unturned to see to it that it was. Not that the hostel schedule was any lighter, they would have to go through what we called "life is an interval between two bells". Starting from nowhere, from a hum test, by the time their stay for 3, 5 or 7 years in the Hostel gets over, they would have mastered the instrument, become adept at performing as a band and given quite a few public performances in glory. Quite often, at the farewell functions, both the artists who performed for a jugalbandhi would be introduced as "both learnt the instrument on their own after joining the first year".

Youth is clay. It gets moulded the way you shape it. It applies itself to what you point to it. It succeeds in whichever skill you inspire it to learn. Our small towns have lots of it and waiting for the proper direction and bringing together. If the best of our institutes can incubate the start-ups seeded by their management graduates, in the small towns, all the hidden potential talent in music, sports and literature can and should be incubated and groomed in those three years, the best prime time of our youth. I know students who joined as dwarfs, literally, but would apply themselves at sports so rigorously and regularly, finding time between Yoga and learning Vedam and few other varied skills, and would finish by captaining Basketball and the Volleyball teams in their final year. Application, Focus, Tenacity, the mantras of success, are sown, learnt, tested and demonstrated, best when you are in college. This is true, not just about music, but about any area which you choose for yourself. Like in this post from Randezvous Perceptions which mentions decoration.

I remember the small town college in which I had done my UG. For a sleepy little tobacco town, we had all kinds of extra-curricular associations, the Toastmasters Club, a Tamil literature club called Thamarai Vattam, a Personality Development course all of which I would juggle with. There were many after-college courses, in addition to the village camps of NSS, the Adult Education campaigns and the free eye camps organised by Arvind Hospitals with volunteering from students. Some colleges had courses on Arabic, Gandhian Economics and Agarbatti making. I remember explaining about a computer and taking Rs.100/- from my mother for a WordStar course, for this "new computer cheej", 100 rupees for 10 days-10 classes, everyday one hour. It might have been glorified typing at the time, but it led me to the next Rs.100/- course in the Basic language, a field that would catch my fascination and I would settle in. In contrast, however, the band wasn't a great place. It would mostly consist of people who already knew how to perform, played a few jumping numbers and the only occasion I remember they played seriously was after the college union elections. That I failed at the music test even there is something you should not ask about. If you conduct a test now, I would fail, but I would show up again at the next test, until you notify Security to disallow losers. Even then, since I wouldn't call myself one, I might take a printout of this post and try to convince the gatekeeper.. May be I believe, if I fail all tests in this birth, success will be instantaneous in the next birth and my opening cry will be a Thyagarja Kirtan ??

It's not just about extra-curricular interest and development of a versatile personality, it's also about the direction at which these talents are directed and the shapes they take after the skill is mastered. The value of tenacity invested at that time of life, is invaluable in the later years. Ironically, as life would have it, those who skipped it would realise it only in the later years and those who apply themselves in concerted self-development will fondly remember those days as the most productive as well as enriching phase of their lives. The excellence streak in Youth is ready to proliferate if we can create a culture that promotes positive action and a formal or informal reward environment that recognises positive application of such effort. This YouthCurry blog post makes a passing reference on how bands in colleges have a short, rocky existence and interest wanes after a while. May be there is nothing much we can do, is it ? No. Band or not, one of the things that a college or university, should do, is to create an environment or culture that promotes versatility, tenacity and recognising the value of higher inspiring goals for application of such effort, whatever you define such noble goals to be. If our colleges continue to just exploit the energy and passionate zeal of the youth to the benefit of frivolous areas, waste them into controversies and be chaltha-hai about irresponsibility, instead of focussing on developing richness in their thinking patterns and preparing them to be responsible citizens, desh ka band bajega.

P.S. As to those millions of readers who are pining to know the answer to why I haven't blogged for long... I won't feel off as if I was Stephen King and attribute it to Writer's Block. I would instead take refuge in this many-faced fellow blogger's succinct reference to a famous punch dialogue : Sneeze, Cough, Hiccup, Yawn, blah blah blah and Blogging Ideas do not come when we demand it. We cannot stop it when they come and we cannot hold them back when they leave.


  1. nams,
    I think the wait for 6 months was worth. Nice and thoughtful insights. looking forward to more...

  2. A good laid back reading, as against heavy stuff of yours :)

    Band, yes... it continues to be the envy of people like us... though we cherish being part of this proud 'gang' of university, we not part of that group does make us feel bad n-times => Band :)

    The only consolation is what Naams has put up (of next janma default settings)

    Naams, I wont say, keep them (posts) coming... for you cannot stop them when they come, isnt it? :P
    I wont say, waiting for more... they anyway wont appear when we demand it, right?
    But, do blog them as they appear for they cannot be held back; before they begin leaving - saddened by the thought that they were not penned (or typed) down turn beginning their journey looking for other masters... :)

  3. Nice one Namaji. Reminded me of those Band days. Thanks

  4. It reminded me of the band test I have taken ;-)

  5. Hmmmm. Band... For me, it was the other way round. Never knew that within year I would graduate from a learner to a self-assumed instructor. For that matter, never knew that there was an innate talent for music in me. And that is the manner in which it happens for a majority in the band.

  6. Good post and worth the wait. D.R.S Namaji is another R.K. Narayan in the making... eagerly expecting some master pieces (Dindugal Days and/or Parthi Diaries?) from the Riverside Walker.

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  8. What else can I say but misquote Mahakavi Bharathi,

    "Isai oru Pal-Valli Pol"

    Music is like a tooth ache. When you have it you have to pluck it out.(When you are inspired, you have to sing). Some of us pluck out our rotten teeth which are promptly chucked out. For others however it ends up being a gold tooth(or should I say BRASS tooth)

    Nice read. However felt J of you for having finished your word and basic courses for the fraction of the cost I had to shell out for my type-writing class.

  9. very well written Srini. Was good to read something flowing so fluently from your pen ( keyboard, i mean)

  10. Actually, u have played a beautiful band-tune through your pen... i enjoyed it!


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THANK YOU: These reflections draw sometimes from readers and friends who initiate ideas, build up discussions, post comments and mention interesting links, some online and some over a cup of coffee or during a riverside walk. Thank you.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this blog are the blogger's personal opinions and made in his individual capacity, sometimes have a story-type approach, mixing facts with imagination and should not be construed as arising from a professional position or a counselling intention.