There's music in the air!
If you don't fancy listening to a kutcheri or you can't make it to a sabha, never mind. There are other `genres' of music to choose from... GEETA PADMANABHAN describes some other sounds that are so much a part of city life today.
THE MUSIC season has been in full swing (song?). The city has tuned itself to enjoying every minute of its all-too-short, agreeable weather. Hundreds of sabhas run thousands of programmes. From early morning discourses to late night performances, the calendar is full to the minute. Like some seasonal epidemic, the appreciative genes are activated when the temperatures fall.
To catch up with even a fraction of this `orchestrated' culture, you would have to live in your preferred form of transport hurrying out only to grab a meal or snatch some sleep. Academies and music societies decorate the aged, drape the established and confer titles (who thinks up all those high-sounding names?) on concert wonders. And the recipients are getting younger.
The city obviously throws up artistic prodigies on an assembly-line basis. Full-page programme-ads fill newspaper space. Computer portals strive for eyeball attention to a symphony of music collections. Television channels forgo precious serial space to bring harmony to our living rooms.
Anxious to arouse culture consciousness, the press asks anyone who has been anywhere near a sabha to share his/her experience in its pages. As in fashion or technical writing, these critiques come in a linguistic idiom meant for a chosen few in the music mensa club. If the engrossed listener is elevated to another plane by the `divine music', how come he remembers so much to comment on?
But kutcheris aren't complete without audience reaction. ``It was very nice,'' lisps a three-year-old into the camera at the end of a classical Carnatic music hour.
Then there is the foreign invasion. White-skinned aficionados of authentic Indian music (in South Indian attire) sit motionless through recital after mediocre recital. Outside they try out every thing Indian chaplets of flowers, chats with auto drivers, browsing through the bazaars and the spicy dosa-vada-chutni-sambar ensemble. There are also the NRIs (there is an NRI festival!) whose love for classical Indian music intensifies in direct proportion to the distance between them and the country of their birth. Pulled by the strings of native sounds, they find a displaced guru in Silicon Valley, match their sruti to an electronic box, and in a few short years, learn enough for a morning performance in a `talent scouting' sabha. They make annual pilgrimages to this Mecca of music to be `seen' in the season. Once secure in the sabha list they drop all intent of crossing back. (Till they are invited by friends abroad for lucrative performances).
If you think only the bejewelled mamis and the bemufflered mamas form the `rasikarazzi' think again. In Chennai, everyone loves music. If you don't like what is on offer you make your own. And play it free for Chennai's musically minded. This group's music isn't seasonal. It is aired all day and all year round. Here's a checklist.
The neighbour's dog is your nearest maestro. He wakes you with his own brand of suprabatham. And he carries on the guru-sishya parampara though in an offbeat rendering. The younger one at the end of his tani avarthanam joins him. They go full throttle making sure the early morning Marghazi breeze does not go un-inhaled, never mind the cursing from the balconies.
By 8 a.m. all of Chennai is a stage and all men and women are vidwans. The Matized manager next door finds music an excellent vehicle for nationalism. From the depths of the compound he backs out his vahana to the strains of `Vande Mataram'.
The Santro owner is a devotee of Santa Claus and all that is X-mas. His `Compliments of the Season' come suffused in Jingle Bells every time he is in reverse gear, which happens to be the first crack of light and the last hour of night. A Hyundai greets the emerging sun with `Happy Birthday'.
Other musicologists in automobiles have built-in sounds that resemble anything between a hiccup and heavy coughing and no one misses the jugalbandi of exhaust smoke and reverse signal.
It would be totally unjust to leave out our autorickshaw artistes from this kutcheri list. The unusual music they make with their silencer-less machines qualifies them for the `Best Morsing Band' prize. Since this can be heard throughout the day and night they should get the `Aganda Autosruti' award as well.
The huge water tankers and lorries might mow us down if we fail to recognise their unique contribution to melody. (Not that they need a pretext!) The air horns they play for miles on end to keep the unlawful other road users at bay are no doubt music to their ears. From Nattai to Neelambari, from varnam to thillana, the virtuoso behind the wheel is trained in a complete repertoire of honking and if you don't listen to this mid-road concert it will be `Mangalam' for you!' `Watch out or face the music' is his refrain.
What about dance programmes? Just observe passengers hop in and out of city buses there are solos and group dances depending on the time of the day. For nattuvangam of course, you have to turn to construction sites. Giant machines render lyrical `mixtures' and workers join in the chorus hammer and tongs. This music builds up all day with only breaks for lunch.
The street philharmonic provides the instrumental touch. Listen to the ringing of the ice-cream vendor's bell. Stop by or gently pass the clanging of the unique `vadyam' (the tin box at the end of a rope) played joyously by the sonpapdi seller. Keep time with the peanut peddler's ladle beating against the metal roasting pot. The `hiss' of the hydraulic brakes has its own musical charm. All these accompany the vegetable and fruit sellers as they delineate rare ragas and swirl their gamakas. When their voices tire the raddiwala claims his place in this aesthetic arena. Black-clad pilgrims pitch in with recorded devotional music. In large batches they blare out their departure to the mountain top deity in a neighbouring state.
Care for `chamber music'? Buy audio cassettes that flood the `Halls' in a race with the rains outside. Step in and grab them for a song. And play them all day. Or switch on the washing machine in the service area and the mixie in the kitchen. Enjoy a mini concert of mridangam and ganjira. That is wholesome indoor music on a platter.
If you insist on an orchestra there is the winged variety. The drone of its members accompanies you whether it is the upmarket Gana Sabha or down-the-lane concert hall. All through the season and beyond, these artistes surround you with their sound of music.
Never mind if you can't make it to the sabhas. The multi-faceted musicians of Chennai are at your service even when you don't need them. Alas, one man's music is another's noise.
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