Author: Arasika; Photo Courtesy: Sankara J. Subramanian

As I wound my way through IIT, I sensed I would be late forthe 4pm start. A genial Traffic Cop had handed out a hefty fine to me, for having violated a signal that said No Free Left. I did not mind the fine, but the delay was annoying . 

The first few moments of the  start of a Hindustani concert are the most fulfilling ones for me. The Artist staring   at a blank world in front, the seven notes jostling for space in the artists scheme of things for the day. And that sound of the drone !! It is my sincere belief that through all those millions of years when  nothing seemed to happening on earth, There was this sound of the drone always. Nothing else can explain the immaculate beauty of the world we inherit.

As I searched for this Bio Tech Lab, so many other thoughts started swarming in. The sight of a deer looking plaintevely at an IIT ian girl, with headphones on, jogging to keep fit. The deer must have been wondering where were all the Sakuntalas of the world today, so that they could tug at a pallu. A pair of jeans can be so unromantic. Was it Kalidas who imagined all those scenes  or did they all really happen? His surroundings were probably so beautiful that he had to create.

My next challenge was the venue. The Last time I hosted a concert at the Institute of mathematical sciences, Manda Sudha Rani sang such a complex Pallavi that all my friends blamed me for the choice of the venue. There was so much of Maths in that Concert  because of the venue,they argued.

The entry to the Building itself was a bit intimdating. What with all the news of scientists sure about producing a Super Man in about forty years  time. An Ageless, Diseaseless superman. What was a sitarist doing here in spare time?

Fighting to reverse  the tastelessness of our times perhaps?

As I took my seat, I realised she had embarked upon Madhuvanthi. I was not sure if she had the running pattern of our times,in mind. Start with one massive effort and then loosen up with Tukkadas till closing time Like all the maestros have been doing in Chennai for a long time.If it was going to be like that, then I would have been definitely disappointed.

Madhuvanthi can at best be handled like a O Henry Story. Or at most  a Somerset Maugham short story. Full of peppy twists and turns but is so difficult to capture on a bigger canvas. I was now seeing she was trying it on a bigger scale. I started thinking about her school ( Imdad kani Gharana ) and the style of alternating between phases of crashing notes that would leave a doppler kind of dazing effect and phases that suddenly open a panoramic but  meditative scene. Changes of scene just like the way the view changes while driving through the Ghat sections of the Deccan plateau. In between,she was  stringing  individual links in a chain. Work starting on the next link,  while still the previous one was incomplete. Leaving the listener gasping because it was so difficult to keep pace with the train of thought.

The full elaboration was divided into five segments in progressive  mode. And to my ears Section One and Four were a bit of patchwork. Seamless – Such a very apt way of trying to go about building the raga. Perhaps it was probably an issue with this raga being the first one. Enough to say that Madhuvanthi of the day was a fair enough opening.

Next came Hameer – A favourite of the Imdadians. The concert now floated effortlessly in the upper ranges. The movement of the fingers was a delight to my  eyes. Like sitting on the ultimate navigating machine. Flying now, Sailing later, and hovering in some places. The artist was getting really involved by now.

And then Jinjhoti Happened. It was now evident that the concert was going to be one with a great middle. I really dont think that Jinjhoti has beeen handled with such care and detail in concerts in Chennai. Since the likes of Bhatt and Ginde sang here in the 60s. And an occasional Santoor effort. At times she  played two parallel refrains. As though  one of them was a conversation with herself.The tabalji (capable guy,no doubt ) now started smothering his embellishments. He was getting hooked by the mood too. This was Imdad khani school at its best. The fingers coaxing masculine sounds from the strings in the initial phases. And then flitting around like a butterfly towards the climax.

My evening was done and packed. I was sure that this jinjhoti would sit like a earworm for another week. After this she paused to look out and must have caught sight of a flower sailing past the window. And she promptly moved on to Bahar. That beautiful raga which can pride itself on being a close cousin of many other beauties.The act of not straying into those ragas was perhaps taxing. I would have loved if she had a ragamala kind of stuff in mind. But she was walking the middle of the path . It was conservative music at its best.

Then she took up a hori in misra gara, and thought she had wound up for the day.To her surprise, not one in the audience showed any sign of leaving. Only once in my three decades at Chennai, have I seen this happening. And that was also at IIT. Bismillah was playing a duet with N Rajam at the Open Air Theatre and he was perplexed to see the audience unwilling to leave after two hours of playing. On that day he smiled so innocently and said in hindi, “I think you people like our music. If only I can get a cup of tea I shall play more for you “. Some one ran and got a flask of tea. It took about 15 minutes.

I was increasingly becoming aware that the last of the hotels would be closed if I sat through. If I could know what raga he would take up, I could atleast salvage some stuff from a bakery. And then, after a long chat with N Rajam – Zakir, the first notes pierced the cold wintry night air.

It was going to be Malkauns. And my stomach happily gurgled.

But today was a different setting. Jet Set age and a conditioned  response dictated by the carnatic format. She asked the audience. They all replied – It is upto you. It is your concert. So then Anupama picked up that outstanding composition from the Vilayat-Bismillah Album in Bhairavi.

It was a fitting way to end a great evening. I heard a bit of Misra kind of stuff here – some stray notes from keervani, kalavathi, charukesi, malkauns… But this was like the canter of an athlete. After  running past the final post and slowing down to a dead zero. This section has an artistic licence of its own. And so it was tasteful.

Looking at the audience reaction even after this I wondered if this tradition of Not playng anything after Bhairavi was just a ploy to put a timeline to the proceedings . Some artist must have conjured this up with another,simiar, audience long, long ago. Just like the one this evening which had lost all sense of a fixed start and a fixed end.

I sincerely hope that this part of India does its best to make  an enchanting home for this Sitar Player.  And other thinking Hindusthani musicians. Who care for the gallery but are not inclined to make compromises.