The storm and the qualm

Posted on December 10, 2015


You could drive yourself crazy debating whether the Music Season should be held this year. Baradwaj Rangan draws up a pro-con list.

Con: Isn’t it awfully insensitive to go on stage wearing a silk sari in a carefully chosen shade, with carefully coordinated accessories – when so many people don’t have clothes to wear? Pro: But isn’t the Season a part of Chennai’s DNA, and if it does unfold, shouldn’t we see it as a sign that Chennai will continue being Chennai, no matter what happens? Con: But come on, it’s such an upper-class thing, this music – it caters to such a small portion of Chennai’s population. Pro: Is there a law that everything should be for everybody? When films are being released in theatres, when bouncy film songs are back on the radio, when people are watching comedy channels on TV, why is live music suddenly out of place?

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Con: Because in the time spent practising and singing, these (privileged) musicians can go out and help the needy. Pro: But who’s to say they’re not helping? Some of them are donating their Season earnings to flood relief. Besides, isn’t the music itself a help, a salve on South Madras souls? (Let’s not forget, South Madras has been hit badly too.) Con: Oh please. Not as badly as North Madras. Pro: How do you decide whose suffering is worse? Suffering is suffering. Cancel the Season, and you cause more suffering to the small ecosystem (accompanists, canteen caterers) whose livelihood depends on the number of concerts this time of the year. Didn’t you start going to office and earning money as soon as the rains stopped? The sabha, the stage is their office. Why the double standards? Con: Canteen caterers? Seriously? There are people out there dying without food, and you’re talking about Mountbatten Mani’s vazhapoo vadai?

Pro: Okay, let’s just talk about the music. Wasn’t it Bharatidasan who said: During times of distress, come, play some music and make me smile again? Con: But that was a private entreaty. We’re taking about a public festival here. Pro: Don’t think of it as a celebration. Just think of it as music. Think of it as someone launching into Ninuvina marigalada and infusing the air with calming strains of Reetigowlai. Don’t think “music festival.” Think “meditation camp.” Carnatic music, after all, is almost always an expression of bhakti. Con: Yeah right. That’s what the NRIs are coming down for. Not for gossip. Not to show off their diamonds. But for… (snicker) bhakti.

Pro: Again, so what? Don’t they stay in Chennai’s hotels and eat at Chennai’s restaurants and bring more money to the city? If not a meditation camp, can’t you at least regard the Season as a tourism opportunity? That’s more money to help those in need, right? Con: Then why not ask those NRIs to send cheques for flood relief instead? Pro: Because it’s also about fostering and preserving art, tradition, heritage. The Season is single-handedly responsible for making Carnatic music a household word, even among people who don’t care for this music. It’s about finding new talent to take this art forward, to another generation.

Con: No one’s denying all this. All that’s being said is that this is not the time. At least postpone the Season… Pro: To when? And what is the appropriate mourning period for a tragedy of this magnitude, if that’s what you’re hinting at? A month? A year? Even a decade isn’t enough to erase this trauma. Con: That’s what we’re saying too. That’s more important… Pro: Maybe we should stop deciding what is more important and let people choose for themselves. If they feel like singing, let them. If they feel they should not (or cannot) sing, then let them not. If audiences feel like attending concerts, let them. If they feel they should be doing more important things, let them do that. It’s not as though we’re asking people to choose between flood relief and music. It’s not an either/or. Be respectful of tragedy, but, in some corner, don’t be apologetic about being alive.

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