Time-defined Moments: If it hadn’t been for their Investment, Music wouldn’t be a Perpetual Sojourn

+A master violinist who for 30 years played as accompanist before turning soloist, TN Krishnan marked his eightieth year as a performer this Margazhi season. Known for exemplary rhythm patterns that have not only enhanced music recitals but are also integral to dance choreographies, Umayalapuram Sivaraman celebrated his eightieth birthday in December. This season also witnessed Sanjay Subrahmanyan being felicitated with the coveted Sangeetha Kalanidhi award who at 47, joined the illustrious gallery inhabited by Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, GN Balasubramaniam, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and ML Vasanthakumari, all conferring to the title before they were 50. Ranjani-Gayatri, sisters who are known today for their striking exchanges including interesting swara-play, not only went through rigours of training together but also began their musical journey as violinists. “You may travel around the world, perform at swanky auditoriums and engage in cross-genre collaborations, but nothing can be as gratifying as the echo of applause at a sabha during Margazhi” says Bombay Jayashri.+

Margazhi as a season has flourished manifolds over the years. What embarked as a 15-day festival has today not only grown into a month-long affair, but has also become an avenue that confluences multifaceted dimensions. With self’s undivided indulgence in back-to-back sabha hopping, voluntary eavesdropping and spur-of-the-moment chattering since two years, the experience in itself is far from beggaring description. Just like a cup of filter coffee is best relished alongside a snack of a spicy mixture, Margazhi’s significance has thriven beyond a mere month in the Tamil calendar given the global significance its presence has scaled up to.

+From times when listening to songs on radio and tapes were the ‘in thing’ and owning customised records of your choice of songs on a TDK cassette was a matter of pride, music has outlived the medium. By the time spool tapes had taken over gramophone recordings, the Music Academy on TT Krishnamachari Road in Chennai (Tamil Nadu, India) was well past its first-ever music conference. Known to attract the crème de la crème of artistes, the academy has preserved a benchmark since its inception, irrespective of the music style. While Hindustani artistes as Ustad Alla Rakha (tabla), Begum Parveen Sultana (vocal), Pandit Ravi Shankar (sitar), Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (santoor) and Ustad Bismillah Khan (shehnai) have donned the institution’s stage+, veterans in Carnatic as MS Subbulakshmi, Lalgudi Jayaraman, DK Pattammal, Dr. M Balamuralikrishna (to name a few) weren’t far behind.

These old-timers, associated for bringing about a meditative brilliance in their concerts, are infused today by youngsters entering the field with technical adeptness. Rasikas, while waiting patiently for the curtains to rise, are seen to strike impulsive conversations in particularly, comprehending the upcoming artistes’ potential at great length. With the advent of this newness, classical music has clearly come far from being intimidating to appearing as fresh and forward-looking. As it is, there never was a preset age bar to learn music. Added to this notion today is the medium that has progressively ceased to be a cause of concern, for Skype is considered a common avenue to learn and practice the art. In an era that is undeniably advancing to spiring locales of modernity, the fact that something as conventional as classical music can bring together worlds and poles apart is uncomprehendingly intriguing.

*An article in one of the major dailies (The Hindu) published a couple of years ago analysed the affinity between Carnatic music and law, specifically the High Court of Madras. The article took the reader on a sojourn of how nuances between the two professions are uncannily similar, and ways in which the two brought together intertwined prodigies. In 1962, the then Chief Justice organised a concert by the Supreme Court judge (also, a Sangita Kalanidhi) accompanied by two lawyers on the violin and mridangam in honour of the centenary celebrations of the Madras High Court. Another performance on the same occasion was a Tiruppugazh concert by ‘Tiruppugazh Mani’, in his time a giant of the Madras Bar and later, the Chief Justice of Travancore. A then successful lawyer who resided on the South Mada Street founded the first Mylapore Sabha, the Sarada Sangeetha Sabha, in 1908. The Rasika Ranjani Sabha (founded in 1929) was the first sabha to have a brush with the law. Two years after its founding, the irascible AK Ramachandra Iyer fell out with other committee members and locked the place. It had to be opened through court orders. This practice isn’t new in Carnatic music, for the Tyagaraja Samadhi at Tiruvayyaru was also opened through magisterial intervention in 1928.

To turn the tables over to the other side, the first Sangita Kalanidhi of the Music Academy, TV Subba Rao was a qualified lawyer though he did not practise. In fact, a not-so-well-known fact is that the Music Academy owes its campus to Justice Basheer Ahmed Sayeed. In 1945, when the Academy was penurious and had almost decided on buying a small piece of land in Triplicane, it was Basheer Ahmed, then a middling lawyer and committee member who convinced the others on board that Sweet Home, the bungalow with a large garden on Mowbray’s Road-Cathedral Road intersection ought to be bought on. A rather visionary idea that happily worked.*

There are tasks that earn our daily bread. A profession is what we call them. And then, there are hobbies – activities we pursue at leisure out of self-interest. A reason that birthed ‘sabha hopping’ as a concept and a convenience today is owing to the bunch of handful that did one thing right – they pursued their hobbies seriously. (May be, just this one hobby.) Seriously enough to invest their time into the jurisdictions of the katcheri. Seriously enough to consider joining the sabha as a trustee. Seriously enough to lend their lands for birthing a performing avenue. Seriously enough to intertwine their professional skills in an attempt to persevere the art tenaciously. Had it not been for this bunch, we probably would not have claimed with a wide-open chest of a Chennai in the East, to match the Salzburg in the West.

It takes decades of practice to turn into something significant – whether that be turning into a soloist from an accompanist or, attaining a lifetime achievement award. The journey of the hard work put in, the unfaltering dedication, the never-fading belief – more than in others, in oneself – matters. For I only wonder, where would be that pride today, had it not been for the unfaltering investment by our bygone generation? More critically, where Margazhi would stand as a ‘season’?

+ References from the indicated paragraph are quoted from Friday Review, Arts & Culture, The Hindu, Chennai. December 1, 2015.
* References from the indicated paragraph are quoted from ‘Music holds court, literally’, The Hindu, Chennai. November 30, 2012. Updated: March 7, 2013.