MUSIC FILLS THE air through December. 300 plus Sabhas and other cultural centres vie with one another to present over 3000 concerts during the month. These draw rasikas from across the globe and of course, from other parts of India. The Chennai weather is in its mildest with old guards, wrapped up in mufflers and winter clothing, coming out with the annual complaint: “this margazhi is the coldest!”
Women throng the sabhas in the best of their silk sarees and jewellery. With programmes running in many sabhas through the day, food courts have also become an inevitable part of the festival.
Through these six decades I have been listening to music, I have been witnessing spectacular changes: in the number of musicians proliferating and with them the hordes of rasikas. The splurge of money withticket prices sky rocketing provides an index of the increasing affluence of the middle class, advances in acoustics and the ability to attract sponsorships.
Till the early 1960s, Music Academy used to hold its performances (at the Rasika Ranjani Sabha hall, Mylapore. My senior in school, V L Janakiraman (now veena exponent Prof Janakiraman, violinist V L Vedagiri’s brother) was part of the team of young scouts, incharge of manning the entry gates. He used to smuggle me in when the rather strict and forbidding scoutmaster was away! That was my first exposure to the musical stalwarts of those times. Pedalling some 10 km was no big thing to enjoy the bliss of such traditional renderings. There were plenty of free kutcheris at temples, Ramakrishna Students’ Home and elsewhere. Madurai Mani Iyer and Flute Mali offered these opportunities in plenty. In many ways they attracted the youth in hordes into Carnatic music.
Lalgudi turned a hata yogi
At the Panduranga Bajanai Mandali, Triplicane, Lalgudi Jayaraman was elaborating a raga in a Mani Iyer concert. Perhaps struck by a shrill note, a tube light fell on his head. In those days, Lalgudi had a thick tuft. I remember his doing a feat done perhaps only by seasoned acrobats or hata yogis. Instinctively he jumped with his whole body and re-positioned himself in no time. No damage done and the kutcheri continued…
… and T N Krishnan strung the violin
Flute Mali is known for his antics. It was one of his performances at the Music Academy with violin maestro T N Krishnan accompanying him. In trying to cope with the shrill, sharp notes, the violin strings snapped. For the next 30 minutes Krishnan was busy re-stringing. All through Mali continued with his soulful music.