Margazhi Festival

The annual Mylaporean

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A Swede visits Chennai every year for the music season.

Stockholm-based Lars Fredriksson speaks, writes, and teaches Chinese, plays jazz on a French horn, and is a Mylaporean — emotionally, spiritually, and physically. He pays an annual rent to retain a fourth-floor terrace apartment with a clear view of the magnificent Kapaleeswarar Temple gopuram and often climbs the water tank for a 360-degree view of the city. He eats at the celebrated Maami Mess, accepts pongal-vadais from building mates and pores over programme books for the best concerts daily during the music season. Although his wife thinks he visits Chennai to escape Swedish winters, he says with a wink, “I’m here for Carnatic music.”

Serendipity is what brought him in touch with Carnatic music. In the 60s, teenager Lars, while rummaging through some old music records at a convenience store, happened to pull down two Indian classical LPs of the EMI-Music of India Series Volumes 1&3 that were delivered by mistake. He could make nothing of it, but the authentic picture of the instruments and the concert mat, “got him”. It took him two days to persuade his mother to part with cash for the treasure. When the jugalbandi of Bismillah Khan’s notes and V.G. Jog’s violin filled his room, he was overwhelmed, nourished, and felt that he had come home at last.

“I have nomadic genes,” Lars says. “I moved to Stockholm to be a street-theatre performer and I was lucky to join the city’s only arts school.” There, he found friends who had been to India to learn the mridangam and tabla, and another who had accompanied Nedunuri Krishnamurthy. He borrowed their LPs, travelled to London’s food markets for recordings of Chembai, Madurai Mani Iyer and others. He sought out artists who came to perform in Sweden like the Dagar brothers and Naringrekar. He also heard recordings of MS’s UN and USA concerts and was besotted by her music. “MS is beyond male-female distinction, her voice is closest to God,” he croons, switching on ‘Kurai Onrum Illai’ on his Macbook.

Lars has been visiting Chennai since 2003 and has plenty of friends who, he says, will come out without shoes in the snow to greet him. “They helped me get this penthouse. Last season I was in China and I cried!” He picks the day’s “listening pleasure” on the basis of seniority, personal favourites and in the case of newbies, those accompanied by established artists. “I like my music slow-paced,” he says and believes Rithvik Raja, T.M. Krishna, Akkarai Sisters and Abhilash Giri Prasad have a great future. “A lot of them have pretty voices, but I look for those with scars in their heart; who sing to heal. You feel it in their voice; have you heard Brinda-Muktha, O.S. Thyagarajan?”

Lars, however, has mastered the art of living in Chennai. Although he feels the city needs to be cleaner, he says, “It’s a wonderful place to come to! People are straightforward, you can get-by with Tamil-English, stay outdoors all night.” Renamed Chokhamela (after a 13 century saint), he says, “I’m lucky to be part of the culture; it is the difference that makes it all interesting.”

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2018 9:59:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/chennai-margazhi-season/swede-visits-chennai-every-year-for-the-margazhi-festival/article6686175.ece

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