The Season is over. Some random thoughts struck me as I watched the scenes run before me. Time was when the women who came to the Music Academy were generally attired in Kanchipuram pattu and wore diamonds. It was like they were attending a wedding or a Navaratri kolu.
Not anymore. The variety now is striking. There may be the odd silk and diamond here and there, but they are not mandatory. The studiously disarrayed top-knot, jeans … anything goes.
The music season has also become the canteen season. There are even rankings among them. Was this menu better than that — actually, for tiffin you go here, but for elai sappadu go there. At one concert, the couple that sat near me discussed the merits and demerits of Asoka halwa. I bore it for a while, then bent towards them and said: “Please, konjam kutcheri kekkalaama?” (Please, can we listen to the concert a bit?)
The audience made me weep, at times. At one concert, a rasika near me insisted on singing along, and she was not in sync. My neighbour at another concert tapped the talam on her thigh, and she was clearly hearing a different beat. There were two persons in front of me who looked very much like visitors from overseas. I doubt if they listened to the vidwan singing . They were more interested in live Tweeting or Instagramming to let everybody know that they were there. “The board says don’t record video or audio. The volunteers come and tell you. still…why?” I asked. They glared, and put the devices away.
At a lec-dem, I requested for the mike, and said: “The vidwan is sharing his knowledge and art so generously, it is almost spiritual. And, can you only think of posting it on social media?” Many, including the artistes, thanked me later. But I am sure there were many glares. If sabhas had kept a box to vote for the most abrasive member of the audience, I might have actually won.
But I am being unfair. There were others who were different too. A young man and a woman at a morning free concert, moved me. They did not look like sabha regulars. She had vision problems, but could hear. They were immensely happy recognising the ragas. After the main raga she had to leave. He stayed back. The concert had come to the thillana stage. He took out a clutch of papers. He had marked all the free concerts at different sabhas. He checked out where he should go next.
The sabhas do greater service with their ‘free concerts’ than with their housefull concerts. The free concerts draw a more widespread audience, who are, perhaps, younger. The rule is that artistes ‘graduate’ when they are shifted to ticketed concerts. But what does that ‘graduation’ really mean?
Some years ago, I was at a non-ticketed concert. Two young men, who did not look like sabha regulars sat behind. The artiste started his alapana, and there was an excited whisper from behind — “Surutti-da!” I was thrilled for them. I shared this with the artiste some months later. He was chuffed, and rightly so.
The mother of a son with mobility issues once asked me why the concerts are “inaccessible”. Things have changed for the better, but there is quite a distance to go. Of course, online concerts have come to stay, and some organisations are doing a great job streaming. But isn’t everyone entitled to breathe the ‘seasonal’ air?
Time was when people thought that tani avartanam meant intermission. Now, the audience listens. That is when the percussionists have the centre stage, in a manner of speaking. The singer must plan this time wisely. At a few concerts, I felt the singer forgot about the tani avartanam, and hastened to nod the head graciously at the mridangam artiste, not even sparing five minutes. That is not fair,
I need not worry unduly about the future, though. Here is a beautiful quote, shared at the event “Remembering veena vidwan S. Balachander.” SB had said: “Art will ever flourish. Art will outlive us…Artistes of the future will also flourish…Artistes of the future are also bound to outshine us. Hence, let us keep our ears and eyes…and mainly our hearts open.”