Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A season of hope

By V Ramnarayan

A pall of gloom has descended over the Chennai music season, with the untimely death of the mandolin genius U Shrinivas in September. More recently, 79-year old TR Balamani, a much respected guru belonging to the Mumbai school of Carnatic music teaching, passed away soon after moving to Chennai. In fact, the last couple of years have seen the irreplaceable loss of many senior vidwans, vidushis and gurus.

Ten years ago, on 11th December, 2004 to be precise, MS Subbulakshmi, the crown jewel of Carnatic music, passed away, and 15 days later, the ruthless waves of the most destructive tsunami in recent memory wrought death and devastation upon coastal habitations across continents. Many of us wondered if the Chennai music season that year could recover from the shock. We in fact feared the cancellation of the whole festival. Our music lovers and organisers however displayed the indomitable spirit only Mumbaiites are normally credited with. From a sombre, subdued start, the season eventually blossomed into its full grandeur, with artists truly rising to the occasion with memorable performances despite heavy hearts.

Some years ago, the global economic meltdown threatened to reduce the quantum of sponsorship on offer as well as the tourist traffic to Chennai during Markazhi, and in fact did slow things down for a while. Traffic snarls exacerbated by citywide digging to build flyovers and the rising cost of accommodation and local transport contributed substantially to the downturn as well.

The negative trend seems now to be a thing of the past, and well-heeled and well-intentioned individuals have been vying with corporations Indian and multinational to loosen their purse strings with unprecedented generosity, judging by the size of the grants and endowments coming the way of arts institutions like the Music Academy. A consequence of all this largesse has been a noticeable  improvement of the living standards of artists and a greater sense of security overall amidst musicians in particular.

No account of the Chennai season can be complete without reference to the gastronomical treat it offers. For a whole month, hordes of food lovers frequent sabha canteens in search of the perfect meal. And they are not often disappointed. Unfortunately, a slightly jarring note has been struck this season: the news that the canteen at the Narada Gana Sabha may not be manned by Gnanambika, their traditional vendors. That is hardly music to the ears of their fans who have voted them the best in the business season after season.

(Based on an article that first appeared in the Deccan Chronicle in November 2014)

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