A North Indian friend of mine posted on Facebook about his frustration at not being able to appreciate Carnatic (South Indian classical) music in spite of repeated attempts with an open mind. He could deeply appreciate Hindustani (North Indian classical) music, and his sense of puzzlement came across in his post. The two genres of music are based on very similar concepts of scale and rhythm, so why did one transport him while the other utterly fail to impress?
I could also see that he was trying hard to balance honesty with a desire not to offend South Indians. After all, there is no polite way to tell someone, "I think my culture is superior to yours," even if that was the truth.
As a South Indian, I realised I could help him out without the constraint of political correctness that handicapped his expression.
I'm reproducing my response to him, suitably annotated and modified:
I feel your pain. There is nothing wrong with you. It's not you, it's Carnatic music ;-)
One of the theories I have heard is that voice quality is given a lot more importance in the Hindustani tradition. In Carnatic, technical perfection is valued far above voice quality. A Carnatic vocalist is lauded for a performance where they adhered strictly to every beat, note and nuance of the compositions they rendered even if they sounded like a toad. A certain female doyen of yesteryear who was popularly known by her three initials (but who shall remain unnamed in this blog) was one such prominent specimen of the family bufonidae.
[Connoisseurs of Hindustani music may squirm here, but too many lyrics are devoted to the theme of faithless husbands who leave their wives pining for them while they enjoy themselves in the company of a mistress.]
Avoid watching the cringe-inducing visuals if possible, although you will no doubt wonder about the context. A boy's family has come to a girl's house to "see" her in regard to marriage, and as is often the practice in South Indian arranged marriages, the girl is asked to sing. The lyrics are about Krishna who came from Brindavan to see Bhama (his second wife Satyabhama after Rukmini).