What we all think about Magic called traditional music… Just sheer wonder, divine, special, only chosen few are gifted with the ability of music and in that too very rare people are endowed with a gift of being a performer.
Well… Erode Nagaraj is one such divinely gifted person, a performer par excellence, a mrundangist gifted with uncanny ability of the rhythm.
Born in a lower middle class traditional family, in a village called Gedhe surrounded by hills and mountains on all sides near Nilgiris, near silent valley national park. He Smilingly says that Might be the reason for his love for wild animals, forest, snakes, river.. in short divine nature and remember all the natural sounds and rhythm attached to it. Nagaraj’s father worked for Tamil Nadu Electricity board, in the power houses situated around Nilgiris. He was born in 1970, youngest child after five children.
What I noticed among many polio survivors (including me) that we are always ahead of our physical/childhood milestones. May be we leave enough memories before for our folks to talk about.
To put Nagaraj’s condition in his own hilarious words of ability…
he says “No. I got polio only when I was two and a half years old. In fact, I stood up, walked and run at when I was only 8 months old. A neighbor paatti was always wondering and saying, rather complaining that, “even in an early stage like just 8 months naagaa nadakkaRaan (nagarajan is walking); my granddaughter is one and half years old and she is not…”Remember that aluminum boxes existed once with school goers? I used to hold the handle and pulling them, of course without wheels, and run around. In general, the awareness of polio vaccine was meager and the society was in dark about all these, especially in a place where it is not a city or town during the early 70’s.
So it struck him neck below at the age of two years and half. It really tugs the listeners heart when Nagaraj jokingly says ” I was completely paralyzed, all I could do when someone shows a chocolate to me is… Stick My Tongue Out..Lying on a Bed !!”
The Journey of life time rehabilitation started from that point… The care and anxiety of parents, different treatments from Kerala to Calipers to various Oil baths etc.. etc.. what not.. you name it.. they did it… With the help of physiotherapy, he could sit and crawl. Confined to a wheelchair finally in the year 2005 where he toured to give Lecture and Demonstration of his art and teach students the finer intricacies of rhythm.
Ohh.. oh.. are we jumping from a two year old polio toddler to world-class performer.. Well… Life is not movies to happen that over a day… or a decade… When I asked him about the association with his guru, and his practice and the emergence of Erode Nagaraj.. and choosing mridangam over many instruments..!! he just asked ” give me a break..!!” are you writing my biography or what? ” Nagaraj, apart from a performing artist, is an avid reader and writer and strongly opinionated regarding disability access and issues. Let’s listen to his journey in his own words…
· Your association with your guru…how you could meet and stay and learn such intricate rhythm based instrument for a longer period and excelled in that?
I studied up to 12th Std. I learnt mrudhangam initially from Palladam Shri Ramachandran since, I had this uncontrollable passion for rhythm. Then we moved to Chennai in order to learn mrudhangam from the maestro Sangeetha Kalanidhi Padmavibhushan Umayalpuram Shri K.Sivaraman Sir, in 1989.
· The way you practice.. sitting and your effort
To be frank, I practice very less. I believe in mentally being with the art. Yes, I have many drawbacks, physical hurdles, limitations to play mrudhangam. To my surprise or shock, only after getting a grade in the All India Radio, I realized that I am not just a man who has disability in legs, but in hands too. K.S.Variyar, the then chief doctor of the Arya Vaidhya pharmacy, wondered why I took a wrong profession, after evaluating my hands. Sitting with the mrudhangam, to perform, to practice, to teach… all of it is difficult and painful too. But, without pains there comes no gains. Because, Since I am affected by Polio, I have to put 5 times, 10 times more effort to even get smaller things that normal people casually do. I am aware of it and, it never bothers me. To carry a kid of 3 years might be easy and enjoyable for any mother. But, the parents of disabled persons carry them even if they grow older. I won’t say that the hardship is not felt at all, if you love. The love just gives you a never mind attitude towards any painful situations. In any success story there will be all these unsaid stories and moments that boggled your mind, occasions where one got humiliated much, the times when you feel that the whole world is against you, someone always digs a pit on your way etc. What the big deal, I have some physical strains added to my success story or a narration about how I faced it.
· Of all the prizes you won, which is close to heart and why?
Any prize, a word of concern, a shoulder, a prestigious award from an esteemed organization, a recognition from the government, from abroad, a passionate pat on my shoulder from the revered guru and great artistes etc. everything is closer to my heart only.
· Does your disability helped you in your journey towards this rare expertise.. if so, how and why
Well disability makes you seated at one place. At least, for you have no other choice, you can concentrate. Disability can be a hindrance, it can’t help you. You can tell stories like, once there was a king who cut his finger while chopping something and the minister said it is for good only. Then they went for hunting and they were caught by a group of wild people who wanted to sacrifice the king in their worship and finally they didn’t because the king has a ‘binnam’ in his body, a disability. Thus the king escaped because of the disability he had, might be a story of console. But, actually disability is a package of sorrow which results always in a combination of physical acrimony and mental agony and the reality is, the knowledge and awareness about the limitations and the list of rights denied, adds more fuel (that too with the increasing price level of it day by day) to the sadness.
When you realize that you are a human being, who lives in edges,
The banks of the river bed,
The soil of the feet of a mountain,
The one who stays in the outer ring of most places from forests to forts,
Play grounds to palaces and tea shops to temples.
Climbing the steps is wonderful if it is symbolism but in reality it is harmful for metabolism
So, it is a question of attitude and whether you are going cry for what is lost and lacking or you are going to keep your mind towards your goal and ambition, least bothering about all the aches and access denied.
· Music and disability in India… what is your opinion and your experiences
There is a general attitude, to be a person with disability and to be great or a celebrity, if one has no hands he needs to draw pictures, if lower limbs affected he needs to climb multi storied buildings, if visually impaired he should walk on a rope… that is how public ascertains whether one had conquered the disability or not. People fail to notice, if one accepts the disability and try a life within the limits. Such persons should get encouraged too. We need not only roles models who do miracles but also persons who make your life easy and simple.
Well, I see, not only music, but in any field if one grow up to a considerable level, disability blinds the eyes of the people around and they like you or even celebrate you out of sympathy. This is like supporting a person for the presidential election for he belongs to backward or dalith and not supporting because the person is actually deserving, learned, qualified, experienced, matured, patriotic, great etc. I like it much when people appreciate my art for what I perform, how I embellish the music, the techniques of rhythmic ideas and the endearing nAdha which emanates and pleases the ears of the learned and the lay man as well, than people appreciating my performance just for I am disabled. Music and certain subjects cannot be imposed on anyone. If you have the spark you can do it. The thing is you should be able to point out you are good at what and you should have proper guidance, mentor too in addition to learning by yourself. (previously it was ‘I hate…’ in the unedited version, just changed the negative tone)
· You have lived and taught to Indian students and gave lecture demonstrations to students in USA, any stark similarity or contrast?
Learners are learners all over. Kids are kids. I believe in the mutual ability of the teacher and the learner. Guru should be able to take the sishya towards realization. A guru is one with whom you feel a magic, one who makes you realize and he is not just a teacher (acharyA).
· How do you describe mridangam in your life
I can’t say that mrudhangam is ultimate and my life, but it means a ton and takes much of my life. A biggest share of my daily life is for mrudhangam only. I am a single, married to mrudhangam. We love each other, but I still have a feeling that, I love a lot and not getting that much in return. I used to say, “You are not as I am to you” J
Jokes apart, I can say that the day when I realize adhvaitha, it will be ultimate.
· Tell me more about your life in general, your routine, your practice.. what’s toughest to learn in mrudhangam
Routine is normal; nothing special. The toughest to learn is proportion.
· If given a chance what you would like to change in music scenario
I don’t want to change anything. Changes will happen when needed for the needy.
· What’s your biggest fury as a disabled performer
The access denied. Steps, that stop you from conserving some energy to perform, dirty surfaces that awe the crawler. Even when a person who is physically fit falls accidently, he feels more for having fell in a dirty floor than feeling for any injury.
· I have seen some of your blog posts about accessibility, and general… what inspires you as person.. your likes and dislikes
Well, they are just likes and dislikes. They keep changing. Amidst all the changes that occur I wish to be in the path towards truth and concerned about the quality of living than being particular about the standard of living.
· I know you are an avid reader…. How you assimilate that reading into music
Not just reading, everything you come across, learn, acquire, inherit can be utilized and incorporated in any field. You just want to know that they are related and they can be connected.
Some reviews of him RASIKA music web-zine
· Do you have any larger goal as musician in world music scenario..?
My goal? May be to play a lot and teach a lot. To create performers and teachers and to stop talking, performing and be aware of inner self, a day when people around me understands the silence instead of my words.
· How you see the Music ability of Persons with disabilities in India and in USA?
I am yet to venture so far the persons in abroad are concerned. When I attended the Polio Expo in Michigan, everyone wondered how I manage to sit for hours and do the drumming with just hands. In general, I think, they live a life of safe mode. I am from a country where shivaguru and AryAmbha wanted a cute kid of divine wisdom even if the life span of it is shorter, than having a kid of poorna Ayush but, dull headed. Though, it’s all about whether I had lived a life that I had wished for, the awareness about post polio syndrome and life of a disabled after an age of fifty or more is to be created here. Kids with disability should be educated with the dos and don’ts. In order to have a feeling that you have conquered your disability, you can become a cliff hanger and it may serve a feel good thing but, whether your spine is fine with that, are you going to lead a peaceful life for several decades after that are to be given a thought.
· What do you do in your leisure time?
While many people say that their profession ate their passion, I say mrudhangam is my passionate profession. J
When I don’t do anything it may be a leisure time. I be present, physically and mentally with things I do and my relaxation, enjoyment, leisure lies in, within whatever I do.
EN-joy whatever you do; you can enjoy the ‘rest’. J
Well Friends.. This is Erode Nagaraj Sir for us… So candid, frank and divinely attuned ability and practical sense of humor..!!
A small rendition for the divine rhythm…
You said you live in the edges…
But i must say… People like you
Create an universe in such edges..
Learning the mastery of rhythm and life..
You make people out of the rat race of life..
The treadmill people meaninglessly escalate..
Is of no meaning to you..
Your liberated hands works
A unique rhythm…
Of the balancing new cosmic universes..
Blessed are the audience..
Teachers… gurus and students
Who have divinely endeared
And endorsed the
The seemingly un-moving rhythm
Has a dynamic ability..
That’s why it chosen most able hands..
To reverberate real liberation..
to make the sound of it..
To this Materially Maddening World..!!
Dear Friends… your views and news on this article can be left as a comment here… and you can get in touch with Erode Nagaraj Sir
You can listen to the rhythm at its best here..:
Link for blog posts on Disability: http://erodenagaraj.blogspot.in/search/label/disability
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