For long as I remember Chennai or for the romantics – Madras had 2 seasons – Summer (for almost 340 days) and the “Music Season” for a month straddling December and January. But since the 90’s, “Season” has come to mean the Music Season and is quietly giving Chennai its place under the Sun due to its uniqueness and unparalleled virtues in the entire globe. The last time I was in Madras during the Season was I think in the late 80’s before the evolution happened. So when I got an opportunity this time over to be in Madras last week, though just for a couple of days, I was excited and was keen to record for myself the notes emanating from the streets, sabhas, well practically from all over!
I don’t think there is any other geography in the world where there is such a confluence of artists and their music as in Madras during the Season. Such is the carpet bombing of concerts of artists of varying hue that one is spoilt for choice. Since I was there only for 2 days I didn’t face that problem and had to pick up from what was available on the calendar. Which is made simple these days with the many “Season apps” on your smart phones where you can search by date, time and the artist. So there I was on the 1st day of the New Year at the Music Academy at 9.00 am for the 1st programme of 2015 (surprisingly Free Entry) – A Flute recital by Shashank another child prodigy of our times.
While I leave it to the musically erudite to write about the nuances of the Gambira Vani ragam and Evari Mata Kriti,..,… he played that day, let me stick to the interesting things happening around the Season itself.
The Season is unique in many ways. One shouldn’t be surprised if
- you get to see a packed house at 9.00 am on the New Year day that too for a typical old world Classical music programme!!!
- in what has become a sponsor driven entertainment industry, you see a clean stage as I saw that day at the Academy without any ugly sponsor branding elements
- outside the concert hall, you see somebody talking loudly (no surprises here 😉 ) on the mobile phone about the gradations in the rendition of O Ranga Sayi in Kamboji raga by so and so artist which he just heard
- you see an elderly wishing well – (Nanna Varuve) to a young lad may be all of 10 who would have just finished his concert ofcourse in the morning slot
- you catch many young things taking notes assiduously while the concert is going on and discussing among themselves in what beat the song was played or such technical stuff in between the programme yes mostly in Yankee accent 😄
- the mama sitting ahead of you rudely turns around and scoffs at you, “We have come to hear his music and not yours” 😒. This is when you slightly got carried away by the performance and started humming along in your lesser mortal voice!
- you see elderly men during the concerts displaying emotions as if they achieved multiple orgasms 😃 😃
- mobile phones don’t ring at all during a 2 hour concert or you don’t get to see people talking on the phone during the programme like we are used to in movie halls!!!
- the person sitting next to you appears to be in deep slumber but wakes up at the right times to clap his hands to express his appreciation 😃
- you repeatedly hear words like Baley Baley and Besh Besh – Tamil words which have otherwise disappeared from everyday lingo
- you heard that folks attend concerts not just for the taste of music but also for that of the food served at the Sabha canteens. So don’t be surprised also if you see ads in newspapers prominently displaying the name of the caterers alongside the day’s programme during the Season. Caterers like Pattappa (Padmanabhan at the Academy) and “Mountbatten Mani” (what a name 🙂 ) have become brands in their own right.
- you observe the sabha canteen food getting discussed and also reviewed in the magazines doing the Season beat. “The Canteen Kaapi was better than the Kaapi (ragam) rendered by the singer” was a popular line of late music critic and sharp wit Suppudu. Today don’t be amused if you hear – “innikku kacherila rasamey illa” (No rasam in today’s concert). It could very well be about the canteen menu rather than the concert 😃 😃
- you mistook a concert hall to be a godown of silk saree clad mannequins 😃. For, in these days of Televised concerts (Marghazhi Maha Utsavam in Jaya TV, Chennaiyil Thiruvaiyaru in Vijay TV,…) mainly sponsored by Silk Saree vendors is it a crime if you want to look good on camera and where the programme is beamed across continents???
- the media completely misses the mass “Gharwapsi” which happens every year in Chennai during the Season! I’m talking of the visiting NRIs, PIOs, Pravasis and what have you who religiously come back to their roots in Chennai to revel in the Season’s proceedings. In the process also fill up all the hotels, service apartments,.. in and around the music catchment area!
- you happen to catch bureaucrats, police officers,.. who are otherwise stiff necked wearing a relaxed look in Veshtis occupying front rows in sabhas and catching up with the latest in music!
- the hardcore Carnatic music notes which hitherto heard only within the hallowed walls of sabhas like the Music Academy, Narada Gana Sabha,.. are now heard even in slums that too during the Season. Yes, in an attempt to take the Carnatic music outside the ring of a certain elite – few musicians like T.M.Krishna, Unnikrishnan,.. have for the 1st time come together to stage concerts in and around areas where fisherfolk live. Read more about this novel effort – Urur-Olcott Kuppam Margazhi Festival here.
“Carnatic music has not transcended class barriers” has been a refrain of many including musicians like T.M.Krishna. I don’t think this was result of some grand Design or for that matter by Default. It could be due to plain exposure or lack of it. In that sense the global awareness of the Season thanks to the NRIs on the one side and taking the “Season to seashore” as in Urur-Olcott Kuppam Margazhi Festival on the other side could help in transcending all barriers I feel or so one hopes. In fact this was the dream of one of India’s finest filmmakers K.Balachander (KB) who in one of his many hit films – Sindhu Bhairavi weaved this thought of taking Carnatic music to the masses. KB who passed away few weeks ago must be a happy man to see his dream taking actual shape.
On that note,”Season’s Greetings” and until the next Season, have an awesome year 🎵🎵