S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Friday, 11 August 2017

Heard Mentality

Random Notes

by V Ramnarayan

I used to be a semi-professional cricketer for some 25 years. When I returned to my home town Chennai in 1981, I started net practice at the TNCA's BS Nets open to all league players. Every afternoon, players from some dozen first division teams assembled there and shared six or so nets. Anyone could bat in any of the nets, based on the diktat of Muthu the groundsman who was also in charge of the nets. He would call out the names of the batsmen, but the bowlers generally picked up the ball and chose where to bowl. A compulsive 'net practitioner' from boyhood,  I always grabbed a ball and bowled non-stop in one of the nets until bad light stopped play. In this, my grey hair helped me no end, because no youngster would dare to ask me to hand over the ball to him. In this rank-pulling exercise, I followed a couple of solid role models in my seniors VV Kumar and S Venkataraghavan.

But wait, this was 1981,and it is true that young bowlers did not walk up to us and demand the ball, but for entirely different reasons. Most of them opted to bowl only when they chose to, and stopped whenever they liked. This was a new trend, at least in my experience. As I said before, the practice wickets at BS Nets were not divided on a team basis. Any batsman could be assigned any net. For example, a batsman from Alwarpet CC (in Net A) could be followed by one from IOB, and a State Bank batsman in Net B by one from India Pistons, so on and so forth. If I chose to bowl in Net A, I could end up bowling to as many batsmen as there were teams, if I stuck around for three hours (my usual quota). 

The intriguing new development was that IOB bowlers were interested in bowling only to IOB batsmen and SPIC bowlers only to SPIC batsmen (these are random team names I have picked). As a result, if the batsman came to the net just vacated by an IOB player, he could encounter an exodus of bowlers, and be left facing imaginary bowlers. Muthu would then have to shout desperately for bowlers for that particular net.

As a consequence of this trend, bowlers constantly denied themselves the opportunity to not only improve their accuracy and variations, but also the chance to bowl to different types of batsmen, and they were less match ready when the time came.

Why am I once again bringing cricket into a music blog? The parallels in the Carnatic music concert scene are obvious to me. Though, contrary to market gossip, I find young musicians attending concerts, the problem is that they seem to be afflicted with the BS Nets syndrome. They pick and choose their concerts–those of their friends or their gurus/ mentors. Like the bowlers at BS Nets, they are  expressing their solidarity with their handpicked peers and their gurus. This does not necessarily mean that they pay focused attention to listening to the music on offer, busy as they may be with their cellphones or with their casual conversations with their mates in the audience, for they usually travel in groups.

To go back to the 1980s, this practice among the bowlers of the day led to a steep fall in bowling standards in Chennai. It was only after first division teams started investing in their own individual net practice facilities and match grounds that a bowling revival began to emerge.

I will not proceed to extend the cricket analogy any further to apply it to Carnatic music. I think my meaning is obvious.

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