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Vol. XXXIII No. 20, February 1-15, 2024

Short ‘N’ Snappy


Music in the Mofussil

The Man from Madras Musings as you all know in the month of December becomes the Musical Mama of Madras going from Sabha to Sabha. And over the years he has also been entrusted with some responsibilities at the institution (not Sabha mind you) which is primus inter pares among such organisations. Because he holds this position, MMM becomes a favourite target for invites of all kinds – a child’s first warble, a nonagenarian’s landmark birthday, unveiling of a portrait, etc. And MMM usually gives all these a wide miss. He has his stock of excuses and most of them are genuine. Genuine to the extent that they help MMM avoid these events. It is not that MMM has anything against them apart from the sheer ennui they offer. And then there is very often a quid pro quo of some kind which manifests itself only after the acceptance of such an invite. And so, MMM is careful.

But there are occasions that MMM must attend and one such took place early last month. It was far away in what is referred to as the outskirts of the city. Far removed that is from the Mylapore-T Nagar-Adyar circuit that usually plays host to cultural events of the kind that MMM is associated with. Many people, including MMM’s chauffeur wondered as to why MMM accepted the invite. In their view such localities were of the kind where might is right and all kinds of lawlessness ensue. None had ever visited the place of course. MMM’s curiosity had been piqued and he decided to accept. The organiser was a friend of many years’ standing, and so could not be fobbed off with excuses anyway.

The event had been scheduled for 5.30 pm and MMM was informed by those who were very much of the inner city that he had better set off the day before if he wanted to be on time. But Google Maps was of the view that an hour should be ample and so MMM set off accordingly and what was more, reached the venue on the dot. The organiser was there as well but apart from that there was little action. A large burly man sat by the entrance scouring a wok, which MMM presumed was step one in the setting up of a season canteen. Shortly thereafter a banner announcing the name of some caterer was put up thereby confirming MMM’s surmise. There was no sense of urgency, very much unlike what happens in the city organisations, in particular the one MMM hangs out with. There the curtains have to go up and down like clockwork and woe betide anyone who tarries. Here it would seem everyone had all the time in the world to stop and smell the roses.

After MMM had exhausted all possible topics of conversation and downed a miniscule serving of coffee he began to wonder if he ought to have packed an overnight case before he set out. But hope returned when the principal awardees of the evening sauntered in. And shortly thereafter MMM was asked to take the stairs and proceed to the first floor. On arriving there MMM found a small hall packed with people. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. The stage, given the proportions of the venue was several feet higher than where the audience sat and MMM was quite sure they would all have cricks in their necks by the time they went home.

Speaking on Music

A friend (not the organiser) hailed MMM. It was surprising to see this man at such a venue for he was the chief factotum at another city-based Sabha besides being a car dealer. He said he had come after 18 years to the venue chiefly because one of the awardees was very close to him. When asked as to why he had never come in the interim he said that his previous visit was still fresh in his memory. There had been eleven speakers he said, and the programme had dragged on for three hours after which he foreswore never to darken the doors of this Sabha. Seeing MMM’s dejected expression he assured MMM that he, MMM, was the only speaker that evening.

That was not strictly true for the stage revealed seven chairs. When the programme got off to a start with a prayer that was more a wail, it revealed that all speakers other than MMM were bristling with prepared speeches running to what seemed like pages. There was a dreadful echo in the venue to contend with as well, but surprise, all speeches were mercifully short and pertained to music. And what was more, everyone on stage knew music as well. None of the city VIPs whose speeches are written by someone else, or a bot, was present. The event ended within an hour and MMM left, clutching a plaque that had his photo (and thankfully not the organiser’s) etched on it.

Hope at the End

But there was a glow in MMM’s heart. That was chiefly because of what he heard by way of introduction to the event. One of the founders gave a speech in which he summarised how many years ago he and other early settlers in this area had pined for good music and had set about inviting artistes. He spoke of how many would refuse to come considering the distance and what an ordeal it was to host those that did accept and what a challenge it was to put up a makeshift performance venue. He dwelt on how with great difficulty an annual series of programmes evolved and how eventually the permanent venue, no matter how humble, was completed and what a difference it made to the local community.

That was when it dawned on MMM how much he and others of his kind take city infrastructure for granted. And he also appreciated the deep love for the art that had made this mofussil organiser persevere at all odds. It seemed to MMM that there was hope for the arts, far away from the cynicism that usually pervades the metropolitan art scene. After all, given the struggle of daily living, the residents of that locality could have easily decided to give music a miss. But they had not done so. And it was clear that rather than indulge in analysing everything that goes on by way of the season and delighting in identifying the negative aspects, here was a set of people that was happy just to listen to music. And in conversation with the organiser MMM learnt that there were many more such organisations of this kind, doing what they can. And in that MMM saw hope. These were doing constructive work, not sitting around, and commenting that the arts are dying. Or claiming to reform it.

Let us pay for the arts

At the event the burden of MMM’s speech was on how audiences had to get on to a culture of paying for listening or watching performances. This is a pet peeve of MMM’s – how large chunks of the audience think it is their right to get it all for free. Who then pays the artistes? And who bears the cost of organising the event? God almighty? And now there is a subgroup within the freebie group that expects music to be served up at home, for free of course. And so they have no qualms each time an artiste or an organisation puts up an announcement to boldly ask for free online links so that they can view the performance from home. MMM can understand those with mobility issues asking for such a facility and even here he would expect them to pay, but to have perfectly able-bodied and well-to-do people demanding free online links in his view comes under what is usually termed as ‘over the top’ and by that MMM does not mean OTT.

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