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