A soulful of art –tribute to Yusuf Arakkal

It feels like a million years ago now that he gave me a lesson in art appreciation, and this gift has given me immeasurable happiness in the best museums across the world. He also taught me how to enjoy my favourite tipple without getting tipsy.

“Art is my soul”

Others far more qualified than me have spoken about Yusuf as an artist, this is my personal memorial to an old friend.

I got the news of his death very late. I had slept through the day, after a long travel. That night, I lay awake remembering the many ways Yusuf impacted our lives. On a Monday afternoon, nearly 20 years ago, when I went to pick up my son from Lumbini play school, Gayatri Rao who ran the school, showed me a wondrous sight. After weeks of refusing to colour any drawings, Aditya had spent the whole morning colouring. Realisation dawned as we looked at the many colourful pages.

I was then a columnist for the Times of India, and the previous Saturday had gone to interview Yusuf (in their old home in NGEF colony). I had taken the little fellow along, and while Yusuf and I chatted, he was left to explore the studio and had been obviously inspired by the world of colour.

My interview was about a new series of nudes that Yusuf was going to show; those were days before digital cameras and I needed a visual to illustrate my piece in the column. Yusuf picked up paper and pencil and quickly sketched a small version. I handed in the sketch with my article and retrieved it from the press after the page was made. The lovely little sketch hangs in my drawing room, along with a few other artworks that he took pleasure in gifting us over the years.

Afternoons that stretched to evenings at the iconic Victoria hotel, which used to be his home away from home (where Bangalore Central mall stands);  impromptu Sunday lunches in their new home, the travel tips that both Sara and Yusuf offered (he was a great one for travelling – “Only when you see the world, will you grow”, he told Allen when the latter complained about my wanderlust).

Yusuf Arakkal, me, SG Vasudev & G Subramanian – catching up after many months at Galerie De’Arts in 2014

It feels like a million years ago now that he gave me a lesson in art appreciation, pointing out what makes SG Vasudev’s work special. And this gift has given me immeasurable happiness in the best museums across the world. He also taught me how to enjoy my favourite tipple without getting tipsy.

He turned out dapper in beautiful jackets picked out by Sara, and good naturedly preened about his likeness to Col Gaddafi. A gregarious soul who loved serious debates as much as unabashed flirting, he was completely at ease with himself.

He didn’t call or visit when Allen died, and it pained me. They were as close as brothers; Yusuf had taken it upon himself to play counsellor to us, advising us about relationships (and me about clothes). And for a long time, like with many others, he too had forgotten me, and Aditya. Many moons later, the phone rang late at night, and the familiar teasing voice spoke. He gave some reason for not being in touch earlier; they were out-of-town when they got the news. Now, he had more pressing matters to speak about; in his usual outspoken way, he was up-in-arms about something, and prodded me to carry on working with the same ideals that Allen had.

We spoke and met a few times over the last few years, and as it is with old friends, the undeniable warmth and easy banter resurfaced. He had attained great fame but he allowed me the privilege of chiding him.

The energy of his paintings is a tangible presence and I was enveloped in it as I sat on the couch with Sara, two days after he died. The world mourns the passing of a great artist. For Sara, it is a loss of a person who sculpted her life. Forty three years is a lifetime, and yet it is not enough. It is going to be a long, hard walk ahead for her. One that I know well, and my heart aches for her even as it does for Yusuf, whose warmth and friendship I cherish.

What a man, what a life. I can’t say adieu as some one this larger than life can’t be forgotten. In a quote in BEST OF BANGALORE (Raintree Media), Yusuf said, “Creativity is God’s gift to mankind, art is my soul”. That is the measure of the man.

Music under the moonlight ( Under the Raintree concert)

Once upon a time, the civic authorities paid bands to perform weekly at neighbourhood parks; the bandstands in Lalbagh and Cubbon Park had Police or Military bands playing on Sundays and holidays; talented young musicians gathered for informal jams in the parks too.
Just like that, they vanished. And were banished too from public memory. All we have is the stress of urban life; with public amenities over-stretched and under- powered, life for the average Bangalorean is a pain. We decided we needed assuage senses that have been assaulted and get a reprieve, brief as it may be, from the drudgery of existence.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man; and so did Vasanth Rao, the person who has achieved the near-miraculous by restoring to us the much-loved bougainvillea boulevard. This General Manager of Namma Metro has also worked hard to create a beautiful public space on MG Road, and a clean and safe environment for performances has become available.

Ram Nagaraj's melodious voice extracts every ounce of meaning from the ghazals
Ram Nagaraj’s melodious voice extracts every ounce of meaning from the ghazals

We took the opportunity to host the latest Under the Raintree event there on May 14, boldly deciding to hold it at 9 pm mid-week. Our aim was to have the event open to anyone who liked music, and particularly ghazals. To our delight, not only did our personal invitations to music lovers of our acquaintance elicit a favourable response, several people who knew about the event from the posters in all the metro stations and the media turned up.
There were plenty of walk-ins: people out for their post-dinner stroll or driving back home; children out for late night ice cream skipped up too. There were heartening sights of waiters, drivers and so on, who were delighted to happen upon the music session after work and stopped to rest their weary selves. They were welcomed and seated on chairs alongside invitees.
Ram Nagaraj seemed set to sing until dawn.
Ram Nagaraj seemed set to sing until dawn.

The evening started with a surprise for the audience, with the lovely Madhu Vijay singing a bhava geethe, “yaava mohana murali kariyithu’ (which can easily be called a Kannada ghazal).
After that Ram Nagaraj held the audience spellbound for hours with ghazals from musical greats like Ghulam Ali, Mehdi Hassan, Jagjit Singh, Pankaj Udhas, Talat Aziz, Anup Jalota and Roop Kumar Rathod. There were repeated requests for favourite numbers from the enthusiastic audience of 175. People were reluctant for the night to end, and we don’t blame them.
audience soaking in the melodious music in the beautiful ambience
audience soaking in the melodious music in the beautiful ambience
Vasanth Rao has worked passionately to revive the MG Boulevard, and make it an urban cultural centre.
Vasanth Rao has worked passionately to revive the MG Boulevard and make it an urban cultural centre.

Under the Raintree is a non-profit forum to promote the Arts. This concert is part of its continuing efforts to promote various forms of arts; it is also an initiative, in association with Namma Metro, to provide Bangaloreans an alternative nightlife in a clean and safe environment.”

Instruments triumphed over vocals

There’s a huge difference between a studio recording and a live performance, and that was never more stark than at the first live show that  I attended of Soular Flare at the Take 5 lounge.

The tracks I had heard  online had got right into my head and I found a few of them peppy. The  band pegs itself as an electro acoustic sound with an eclectic mix  of pop vocals, tabla beats,  electric sitar with soulful interludes of thumris and ghazal. 

Suchitra Lata
Suchitra LataAt the show, the classical pieces they played were the best, while the mix of vocals in their attempt at fusion didn’t quite work.

At the show, the classical pieces they played were the best, while the mix of vocals in their attempt at fusion didn’t quite work.

Soular Flare features Suchitra Lata on vocals and veena, Trilochan Kampli on the tabla, Paulson Joseph on the electric sitar and Srinivas Hande with Hindustani vocals.

Suchitra Lata trained in the classical veena for several years before experimenting with her music. While her studio tracks are appreciated-Paul Simon gave her the judge’s choice award for her remix of his track, “Love is Eternal”. She licenses her tracks to films and TV, and one of her songs was recently licensed to a Cannes Atelier film. Besides composing jingles, for corporate AVs and films, she’s done three solo albums so far. In the live show, however, her voice failed to captivate. It was the veena on which she played classical carnatic compositions competently that saved the day for her.

Trilochan Kampli, is the catalyst in the creation of the band and its binding force. He was the most impressive of the band, and future gigs should showcase his talent more.

Trilochan Kampli
Trilochan Kampli

A sensitive solo player and a sought after accompanist, he’s been stunning listeners from the age of 12. His fingers fly like magic over the seasoned leather of the tabla, their dexterous ease belying the complexity of the compositions.He was the most impressive of the band.

Paulson brings to life delicate nuances on the electric sitar and a rich sense of rhythm that makes the music flow with felicity. Like Kampli, he is a whole time musician and performs extensively on radio, television and stage. He proved to be an able counterfoil in the instrumental jugalbandi.

Srinivas Hande, the Hindustani vocalist, has a soulful voice but his day job as a chartered accountant obviously does not give him time to keep up his practise rigorously.

The popular opinion from the  audience was that the quartet would do well to focus on classical music. Here’s a link to their music sampler: www.reverbnation.com/soularflare

Paulson Joseph
Paulson Joseph
Srinivas Hande
Srinivas Hande