French woman Muriel has been attending the Margazhi music season in the city for more than four decades
Finding nationals of foreign countries among the rasikas at the various crowded sabhas during the Margazhi is not unusual. But meet Muriel who has been visiting the city unfailingly for the past 43 years to be a part of this annual cultural extravaganza.
“I have been attending this unique festival since I was 22,” says the now 65-year-old Muriel who’s from Paris. “I clearly remember when I first landed at the Bombay airport on my maiden India visit I felt I had been here before. There was a strange sense of belonging. I fell in love with everything India. I have travelled around the world but find Indians the warmest people,” smiles Muriel, as she steps out of Narada Gana Sabha clad in a tussar kurta after listening to a “fulfilling” concert by vocalist Vijayalakshmy Subramaniam.
“She was really good. This is the first time I heard her,” says Muriel, who considers herself fortunate to have made a trip down South when she first came to India.
“Imagine landing here in the month of December and discovering the beauty of the many magnificent classical art forms here. I honestly do not have the words to explain how they have impacted my mind and soul. Watching them has been bliss, pure joy…I am sure I cannot find this elsewhere,” she says with her large expressive eyes conveying more than her heavily French-accented English.
What about missing Christmas celebrations at home? “I told you, nothing else matters,” she emphasises.
Muriel is delighted to have found a perfect life partner in Christian, who shares her love for the Indian classical arts and has been accompanying her each year to Chennai. “Of course, we do not understand the language or the technique, but isn’t art above all this,” asks Christian showing the small diary in which the couple has meticulously noted down cutcheris they plan to attend, the venue and time.
Their love for India is so complete that unlike many foreign nationals Muriel says she finds “nothing, nothing at all annoying about the city. I love the people, the ambience, the food, the colours, the temples…almost everything. And she doesn’t let anything come in the way of her annual trip, not even a major back surgery because of which she now moves around with a walking stick. Once she’s back home after her three-week stay in Chennai, Muriel feels she’s able to look at life’s problems from a fresh perspective and handle them better too. “The memories last me through the year; till my next trip. And suddenly I find there’s so much to talk to with my daughter who has attended the festival several times when she was in school,” she laughs. The couple make it a point to catch up with Indian classical performances in Paris too.
Interestingly, Muriel and Christian’s annual trip to South India culminates in Thanjavur. “Oh, the Big Temple. Saint Thyagaraja’s sammadhi at Tiruvaiyaru. It’s an elevating experience we cannot do without,” says Muriel with her eyes closed and palms held close to her chest.