Unplugged | Music

Two unique listeners: the delightful elderly gent and the peaceful sleeping child

That your notes wash over a child, bypassing their cognitive centres and entering the soul, is a most rewarding feeling, say musicians

This column has talked about the kinds of audience members at music recitals — from the raptly listening and appreciative to the distracted and fidgety. Two more categories can be added to the list.

The first is a rather interesting audience member — cannot yet call him a type or category, because the individual in question is rather unique. There may be more like him in other towns and cities, but I haven’t met them yet. This is a delightful elderly gent, who merges with the crowd and has no distinguishing markings of any kind. He does not wear self-conscious silk kurtas with gold buttons and stoles; he is not up there in the front, swaying a lot. He merges with the crowd in his ordinary ‘pant-shirt’.

At the end of the programme, as people begin to leave, he chooses someone to gift a teeny-tiny bottle of attar to, and tells the person why he or she caught his eye. It appears that he carries a fistful of these bottles of khus (vetiver) or mogra (jasmine). He never approaches the main performer — it is fellow audience members or perhaps a young organiser or volunteer he gifts the perfume to.

Some months ago, I had an eight-year-old sitting with me — it was the first time she had asked to come along and promised to sit quietly through it, which she did. The man in the audience had spotted her, and when the performance ended, as we filed down the rickety stairs of the old hall, he gave her the bottle, much to her surprise and shy joy. He told us that it was heart-warming to see someone so young sit still and pay attention to classical vocal music.

He turns up here and there, this unobtrusive gent, and the last time I saw him, he was handing over another such tiny vial to a teenager. This time he was dispensing gilahi-mitti (petrichor). The youngster had caught his attention, not just for attending, but for sitting on the floor cross-legged and not opting for the chair, he said, and for not once checking his mobile phone throughout the performance.

After spotting him yet another time, offering his little gift to a volunteer among the organisers, I had to speak to him.

Gone with the rain

No, he was not a perfumer. He was a retired person, is all he said. No pontificating about ‘our musical heritage’ and ‘encouraging young listeners’ and such. He just smiled awkwardly, when I tried to joke with him about what would qualify me to receive one of his attar bottles. And then he said, with the slightest of smiles: “Giving attar to ladies can be misread, so you will not qualify.” He mentioned the name of the small perfume shop from where he gets these taufas (presents) — since I had shown particular interest in the wet-earth perfume. And then he was gone, throwing open his umbrella and vanishing into the unseasonal rain. Will I ask him his name the next time I encounter him? Probably not. The anonymity of his gesture is part of its charm.

The second category of audience member who is mention-worthy is the sleeping child. No, not babies who may wake up and wail. These are children aged between 6 and 10 or so, who come to classical Indian music programmes. Many a time, they sit still, listening, but then the sheer mesmeric drone of the tanpura, and perhaps the abstract nature of the music, makes them sleepy and they begin to doze. If it is night time, sometimes they will simply fold up, and the adult they are with will let them lie down in a sort of foetal position next to them.

At one time, I would anxiously wonder if this would be construed as insulting or would be a little disconcerting to the performer. However, in recent times, I have met a musician or two who have said that they are not at all affronted by a sleeping child in their audience. The fact that your music put someone to sleep is not in any way indicative that it is boring. Soothing is more like it. That the notes wash over a child, bypassing his or her cognitive centres and entering the soul, is a most rewarding feeling, they say. Many of us have had the fortune to experience that in childhood — the notes settling on us like a soft blanket.

The novelist, counsellor and music lover takes readers through the Aladdin’s cave of Indian music.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 11:30:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/two-unique-listeners-the-delightful-elderly-gent-and-the-peaceful-sleeping-child/article30828658.ece

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