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Up north, in our capital city, the beating the retreat ceremony has just concluded and along with it, the dust settles over the Republic Day celebrations. It is with considerable amusement that the Man from Madras Musings notes that denizens of Chennai’s art world have also beaten the retreat from capital city. In the past few months, so MMM learns, many of them had practically laid siege to that seat of seven (or was it ten?) great empires of the past. This was not with any desire to conquer, plunder and pillage as many invaders did in the past to that great metro but mainly to lobby hard for one of the national awards.

When our beloved first Prime Minister came up with these awards, he had cautioned against their misuse. He could not have foreseen that several of his family would precisely do that. He also expressed the fear that hierarchy in the awards – Lotus Wealth, Lotus Jewelled, Lotus Bejewelled and National Gem- would give rise to a caste system of sorts, the National Gems looking down on the Bejewelled who in turn sneers at the Jewelled upon which that last category turns up its nose at Wealth. This apart, first PM also said these titles ought not to be used as prefixes to names by the recipients.

All of these wise maxims have been given the go by. The art world lives in a state of perpetual upward mobility, or at least hopes of it. Early in their careers, singers, dancers, writers and painters begin to lobby hard for the national awards, the Wealth category being perceived as low-hanging fruit. Thereafter, once that has been received, lobbying begins for the next stages. It has come to be firmly established that Lotus Wealth is but a stepping-stone and none in their right senses ought to stop until Bejewelled status is achieved. MMM is aware of two bitter rivals where the one who is Jewelled has crowed over the fact that the other is a mere Wealth. He also understands that the latter takes umbrage if the term Lotus Wealth is not prefixed to the name in all media announcements.

And ever since Melody Sublime got the National Gem, everyone assumes that this too is available for the asking, or at least for the lobbying. The Methuselah of Carnatic Music, brilliant singer that he was and God bless his memory, harboured hopes till the day he died, well into his nineties. Two others, now also with the morning stars, one singing and the other playing on an instrument, practically camped in Delhi in the hope of achieving Gem status but that was not to be.

In the past lobbying had its hierarchy. You first identified a senior Government official in capital city who was “one of us” and through him learned the labyrinthine ways to the national award. Thereafter, a free concert/painting/dance performance/eulogistic article or two for a minister was a must and you were well on your way. These are tougher times and the fastest route appears to be grab the PM or senior minister’s attention via social media. Come November and MMM notices that the number of laudatory posts from artistes on anything and everything that the powers-that-be do in Delhi, ranging from complex economic issues to defence deals increases exponentially, reaching a climax of sorts a week before R(ewards) Day. And then there is the breathless wait till the actual announcement, followed by howls of disappointment, gnashing of teeth at those awarded, and the going away with a deep resolve to try better the next year.

This year, the Dispensers in Delhi gave short shrift to the lobbyers from the music world, awarded one dancer, a drummer of the non-classical variety and a film actor who is better known for his terpsichorean abilities. Clearly making eyes at the powers-that-be via social media has come a cropper.