It would make robust common sense to make it to a concert early. Not to ensure, you got a seat or a vantage one. And to keep your ears open from minute one, you take your seat. And make it a point to park yourself amidst the elderly lot. Not too elderly, who come just in time and leave too early to keep appointment with their medicinal retinue. Just elderly, retired and active. Having time, energy, inclination to come in early. Sit in a group, not merely to jog their memories, for old time sake. But to share their insider knowledge from reliable yet unverifiable sources. Responsible editors may deem it risky and sacrilegious to carry the nuggets, even if extremely teasing. Yet, these ‘elders’ speak with such authority (the same set of mamas in every sabha gathering- why not even one mami, it defies imagination. Maybe they have their own self help groups?).
On November 29, 2019, Bharathiya Vidya Bhavan was no different. Malladi Brothers Sriramprasad and Ravikumar have a keen and devoted following. They are a chip of the old block plus lots of chips for millennials too. They are tradition bound, yet willing to experiment. Their grammatical lineage is strong and they are rarely, if ever, off key. ‘They sing as if a well tuned tambura’ as Subbudu, mused of another brothers’ duo.
That is digressing. Where is the grape wine story, you tantalisingly led the reader up a garden path to? Why go astray from sharing the gossipy tales? Why not? One mama to another or a few other mamas, "Do you know why Music Academy continues to deny Vijay Siva his long overdue Sangita Kalanidhi? Sanjay Subramanian, a contemporary, has been feted already. And on the distaff side Sudha Raghunathan and this time round S. Sowmya, have earned their laurels.
Then, why single out Vijay Siva. He is class and been around long enough to deserve it. It is very unfortunate that Academy politics plays spoilsport in musical recognition." Smilingly a mama responds, "Sir, you are being naive in your comments. Music Academy, music and politics always go together. They never Sangita Kalanidhied no less than the giant in Lalgudi" (Jayaraman - he left unsaid as terrain would suffice to the knowing). "The committee has several sub committees with huge axes to grind with prejudices aplenty. Even Aruna Sairam, they delayed on the pretext that her ‘technical prowess’ was less than Academy standard. They refused to accept her popularity and complained that ‘she was playing to the gallery’?"
There were a few interjections furiously with politeness waved off. No more. A newcomer to the mama’s team (as the mama sought permission to intervene admitting along the way, he was new, yet knew) came in quite forcefully, "It is pure politics to deny Vijay Siva because he has a backbone and trust in God and his ability. He refuses to kowtow to the officianados in the Academy, who like their egos to be pandered to, once in a while. It appears that since 2015 when the #Chennaifloods came, and the year he declined to perform, in memory of those who lost their lives and properties, he has been playing truant, according to the committee. He cannot pick and choose ‘they’ claim to play with the Academy. Anecdotal instances of further slight are stored in Academy server, to deny him the necessary ‘points’ to qualify."
A younger mama, may be on the verge of retirement or a VRS candidate, pounced in on the pause. "It is different with T. M. Krishna. He is a known rebel. He is a maverick. Though Academy concedes his musicology knowledge and obvious singing prowess, they are even scared that he may decline and make a fool of them. He has for the past few years refused to perform during the season and his ‘secular tweets on public issues’ are too provocative."
Sorry to disappoint the reader that there was no formal resolution passed by the mamas on the agenda of the day. By then the screen rose and Malladi Brothers had sat. Give it to these mamas. They are focused. They come in early. They chat. They gossip. Compare notes and nostalgically recall that ‘today’s concerts were no match to the mikeless temple katcheris of old, stretching beyond midnight to the wee hours’. If one kept ears open, on such concert occasions, one got to hear a lot more than you can learn from reading.
Every other mama vied with the other, to jump in on the raagas, even as the Ra Na swarams escaped the lips of the artistes. There was always consensus among them on the raaga. And that meant easy pickings for the likes of me, to boastfully record it. Why pick on Academy all the time? Does it mean that rest of the sabhas are squeaky clean with no political undercurrents? Excuse me, cricket headquarters is Lords. It Lords over the rest. Rest follow the Lords. Or try to ape. Right. So talking about Lords as lording over the rest, makes sense. That is exciting. You talk of Everest in glowing terms as tough to scale. It is tough to scale the Academy in height and politics and they do matter more, not necessarily they are alone. So be it.
Meanwhile, the neat looking Malladi Brothers, in full sleeves shirt, sang with their customary zeal and gusto. Hailing from Telugu Nadu, their diction for Tyagaraja Krithis are ‘spot on’ as mamas’ team captain hails. Who am I to dissent? Niravadhi Sukhada, in Ravichandrika raga?- in a fast and celestial beat, is literally belted out. The swaraprastharam tapestry is musical gymnastics of a rare timbre. It is classic tandem singing that captures the commoner rasika, who may not be into the curves and swerves of technical bravura. One comes and sits to have a good time. Carnatic music when soulfully sung is soothing and elevating. Equally, when speed is displayed with panache, it is equally inspirational. Long live Carnatic music.
Kshitija Ramanam Chintaye in Devagandhari, a classic Muthuswamy Dikshithar poetry, was chaste in delivery, lulling even a voluble mama into silence. The brothers do not bite the syllables. They are full throated for they are sure of the nuances and swings. And the exchanges between them, an exclusive preserve of duo singing, is beautiful, as one throws a phrase and the other catches it nonchalantly and serves it back. The back and forth swaraprastharam is mellifluous. The beauty of twosome in tandem lies in timing, and neither should drop the guard or a tossed up phrase.
One by one, the mamas troop out. The earliest leaver whispers, "Sir, now that I am retired. She does not wait for me for dinner. The left over is mine, even as the rest of the family is absorbed in the nightly inane serials, and it is my belief they are condemned to endure it. I better leave early to catch a bus and walk back home, in time, for the left over to retain whatever is its left over freshness. To renew my licence to be back here on the morrow."...