Walkouts and Interruptions

Aha! Those of you who are bright-eyed after ringing in the New Year may be pardoned for imagining that such a caption indicates some parliamentary proceeding. But that is where you are wrong. The Man from Madras Musings is still hung-over, though not from New Years but because of the Music Season. And inspired by what he has seen, he would like to submit an analysis of audience walking in and out of concerts, most often when the performance is in progress.

Firstly, MMM would like to assure you, not everyone walks out during a performance. And some do so rather reluctantly, no doubt due to compulsions beyond their control. A third variety is a compulsive walker out and will no doubt be one day consumed by bears, just like the children of Elisha in the good book. MMM will have you know that they met their fate for making fun of Elisha’s baldness and given what is left on MMM’s head, Elisha has his sympathy. But then, MMM digresses.

Among those who walk out, there are varieties. The ones that are embarrassed , display this emotion in amply evident ways. They stoop low and try to run across to the exit, rather like the ball-boys in a tennis tournament. The only difference being that Carnatic music audiences, unlike ball-boys are rarely in the first flush of youth or in the best of physical health. The average age is 70+ and that brings its own travails. So it is often a wonder to MMM that such people, after scurrying across in a fashion that would have made Quasimodo jealous, suddenly straighten up at the entrance. What if a vertebra or two were to give way during the journey?

Another archetype decides to be defiant. This variety makes it a point to stare at the artiste as it marches out. Now all this is fine as long you walk towards the artiste. But at some time, a turning has to be made to one of the exits that are to the right or left. At this point, the body physically makes a turn, but the head continues making eye-contact with the artiste, fixing him or her in a basilisk like stare. Too often, the artiste and the accompanists get caught up in this staring game and follow the walker-out with their eyes till the doorway. Embarrassing for one and all. And there is the added danger of the neck getting locked in position resulting in the need for special collars and the like.

A third kind is musically minded and despite getting caught up in the music, has to leave. But the body is completely absorbed in the rhythm of the song and so they walk in time to the music. A typical example for the basic eight-beat cycle would have them going march-march-march-spring-shuffle-spring-shuffle. That is all very well till the artiste embarks on something with half or three quarter beats and other mathematics thrown in. It confuses the walker-out who while all the time making towards the doorway on the right, finds himself ending up somewhere near the left.

Getting up from the seats is an art by itself. There are makeshift Sabhas with chairs standing in for seats and these are tied together from end to end so as to prevent any breaking out of alignment. This works fine till a large patron (in terms of physical size) decides to get up. The person, who was no doubt initially wedged in by means of a shoe-horn, now needs to heave himself up. The seat also rises and tied as it is to the others, the chairs on either side also lift up to varying degrees. Those immediately on either side of the person who rises experience what can be termed a minor earthquake and this, subject to dampening effects, transmits itself down the line. After this, the patron begins his journey outwards and this involves treading of toes and also leaning forward on to the persons in the row in front and breathing down their necks.

It was during a music season not so long past that MMM personally witnessed the handbag of a lady walking out getting entangled in the coiffeur of the woman in front. Both were not willing to let go and it finally required a third and enterprising patron to fish out a small pair of scissors from her bag and render the two asunder.

Losing his Onions

That is an expression for someone who is slowly turning mad but the Man from Madras Musings is using it in a different context. Like many others who have a nest-egg stashed away somewhere for a rainy-day, MMM too has his onion patch. When MMM planted it little did he realise that it would one day be the equivalent of an oil-well. But then, having watered it, tended to it, cooed at it and watched over its well-being, MMM is happy to report that his efforts are bearing fruit. But now with the price of the humble onion reaching stratospheric levels, MMM lives in constant dread of two things. The first is that someone may try to steal him of his rightful onions. This is easily resolved by appointing round-the-clock Z category security. But MMM’s second fear is the insurmountable one. What if the Government decides to nationalise all onion patches, even if they are in a flower-pot on a 20 sq ft verandah? MMM is firmly of the view that it may be worth his while to seek legal counsel and fight his case if necessary till the highest arbiters of the land. After all, an onion in hand is worth more than all that.

Wayside shrines

The Man from Madras Musings has been reading with considerable amusement news coverage on the Government’s crackdown on wayside shrines. It makes him wonder as to why the lawmakers chose to ignore these homes for the Gods when they were in the process of building up. And what is more, MMM would like to point out that shrines are still coming up in many areas. The first and foremost reason for these is a rather peculiar Chennai belief that any intersection of three roads has to have a shrine for the elephant-headed God in its midst. This usually begins with a small alcove in a compound wall with an idol placed inside it. Matters jog along pretty fine till some devotee announces that he/she was successful in an examination thanks to that particular icon. The faithful then decide that such a powerful deity ought not to remain in an alcove and decide on building a temple at the same traffic intersection. The authorities turn a blind eye for who would be willing to antagonise a deity who controls examination results. The temple gets bigger, adds subsidiary shrines and on certain festive days demands the cordoning off the road to facilitate worship. Traffic is diverted and still the authorities turn a blind eye. MMM also notices that it is at this stage that politicians often of atheistic thought, donate grille gates and tube-lights and have their names emblazoned on them. The authorities still do not bother. By now loudspeakers blare prayers at all odd hours and everyone, including the noise-pollution control authorities keep silent, on the pretext that no complaint has been received from anyone. And then one day, the shrine, by now expanding in all directions like an octopus, becomes a hurdle in the way of a greater god – the traffic. Orders for demolition are issued, the matter is contested in courts and after a good many years, demolition begins. It strikes MMM that the matter could be handled a lot better if the construction of a wayside shrine is prevented in the first place.