Rhymes for a reason

Updated: Jul 03, 2020, 09:59 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

This week, Usha Uthup will jazz things up with a virtual concert to launch the third volume of Karadi Tales' bestselling nursery rhymes that celebrate Indian culture

Usha Uthup with Karadi, the bear
Usha Uthup with Karadi, the bear

When asked about her long-standing relationship with Chennai-based independent children's publishing house Karadi Tales (KT), Usha Uthup says, "Some relationships don't have dates." It's only 19 minutes after our telephonic conversation we realise that the music legend never attaches a date to any of her fondest memories, including those with KT.

Karadi Rhymes Volumes 1 and 2, a series of nursery rhymes that relate to the Indian experience, were launched in 2003. Sung by Uthup and accompanied with music by 3 Brothers and a Violin, over 1,00,000 copies have been sold since. This Saturday, after nearly two decades and in KT's 25th year, the third volume will launch with a virtual concert by Uthup.

Uthup with Karadi Tales co-founders Shobha Viswanath and Narayan Parasuram while recording Karadi Rhymes 3 last December
Uthup with Karadi Tales co-founders Shobha Viswanath and Narayan Parasuram while recording Karadi Rhymes 3 last December

Back when the series was first conceptualised, Uthup was fired with the idea at the Taj Coromandel, Chennai, where she was performing. She loved the thought of Indian rhymes for Indian kids and came on board instantly. "It's also such a wonderful thing to work with children. They mean the world to me. I feel that everyone in their lifetime should devote some time to them. There's the famous song that's called Teach Your Children, but there's a lot you can learn from children, too," she says.

The early 2000s were the analogue days and thus, the recordings of the rhymes had to be coordinated via audio cassettes. So, if one made a mistake, the recording would have to be re-done from scratch. The third volume, a set of 10 rhymes, is no different from the previous two; expect rhymes on weddings, cobblers, tailors, elephants and well, Akkad bakkad bambe bo. "We were really not planning on a third volume but parents kept asking about it. It took us six to seven years to put it together and now, it's our first digital product. Also, there was never an urgency for it because the cassettes were adapted to CDs and then the USB over the years," informs Shobha Viswanath, co-founder and publishing director, KT.

Stills from the animated videos of My Name is Madhavi and Train Song sung by Uthup. Pic/Karadi Tales/Youtube
Stills from the animated videos of My Name is Madhavi and Train Song sung by Uthup. Pic/Karadi Tales/Youtube

According to Uthup, it's not easy to sing nursery rhymes perfectly but children have a knack of picking up the most difficult things. Harking back to her school days at Byculla's St Agnes', she says, "Ringing the bell for the Angelus meant the world to me. Instead of 'the hour of our death' I used to say, 'the hour of a death', and 'thyoom Jesus' until I understood it was 'thy womb, Jesus'. Sometimes, you don't need to know the answers," she says. And that's why, her biggest takeaway from Karadi Rhymes is that it goes beyond the barriers of language and relies solely on communication.

Take the Karadi classic Just like you. The rhyme begins with, "My name is Madhavi/I'm from Allepey/I speak Malayalam/But I'm just like you." And like Madhavi, the song goes on to introduce Natwar from Srinagar, Shubrata from Kolkata, Vasundhara from Vadodara, Benjamin from Panjim and Shamsher from Ajmer, among others, before concluding with, "My name is Bindiya. I'm from India." It only goes to show how our country is a potpourri of cultures and not just about a Jack and a Jill or Mary with a little lamb. For Uthup, that's a win. "I grew up in a Bombay that knew no religion. I went to Gloria Church for midnight mass, celebrated Eid and Ganesh Puja, too. That's the India I want children to grow up in."

Stills from the animated videos of My Name is Madhavi and Train Song sung by Uthup. Pic/Karadi Tales/Youtube

On July 4, 5.30 pm
Log On to youtube.com/karaditales

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