Song of Surrender

Saturday, 20 June 2015

How not to be a rasika

By Subhashini Goda

Let us admit it. We have all, at some point of time, been unruly in a concert hall. While some of us do feel awfully guilty about it, most of us would pass it off as a rare occurrence, and as an error of negligible nature.

Such errors sometimes happen all at once.

To parody Shakespeare's words, “When errors come, they come not single spies, but in battalions”!

And so it happened that I found myself in the middle of a packed average-sized, little-too-cold hall, eagerly waiting for a friend of mine to begin her solo Bharatanatyam recital.

For the first fifteen minutes, I did stay immune to disturbances around me, I was absorbed in the narrator’s explanation of the event to follow, the hall d├ęcor, the orchestra fiddling with their instruments… and then I heard it.

The smart phone that someone “accidentally” put on loud. With one of those indecipherable verses. First rings, and then continues to ring. Would they not answer it? Yes, the person chose to answer it, right in the middle of the concert, and barks a loud “Hello!!! Where are you now?” even as my friend’s tisra alarippu fades into the backdrop. By now a couple of us are staring at the phone-wielding person who sheepishly, but nevertheless loudly, continues to give directions to the concert hall. 

One down, and the alarippu has ended. Time for the varnam, the masterpiece – and are we so eager and expectant! Yes, most of us, except the three women behind me, who clearly have not seen each other for a good ten years at least – how else can one explain the amount of news they just had to share with one another, even as the Bhairavi raga struggled, with no luck, to attract an audience? And the louder the song, the louder their voices carried over it to make themselves heard. By now, more than half of us were more interested in the trio’s recollective capacities than my friend’s emotive ability.

Must I even mention the number of times I saw a light switch on (from the smart phones of course), for checking messages, typing messages, receiving messages, looking up calls, calling someone, calling someone back, trying to call someone, trying to take a video, taking pictures? And then there was constant light! And then someone wanted to eat, like eating popcorn at the movies.

As the commotion began to settle like dust on a dirty highway, I suddenly noticed a pair of fingers go up in the air and play an invisible mridangam. Indeed, one of the rasikas was so involved, he had to play the talam, albeit erroneously. Most of us would have been happy if his fingers were lowered. 

“Sir, could you please move left?”, “Thambi, please sit down”, “tchh”, “Ayyo, why are you sitting in front of me, I cannot see anything!”, and the voices continued to harass my ears even as the varnam concluded loftily. Kids were screaming on my left and right, some were shifting incessantly in their seats, some even shifted seats incessantly, some kept asking their parents to leave with them as they were bored, some wanted to use the restroom--all in a span of one hour. I saw the main door open and close a good thirty times--for people to walk in fourteen to forty minutes late and people to leave halfway or towards the end. I saw people greet one another noisily and get up to hug and invite others to their own shows, right in the middle of the hall, where the show was going on.

And then she was dismissed with an “Oh I saw her perform last season, absolutely no feeling!”

Why should we indulge in loud-mouthed criticism in a concert hall when someone is on stage performing for us to watch? Is it not disrespect to the artist? To the art form itself? What are we trying to prove? That we have seen better performances? Why can we not stay till the end of a show? And most important, how would we feel if someone were to do the same to us when we performed? We all know how it is to talk to an uninterested bunch of people, and yet we repeat the same mistake over and over again?

We need to learn the ethics of behaving in a concert hall, as much as we learn the ethics associated with art itself. We need to cultivate that sensitivity, that minimum sensibility and mutual respect. For, only with a good spectator is a good artist born.

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