Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXII No. 18, January 1-15, 2023
The Woman from Madras Musings loves the city at this time of year. Each Madras December holds promise of beautiful cultural performances and (Wo)MMM loves the whole scene, from concerts and theatre to classical dance and kutcheris. It is curious though, that – in (Wo)MMM’s experience, in any case – while the former are largely welcoming to all audiences, the latter are generally intimidating to the curious layman who just wants to pop in to catch a classical show. Past experience has taught (Wo)MMM that passing through the hallowed gates of a kutchery hall demands some token display of learned appreciation; if such tithe is not paid, it will be mercilessly extracted by way of pedantic conversation, a dangerous proposition for wolves in rasika clothing such as (Wo)MMM. If one does not clap along at the high notes or shake one’s head in delight at the sublimity of performance, the uncle or aunty in the neighbouring seat – uncle, usually, to be honest – will throw a questioning glance designed to strike shame into the most phlegmatic heart. It is unacceptable, apparently, to not have an intimate understanding of the classical arts being a Chennaiite. God forbid one confesses not having attended such classes as a child – that course of action invites nothing but a pitying clicking of the tongue, followed by avuncular surprise that ignorants as these walk amongst them.
Once, a much younger (Wo)MMM was rather enjoying a music concert when during a short intermission the uncle in the next seat turned to her, shaking his head in disappointment. ‘Iduppe seriyillai!’ he complained, to which (Wo)MMM nodded dutifully, though what the singer’s hips had to do with the song was beyond her. It was a phrase that turned out to be immensely useful, though. Over the years, it was employed liberally to mask ignorance of the finer points of classical music. When (Wo)MMM was ambushed for her point of view, she would say ‘Iduppu konjam seriyilla, I thought…’ or ‘Mmm… aana iduppu nanna irunthuthu…’ More often than not, these opinions were accepted though (Wo)MMM had to fend off a few frowns with hasty digressions. It was only later that she understood Eduppu to be some species of intricate detail in a music performance, one that thankfully has little relevance to a singer’s hips. It was a revelation, in any case, that the amateur can absolutely cross enemy lines and emerge unscathed from kutcheris with naught but a few simple words and techniques. Here are some that fellow laymen can use in a pinch:
Tip 1 – Dress to blend. It need not be as dramatic as a saree or a veshti, but a salwar or kurta is generally a safe bet. Saves one from sticking out like a sore thumb.
Tip 2 – Clap along with everyone else if the audience bursts into applause. Appreciation is not the point here – the goal is to prevent someone in the vicinity from leaning in and asking, ‘Why ma, that beautiful charanam also you didn’t like?’ Then one will have to pretend to know what a charanam is. This is an entirely avoidable trap, in (Wo)MMM’s opinion.
Tip 3 – When presented with a joke, laugh reflexively. There’s always the option to Google the meaning afterwards. Once, someone turned to (Wo)MMM and said ‘Kafi… kafi only!’ and proceeded to laugh. It was only later that (Wo)MMM learned that kafi was the name of a raga that also apparently meant ‘enough’ in Hindi. She knew neither fact at the time of the pun, but rest assured that she laughed along convincingly enough.
Tip 4 – Masks are wonderful allies in these times. If nothing else, there’s always the option to earnestly mumble a few words and then point sadly to the throat when asked to say it again.
Tip 5 – Emotions are always a safe bet to fall back on. No matter how divisive a debate is about the quality of a performance, declaring that it was deeply moving usually goes uncontested.
Tip 6 – If staying back for a snack, parcel meals to go. Not only will the evening be dissected in excruciating detail but words will be blithely thrown about regarding the authenticity of the kesari and keera vada served by the caterer – these are often more controversial waters to swim in than the show itself.
This is the margazhi playbook that has saved (Wo)MMM through the years and she hopes fellow laymen will find it useful, too. Here’s to a beautiful season of entertainment!
The Woman from Madras Musings is sorry to admit that her sense of direction is rather horrendous. It took her a couple of decades to get used to Alwarpet, at which milestone she discovered that she had to move to Thiruvanmiyur on account of entering a state of marriage. The learning curve has been quite steep and the recent traffic diversions on account of metro and other civil works have not helped matters a single bit.
Not only do the diversions take one down strange, never-seen-before neighbourhoods, the roads are usually jammed with vehicles trying to inch along in all directions. (Wo)MMM invariably works herself into a state of anxiety until she reaches a main road that she is familiar with. More than once, (Wo)MMM discovered the very diversion signage to be mistaken – these mischievous signs lead one through a traffic jam in a narrow street only to discover that one must turn back. (Wo)MMM is only half-convinced that these are errors of innocence; it is equally likely that an irate civil servant is behind such cases, wreaking rightful vengeance upon the city.
The other day, the better half was driving (Wo)MMM to her parent’s home in Alwarpet. The usual diversions had undergone a change, for when the car reached the vicinity of RA Puram, the old signage had been covered with a cloth. The only other option was to turn back and follow one of the earlier guidance boards, which led the car down a long road that then turned into a narrow street half gobbled by blue CMRL walls. The better half drove carefully through the slim space only for the vehicle to emerge into an entirely confusing junction that was completely walled in on all sides by blue CMRL boards. The junction served no purpose, it seemed, except as a place of celebration for one wishing to commemorate the ongoing metro works. (Wo)MMM was struck by the quiet and peace that reigned at this strange crossroads.
The better half, having recovered from this googly, turned the car around with nary a sigh; it turned out that he has rather gotten used to these adventures of late. It took him an additional thirty minutes to finally chart a viable route to the Eternals’ abode, at which time he begged (Wo)MMM with glistening eyes to acquaint herself with regular routes. If you had, I could have trusted you to catch an auto on your way back, he said sadly. (Wo)MMM promised she would, but given that the metro work has threatened to take about a decade to complete, she doesn’t see how she possibly can. Oh, well.