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The Sounds of Reverence

Manjula Padmanabhan

By M.K. Gandhi
Karadi Tales, Chennai, 2007, pp. 64 CD, Rs. 250.00

By R.M. Lala
Karadi Tales, Chennai, 2007, pp. 44 CD, Rs. 275.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 11 November 2007

The best thing about these two audio-books is that they indicate an interest in the sphere of literacy for listeners. I have, for many years, enjoyed listening to books via cassettes and now CDs. Most often, the readers are well-known screen and stage actors, whose voices are trained to convey subtle nuances of mood and texture. So it was with enthusiasm that I accepted these two audio-books for review. The first is a brief biography by R.M. Lala of India’s premier industrialist J.R.D.Tata and the second is a highly condensed version of Mahatma Gandhi’s celebrated memoir which shares its name with the title of the CD.   Both CDs have been attractively packaged and each is accompanied by a booklet containing the entire text of what is on the CDs. Indeed, the product is packaged as a book accompanied by a ‘free CD’. Both provide a little over one hour’s worth of listening, with music and some atmospheric sound effects. It is probably not surprising that ‘Experiments’ outperforms ‘Beyond the Mountain’, since Gandhi’s own words (read by Shekhar Kapur) form the backbone of the piece.   At the level of the actual audio experience, however, I was rather disappointed. I don’t know whether I would have reacted differently had I not already been thoroughly acquainted with the notion of listening to texts. But because it is something I enjoy and frequently do—often while going on an evening walk or while painting—I was irritated to find that these CDs were structured more like promotional videos rather than audio books. That is, the text was treated as if it needed constant ‘enhancements’ in the form of music. A little music to introduce a new chapter or a change of pace is one thing, but to use it as if sugar-coating the bitter pill of audio-biographies is something else altogether! Like most people, I like to choose the music I listen to, so I did not enjoy the semi-devotional flavour of the pieces accompanying the texts in both cases. On the “Experiments” CD,for instance, there was a rendering of Raghupati Raghava Rajaram that was so deadly sweet I could feel a diabetic coma coming on; at the end of “Last Mountain” the Libera Choir sing “Abide with Me” in a nauseating fusion of bhajan and hymn.   That is the other point: both Gandhi ...

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