The empty seats that greeted MMM

The Man from Madras Musings was all excited. A secretary of one of the bigger Sabha-s of the cities had just called and asked if MMM would be so kind as to come and confer an award on one of the most famous lady artistes of yesteryear, a story-teller par excellence. The diva was a sort of role model for MMM when it came to relating tales from the past. Of late, age has kept her confined to her place of residence, which is the hoary town with the big temple and MMM and others of his kind content themselves with recordings of this artiste.

MMM agreed at once. But he also asked rather doubtfully if the recipient would come in person. That to MMM was what would make the event really meaningful. The lady had in the past been known to stoutly resist all temptations to come to Madras, citing reasons of ill health, for she is of a venerable age. Sabha Secretaries have tried all their blandishments but in vain. The voice at the other end of the wire was most reassuring. MMM need not have any worry on that count, it said, for the old lady had said she would make it. MMM readily accepted and then duly read out his sole term and condition – namely he ought not to be given any memento of any kind – no shawl, no lacquered or copper Tanjore plate, no filigree garlands with sandalwood balls and above all no coffee mug. This was agreed to after some hemming and hawing at the other end.

Came the great day and MMM was all agog. He had worked out his speech to a nicety. As the appointed hour approached, MMM and his good lady, also known as She Who Must Be Obeyed, made their way to the venue. It was only as he drove into the premises and saw a complete absence of any kind of activity that MMM realised that something was amiss. Perhaps the audience was all already inside and waiting? MMM and good lady took a peek inside the venue to find row after row of empty seats welcoming them. Leaving his good lady to bravely sit in the empty and freezing auditorium, MMM went in search of the Sabha Secretary. He found him in his lair deep in conversation with a few other functionaries. Of the awardee of the evening, there was not a sign.

MMM was welcomed profusely. The Sabha Secretary was most apologetic. The old lady, like the audience, could not make it and, unlike the audience, had sent a representative, her granddaughter, a budding artiste who is not yet close to the original. MMM was disappointed but he understood. Age has its limitations. Shortly thereafter, MMM, having realised that it was well past the scheduled time of inauguration, suggested that the event had better get underway. If the Sabha was going to wait for an audience, it would have to do so till eternity. And so, Secretary, granddaughter-of-awardee, a master of ceremonies and MMM trooped onto stage. Score – on stage – 4, in the audience – 3 (two others had come in to keep MMM’s good lady company, thereby qualifying those watching the stage as an audience). The event may have been more cosy in the Sabha Secretary’s lair.

The MC had a prepared text and asked the “assembled throng” to clap loudly and welcome MMM. He thanked the audience for coming in such large numbers. MMM wound up his speech in record time and the award was handed over. The highlight of the evening was the old lady’s acceptance speech, which she had recorded as an audio file and sent. The programme ended quickly but not before Secretary had sidled up to MMM and asked if he had changed his mind on accepting a memento. Presumably they had a coffee mug ready…

It was late at night when the phone rang at chez MMM. He answered it to find it was the artiste (herself, not granddaughter) at the other end. She had missed the event she said, and wanted to call and apologise. MMM had to pinch himself to believe it was really the artiste speaking. There followed a wonderful 45 minutes of conversation, replete with stories, music and anecdote, and exclusively for MMM! At the end of it, it was MMM who felt awarded and rewarded.