Only second best in Carnataic music this season!
Briju Maharaj, the Kathak guru was here!

Pt. Birju Maharaj

This December season in Chennai, it was as usual, houseful in all sabhas.

The “kutcheris” were more in number and The Hindu ran almost a full-page engagements column, unusual for any newspaper and more so for a quality newspaper like The Hindu. Then, it is the newspaper’s publisher Mr.N.Ravi who is the chairman of the prestigious Madras Music Academy and as such one can expect the newspaper to devote more space and more coverage of the music events spread out all over the city. And what a wonderful cultural environment the December music season creates and enlivens!

One thing strikes any casual visitor to the city this time is that high culture is here and that is what the December music season has come to represent over the years.

The NRI crowd descends in respectable number and this year, in spite of  the economic meltdown and also the NRI fears of unemployment and that discouraged the many usual visitors, as we read in the media and yet I met a few of them, both young and the old and  I was thrilled that the Carnatic  music  still  thrives  vigorously. I just met a gentleman soon after a concert at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan hall in Mylapore. Out of curiosity we picked up a conversation and I was surprised to find he was another Gopalaswamy with a namam in his forehead. I suspected he must be our own Goapalaswamy, the Chief Election Commissioner! He was not and yet he was an IAS officer and retired as Chief Secretary to the Kerala government. Very next he called and introduced his grandson, from the USA. The Youngman said he studies at Stanford University and was here for the season and he played the violin at the concert! Such is the strength of the Carnatic music and the ones who are devoted to the art, both as performers as well as listeners!

Carnatic music is very special for those who are born in the tradition. But for persons like myself, the pure hybrids (!)music has been all, from Carnatic to the Hindustani to the Western classical genres.

And yet, I keep coming to these humble and often dilapidated halls of yore, they have so much history and personal association and that makes the Chennai music season, the hours spent there in these crowded and now more dustry surroundings more ennobling and more enthralling at the same time!

This season, the Music Academy is very crowded. The programmes are so packed that there is no time, no leisure no time for relaxation in between the programmes.

You get going right from the morning to the late evenings. One hour for each artiste and who can get justice or do justice? It is very relentless, very demanding and very tiring too. I soon gave up! And yet you can take my word, a total outsider to the music circuit that the average standard here in Chennai kutcheris is very high, very enjoyable to that extent and that makes Chennai music season so famous too.

But then, the average performers, even the very seniors now living with us and those whom I listened to, the Aruna Sairams and Sudha Ragunathans are very average in my opinion. T.M.Krishna and Santhana Gopalan and others are fine and yet I somehow am not able to bring myself to call these artistse by any stretch of imagination or listening experience,the great  ones!

As we have had such greats before us, not now. Balamurali Krishna is still the best and the great. Yes, our other greats are there too but not now.

So, I have to think hard as to what is the position now. What is the position and the potential of Carnatic music like now.

As for the other arts, dance and theatre too, I am a bit  disappointed.

Yes there were some new talents, one Jyotsana(Bharata Natyam),one Mohapatra(Oddissi. Among the seniors. only Malavika Saruukai I could spot. Others ,like my friend Sudharani Ragupathy and Chitra Visveswaran are now very senior and they showcased their younger versions.I enjoyed their experiments and innovations and I hope something emerges out of these innovative ways of taking the next stage of Bharata Natyam  forward.

The one great day and moment for me was attending the great Kathak gur, Brijumaharaj. He was there at Krishna Gana Sabha along with his senior student, Saswathi Sen, another gem in the particular genre.

It gave me immense happiness and fulfillment to see the great master once more, after nearly some decade of  gap. Again on the very same venue  which is now devoid of the equally great Yagyaraman, the founder of the Sabha. It was Raman who took the humble shed it was once now into a fine building and also the Sabha became an all-India name. This was said by the Kathak guru too. Brijumaharaj  said whenever he thinks of the South, Chennai he thinks only of Krishna Gana Sabha.

Yes, I had my own criticism of the Chennai music and art promotors. The great kathak master is only one in India of the stature. He is not one more artiste.

And yet, I saw the empty hall and was saddened and to feel the lack of appreciation for arts and music.

Were there not enough rasikas in Chennai to come and appreciate the great kathak master? Were there not enough patrons, Nalli Chinnasamy Chettys and many others to sponsor the guru in other sabha?

That is the great  pity, I felt hurt, to say the least.

Was The Hindu newspaper  not capable of sponsor or find a sponsor to bright the great guru to the Music Academy auditorium?

In fact, I found the Madras Music Academy hall and the premises so crowded and so hedged in and the place is very polluted by the traffic that is filling the place with so much dark fumes and it is time to think of some action.

The very car parking space now available must be made  entirely green, an artificially created mud barriers can take the noise and view away from the relentless traffic crating so much noise and the car park shifted entirely to the St.Ebba’s school premises.

There must be enough sitting space created in the lobby and people must sit and relax and listen to music in a more natural ambience.

Or, shift  the music academy venue entirely outside this crowded space.

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