Monday, April 17, 2017

Carnatic And Chaos

The last time I attended a kutcheri was a good decade ago at a sabha in TNagar in Chennai when I spent much of the two and a half hours worrying that someone's mobile phone might go off right in the middle of a Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi or that a Nokia ringtone would interrupt the neraval. And invariably, when a phone did start to ring, I heaved a sigh of relief at no longer needing to be so angst-ridden.

A few days ago, as I sat at Kabaleeswarar temple mandabam listening to Sanjay Subramaniam sing, I
remarked how much more natural the setting was. It was part of a series of free concerts organised following Tamil new year's day and the kutcheri unfolded amidst the everyday chaos of temple occurrences. There were regular temple goers who'd stopped by to listen to a song or two as much as those who had turned up a whole hour earlier to grab a prized front row seat that made up the audience.

Large screens had been erected in the temple corridors and the audience spilt over
to fill up those spaces as well. I saw families that made a picnic of it, eating pongal prasadam on a donnai, temple bells being rung as part of evening poojai, ubiquitous blue plastic chairs scraping against the smooth mosaic tiles, coconuts being smashed in thanksgiving and a small bajanai goshti walking around in a procession clapping hands and singing. And all the time, Sanjay was belting out some of the most exquisite Carnatic music in the contemporary scene.

It felt right, it felt appropriate that the music should be played out in its most organic state. Not in a sterile environment but in the middle of everyday bustle, high art drawing from the rich soundscape of pedestrian life. In the distance, I heard a horn blare, a child behind me shreiked and Sanjay picked up a high note and somehow, in this uniquely Tamil setting, it all sounded harmonious.

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