Kali Ma

Kali MaWe are already reaching the mid point of our violin repair course.  Madhyama in Sanskrit means the middle. In the ancient Indian raga system the fourth is named ma, from madhyama, the point from whence, depending on whether it is played as natural or sharp, all seven notes of the musical scale are mathematically calculated out in all possible permutations of the notes without omitting any of the sapta swara, the seven notes with which we sing our joy.  Madhya Vanakkam–mid-day greetings to you.  The list is possibly endless, if I know India.  Now, I’m treading on thin academic ice here, but I suspect that ma is also the root of the word for mother, as in Kali Ma.  Kali, as you may know, is the ferocious goddess with black skin, destroyer of vast armies with one terrible swipe of her fearsome hooked sword, her neck adorned with a garland of bloodied human heads, her waist graced with a gruesome hula skirt of severed arms.  Kali has visited us today as we approach madhyama in our little violin repair course.

It all started out so nicely.  We’ve all learned how to cut beautiful soundposts, so pristine I can stand back and allow illustrious musical guests to peer into the mysterious interior of the violin and marvel at the perfection of the student’s work.  I stand back with pride as the guest inspects the perfection of the newly carved bridge feet, resting on the top of the violin as if one with the instrument itself, cut with only a knife and chisel, the tranquility and focus of the student’s mind on display for all to see who shall ever inspect this bridge.  We have proceeded to the dressing of the fingerboard surface, flawless in its long, concave polished surface, impeccable in the woodworking skills required to allow the player to glide seamlessly along it’s length, gamakam (the “oscillations” in Indian music) rippling forth with the ease of the mother Ganges River as she effortlessly descends from her source at Gangotri in the Himalaya, dancing and cascading through pastoral scenes on the long path to the Bay of Bengal.  The teacher stands back with satisfaction; the smile of the benevolent Lord Buddha graces his face.

Now we shall proceed to the sharpening of the scraper, a simple flat piece of spring steel, .02 mm thick which, when sharpened to a keen razor’s edge, may be flexed into various shapes and will peel shavings from wood surfaces with astonishing rapidity.  The students have already learned how to grind the tools on the bench grinder, attaining the tubular bevel on the edge, reminiscent of the tubular wave on the ocean known as the “banzai pipeline.”
I proceed to the grinder, with mind sharpened for the task, for our grinder is a little wobbly and I must make up for it with strong focus.

At the grinder, I’m greeted by two students, whose enthusiasm for the grinder and sharpening is boundless, and whose identities shall be protected here.  They proudly show me how they have taken the tools without my permission which, at great effort, I’ve had custom made for bow rehairing  and they have now reground into tiny chisels.  My face immediately distorts into the mien of Kali, blood stained teeth gnashing.  “How many times have I told you not to touch the tools or work pieces of others without permission?!?” issues forth from the face of Kali, now terrible to behold.  The chakra weapon which spins on her finger and can behead entire regiments is poised for action.  “Now we haven’t enough of these tools to go around for all the students to learn bow rehairing,” the awesome hook sword in one of her multiple hands raised in readiness…”These are now useless to us–what were you thinking?”  Kali casts the ruined tools aside and they bounce away into the next room, clattering against the wall.  Kali looms, ready to sink her already bloody teeth into the students’ tender necks.  By now, the two culprits are cowering, heads hanging, ready for impending doom, which will certainly be their fate.  I turn and skulk back to my bench.  In my mind the words of the Dalai Lama begin to resonate–“If the problem can’t be fixed, why worry? If the problem can be fixed, why worry?”  By the time I reach my bench, I’m chuckling about the incident, my fine mood restored by the sunlight beaming through the window, illuminating the large portrait of Krishna’s father, Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, who smiles upon us daily.  I remember fondly the words of Mr. V.K.Venkataramanujam during my violin lessons after yelling at me for the crime of playing too many wrong notes–“To be a kind and loving teacher, we must occasionally be a shouting man…”

After the lunch break, the two culprits approach me, beaming smiles all around.  They’ve sacrificed their lunch break and restored the tools to their original condition, with the whole class pulling together to help them.  We are one big happy family here again…  “Why worry….?”


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