Song of Surrender

Monday, 4 January 2016

Of canteens and parking lots…

By V Ramnarayan

The Chennai Season seems to have bounced back from a slow start. The queues at the ticket counters are growing longer, and the predominantly north Indian/ Marwari crowds at the canteens of Mint Padmanabhan, Mountbatten Mani, and Gnanambika are as heavy as in previous years. The first time I spotted scores of my colleagues at the Music Academy canteen nearly two decades ago, I was mistakenly impressed by their interest in music. Now, as then, these rasikas of gourmet food are as numerous as the rasikas of music at the sabhas. While the sabha canteens evidently do not mind the business these customers bring, they are rather firm about preventing any fringe benefits from accruing to them. For example, you find signboards that say “No parking for canteen visitors!” How do the sabha managements identify these encroachers, I wonder. Do they ask them to recognize ragas, sing a varnam or two, or at least explain what they understand of such pregnant phrases as “adequate support,” “bhakti-soaked” or “bhava-laden”, samples of the epic prose you find in concert reviews?

The Music Academy canteen offers one exceptional bonus to concert-goers by beaming the concert live to them via a speaker placed strategically there. In fact, I recently listened to two whole concerts sitting there, though it didn’t do my wallet or my already bulging waistline any good. The Narada Gana Sabha canteen, in contrast, used to trick unsuspecting diners by playing music other than the concert of the day, often in the voice of OS Arun. Some ten years ago, it took me three afternoons of listening and half a kilo of Asoka Halwa to figure out that the sabha was not repeating the same artist on consecutive days on popular demand.

One of my greatest Season regrets has been my self-imposed exile from one of the best canteens in the city because I have sworn not to enter the portals of the sabha attached to it, as its office-bearers known for their crass rudeness, were well, crassly rude to me on more than one occasion. It speaks volumes of my character and determination that I have not yielded to the temptation of either the mouth-watering delicacies or my favourite musicians’ recitals there.

If parking your car or to a lesser extent your two-wheeler can be a nightmare at many venues, sabhas like the Music Academy, Brahma Gana Sabha (at the Sivagami Pethachi auditorium) and Narada Gana Sabha manage the situation rather well, thanks to the greater space available at those venues. The biggest of them, the Academy, has outsourced parking to a particularly eager, even overzealous valet-parking agency, whose members are a loud and super-efficient presence. 

My favourite is a middle-aged chap who appears to be a senior vice president among the parkers. He’s amazingly pro-active in encouraging car owners to part with their keys to his assistants, constantly barks out orders in a stentorian sergeant-major voice, and when that fails lets out piercing whistles with the aid of fingers and lips. I was also very impressed with his systematic advance planning, when I overheard him tell one of his assistant vice presidents: “Naalaikku bendu niminthudum, antha amma kathai solranga” (Tomorrow will be back breaking, the concert is of that harikatha lady)!

Published in the Deccan Chronicle on 1/1/2016

1 comment:

  1. Just a personal comment to inform you that I have reached the same point of no return! The “Fine“ of the “Arts” is totally gone and what remains is a “Club” on the fringe of Mylapore! When prepared to pay prime donor prices one still gets bullied around and commanded not to do this or that and in no polite manner there is nothing nice to behold of a concert after that kind of resistance already at the gate! This year my cup did indeed run over when once I came very early and in a good mood not to miss good coffee before an Amrita Murali 16.00 hours concert but by the incredibly rude reception and some more and more upset dialogue I found my self walking away without having bought a ticket. Even though I was not as loud as the officers, I was talking in a very upset voice that most of my friends knows comes very unnaturally for me, and repeatedly saying that I will not set my foot in their venue again! I may not have so high moral standards nor have your firm character and stern resolve, at least not when it comes to the canteen and unticketed favourite artists concerts. But so far I am still fuming when thinking about it and will not be dragged there by friend rasikas that seem not to understand what happend. I remember at the release of Third Man how you also long after these incidents still had a glowing fury caused by the rudeness of these officers! Fortunately there are many other venues where we can feel just like coming home! Just so happy there are places like Nadha Imbam — Ragasudha Hall, Arkay's and Musiri Chamber House to mention but a few of the many that always wants me to come back!


    “One of my greatest Season regrets has been my self-imposed exile from one of the best canteens in the city because I have sworn not to enter the portals of the sabha attached to it, as its office-bearers known for their crass rudeness, were well, crassly rude to me on more than one occasion. It speaks volumes of my character and determination that I have not yielded to the temptation of either the mouth-watering delicacies or my favourite musicians’ recitals there.”

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