What would your reaction be if someone complimented you on something that you have truly worked on? Thank them with all the happiness that you feel for praise that you richly deserve? Or, if you were shy, turn a bright cerise and shuffle your feet and mumble “Thanks awfully” or some such thing feeling all bucked up inside? Sadly that does not appear to be the Chennai way. Here the reaction appears to be one of “Oh, why were we credited with anything?” followed by a round denial of any achievement. Perhaps it is a way to ward off the evil eye.
The Man from Madras Musings on the other hand rejoices. The city he loves and the one that he is proud to call home has been recognised by UNESCO as one of three Indian metros that can be labelled “creative”. Worldwide, Chennai that was Madras is now part of a select band of 64 cities so recognised and it gets this label for its fostering of music. Nothing could have delighted MMM more, for as is well known among those who follow this column, MMM has much music in him and is therefore unfit for treasons, stratagems and spoils.

How would any city celebrate such a tag? With fireworks? With a sense of bursting pride and a resolve to live up to the recognition? That is what any normal metropolis would do. But we were always anything but that. The first reaction among a certain group of Cassandras has been one of shock, rather in the manner of the Lady of Shalott when the curse came upon her. “What? Us? No way! And for music? But that is exactly what we have been criticising all along. That it is elitist, casteist, non-inclusivist, isolationist, Methodist, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, obscurantist…”, runs the reaction of these naysayers (and in that MMM may have added a couple of irrelevant words, but that is exactly the way these people write). They have therefore taken it upon themselves to write in detail as to how and why we do not deserve such a tag. Left to themselves, they would probably lead a delegation to UNESCO demanding withdrawal of such recognition for the city.

The next category is the one that denies the existence of any music in the city. “Music? What music? This is a city of immigrants who brought in culture from elsewhere and so nothing belongs here” is their lament. Well, for a city of immigrants we appear to have done extraordinarily well for 378 years. And if everyone was an immigrant, the populace appears to have stayed on for rather long. And during our ‘temporary’ stay here, we have fostered the arts and, in particular, music, and in this MMM includes classical, folk, cinema, theatre and liturgical, for a long time. True, the December Music Festival may be catering to a miniscule but high-profile section of society, but it cannot be denied that it has been going on for ninety long years and almost entirely funded by private means at that. Surely that is something to be proud of. Of course, there are several aspects that need improvement but that is no reason to decry a great tag when it is given.

If at all any section of Chennai society rejoiced at the tag, it was the political class, the last group you would associate with music, fit as it is only for treasons, stratagems and spoils. But then this is a group that will celebrate any positive outcome, always with an eye to taking credit for it. Thus it was that we saw many of our men in power tweeting about the creative city tag. MMM could not help smiling, for if at all music has survived here, it is, as noted earlier, because of private initiative and no support from any Government organisation. True, we have State-run music schools and colleges, but they have produced no performing talent whatsoever. They are also mired almost completely in bureaucratic procedures that can strangle any creativity.

Be that as it may, MMM feels it is right to celebrate the Creative City tag and what better time of the year to rejoice in it than in the December Music Festival? Come and join MMM in one of the Sabhas. Let us listen to music, feast at the canteens and laugh at gilded butterflies. That is the way we are and let us not be apologetic about it.

You may also want to read – Accept it, with grace

Do join Sriram V on his tour of the historic spots associated with music in Chennai on Dec 9. Details here