The pace of the sitar strings kept rising, the 2 tabla players were providing perfect accompaniment and there was pin drop silence in the hall. And as at the end of many minutes of sitting at the edge with bated breath, the crescendo was reached, the whole audience broke into thunderous applause. This journey with the artist and the final feeling of exultation is something that cannot be achieved anywhere except in a live concert.
Udai and I made the long trek to Modern School, Barakhamba Road for the opening day of the Haridas-Tansen Sammelan. Hindustani Classical is the only kind of music I enjoy and have always gone to concerts when ever possible. Since moving to Gurgaon 5 years ago, I keep looking at the various announcements of events in the paper and rue the distance to South Delhi, where these are usually held. And of course, if there are tickets they have to bought in advance from S Delhi outlets. Often, these shows are on passes which too have to be collected from a S Delhi destination – all very dissuasive factors. I looked at the announcement for this event in the papers with that same sense of frustration – Shujaat Khan, Chauarasiya, Ashwini Bhide Deshpande – all so near and yet so far!!
And then I got an e-mail announcing the event and it said that the passes could be had online. Now, that was a first and certainly removed the first hurdle. Since it was free, I applied and got the passes on e-mail. And as the day approached, I decided that I must make the effort to go at least for one day.
The program was at 6.30 PM and the pass said, seating was on first-come basis, everyone should reach by 6 PM. Knowing the evening Gurgaon-Delhin traffic on a Friday, we left at 4.30, reaching the venue at 5.40. 6.30 came and went, and there a 10 minute delay – waiting for some VIPs, I guess. Then there was the usual lamp lighting, souvenier giving and speeches with a small function to honor Lakshmi Krishna Rao Pandit – all of which took 20 minutes. Then came the first set back – Ashwini Bhide (one of the attractions) was unwell and would be replaced by 2 young Delhi vocalists – Imran and Tanveer Khan. Following their introductions, they finally started singing at 7.10 or so.
There were minor disturbances in the front rows as VIPs (a class unique to our culture) kept coming in, and as per the hierarchy people had to be pushed around to find appropriate seating for them. And then when the Khan brothers finished singing, we saw the organizers back on stage to invite ‘the VIP’ who had caused the most disturbance – one of the Ministers in the present Government. It was not a face or name I recognized, but there was the usual rush of souvenieritis and bouqueitis – followed by the inevitable “kuch shabdh” (few words) – which became a long ramble which included an announcement of 500 crores for Classical arts!! This added a 15′ interruption, before Shujaat Khan came on stage, got introduces and got down to playing. But then, once he started, he transported everyone to another world.
And when he hit that crescendo around 9.15 PM, I know we had to leave, I could not expect young Udai to sit through another performance. And we were home a little after 10 PM. A few lessons have been learnt from this outing – that although first come, first served, the rush is not that great. There is an audience, albiet shrinking for Classical music, but the median age would be closer to 50, Udai was only one of 3-4 younger people in the hall. So, there is some concern for the future. That although the culture of patronage is essential for the arts, we cannot de-link patronage from sycophancy – and as in all things, the first steps have to be taken by those on top. So I’m waiting for the day that the patrons, step back and insist that the artists who are the really the VIPs, get their moment in the sun!!
But for me, although I spent more than 5 hrs for 2 hrs of music, just those last few minutes of the sitar made the effort worthwhile. And a few final words for Udai who has learnt Hindustani vocal for a year, has a ear for music and spontaneously opted to come with me. So, not only did I get to spend time with him, I am hoping that the experience will stay with him in some small way.