Sunday, August 16, 2009



It was exactly the kind of a start that I had expected—explosive, enthralling and educating. It was also exactly the kind of a start that I had foreseen—bleak, dreary and a sense of a missing something. To deal with the latter first, Rajaram was not here to celebrate. I am sure his heart would have been in Madras, but the physical part of him was in far away Muscat. I would have preferred to have him seated right beside me—but it was not to be. The wait is long; he will be here on the 20th, hopefully in time to catch Mohan Raman and his talk on Nagesh, the evergreen comedian.

Let us now deal with the former. Well, the day dawned with a faux pas. A lazy week meant that I had not registered for the Dubash walk, and there was no Rajaram to chauffeur us on a two-wheeler; yes, the response was overwhelming and all three or four vehicles that had to be booked for the walk were full.

I was determined to catch the next event called ‘People’s Park Vazhi Nadai Chindu,’ an enactment on the walk in 1915 of a couple, all the way from Mulla Saheb Street in Sowcarpet to the Arupathumoovar Festival at the Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore. It was all the more interesting to know that the walk was set to a song in 1915 called the Vazhi Nadai Chindu—in a genre that is called the Gujili.

Well, the Gujili is a genre that was famous in the days of almost no newspapers, no television and no real way of disseminating news. The Gujili was the answer to all these negatives—the news was packaged into neat little sound bytes camouflaging as verses, or was it the reverse? Sung on the streets or in parks, these songs spread news of all kinds; serious headline stuff like Bhagat Singh’s hanging to the typical page 3 stuff like who was ‘dating’ whom! The fact that the lyrics were printed on cheap paper and priced at a quarter of an anna did not make it a newspaper—it was called a ‘kaalanna’ pathirikkai. That the walk took the form of a Gujili song and was printed did not make it Page 3 stuff, or did it?

I have also never been a ‘rasika’ of the fine arts in the sense of blurting out ‘sabaash’es and ‘bale’s at the drop of a hat. I cannot identify a Kaapi from a Todi, but can sure appreciate a good sounding raga rendered well. Same with the dances too. I had doubts as to how Bharathanatyam would deal with a typical Page 3 subject like the Gujili song of a couple on a daylong date, even if for devotional reasons. Believe me, I was happy to be proved wrong, happier to be there for the performance, and happiest to know that I could finally comprehend not only what went with the dance, but the dance itself.

Gayatri Balagurunathan and P.T. Narendran did a wonderful job of enacting the People’s Park Vazhi Nadai Chindu. The emoting and the movements were tailor-made, rather choreographed to perfection by Natyarangam of the Narada Gana Sabha. As S. Janaki gave out the details of how this was made workable, it really sunk in what it takes to enact such an informal song using a format as classical as the Bharathanatyam. The dancers gave it their all, enthralling the three hundred odd invitees at the TAG Center. The places the ‘dating’ couple saw on the way like the temples as they set out from on the Mulla Saheb Street, the then Madras Zoo, the Victoria Public Hall, the temples on the way down to the sweet stall where they dropped by for snacks were all depicted with panache that I had at least till now not seen in my rather limited viewing of classical arts. The temporary deviation notwithstanding, the couple finally reach the temple and have a very satisfying darshan of the Arupathumoovar at the Kapaleeswarar temple. Whether it was Sriram’s selection of photographs to go with the performance, or it was the performance that embellished the photographs I would never know, but what I know for certain was the perfect jugalbandi complementing each other. The standing ovation that the performance received was a testimony of the sheer power of Gayatri and Narendran’s showing.

Sriram later held centre stage. His presentation, the selection of photographs and his humorous narrative equalled, if not excelled the dance show earlier in the morning. I have known speakers use humour to camouflage their lack of mastery in the subject, but Sriram uses humour to embellish his expertise on the subject. The audience was in rapt attention one moment, in splits the next; going quiet rapidly lest they miss something of note. These cycles of silence and laughter were aplenty, and the end of the day, the fact that Sriram was mobbed is adequate proof of this man’s ease of language and mastery of subjects, more so if they are related to periods earlier than his birthday!

But before all this unfolded, I entered TAG centre a rather hungry man, not finding a place to eat some decent breakfast. Imagine my surprise when I was guided to the dining hall to a rather sumptuous breakfast of Pongal, Vadai and Carrot Halwa. How can I eat idlies when Pongal is served? Washed down with a wonderful filter kaapi, I could have easily been lulled into sleep. But Gayatri, Narendran and later Sriram ensured that not one person in the audience let out even as much a yawn —if this is not a perfect start to the Madras Day, then nothing ever is.


Blogger rajaram said...


don't post anything more until i come home. your note makes me sick and wonder if it's all worth earning in a foreign country and spend a worthless life... but the ground reality seems to be different.
well, regarding gujli and vazhi nadai chindu, Prof Venkatachalapathy gave a illuminating talk a couple of years ago at the chamiers...i am not sure if you were there. but i guess if we take pains to go to Rojah Muthiah Library, then we can actually get to see so many of those gujli songs.
it was well written and i really liked it...
Finally, i would have loved to read about your's as well as veena's opinion about the more salivating lecutre in the afternoon.. (randor's scandulous lecture). hope you finally did go there...


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