The Piano Man Music

An open letter to Chennai

Folk arts are as much part of Chennai’s rich cultural heritage as classical arts are   | Photo Credit: M_VEDHAN

Dear Chennai,

I am very happy that you have emerged as a Creative City on UNESCO’s prestigious network, and that too for music, the art form that means the most to me. I have been playing pianos across your length and breadth for decades now, and it has made me aware of not just how culturally rich you are, but also how gracious when it comes to accepting change and transformation.

When you were flooded in 2015, my heart wept. And I was on your streets, helping as much as I could . We had to do this for you, as we quickly realised that you were the very essence of our life and meant more to us than any other city or region anywhere in the world.

At that time,a strange sound could be heard. It came from violins and mridangams and inappropriately placed loudspeakers outside sabhas. The classical musician in me thought this was rather heroic on the part of some of our performers. But this was not the only aberration I noticed. Cinema halls did play to fairly decent crowds and quite a few people went to events organised by friends and families. Either everyone was equally at fault, or this was the way different people coped with trauma. Looking at it now, both seems equally justifiable.

Among the more interesting comments that emerged on the social media was — “what is Chennai if not for its music season?”. My heart wept for you more then ever, dear city. Can you be described by just one cultural event?

In the past few years, I have observed that the famed December Music and Dance season seems to have become the focus of too many arguments. While many (including myself) argue that Chennai is a vast urban culture scape and has a dazzling diversity of traditions and cultural phenomena, there are those who feel that the ‘December season’ is its most defining attribute.

Plethora of cultural ideas

I neither agree nor disagree, Chennai. A city is defined by its citizens. From Gummidipoondi to Singaperumal Koil, Mylapore to Avadi — you are not one. You own several worlds. And each world is different. From the culture of our urban villages along the sea shore to the dance and music styles that emerge from Kodambakkam, there is a plethora of cultural ideas that one witnesses here. This, to me, defines you. That you are not one, but several. That you can embrace contradictions. And continue to foster change.

The challenge, dear Chennai, lies in using this incredible cultural tapestry to your advantage. It is not to help make glossy tourist brochures, but to enrich the city more meaningfully. To work in partnership with policy makers, urban planners and the ‘powers-that-be’ to make the city truly global.

The Creative Collaborative Network is a test. It is not an encomium. It is asking all cultural actors to become more participative, truly collaborative and put the city at the centre of their deliberations. In doing so, they will be able to lift your profile and see to it that you take your place among the world’s best. This also means that your “other” sons – the local corporation, government agencies and the like — help us help you. This is going to be hard. Many rules have been flouted egregiously across your expanse. Your lakes have disappeared, your low-lying regions hopelessly encroached upon. Many of your trees are gone, thanks to last year’s cyclone, and yet you maintain a dignity. In several lakes-turned-neighbourhoods, sewage overflows and storm water drains have not been constructed.

Frankly, Chennai, I am worried. As these two sets of people have never traditionally worked together. But you have always made impossible things happen. You have made cultural icons chief ministers and have played kingmaker to many others who came from other parts of India. “Vandhorai Vaazhavaikkum Chennai”, as we always say.

I wish you the best as always. This is a time to celebrate, and also a time to pause, rethink, and do what’s right.

Yours Forever

The writer is a well known pianist and music educator based in Chennai

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Printable version | Jun 24, 2021 7:38:46 PM |

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