Saturday, August 30, 2014

Walking out of a Rajan-Sajan Mishra concert before it had begun half-an-hour late -- A case study of Indian culture consumption habits

It was advertised as a "Baithak" at the World Wide Fund auditorium on Saturday (August 30) 6.30 pm. Reached the venue by 6.30pm. Entered the hall. There were chairs on both flanks of the hall and at the back. There were plenty of "mora"s placed along the line o the rows of chairs. There was a white sheet covering the middle ground and gau-takiyas scattered all over, signifying the baithak in the physical sense.The clock ticked away as people strolled in, elderly people, middle aged people, some young people, men and women. Many of them knew each other. There was an elderly man and an elderly woman, the organisers, who were chaperoning people to their places with gentleness, affection and courtesy. It was a nice informal gathering. The gentleman announced that the singers would arrive five minutes before time. He was looking at the 7 pm starting time. Some confusion, some mistake somewhere. The hall was getting filled. The front rows of chairs are marked "reserved". The gentleman expresses happiness at the turnout, and he says that is how it is -- sometimes people come and the hall seems inadequate. sometimes there are not enough people. Two people come and light the lamp, and another person brings in the tabla and a box carrying the swar-mandal. It is 7.05 pm. I walk out. My neighbour asks me whether I am coming back. I tell him "No". That frees my neighbour from guarding my seat. Someone else can occupy it. When I collect my sandals outside -- all the people had to leave their footwear outside, a nice thing -- and prepare to leave, Sajan and Rajan Mishra in their white silk kurtas and dhotis step out of the elevator and walk to the door of the auditorium. I know it will be another 10 to 15 minutes before the concert will begin because they have to sit down on the stage, tune their instruments, and the hosts will have to make their introductory remarks.And the singers will take a little time to warm up, and they will be in their full stride after an hour or so, and they would be in a mood to sing the whole night, and the people will be only too willing to sit and listen to them. Sajan and Rajan Mishra are brilliant singers, full of depth, full of verve.
It would be nice if only the Hindustani classical singers were to be on time, and get into the concert proper from the word go. It would be nice if people who had come to listen to them had bought tickets, and the seating was arranged according to the price of the ticket. That's what we do in movies, in plays. It has not been worked out for the classical music concert. The Carnatic singers keep time in more than one sense. They finish off the concert by 8 pm if they start at 6.30 pm. And of course, they sing more numbers. But that is their format. You do now what the Carnatic or Hindustani classical singer will perform. It is not programmed music. The "un-programmed" music does not bother artists or the listeners. Because most of them are familiar with whatever the singers would choose to sing or the instrumentalists play. The artists and the audience share common music knowledge.
It would also seem that if the musicians were to play to an audience which had paid for the tickets, it would be an aesthetic offence. The artists would not feel the stress of having to perform and give the money's worth to the listeners. If there are no tickets, then what the artists do to captivate the audiences is some sort of a divine gift, nothing to do with vulgar cash transaction. Of course, they would get paid indirectly, with lot of affection and respect by the chief organiser or the host.
If there are tickets, then everyone will know where to sit. And the friends of the hosts will not necessarily sit in the front. But no one minds the social games. They want to enjoy the music in the company of people whom they know directly or indirectly.
But what are the restrictions in a city? The auditorium is given for a stretch of time and the concert has to wrapped up within that stretch. But there is always the extra time, the extra request, the popular thumri, the popular bhajan that comes towards the end of the concert. But people have to travel far in a city to get back home. But they do not mind the delay. The music justifies the little inconveniences.
So, there is a nice little problem. The conventions and courtesies of a Hindustani classical music concert are that of a village or of the court or durbar. But the actual venue is a city auditorium, and the audiences have to commute. But a Hindustani classical music concert, it seems would be killed if it were to keep time, and there are tickets and people sat according to the seat number on the ticket. The uneasy commingling of the rural and the urban, the durbar and the bourgeoisie.


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