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Thadhiginathom - Part 13
- Zakir Hussain
English translation: Dushy Gnanapragasam

July 16, 2020

(Reproduced with permission)

To see a peacock sway

Music - It moves and guides every living being, not just the human beings. Music is the exhibition of emotions. The spur for music is many like love, valour, anger, joy. Science tells us that music is the resonance of waves in the air. And this resonance is different for every being. Even among the human race, each and every group of people has a different resonance. Music evolved when humans diverged and formed different races among themselves. Music cannot be categorized into 'good music' and 'bad music'. What we enjoy as soothing music may seem irritating to someone else. The reason for this is the difference in resonance.

Madras Music Season is the exposition of a unique culture on the world stage. It is an endeavor of a community that understands classical music and wants to demonstrate that knowledge. The event is a confluence of music as well as poets and artistes who speak many tongues. Though there are many disparities along the caste and religious lines, this festival binds people together with the concept of 'art', and propels the audience to a different magical universe at least for the two-hour period a concert lasts. Together with one's appreciation for music, it's an agent that gently strokes tender feelings within. Here too is a working class that labours like the cinema industry where many struggle to overcome class boundaries and inequalities. Madras Music Season is the fruit of the combined effort of everyone - from those who sweep the floors of the theatres to those who fill it with their music.

Food is just as important to this festival as is the music. The casual critique of dance and music offered by the unassuming fans congregating at the canteens that sprout up suddenly for the festival season cannot be categorized into the nine known expressions. It has to belong to an unknown tenth. The artistes who receive high praise by those 'critics' - who have no need or purpose to encourage or encourage an artiste - are the ones considered as 'good artiste'. This method of evaluation rarely fails.

Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Chitra Visweswaran, Sudharani Raghupathy, Alarmel Valli, and The Dhananjayans are primary among the dancers who ruled the stage from the eighties to the end of nineties. Before them was the time of the likes of Vyjayanthimala, Padmini and sisters, Kumari Kamala and E.V. Saroja - disciples of great traditional gurus such as Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai, Thanjavur Kittappa Pillai, and Pandanallur Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai - who dominated silver screen and stage. Balasaraswati - who was born into the Isaivellalar community - made a name for herself with her expressive dance. Rukmini Devi Arundale founded Kalakshetra and established it as a unique landmark of Madras. I have only mentioned a few here. If I were to make a comprehensive list, it would take the form of a large book.

A December Music Season brings together thousands of fans, hundreds of artistes, and innumerable events. In a season like this, it is a rare occurrence for a dancer to have even three shows. However, Mrs. Chitra Visweswaran would have ten to twelve shows. Pretty much every theatre or sabha would give prominence to her show. They knew that the theatre would overflow with audiences for her show. There were times when important personalities turned back disappointed because there was no room. There would be long lines of rasikas after the show to introduce themselves to the dancers. The organizers also provided opportunities for young dancers who were students of important artistes and were considered to be leaders among the emerging generation of performers. However, the artistes who had reached 'star' status, continued to perform without compromising on their uniqueness.

Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam

During one such season, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam was dancing at Narada Gana Sabha. It had been announced not to use flash photography prior to the commencement of the show. But some over-enthused soul kept taking photographs with the flash. Dr. Padma tried from the stage to indicate to him to stop, but to no avail. She stopped the dance, walked briskly over to the offending audience member, grabbed the camera from him, extracted the film roll and exposed it to the light, gave him back the camera, returned to the stage, and continued the dance from where she had left off. It took over ten minutes for the audience's applause to subside. Such was the arrogance free confidence of a dancer. Like her, they all excelled placing their faith only on their artistry.

Today, some dancers are reduced to the appalling level of having to send vehicles to bring audiences to their shows. There are others who only go to shows so they can hand out invitations to their own shows to the attendees. There is so much more to write...
However you look at it, nothing about this is right.
(July 16, 2020)

To be continued...

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