Dis-concert in Madras 1

A little note on how Hariprasad Chaurasia’s concert left me between agony and ecstasy

Hariprasad Chaurasia is a man who never disappoints. I have been mesmerised for a while in every performance of his and always.  Typically I walk out in a semi-trance with a feeling of ecstasy that only a great live music performance can give. I was thrilled to bits when I heard that Chaurasia is coming to Madras for a concert – and that too free. I took a seat by the aisle that was furthest away from humanity in that auditorium. He started with a slow and long alapana that sets the mood for the occasion.

The alapana was too slow to sustain my attention, as is always the case. My mind wandered off to unseemly subjects (well, I don’t have an account of all that I thought of, but I surely thought of girls). Now and then I’d feel guilty and would briefly listen to the piece. This is how a Hindustani classical music concert always goes for me; but this slow tempo forms the basis of joy as the pace increases over the next hour or more.

As I was struggling to concentrate a man in a safari suit (one of those unsuitable things to wear in sweaty, dusty madras that some men seem to relish wearing) came in and stood by my aisle followed shortly by his wife and a couple of children. They quickly launched into an elaborate group discussion on where to sit. I doubt if they distinguish between a fruit market and a classical concert where subjects like me are struggling to concentrate. I almost got up to show them some hotspots but thankfully they moved away. Other such families followed in rapid succession and somehow all of them found their way by me to have a chat. I then decided to move to the centre of the row furthest away from humanity in the rapidly filling auditorium.

After the alapana the accompanying artist joined HC and the pace kept increasing. My mind had stopped wandering and I was following the tunes slowly getting hypnotised by the magician. Suddenly there was a mild applause from some corners in complete disharmony with the music. A crowd of photographers ran to get a few snaps of an actor turned politician who came to the gathering. Flashbulbs roared and our man walked with a deliberate speed to permit as many photos as possible. In the meanwhile HC was weaving magic, but at least for the moment we were not paying attention.

The first piece got over and the second started accompanied by tabla. The tabla player was fantastic and was in total sync with HC. HC started getting playful, as he always does when the accompanying artist is good. He would for example play a rapid sequence, would stop abruptly and look give a dramatic ‘gotcha’ look at the tabla player that invariably turned the audience nuts. Today though I was going nuts for a different reason. The neighbour who had settled by me found the pitch too uncomfortable for his conversation over the mobile phone and he was kept raising his voice to match the pace of music. As the tabla went berserk he started speaking with an unconscious loudness, which unfortunately got my attention far more than HCs music.

Between conversations I somehow managed to enjoy the concert in bits and pieces. After finishing a round of songs HC asked the audience what they’d like to hear. Someone suggested Vande Mataram and he dismissed the idea. He waited long enough till someone suggested Pahadi, which he loves playing. It’s a song representing the mountains and he weaves a pattern of melodious echoish sounds. As we settle into the melody he will take out a short flute that has a much sharper sound that will leave the listener in total ecstasy. Today though HC has some stiff competition from Nokia ringtones. Normally by this time of the concert, I would be making mental somersaults mad with joy but today I was only able to think of writing this blog post to vent my frustration.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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