There is something about most Carnatic Music events that fills the Man from Madras Musings with a nameless dread. They are mostly exemplars of how not to organise anything. Chaos in Carnatic Concerts is usually a given, and so are platitudes. There also will be a certain false narrative comprising hagiographic speeches, especially if the event is in connection with a departed worthy. Myth making also goes on unabated, which is anyway part of our glorious Indian tradition.
All of this and more was brought home to MMM once again when he attended a concert a few days ago. The programme was held as an adjunct to a tribute to a departed preceptor and as the performance proper was to begin at 6.45 pm MMM, in the tow of his good lady, also known as She Who Must Be Obeyed, decided to reach there just at around that time, so that he could miss the preceding speeches. But then he was denied that piece of luck, for the first part of the event, namely verbal tributes, was still in progress and what was more, showed no sign of ending, despite the clock now having moved well past 6.45 pm when the music ought to have started.
Each speaker praised all those who spoke before him and all those whom he rightly guessed were scheduled to speak after him, if there was an after that is, for no speech showed any sign of ending. But then even the dullest of events must (thank heavens) draw to a close and this too did, with all speakers shuffling off stage. MMM sat up for the music only to see around a hundred people charge to the dais.
The MC announced that these were all students who belonged to the lineage of the man whose memory was being celebrated and that they would all now pay their respects to the preceptor. As to why the act of obeisance had to be done on stage in front of a full audience beats MMM but it was done.
The disciples, the grand disciples and the great-grand disciples formed a line that snaked to the end of the auditorium. Each man (there were no women), approached the picture, prostrated before it, placed some flowers at its base and then sashayed off. All of this took some doing, especially as many could not fall flat and needed help. This having concluded, it was time for the music to start.
Chaos on Stage…
The artistes arranged themselves on a stage that was clearly too small for them and eventually it was found that there was no space for the man who strums the tambura and therefore maintains the pitch. He was given a plastic chair behind stage and played the instrument from there. Surely the organisers, being performers themselves, could have thought of all this aforehand? But no. All the arrangements had to be made in front of the audience.
The music performance began. But it was not the end of the story. Some of the organisers armed with cameras climbed on to stage and kept walking behind the artistes in order to ‘shoot’ the audience from there. MMM by this stage would have gladly shot them all dead.
… and off it too
There were more horrors to come. The sound equipment was controlled from a side room of sorts, and this was evidently some kind of a meeting place for all and sundry judging by the number of people going in and coming out. Coffee arrived by way of special delivery, and this was supplied to the artistes with loud queries about sugar, number of spoons, etc. The same was then extended to some of the organisers in the front row. The concert went on amid all this chaos.
More Speeches to Follow
And then, after an interminable percussion interlude, one of the organisers bounded to the microphone.
“It is not correct to speak in the middle of the concert,” he said. “But I need to say a few words.”
MMM and Good Lady fled.
This article appeared in Madras Musings in its issue dated June 16, 2023 https://www.madrasmusings.com/vol-xxxiii-no-5-june-16-30-2023/short-n-snappy-179/