Wednesday, October 31, 2007

November Fest

Chennai Online

November 2005

As though the Chennai music season needed padding up, ‘The Hindu’ has added to its considerable repertoire with the introduction of a new programme entitled ‘The Friday Review November Fest’, with dazzling jugalbandis to herald the more orthodox fare that will soon follow.

As I ignore a light drizzle and set out on my morning walk, I see an intrepid muffler-clad warrior braving the bitter cold of November Madras. The lady is well equipped for an Antarctic expedition, but of vital significance is the secure wrapping she has subjected her ears to, allowing no entry to the treacherous winter wind.

I immediately experience the familiar goosebumps of the seasoned concert-goer of the Madras cutcheri season in withdrawal, someone whose poor time management skills have denied him the pleasures of month-long sabha-hopping for some Decembers running now. For who doesn’t know that the time the Madrasi brings out his or her winter finery is the time the Seshagopalans and Unnikrishnans have to keep their fingers crossed and throats hot-water-gargled to do battle with their audience of mamas and mamis swathed in their warm woollens and swirling silks, and entice them away from their copies of ‘Kutcheri Buzz’, distributed by overzealous volunteers just before the start of the concert?

In the evening, I am driving homewards and as we cross the Adyar bridge and turn into Besant Avenue, I ask my companion if the annual convention of the Theosophical Society is still the big event it used to be - one of the high points of the year for young residents of south Madras, because it was a time you could hang out with members of the opposite sex from different parts of the world - and the answer is in the affirmative. I wonder if the convention is any longer a big draw with our youngsters who have enough else on their plate - unless of course they happen to be precocious theosophists in the making.

We soon enter Kalakshetra Colony, the residential enclave that once belonged to Rukmini Devi's Kalakshetra, prime real estate the institution sold to the lucky residents of the area, choosing to locate the college of fine arts in the area further south with its profusion of lotus ponds and coconut palms, its relative proximity to the local cemeteries notwithstanding. The ponds have dried up but Kalakshetra is in the heart of thick woods lovingly nurtured by some of its founder’s closest aides after it moved here from Adyar in the sixties.

Another legacy Rukmini Devi has left behind, the annual Art Festival at the Kerala-style auditorium in Tiruvanmiyur, is round the corner, and soon scenes from the Ramayana will unfold before a mesmerised audience, though old-timers will rue the passing of the good old days and the stalwarts of the past.

It’s early days yet for the migratory birds from all over the world to gather at the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary but it’s the time of the year overseas Indians swoop down on Madras. In the past, they came to listen and watch; today some of them come to sing and dance as well. While the rest of sabhadom is in the throes of scheduling concerts featuring the top stars, Hamsadhwani of Indiranagar showcases NRI music talent!

NRIs are not the only strange birds the season brings to Madras. There is quite a sprinkling of foreign nationals dotting the scene, ranging from wide-eyed seekers of nirvana to serious scholars of music and dance whose thoroughness and dedication can shame the best of local students. And if you read the programme cards carefully you will see that some of the morning lec-dem sessions are by experts from quite distant lands.

Many great artistes of the past have passed on and we shall miss them sorely, and I don’t mean the big stars of Carnatic music and dance alone. Many solid performers, composers and teachers who were an integral part of the music scene have left us. We’ll miss them.

But this is no occasion for grief. It is celebration time. The usual excitement of anticipation catches up with you. The young tyros you watched make their spectacular debuts a couple of decades ago are today masters of their art, occupying centrestage where once was an earlier generation of stars. The sensational teenager who took Madras by storm in the 1980s with his tiny mandolin. U Srinivas, is today a seasoned veteran, while an earlier child prodigy, Ravi Kiran has mellowed with the years to deliver music of surpassing beauty with his ‘chitravina’. Another prodigy of a later vintage, Shashank, today explores brave new paths with the flute, deeply moving one moment and frenetically fast-paced the next. Will the new season throw up some exciting new talent offering similar magic, you wonder.

As always, there will be some variations of the theme, for those who seek a change from the standard cutcheri fare. That brilliant Carnatic violinist Sriram Parasuram will also perform Hindustani-Carnatic vocal jugalbandis with wife Anuradha Sriram. O S Arun will sing Tamil ghazals. A number of percussion ensembles will thrill lovers of rhythm, led by such laya wizards as Karaikudi Mani, Vinayakram, Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam and Karthick. For those harking back to the past, there will be at least one four-hour vocal concert - by Malladi Brothers.

For now, let’s feast on The Hindu Friday Review’s November Fest.

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