Most children know when George Harrison died, but ask them about this year's Sangita Kalanidhi and you draw a blank. It is time sabhas included youth-friendly programmes in their annual festivals to create more awareness.
AS THE season ends we congratulate ourselves on sitting through so many concerts good, bad and ugly. We have done what the gods cannot do. Just look at that huge Saraswati on the Music Academy stage. She has spondylitis, I-mean-of-course a tribhangi that no dancer can hope to replicate.
How does she strike that pose? Did the goddess get frozen during a mandi adavu of an exotic veena-on-hand tirmanam (our one and only Dr.Padma Subrahmanyam may have an imposing name from the Natyasastra for it, say, Veenakaradhritachitravichitra Karana). Or is it some modern art notion after all, of twisting her torso in three different directions to suggest that in the hallowed sabhas of Chennai, bhava, raga and tala have always been playing tug-of-war. Perhaps some Sleeping Beauty spell cast by the crooner on the stage? Next session brings change, the clash of voice, string and drum startles her awake... Why, she's about to drop her veena in fright!
Finally I realise that there's no mystery to the panel, the poor Goddess is simply caught red handed in the preliminary act of rising from the lotus she's simply trying to cut and run from the festival assaults. Do you blame her when the mike wails like an Afghan siren announcing the dropping of bombs?
In fact I could see my own torso zigzagging into not just three, but 30 different directions at the Narada Gana Sabha Mini Hall, when the "gentle" flute produced Hiroshima explosions. The next day vocalist Visalakshi Nityanand did the unbelievable thing: she actually asked for volume reduction. Bless you lady.
Her concert also gave me my best visual of the festival: a little girl in yellow pavadai and maroon chattai sitting behind her, playing the tambura with dainty discipline, just as another child had played the sruti box for Seetha Rajan at the Academy. Their utter concentration cued me into realising the importance of a nourishing environment for both the performer and listener. They also reminded me of the good ol' days when cutcheri going spelt excitement for three generations in the family, the men in zari veshtis, women in finery topped with malli and kanakambaram (extra powder for GNB, later for Lalgudi), and children anticipating a treat.
Now? "How can I bring my son to cutcheris? There's tuition and homework through Christmas hols," says one parent. Another confesses it is impossible to wean the child away from the sports channel and poolroom. "Schools don't breed respect for our arts," says a mother of teenagers. "Peer pressure is for rock and jazz."
Don't you think it's time sabhas included youth friendly programmes during their annual festivals, with advance campaigns in schools/colleges? Because right now the Chennai child knows exactly when George Harrison died, but ask who is this year's Sangita Kalanidhi and you draw a blank, even from the offspring of cutcheri buffs.
That Kalanidhi elect described the audience for his lec-dem as a devasabha ("congregation of the gods"; no hyperbole this, we have seen the music experts wrangling in the authentic tradition of our mythic celestials). Somebody said Umayalpuram Sivaraman's fingers made "devasangitam", his drumming was fiery, solid, cool, expansive and awesome as the five elements. And what fluency in crisp Tamil! (Not the Victorian English de riguer for any discussion of Carnatic music, which ends up as ponderous kalakshepam). Humour sparkled as did the moras and korvais with and without "podi".
The mridanga chakravarti offered a glass of water to his jati-reciting disciple with jokes about "sishya seva". This was parallelled in Nedunuri Krishnamurthy's encouragement of his sishya when that vocal accompanist rendered the swara finale. Will such caring bonds between guru and sishya go out of vogue soon? If so, how will that affect our music?
The nature of that special tie was unconsciously underlined at an informal session among the students of D.K.Jayaraman at festival time, not in so many words, but the love with which they recalled their guru. Once on tour, he kept sending his sishya to find out the cricket score from a shop of electronic goods down the street. When the match reached a crucial stage, DKJ marched out, and stood outside the shop window, riveted to the proceedings on the screen. The embarrassed sishya tried to persuade the guru to return to the hotel, especially after the shopkeeper switched the TV off. But DKJ said, "Wait, he will switch it on, after all he has to do business, how long can he keep it off?" Sure enough, the salesman turned the TV on again and DKJ continued to watch from the street!
Nirmala Ramachandran's lec-dem on the Pandanallur school at the Music Academy focussed on gurus again. There was reverence, affection and honesty here. Her nattuvanar teachers excelled in nritta, they composed to suit the lyric and the music of the piece, the plus and minus points of each individual dancer. But she had to go to Balasaraswati to learn infelt abhinaya, as, for socio-historical reasons perhaps, the nattuvanars rarely got beyond teaching hand gestures to their new students from the non-devadasi community.
An exacting labour of the season was the group rendering of Mahavaidyanatha Sivan's mela raga malika by Sulochana Patthabhiraman's students (Narada Gana Sabha). Hopefully the precursor of more such revivals as essential for energising tradition as any innovation. How about the 108 ragatalamalika of Ramaswamy Dikshitar next time?
Two responses to "Keechaka Vadham" at Kalakshetra: the mother was nervous about her little girl's reaction. After all, the child was sensitive, and Kathakali can be scary.
On the way home, asked what she liked best about the show, the child had no hesitation in replying, "The murder." I recalled how another mother took her son to imbibe salutary values from Rukmini Devi's Ramayana. After that, the child had a wonderful time at home doing action replays of Ravana.
It seems an NRI family made it in good time to get the best seats for "Keechaka Vadham". As the wife described it, "For the first half hour you saw the tiraiseelai (hand held curtain). The next half hour had someone trying to get out from behind the tiraiseelai. "So when is the fancy footwork going to start?" I asked, remembering the show I had seen in London. That's when I learnt I was at a Kathak-ALI - not Kathak - show."
We all know that good rasikas mean a good concert, as evident at Sanjay Subrahmanian's performance at Kalakshetra, where he brought off a dynamic "Sri Chamundeshwari", the Bilahari composition of Mysore Vasudevachar who had graced that institution long ago. Even the deafening mike could not rob mridangist Tiruchi Sankaran of glory.
T.N.Krishnan's recital at Naada Inbam proved that our best music is for an intimate chamber audience of sahrdayas. His Bhairavi, with a peerless rendering of "Amba Kamakshi", brought a rush of tears to our eyes, as hearts swelled with pride at the grandeur and profundity of our tradition.
Later you asked yourself what is it that the man has which is lacking in present day music. There are artistes today as dedicated, and with unquestionable talent. But how does TNK soak his phrases in a honey that seems inaccessible to them?
The violinist's own words during the concert suggested an answer: Krishnan had accompanied the masters of another era altogether. He had been a sahrdaya of their ripe melodies. That has inspired him to express a bhava which moves us. It belongs to another value system, another mode of existence altogether.
Sometimes we are privileged to hear its echoes in a T.M.Krishna, a Nagai Muralidharan, a Santhanagopalan, a Ranjani-Gayathri, an Akkarai Subbulakshmi, a B.S.Purushotthaman, a K.V.Prasad or a J.Vaidyanathan...It is the hope of repossessing our heritage which makes us haunt the sabhas during the year, and creates waves of anticipation at Chennai's unique December festival.
Overheard after an experts' committee debate:
Mama: I never knew that Bhayankarapriya had only one composition in it according to the ancient Apaswara Murchhana Sangraham tradition.
Or about the controversy as to whether this unique audava-shadava vakra-varja dvimadhyama raga was invented by Pishachapuri Bhuta Iyer or Peiyoor Vetala Iyengar. How expertly our musicologist sang its scale, accenting its jiva swara the quivering pratimadhyamam.
Mami: To me every note sounded like pratimadhyamam. Wobbly.
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