Song of Surrender

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Carnatic cocktail

By MV Swaroop
 
I was at Zara last night with some friends, sitting at the absolute edge of a table of nine people. I didn’t hear a word of the conversation at the table. I was distracted by a little thought-breakthrough, an idea that took over my mind.
 
Music at Zara’s, and most other decent pub/bar/lounge-types in Madras, suffers from three issues. First, it’s the same kind of music everywhere. If you don’t like that particular kind, you’re stuck, you have no option (of course, there’s Queens Bar in T.Nagar that plays the SS Music Channel with Jyothika dancing on a hill in a frosted blue saree, but those are exceptions). Second, it is usually too loud, yet not of danceable variety. So, you cannot talk, and you cannot dance. Which means you end up staring at each other with a rather silly expression on your face for most of the evening. Third, the music simply sucks. Last night, at Zara’s, they were playing The Offspring. For Lord Kapaleeswarar’s sake, The Offspring! I count buying that cassette with Pretty Fly (For a white guy) in eighth standard amongst the most embarrassing moments of my life.
 
So, I told my friend, a fellow Carnatic musician sitting next to me, “Dude, we should start a bar that plays Todi raagam.” He demonstrated an exaggerated Todi, and I said, “Yes. Exactly.”
 
Here are some preliminary thoughts:
 
1. Music: The music will be hardcore Carnatic - you are likely to hear Punnagavarali or Asaveri over Kurai onrum illai. There will be no songs in Marathi. There will be no Meera Bhajans in badly pronounced Hin-dee. We will play the English Note, don’t worry.

Of course, lots of Todi will figure.
 
The evening will typically begin with some KV Narayanaswamy, and over the course of the night, it will progress through Brindamma’s wailing padams, Mali’s broken spurts of beauty, and S. Balachander’s overwhelming ragamalika tanams. And then, after the waiter asks you for the last order and makes the lights a little brighter, and you’re in that phase when you get up and realise you’re drunker than you thought you were, we wind down with MD Ramanathan’s baritone that seems to emanate from the centre of the earth. It will give you a sense of balance and purpose.
 
There will be regular occasions, like November Nagaswaram Nights (ideally live, open-air, late night), February Fusion Week (we have to attract youngsters also), Mridangam Mondays (featuring extended tani avartanams with free drinks thrown in for “putting” correct talam), Tambura Tuesdays (you drink to the drone that somehow signifies the omkara, that primordial sound that contains a universe; yes, yes, we have philosophical pretensions also.), Flute Fridays, Violin Wednesdays, and the occasional Seshagopalan Saturday or Sanjay Sunday. Cheesy things like playing music by musicians called Krishna or Krishnan or Krishnamurthy on Christmas will be encouraged. Occasionally, like the Music Academy, the bar will feature a Hindustani Night (and the mama who comes there every week will identify every raga as Mishra-Maand) or a Ghazal Night (which will be popular amongst those mamis who find Hariharan cute and his voice mellifluous, and amongst posh Sowcarpet residents and the Annanagar North Indians.)
 
For the sake of inclusiveness, themes like “Raga-based songs of Maestro Ilayaraaja” and “Golden Melodies of AR Rahman” will appear once a year.
 
The sound system will be uniformly bad, the recording quality worse.
 
2. Decor: The walls will be plastered with portraits of “doyens” of “yesteryear” who rendered “yeoman service” to Carnatic music, with appropriate flower garlands, incense sticks and a solitary, small, red zero-watt bulb. Drinks will be served in steel tumblers with davaras. Plates will look like khanjiras, spoons like morsings, straws like flutes (with fake holes, of course), pitchers like ghatams. Just so that the electronic tambura doesn’t feel left out, one will be left on each table for no reason. You can irritate everyone at your table by constantly changing sruti. If they tell you off, tell them you’re playing jazz.
 
3. Decorum: Decorum without rum is mere deco. Therefore, the worse you behave, the better the ambience is. You will be expected to let out an occasional “Mtch-mtch,” or a “Tut-tut-tut-tut...” or a “Bhale” or a “Sabhash”. You are expected to noisily keep talam; and bring along a small raga book for ready reference.
 
If you wear shoes, you will be asked to remove them at the entrance (take that, Zara’s!), if you wear a veshti, you will get extra ribbon pakoda, if your shirt is un-ironed and nondescript, you will get the title of Rasikar Vendar along with some coconuts, bananas, a dilapidated orange, two suspect apples, a few betel leaves of no use to man or beast, two packets of pakku, a shimmering ponnadai that no human being can publicly wear, a citation and a purse of `101.
 
Men and women will be made to sit in separate enclosures. Oh wait, they already do this at Bikes and Barrel. Then we won’t do this, we don’t want to copy. Like Kamal Hassan, we will be different.
 
4. Food and Beverage: While all the regular items will make an appearance, there will be some raga-based cocktails. The Gandharam Gargle is a tribute to Todi’s ga - its taste will be ambiguous yet heavy, and it will taste differently when drunk from different parts of the glass. A vodka-and-Red Bull-based cocktail is planned for Kadanakutoohalam’s jumpiness. Prussian Blue, based on Neelambari’s lullaby will lull you into comforting slumber. Piping hot filter coffee with a dash of brandy will be available.
 
As a tribute to the local, Vorion 6000 beer will be given prime importance.
 
Keerai vadai, samosa, and ribbon pakoda (the menu will spell it as “rippon bakoda”) will form the side eats. Special sundal during navaratri. Pongal and chakkarapongal during Pongal. Atirasam, murukku and mixture from Suswaad, T. Nagar, throughout the year.
 
5. Karaoke Night: Once a fortnight, there will be a Carnatic karaoke with live mridangam and violin. They will play the raga and song of your choice, which you will choose from an unmemorable yellow and pink printed file, to which you will be required to do elaborate niraval and swaram. Sometimes, there will be a Royal Challenger RTP Challenge where each table nominates one person, and the pallavi goes around the bar in sequence. Tables will be eliminated if they muff up their round. The eduppus and the ragams get tougher as each round progresses. In the last round, the remaining participants will be required to stand on one leg, balance three volumes of the Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarsini on their heads, put two different talams with two hands, and sing a monstrous pallavi incorporating all the five nadai-s. All this after they have consumed a few potent Gandharam Gargles.
 
More ideas are welcome. This is a work-in-progress.

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