Jan 5, 2009

1.25 sessions at Sawai Gandharva 2009

I have been stepping up my Sawai Gandharva attendances in measured quanta - one session in 2005, a full day last year, and 2 days this year. Or that was the plan for this year, until I decided I had had enough this year after half of the last day and decided to retire hurt.

I've realised I don't really have much of an ear for the standard issue Hindustani classical concert. The template performance, with the lengthy warm-up aalaaps, made me fret. Or perhaps it was just the choice of performers. The trouble with Sawai is that the first few performances are either newcomers or slightly obscure musicians. In comparison to the big names, they don't seem to tailor their recitals in accordance to the audience's mood (or in response of the lack of one). Contrastingly, all the Carnatic musicians I've seen at Sawai have gone out of their way to engage with the listeners, either by useful explanations of what they're about to do, or by picking attractive compositions. It could be that they have to put their best foot forward, being mostly novel to the average attendee.

It could just be my South Indian ear, brought up on idli-dosai at home and pongal-coffee at the Chennai winter sabhas (which I hated to attend as a ten year old at the peak of my neighbourhood game). But those with me seemed to concur. I enjoyed the programme last year. This time, Ganesh-Kumaresh and Pandit Jasraj (who clearly knows how to recruit the audience on his journeys, and did some interesting harmonic bits with his pupils, whom he also sledged from time to time) were the highlights. Even the usually appealing Ronu Majumdar couldn't hold my interest.

Or it was the crowds. The Bhaaratiya Baithak (you sit cross-legged, Indian-style) is a pain in the arse, quite literally, and especially so when there's hardly room for the occasional stretch or back-lean. Your mind gets into a sitting-marathon mode and at some point you hit the wall. I spent the rest of the Sunday morning (lasted about 3 hours in the BB) standing. There's got to be a rethink about some of the organisation - the place is splitting at the seams. Or an extension of the shamiaanaa on either side is needed. I sat under the stars last year till 2 am and ended up with a massive cold in return for watching the astonishing L. Subramaniam and his son.

On the sidelines, there was an excellent photo exhibition featuring the latest Bharat Ratna, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi (who made an appearance and looked extremely frail, and so in no condition to repeat his short and sweet recital from last year). The highlight being a snap of a rather dashing Pandit Ravi Shankar.

Clamped up, I inevitably end up in a lot of soul-searching: what am I here for? Do I really "get" what the musician is trying to do? Am I, in Aditya Gadre's annoyed terminology, just a pseudo-fan (in its kindest interpretation). Are many of the people here just surfing the annual social waves or busy admiring the emperor's new clothes?

Anything to keep my mind off the pain that has oppresses the region from my lower back to the ankles like some mad despot.

This is a much kinder report by a Sawai debutant.


Salil said...

I dont think that liking a subject should necessarily involve knowing/understanding it. Theres quite some stuff which I know about in detail but dont really enjoy (eg. coding in C++) and OTOH stuff which I like but about which I dont know a great deal (eg. foreign language movies).

The same could be applied to classical music, since I also dont subscribe to the thought that one needs to understand the nuances of music or know a great deal about artistes to enjoy it.

Unknown said...

I agree! It's just that when something like this happens, I start questioning the whys-and-the-wherefores. It goes away as soon as the circulation returns :-)

Isabel said...

Thank you for crowning me a kind debutant. Sorry your Sawai experience was a pain in the butt. Next year you can try working up your tolerance to 3 days. Chair seating may also help!

Unknown said...

Isabel: indeed. Chairs next time!