If the musicians keep the knowledge alive, it is the discerning audience – rasikas – who keep them on their toes as well as give them the informed feedback that is so necessary for any artist to thrive. I, unfortunately, make up the crowd for the musician but am no further help. I have the greatest regard for the cognoscenti and, if I am taking digs at them in this piece, rest assured that they are most respectful digs.
The Sabha audience comes in various types. I shall ignore the young couples walking in to the free concerts to do their dating in the A/c confines of the hall. They are more like people who have strayed in – though not by mistake – and, thus, do not deserve mention in a ‘serious’ dissertation such as this.
The one thing that you need to know is that each rendering of a piece is not to be listened to in rapt silence. There are various sections to each piece after which applause is mandatory even if muted. After four years, I am able to anticipate the end of the section and start applauding along with the cognoscenti instead of having to wait for the applause to start and joining in, in order to appear knowledgeable.
What I have not yet mastered – and never shall – is to utter those words ‘Balae’ and ‘Baesh’ every now and then when the musician has, apparently, touched some intricate part of the raga. To me it all sounds the same – melodious, yes, but nothing particular at that point in time compared to any other – and I am unable to understand why others felt impelled to vocalize their appreciation. It is not even like they all appreciate the same part. Different people seem to take to different portions making it all the more difficult to understand. Sometimes I have been tempted to add in a few ‘Balae’s and “Baesh”es of my own – the only thing stopping me is the possibility that I may do it when the musician is merely clearing his throat.
There are those rapt rasikas who can only vocalize “Tch!Tch!Tch” and move their fingers like palm fronds trembling gently in the breeze. There are those who can hardly refrain from addressing the perfect stranger sitting next to them and inviting him to join in their appreciation. There are those who fling their hands in gay abandon when the ecstasy hits them.
For me, the worst sort of rasikas to sit near is the quiz competition group. In Carnatic concerts, the raga of the composition is not necessarily disclosed at the beginning. So, when the alapana is going on, the quiz competition groups start guessing the raga. There is invariably a quiz master – who can be identified by the smug look on his face – and his judgment is resorted to by all the members. The buzz can become so loud that the musician is practically drowned out by them. I am awaiting the day that an app is devised to identify the raga from the beginning of the alapana putting paid to this nuisance. They would, probably legitimately, be angry that their pleasure has been robbed. After all, it is a point of view as to whether the concert is a soulful experience or a variant of the Brittania Quiz contest.
I forget the failed musicians – by whom I mean those who believe that their vocation is music and they had been lead astray into other areas of work. These are the chaps who maintain the beat with claps like pistol shots or sing along with the musician or hum along with the violinist. I thought I had met the worst of them till the day came when this guy drummed on both sides of his chair, sang, hummed and stamped his feet. Why, he was a one-man-orchestra and poor T.N.Seshagopalan could not compete with him that day.
The Sabha-hoppers are inevitable in the season. They sample a bit of this in one Sabha, rush away to sample a bit of that in the other and, probably, sing the mangalam at home. Since I am the sort who can’t even stand surfing channels on TV it is understandable that I am unable to fathom the pleasure that sabha-hopping gives them.
All in all, the Music Season gives you a grand exposure to a fascinating and vibrant sub-culture in our midst. To me, all the rasikas are worth their weight in gold since it is their interest that is still keeping these wonderful creative arts thriving.