Saturday, August 28, 2010

riordan: the percy jackson series, books 1-5

#77 Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
#78 Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters
#79 Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse
#80 Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth
#81 Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian
Rick Riordan

Because lay readers like me assume an understanding of the characters of the Homeric epics and the Attic plays, and because we have some measure of their audiences, we also presume to understand the anthropomorphised gods, who directed the morality of these texts and in whose honour they were created and performed, as literary phenomena. The Iliad becomes a living, breathing equivalent (or superior) to the ruins of the Parthenon in that sense. But as with the architecture of the Hellenic age, so much of the cultural plunder carried out with impunity by the British Empire in the last 250 years incorporated these texts into one narrow view of the linearity of Western civilisation, that it is also made available to us largely through that particular context. Although the Empire's relationship with Greek and Latin history is somewhat complicated - for reasons which uber-fantasist of Leithien, JRR Tolkien, knew very well - it was not enough to prevent the appropriation of a crucial chunk of historic culture, not as a philosophical inheritance, already disseminated by the Renaissance (itself famously made possible only through long centuries of Islamic/Judaic salvagepunk in North Africa and West Asia), but in a continuum of dominance. If Christian social justice was a formative element of the Empire's self-justification, then the Hellenic spirit, as understood in the prep rooms of Eton, was its elegant, secular ego.

The Percy Jackson books may render this history arcane through sheer innocuousness, but their fundamental premise threw me off precisely because it is another reiteration of how this appropriation continues to influence the self-image of the Anglo-American West, and the construction of its history as essentially imperial or militarist. The ghosts of ancient Rome have long dogged the USA's footsteps, so maybe it was just a matter of time before someone once again vaporised the oppositions between Rome and Athens and did it. The time came: someone was Rick Riordan. Rick Riordan relocates the Greek pantheon in the only place where they can truly belong in the unipolar world: at the top of the Empire State Building. The gods are the keepers of the flame of Western civilisation - where its centre goes, so they go: from Greece to Rome, to Britain, to the USA. (I won't ask uncomfortable questions about where they went during Byzantium's magnificent stint as the cultural capital of the 'West,' or how they felt about Jerusalem - but I wonder if this means they had a bad case of whiplash during the first few centuries of Modern Europe? France! Venice! Spain! Holland! Austro-Hungary - no, France again! Damnit, Western civilisation, HOLD STILL!) They meddle in the lives of human beings, like always, and this results in the production of a veritable army of demigods, born of part-human, part-godly parentage. The complication is that after World War II, an escalation of a conflict of the children of Hades versus the offspring of the other two elder siblings of the pantheon, Zeus and Poseidon, the Big Three shake on a pact to produce no more mortal offspring, as they are clearly detrimental to Western civilisation, and prophesied to bring further destruction. Alas! As flies are to small boys, so promises to the gods, etc. There are some slip-ups, and demigods occur. Of particular interest to us is Perseus Jackson, the product of a summer fling on a beach vacation between the smart, lovely Sally Jackson and the god of the sea. Percy is not just evidence of that post-war breach of promise, but also the possible subject of that oracular warning of destruction. Who are the others who might fulfil this prophecy? Who will side with Percy in the oncoming celestial war? And just what are the Titans getting up to, stirring in the pits of the world?

A hero Percy becomes, and remains. Riordan is meticulous about building a narrative to scale up, within individual books as well as the series arc, and its pays off in a consistently arresting way. The final battle takes place in a New York City - Percy's hometown and a place of great warmth and attachment for him - frozen in time, spread out over much of the last book. Saving New York, and protecting his family, becomes the focus of Percy's war. It is a war of belonging, and an acknowledgment of the continual sacrifices demanded of the condition of belonging. It is the loneliness of not attaining your rightful place that decays proud individualism into outright villainny, after all. Even the gods are paranoid about it; how can an antagonist, whether he is a disaffected teen demigod, or (to make the most obvious comparison) Voldemort, be any different?

The series is most like trend rajah Harry Potter in the character of Percy himself: in him we see all the early promise of Harry, the socially shunned, 'different' kid (among other things, Percy struggles with dyslexia and ADHD, which we later discover to be symptoms of demigod DNA) who half-inherits, half-earns the mantle of Saviour of A Way Of Life. He too is remarkably suited to heroism because of his personal bravery and loyalty. (Alas, we know those very qualities earn Harry the right to be insufferable somewhere midway through the Potter series and continue in that vein all the way to the end. Percy's development is also unhelpfully self-aggrandising, but I will say it for him and Riordan - he is never a lost cause. His world is uniquely American in its resemblance to 'verses like Buffy the Vampire Slayer: wisecracking, playfully bathetic, individualistic, and even tender, in a very unclassical way.

What is truly interesting is how well this elides, in Riordan's stories, with the violent, un-Romantic, individual -independent mythology of the Greek pantheon. Homer does not survive among us simply because of academic conspiracies, after all; there is something we thrill to, in era after era, about what he has to say about the violatory nature of power, its abiding capacity to self-perpetuate in cycles of randomness and cruelty, and its shameless and joyous corruption. It is a truth we hold to be self-evident, and that no amount of New Testament hegemony can reverse or erase. In a deadpan way, Percy chronicles just how random, violatory, etc. the divine will can be, and how ill-equipped human beings are to behave any differently. Percy and the Olympians are nominally on the same side, fighting for Western civilisation - Olympian civilisation - against the destructive reawakening of the Titans, but Percy is pretty open-eyed about the dubious good in it for the mortal world. The Olympians are forgetful, neglectful parents, after all, and cruel, favouritist, selfish creatures - in fact, in these very qualities are the seeds of their downfall. But their love for their children, when it does manifest, makes them in the human image more successfully than anything else they could possibly do, and as Percy could do much worse than Poseidon, so also the world.

The revolutionary potential of these ideas deserves a moment of consideration. If a battle need not be between Good and Evil - then need it be a battle at all? If a hero's brief is to survive and preserve, rather than destroy and perish, then does he have to be a warrior at all? In its final pages, The Last Olympian provides such a thoughtful and, yes, tender reversal of the heroic trajectory that you see the series' potential for reverse-engineering a great deal of the conventions of the heroic narrative itself. Alas, aside from the last book's dramatic denouement, no imaginative reconfiguring of Homeric regret seems possible. Uncap his sword - otherwise concealed in his pocket as a ballpoint pen - Percy must; rally the forces of demigods at Camp Half-Blood (Hogwarts as summer camp, divided into twelve houses on the basis of parentage) he must; rely on the wits of his Athene-born friend Annabeth, the bloodthirstiness of the Ares camp, the healing abilities and crack shots of the Apollo house, etc etc he must. After all, the pantheon is not a prescriptive body. They cannot teach the human race how to live: they can only oblige us to be heroes, and extract the price continually.

eta. Neglected at first writing to compare it with the small industry of Classics retellings in literature -- pointless because it is not a retelling or engagement with Classical texts, but rather classic YA fantasy narrative, where Greek gods take the place of wizards/vampires/other worldview-altering supernatural beings. But if you are looking to compare it with retakes of Homer or the dramatists in any form, you must brace yourself for a comfortingly hackneyed spin on Greek mythology, one for which a familiarity with the Wikipedia article rather than the primary texts is more than enough. I suppose the whole 'Olympus on Empire State Building' bit is as good an indication as any of what to expect.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

stepchild of time indeed

Sorry, updates have been a bit thin on the ground over the last couple of weeks, haven't they? August has been somewhat cray cray, but I can pretty much guarantee that September will be different: starting when, I will be an unemployed person! Well, mostly. I will be writing here and there to keep the Blackberry bills paid and so on, but this is a Major Life Change. I am so excited about the prospect of being a gigantic hipster that it can only end in tears. Or the baking of cupcakes.

While we wait for that, and I collect my thoughts and energies re. several fantasy novels that have been awaiting review for, oh, months now (cripes), I just thought I'd clue you in to a couple of things I wrote over the last week: over at august blog The Run Of Play, a freewheeling consideration of what Pelé means to football history, called "Stepchild of Time". It involves Tolkien, cricket, and Moti Nandy, among other things: any feedback would be cherished.

I also went to watch a bunch of movies over August - three, which is more than I've seen over the last year combined - but I chose to write a short note about the one I liked least, Aisha. You can read it here, which is where I generally write short notes about things. I know, I should really get a website.

Anyway, see you in a week or so. Maybe before! I am, of course, embroiled in Twitter over here, so if you want some of that fishhook/open eye stuff, get in.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

gentleman's sextet

Some men's writing I read over the last couple of months, notes on.

#71 The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman

One-line summary: The newspaper industry is failing, even in Rome.

A highly polished string of stories about various individuals working for an eccentric American newspaper based out of Rome. Well-told, without much range in emotional tenor and structure. So studiously twentieth-century in its tone that the title seems unbearably twee in retrospect; maybe The Hacks would have worked better.

#72 Patna Roughcut, Siddharth Chowdhury

One-line summary: A chip on the shoulder made manifest in pen and ink.

A small, evocative novel about growing up smart in Patna. Characters universally recognised in the personal histories of most urban Indians of a certain generation come to life in tender, elegiac portraits, and a self-conscious, sometimes sardonic voice does not mask the furious affection for, and alienation from the home city, experienced most keenly when you have returned to it.

#73 Freedom for Sale, John Kampfner

One-line summary: Less provocative than it says on the tin.

Kampfner travels to eight countries to analyse the failure of the democratic experiment, particularly with regards to the trade-off between free speech, capitalism and governance. His central argument - all over the world, ostensibly democratic or democratising nations are colluding in the destruction of their own public freedoms for the sake of private freedoms - is a sound one; especially resonant in the context of debates wherein the fur flew thick and furious in India after the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai (a situation to which Kampfner devotes a chapter). However, his reportage leaves much to be desired, rather obvious to me in the case of countries like the UAE, or China, which also come under his scrutiny for reasons not fully explained.

#74 Following Fish, Samanth Subramanian

One-line summary: Fish are better than you.

A charming collection of essays about Subramanian's delightful travels down and up the length of the Indian coastline, from Kolkata to Mumbai, reporting on the cultures and cuisines of the pescatarian communities that are some of India's oldest as well as its most dynamic. An easy wit and an enthusiasm for Indian seafood make most essays in this collection shine, although one often gets the sense that the author tries to leave his narratives as unclouded as possible by not delving too deep into the politics of class and environmentalism that his stories circle around again and again.

#75 A Country Doctor's Notebook, Mikhail Bulgakov, trans. Michael Glenny

One-line summary: Fictionalised Bulgakov recounts stories of his medical residency in a rural Russian hamlet; remains sexy while doing so.

Mikhail, Mikhail, Mikhail. If you wrote Anna Karenina I would not have put it off to read until after I am retired. This is classic comfort reading of a certain sort: mordant, organised around self-doubt and an almost elemental dread of nature, shot through with early 20th century European manpain and enlightement (manlightenment?), but the muted Bulgakovness is ever a joy. Be mine, Mikhail Bulgakov. Be mine.

#76 Amulet, Roberto Bolano, trans. Chris Andrews

One-line summary: The mother of Mexican poetry recounts the pain and madness of a magical-realist Mexico City.

I don't like magical realism and this slim book did not change my views. To be fair, I have read no Bolano before this, and picked it for the basest of reasons - I wanted to carry an extra book on a flight and this was slimmer than The Savage Detectives and 2666. I realised in retrospect that the central character of this book is connected to 2666, and perhaps I would have approached it with more humility had I known as much. As it is, I'm willing to praise Bolano's poetic vision and his fantastic ability to write set pieces, while feeling totally unmoved by the book on the whole.

trapido, fitzgerald, oksanen

Backlog-clearing restarted with a vengeance, but none of these reviews, curtailed as they are, obliged me by confining themselves to a line each.

#68 Sex and Stravinsky, Barbara Trapido

One-line summary: Star-crossed couples, lonely daughters, the long arm of art.

Curiously half-hearted: even the title seems like a gimmicky ploy to capture airport readers who know not of the wonders of La Trapido. The bright-eyed, velvet-suckerpunch fatalism of her other books plays out astonishingly like bitterness here, which is not a bad thing in itself, but combines poorly with Trapido's uncharacteristic failure to pull off her usual narrative coup, infusing modern-day fairy stories with the grandeur and terror of classic grand narratives. There's so much possibility here, as the story criss-crosses hemispheres and continents; Trapido's return to South Africa is accompanied as ever by her delightful ability to paint real, lovable characters with quick, sharp strokes, and her musical ear for dialogue and voice. But her deprecatory sense of humour serves the big tragedies (bigger than the usual Trapido tragedies, even) of this book only partially; the glimmering of her wit and intelligence inconsistent, if lovely and fulfilling in their flashes. An interesting, thorny sort of specimen for Trapido enthusiasts, perhaps, but not, I think, a book for first-time readers.

(More on Trapido in Book Munch here.)

#69 The Bookshop, Penelope Fitzgerald

One-line summary: Florence Green opens a bookstore in a slumbering English hamlet.

I was going to say, 'even the classic Fitzgerald wit is unable to mask the what a great tragic novel this is,' but the classic Fitzgerald wit is never meant to mask tragedy, only to co-exist with it, as a Donne-esque rein to its pride. Perhaps The Bookshop is meant to caution humour in its turn: life goes on, sure, but so does grief, and so, perhaps, does shame. Everything about this book is small: a small town, a small idea, small people. (Quite literally, two of its most vibrant characters are also children). In that smallness is the big, seemingly implacable tragedy of Fitzgerald's story. The quiet, almost comforting elegance of her voice masks a fierceness and impatience with the language of ruefulness. But there is no cleansing of the poisoned gulf of human habit in this story, only the acknowledgment that a hero, even an unlikely one, cannot always win; a hero cannot even always be a hero.

(My review of Fitzgerald's delightful Human Voices earlier on Book Munch, here.)

#70 Purge, Sofi Oksanen, trans. Lola Rogers

One-line summary: The tragedies of the nation-state played out in the lives and on the bodies of its women, across generations.

Terrifying and very good if you have access to a cup of tea and a chaise-longue after. Not sunny, not redemptive, not concerned in the least with sunniness or redemption, but resolutely free of all the self-aggrandising trappings of tragedy (I seem to be giving tragedy a hard time in this post) as well. Secrets are bound up in the lives of people here: from the days of Estonia in World War II, to its Communist generations, to the unlikely and unpremeditated return of a Russian citizen who is Not What She Seems, silence is a historical imperative. How this is bound up with the secrets that accompany birth and survival is a story told through the complicated history of Aliide, of the violently damaged Zara who lands up at her doorstep one day, and the occasional glimpse of written records from another time. Readers who find Stieg Larsson's pamphleteering use of graphic sexual violence against women questionable will find Oksanen's forthright use of the same tactic both less grotesque and less bearable. Oksanen also uses gender hatred as a means to talk about the betrayals of the state's responsibilities, but her narrative is a revisitation of a country's history, not a musing over its future as Larsson's books are; it can accuse, but it cannot pass sentence.

Next backlog update will be a special one for Teh Menz: Tom Rachman, Siddharth Chowdhury, John Kampfner, Samanth Subramanian, and Roberto Bolano.

Monday, August 02, 2010

on a r rahman

This short essay grew out of a brief to think about A R Rahman and his music as a catalyst in India's changing relationship with the world. A version of it appears in Verve's August 2010 issue, which is on stands now.

The Alchemist

The search for the emblematic global Indian should be long over. It should have ended the moment we heard the words ‘Mere paas maa hai’ from the stage of the Kodak Theatre on a spring evening in 2009. ‘I may have nothing -- but I have a mother.’ That was our man, speaking our language, quoting a line we have long accepted and parodied as one of our definitive homilies, from Bollywood’s mouth to India’s heart. Could anything be more us?

There are two major reasons why the verdict on that search – a verdict that says, ‘This is the One True Indian, the face of the nation to all the world’s intents and purposes’ – hasn’t been signed, sealed and delivered yet. One reason is the global inconvenience of constricting the idea of India to the stereotype of a single achievement on a single stage. The other, more compelling one, is our candidate himself. From the very outset of his career, A R Rahman –elusive, publicly shy, even somewhat aloof – has resisted every notion of his ever delivering a definitive product, whether it is of his music, or of himself. Lazy media pegs of the emblematic devout Muslim are circumvented offhand: orthodox expectations haven’t hampered the creation some of the last decade’s most memorable bhajans (as an unauthorised biography carelessly suggests it had) – or working with those paragons of impropriety, the Pussycat Dolls and Akon. Rubber-stamping Rahman is no longer an option. But not for him the chameleonic reinventions of other pop icons; not, either, the cosmetic applications of ‘versatility’ that we use for other artistes who play with genres and disciplines.

The truth is that Rahman can never stand outside that ongoing story of the Indian transformation long enough for us to stop and pin him down to any single moment of change, any simple notion of a presiding icon. You have to have a pedestal on which to put an icon, and this one has always been a work in progress. "He can only ever raise the bar for us," says composer Amit Trivedi (Dev D., Aisha) of his effect on film music. "His music brought in a technological revolution. It changed the way he we listen to Hindi film music, the way we respond to it, maybe even the way we buy it, forever."

This is widely, if not always openly acknowledged in an industry where, as Trivedi says, "everyone wants to get the Rahman sound." Like the rest of India, Trivedi first heard the maestro on Roja (1992), then Thiruda Thiruda (Mani Ratnam’s almost-simultaneous Tamil release, dubbed in Hindi as Chor Chor), and Kaadhalan/Humse Hai Muqabla (1994). "The way the tracks were laid down, the arrangements – they were totally new. And the music totally engrossed and engaged you. It made you think: yeh asli cheez hai. This is real; real like nothing else."

Mr Synthesiser, known and even briefly derided for his extensive use of what laymen called ‘computer music,’ was to have this effect on all of India. This was one transformation for which the time was right. Rahman’s music, instead of falling through the crack of that age-old tension in the film music industry between ‘melody’ and ‘technology,’ bridged the gap with all the ease of someone producing, well, a jingle.

Film critic Baradwaj Rangan, who has also written extensively on Rahman’s music, believes that the composer’s sound is the confluence of his genius with the vision of those who have mounted an appropriate stage for his talents. “If another composer had a project comparable to Lagaan or Rang De Basanti to work with, then we’d have a proper basis for comparison,” he says. But there isn’t. Trivedi, a composer whose smash-hit debut album Dev D. was forged in creative partnership with another Bollywood visionary, Anurag Kashyap, also emphasises that collaboration “plays a major role, if you share a certain vibe with the director. Creative freedom always shows.”

But if Rahman has an unprecedented share in the creative vision of his directors, it is because he has repaid their confidence in his genius many times over. It becomes difficult to tell whether the multiplex mentality of the 2000s – the unified, complex, subtle narrative – came before the Rahman era of music, or whether the music influences the way we respond to these new modes of filmmaking. Can Rahman’s sound be pinned down to the requirements and advantages of the multiplex era of film music? Veteran writer on Hindi cinema, Nasreen Munni Kabir, who is currently working on Rahman’s official biography, finds this a fallacy. “All this is very well. But if the music doesn’t deliver, nothing else would matter. I don’t believe his recent music is less accessible to the Indian moviegoer. Simpler tunes may have their place, but they come and go. Think of SD Burman, Roshan, Naushad. Sophistication and layering in music is what lasts.”

“If you read the script, for example, of Delhi-6,” says filmmaker Vijayeta Kumar, who doubles up as Rahman’s stylist, “what’s on the page might make you hear something very traditional, very typical of old Delhi.” Let the record show that the soundtrack Rahman produced was anything but typical. Trivedi thinks it’s one of the best albums he has ever done, and a fitting answer to the ‘multiplex’ accusation; Rangan hears echoes of ‘Sting-meets-Steely-Dan’ in it; Kumar hears house and funk. And all this of the album that caused Rekha Bhardwaj, the vocalist on its biggest hit Genda Phool, to once remark, ‘Rahman is one of those composers who is bringing the traditional sound of India, the folk sound, back into the mainstream.’ Whew.

It’s alright if listeners have lost track after all these years, of the wellspring of the Rahman sound. There’s a sense, more so in recent times than ever, that it’s okay to give up, to be led by the hand into the musical discoveries every subsequent Rahman score leads us to make. It started out in his early work as the buzz of an almost physical energy. When he reinvented the earthy sound of folk (in songs like Rukmini Rukmini in Roja) or created insta-pop hits (the delightful Chikku Bukku Raile from Gentleman, dubbed in Hindi as Chika Pika Rika – a distant early echo of the locomotive rhythms of Dil Se’s Chaiyya Chaiyya) it was inadequately but conveniently explained as the ‘dance’ sound, keyed in to the new, lo-fi vibe of the 1990s, which fed into the thumping basslines and atmospheric funk of our digital present. Rahman didn’t just bring the CD into that piping, treble-ish tape-recorder world of ours – he brought the iPod, too.

In many ways, rethinking music has always been the film industry’s job, both in the South and in Bollywood. Our popular music has always been mongrel, assimilating both the grand classical traditions of the subcontinent, and alien, inaccessible genres from other parts of the world, to transmute them into a unique Indian film vocabulary. But Rahman’s was no one-way tracking of the present into the future. As his career progressed, his enormously complex talent annexed and revamped not just one sound, but whole traditions of popular music. At first, his use of non-standard playback voices took us aback, but eventually taught us to appreciate the pleasures of hearing songs in the voices – to take just a random sample – of old ladies, children, singers without classical educations, and folk artistes otherwise relegated to the margins of the typical Bollywood number to provide regional colour. The film song, in Rahman’s hands, was still a creation of magic, beaming across celestial frequencies in the voices of angels. It’s just that the angels now warbled in different keys.

It’s instructive to remember Rahman’s unlikely predecessor in the innovation stakes in Hindi cinema. For decades, RD Burman’s effortless, cheeky genius made him a sort of Petrucchio to Bollywood’s Katherina, simultaneously harassing and liberating, eventually wholly irresistible. His vocal stylings and experimentation, his free-handed borrowing of rock ’n’ roll and cabaret, his ability to pull off the purest raga-based melody as well as the aching grooviness of the Western dance number, made him the last man to stamp Bollywood so indelibly. The Rahman oeuvre can be described in similar terms, but the breadth and depth of his work have already saved him from any notional assumption of an ‘inheritance,’ whether from Burman or anyone else. Who in the days of carelessly racist ‘tribal noises’ endlessly reproduced in Bollywood’s nightclub and kidnapping scenarios would have dreamed of the world of ‘jungle’ rhythms, African percussion and folk choruses Rahman incorporated into his work? Who, indeed, might have imagined that a day would arrive when Bollywood’s signature orchestral arrangements would allow room for the light-filled, almost Baroque waltz scores in Lagaan and Guru?

Rangan says that the true departure from the past is one of atmosphere. “The old songs had great singers like Lata Mangeshkar carrying you through the melody with the force of their voice. In Rahman’s work, the stridency of an instrument, or the force of a great vocal, will come through filtered, in a way that makes it very pleasing to hear. That ambient sound – whether you want to call it the ‘multiplex’ sound or not – is consistent through his work.”

Take that cherished old staple of Hindi cinema, the fusty, reliable, instantly stereotypical movie qawwali. Before Rahman, the definitive image of the Bollywood qawwali was Rishi Kapoor in a parrot-green silk churidar, surrounded by clapping musicians and flying scarves. Today, the ‘Sufi’ sound, as it is broadly defined, is very much Bollywood’s go-to flavour, embraced and celebrated in everything from the thumping popular hits of Himesh Reshammiya and Pritam, to the brighter, more resonant sounds of Salim-Sulaiman. But it is in the work of Rahman that this most powerful of subcontinental musical modes has attained true postmodernity. Spurred by the cross-border resurgence of popular Sufi music in the 90s, influenced by his own spiritual inquiry, Rahman has produced some of the most astonishing pieces of Hindi film music of the last decade in this form. Thanks to him, the film qawwali does not signify any one narrow cultural context: it sounds, not in the key of earthly celebration, but in that of contemplation and discovery.

And perhaps this is the best way to understand how Rahman is India’s resident alchemist. He is a man whose work functions as a two-way conversation between this country and the rest of the world because the brass tacks of musical transformation – of technology, genre, even tradition – are simply the bases for his artistic experiments. Rahman’s music doesn’t simply offer us change: it offers us transcendence. “People in the West, right since 2002’s Bombay Dreams musical, hear fabulous melodies and spiritual energy in his music. That’s why they like it,” says Kabir. “My favourite of all of Rahman’s modes is his soulful one,” Trivedi concurs. “It’s when he comes closest, quite literally, to divine inspiration.”

For a country who thinks its time has arrived, India is sometimes accused of being too invested in its cultural successes abroad - cricket records, Nobel Prizes, Oscars for films set in our slums. Rahman is one of the very few whose crossover has been so successful that he rises above those dubious spurts of patriotic adrenalin. When his work is performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, or British Prime Minister David Cameron signs up to felicitate him with an Asian Award for his musical achievements, we now shrug – it’s no longer out of the ordinary. The legendary Milos Forman film about Mozart’s life was called after the maestro’s second name, ‘Amadeus,’ Latin for ‘beloved of God.’ It’s a moniker that Indians would thrill to, in a country where music, both in its high classical forms as well as its rustic, earthy registers is so extensively dedicated to praising deities across forms and religions. It is incredible, but true, that Rahman, the product of these decades of change, was never really the architect of a schism between the old and the new – he turned out to be the evangelist of an ultimate union, the evangelist of a new, sublime dialect. Perhaps it’s time to give the ‘Mozart of Madras’ a more fitting name, and start calling him India’s Amadeus.