Torrents of change sweep Margazhi
The music buffs are usually the middle class, homely-minded innocents abroad; the dance cognoscenti are world citizens in designer clothes... Glimpses from the music festival in the city.
"AYYO, PANTURAVALI was cremated with Pazhadaindakottai Pakkirisami Pillai, Gowlai is gone with Gummiruttupalli Gokarna Ghanapatigal!'' There is hope for those who wail this refrain each December. You can hear all the ragas in their pRRRisteen piYOOritee, from a committed artiste of the season. No surprise that he is not a modern day sangeeta vidwan. Listen to Kalyanapuram Aravamudan's katha kalakshepam and you will wonder why this remarkable narrative form, which combines in depth scholarship with infelt musicianship has lost ground to the rattle-prattle of the idiot box.
The singing was majestic, gamakas intact, untouched by showiness. Emotion found its melody Krishna's nectarine grace flowed in Amritavarshini, Brindavanam was imaged in Brindavanasaranga. You also knew just why the late Annaswamy Bhagavatar's leading fans were sangita vidwans like Musiri, Semmangudi, Alathur; on one occasion Fiddle Sundaresa Iyer even bellowed for the Bhagavatar to ``stop talking and sing on".
At Prakriti Foundation's ``Andal Today'' Kalyanapuram's spontaneous eloquence enraptured a new brand of listeners (the demimonde of dancers local and diasporic, writers, and chic rasikas in ethnic haute couture; was the performer dazed by this contrast to the margazhi-dawn bhajanai species?).
The music for Priyadarshini Govind's abhinaya to Andal verses was excellent vocalist Hariprasad has found resonant modulation without screaming into the mike. Yet singing and dancing did not fuse all the time. As you mused on the absence of musicality despite the genuine feeling for the lyric, a sudden whiff of egg yolk made you note that the child next to you was being appeased with plum cake considering the occasion shouldn't it have been a ball of butter, or better still, Andal's favourite breakfast cereal of ghee-dribbling-down-the-elbow pongal?
By the way, have you noticed that the music listener and the dance viewer inhabit two different planets? The music buffs are usually middle class, homely-minded innocents abroad; the dance cognoscenti are world citizens in designer clothes. The former are content discussing a pallavi eduppu or the anya swara in a given raga. The dance fan animadverts authoritatively on every socio-political issue under the sun, best rhetoric reserved for preservation of tradition through contemporaneous winds.
The seminar craze has hit an all time high this year with organisers big and small. Breakteeth subjects range from "Broadcasting: Responsibilities and Rights''(Erik Barnouw Public Broadcasting Trust) to Tapasya's ``Sadir to Bharatanatyam: from the Cosmic to the Cosmetic?"
End of a long session at the latter on tradition and modernity (what else?) saw dance guru Indira Rajan up in arms, diamond maattal coruscating in wrath. ``Why do you speak in English all the time? Soon, instead of kitatakatarikitatom, our jatis will string out a-b-c-d-f-g-h-aieeeeee,'' she thundered.
The younger panellists had discussed the disenfranchisement of the hereditary community of dancers, and the aggrandisement of their heritage by upper class practitioners of today (their words, not mine!).
Ironically, the Tyagesar Kuravanji performed by the Tapasya artistes after four years of training from P.R.Tilagam of the konti dance lineage, Tiruvarur, was enough to underline the issues: are today's dance students culturally equipped to imbibe the old tradition? Without rigorous training in music, or in the languages of the songs danced to, can they grasp our layered symbols? Leading a life unconnected to the temple's daily and festive rituals to which the art belonged, can they hope to acquire the body language and life breath of that hereditary form? Nothing to debate about the Kuravanji music though, sung by the silver-crowned, 77 years young ``Tilakam Patti". You heard not only chaste Bilahari and Senjurutti, but also the forgotten technique of melody curving round the words.
A bemused Scandinavian first time December visitor observed that each sabha was a club for the same people to gather day after day. The `clubbiness' was obvious at the rare appearance together of T.Mukta and T.Viswanathan for Tapasya, as votaries gathered to worship at the Dhanammal shrine. Why not? As Muktamma once observed, ``Our family heritage ends with us.'' You were painfully conscious of what an irreparable loss that would be to world culture when you heard the 80 plus vocalist launch into the upper shadja of Bhairavi at the start, and end with a honeyed Manirangu inaccessible to younger voices. T.Viswanathan's rendition of some Dhanammal favourites showed that his kind of Begada and Sankarabharanam are lost to sabha music forever.
Far different were the club(clans)men at the weeklong tribute to playwright Na Muthuswami at the Other Festival (with the possible exception of the Japanese art critic who got lost in the floods as he tried to ``absorb the sound beats of Tamil"). The finale had a disappointing reading by an unprepared Nasser, proving that once into films not only music, but also skills of public speech could suffer. But Muthuswami himself more than made up for it with his natural rhythms of thought, speech and metaphor. ``A true musician is one whose creativity sets up new rules in theory. Despite ceaseless effort my experiments have not been able to infuse that kind of sustained music into my work.''
Overheard at a bus stop after the evening concert:
Mama: I tell you it was Suddhasaveri.
Mami: I tell you it was Arabhi.
Mama: I have heard more music than you.
Mami: I have learnt more music than you.
Mama: What's for dinner?
Mami: Rice and puli kozhambu.
Mama: Fry some appalams when we get home.
Mami: (mulish silence)
Mama: Okay, okay, it was Arabheeeeeeeee.
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