I saw Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma on DVD last night: another utterly enjoyable opera which moved me by   its music and fascinated me by its story too.

This is an ancient tale long Before the Common Era when the Romans were in Gaul as occupiers. At the time the Druids were practicing their religion in Gaul, or so we gather from this opera. I suspect that Alexandre Soumet took some liberties with ancient history when he wrote the story of Norma with another title also: the Infanticide. Actually there was only the threat of infanticide which was emotionally jolting, but was not central to the story.

They had a priestess by the name of Norma. The Roman consul Pollione falls in love with Norma, and the two have had two children (they looked like twins) when the opera opens. In fact, by now Pallione’s fancies had shifted to a younger lady at the temple, by the name of Adalgisa. She reciprocates the Roman’s advances, and is all ready to go with him to his country, abandoning her Druid heritage.

She reports her new-found amour to the elder Norma who is very happy for her and wishes her well, until she discovers that the object of her love is also Pollione, the Roman Consul who had fathered her kids.  Now Norma becomes furious and sings angrily about the Roman’s disloyalty.

In her frustration she decides to kill her beautiful little children with her dagger, but is unable to do that. Instead she begs Adalgisa to take the children with her and not let them become Roman slaves. When Pollione come to the temple to take the younger Druid back to Roma, Norma condemns him. The Druids snare him, but Norma declares she too is guilty of trespassing Druid vows of temple chastity and is willing jump into the pyre as atonement. Pollione recognizes her true character, repents that he had not fully know her before, and with operatic exuberance decides to follow her to the fire in the pyre. The opera ends with his climactic fire and the customary death aria.

Dame Joan Sutherland, the great (Australian) Diva of yester-generation sang absolutely wonderfully well as did the Turkish Leila Gencer. The scenes were modest, the orchestra under the baton of Richard Bonynge was at its best, all the bel canto was thoroughly delightful, and the choruses were remarkable too.

The aria Oh! di qual sei tu vittima Norma! De’ tuoi rimproveri, Oh! qual traspare orribile, which Norma, Pollione, Adalgisa belted out was truly magnificent.

Deh, con te, con te li prendi , Mira, o Norma, Cedi! Deh, cedi!, Si fino all’ore estreme, sung by Norma and Adalgisa  was truly simply superb.

June 25, 2012

Geriatric Musings

Following many ahead of me while others are following my chronological footsteps, by calendrical reckoning I am now an octogenarian: a stage I never consciously contemplated being in or worked towards reaching. This is no personal achievement, but the result of fortunate circumstances that have shaped my physical and mental states. I don’t regret this transition to what could be a stepping stone to senility: the alternative would have denied me an opportunity to write this note.

We are all born with the possibility for gradual growth from infancy to adulthood, from middle age to possible senior-hood if we dodge kind of the pitfalls that eventually take us to the (for me) Unknown and Unimaginable states.

As to my years thus far on the Blue Planet, I have had my joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, families and friendships, hopes and disappointments, challenges and frustrations. Above all, throughout my life I have been blessed with lots of love and affection and kindness from countless sources, and with a capacity to enjoy and create wit and humor. So I have little to complain about the years that have elapsed in my world of experience, and much, much to be thankful for. 

I have been in many phases of creature-conveniences. I remember nights lit by kerosene lamps in a remote village in India, and long-distance rides in bullock carts on bumpy roads. I have used pens with nibs dipped periodically in black and red inkpots, and used blotting papers to dry the wet scripts. I have typed on mechanical typewriters with ribbons and carbon papers for copies, and multiplied four-digit numbers mentally, without calculators. I have greeted school teachers when they entered the classroom by standing up respectfully with fellow students.

I have lived and taught in five continents, conversed in a dozen languages, read grand poetry, listened to glorious music, and worshiped in scores of places of different faiths. These are some of the delights I have had.

I have watched history unfold on the grand canvas: I recall when World War II broke out. I saluted the waving tricolor when India re-incarnated as a modern nation in 1947. I have read news about the eruption and erasing of many wars and conflicts, the birth of new nations, the tumbling of dictators, the rot that followed some revolutions, the rise and receding of the Cold War, the full emancipation of millions, the gradual dilution of cultural identity of nations with open doors for immigrants, the tottering resurgence of ancient civilizations aspiring for global stature, and the sunset of superpowers. I have observed positive transformations as well as regressions in societies, the upswing and fall of economies.  I have shared the dream of the atomic nucleus eventually answering humanity’s energy needs, and now I see that dream is shattered. I have  witnessed the creation and wonders of technology, and also  possibility of Rachel Carson’s silent spring. I have seen science on a prestigious positivist pedestal, and regretted its dethronement from its epistemic supremacy.  I have seen religion at its best as inspirations for love and charity, and its degeneration to bigotry and hate, anti-science rhetoric and mayhem with the invocation of God’s greatness. I have seen the transformation of air travel from trust, ease, and comfort to suspicion, security checks, and terrorist threats.

As the tireless tick of cosmic time  keeps advancing, here on earth new knowledge and insights are continuously emerging, new works of art and poetry and music are created, new experiences and possibilities are coming within reach of more people, if not of everyone. But as a species we are also facing challenges to our very survival. Aside from the dangers lurking in our physical environment, there is ubiquitous ideological rancor among contending claimants to Truth and Right Answers on virtually every plane of human pursuit: political, religious, economic, doctrinal, and more. Mass education there surely has been, but somehow the soil of current human societies seems to lack what it takes to produce leaders with charisma and vision to urge the billions towards greater harmony, or to inspire them to break off from the fetters of circumscribed religious outlooks, cultural chauvinism, and unending reminders of historical injustices whose effect is to perpetuate acrimony and fan irate feelings towards the other. 

As I approach the closure in the temporal bracket of infinity wherein I am privileged to reflect, I wish the very best for the generations that are at the threshold and at the peak of their lives. I am tentatively confident that they will manage the affairs of the world one way or another, and not allow the spark of human life to be extinguished from the planet before the Sun does it a few billion years hence. Though as a scientist I have serious doubts about this ever coming to pass, thanks to my religious inclinations, I nurture the hope that peace and mutual understanding, caring and social justice will eventually prevail everywhere in the world. Unless hope transgresses the bounds of visible reality, there will be only despair and depression which I refuse to yield to. In the time left for me to still be kicking around I will continue to do my little towards actualizing that goal.

V. V. Raman

May 28, 2012






















































May 28, 201