The Filter

Mingling at the Madras Music Season

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Chennai during Margazhi season is a trope of clichés. Every December, the music halls are filled with the cultural elite- characters right out of J Mathrubhootham’s world. I agree to accompany my father to a violin concert- something that I do occasionally during music seasons. There is a queue-like crowd outside the auditorium. “Makes you feel like you’re in school, doesn’t it?” remarks one maami brightly, her Tamil tinged with an accent betraying that she spent the summers in the US with her son. I try not to smile too much at her. “Smile too much and before you know it, you’ll be buying mango pickle for your husband’s dinner at a desi shop in California,” I remind myself.

The crowd swells. The husband and wife behind me compare the acoustics at Hamsadhwini to the auditorium we’re at. The old couple next to me is praising the bondas they ate at the last music sabha they were at. In front of me, two girls, barely in their teens, are comparing their heights and careers. They’re both training in Carnatic music (of course) but while one contemplates biotechnology, the other contemplates cancer research. I ask my father if I was ever like that. He sighs as he remembers better days.

Everyone is well dressed here- not overdressed, mind you- sarees are stiff, hair (if any) is neatly combed, diamonds, from noses and ears and fingers, glint occasionally. Everyone in the queue seems to be recognising others; “This is Viji’s sister-in-law’s daughter’s friend- she came to our house in Adyar three years ago for Kolu,” says one maami to her husband. He smiles politely but his eyes are trained at the door while his wife and her new acquaintance make mental notes on how much progress their kids are making in music. Music season is all about competition. But the man’s hunch about the door is proved right. Soon, everyone starts moving inside. Out of respect for those older to me, I move slowly. My father smiles at my naiveté. Chivalry be damned- I have never seen this many people cut a queue nor have I been elbowed this much in a span of five minutes. The old people rush into the auditorium with surprising alacrity for retirees.

Thankfully, the concert starts soon. Everyone makes sounds like “tch” or “tut tut” which in any other context might only indicate displeasure. Here however, any smacking of the lips is a precursor to applause. But half the crowd leaves after the first two songs. “Its’s time for dinner or they must be diabetic,” my father offers the explanation with a straight face. The seating aisles are narrow , so the possibility of an old man mistakenly sitting on your lap, on his way out, is quite high. The concert is quite lovely and we stay for all of it. Everyone seems to be keeping the thalaam or rhythm and they exchange smiles when they recognise the ragam.   I notice that the violinist, who must be in eighties, reaches for his snuff powder only four times. I ask my father how that’s morally acceptable in this society. Heaven forbid if a random stranger is smoking a cigarette at the back of a group photo of mine on Facebook. (Cause, log kya kehenge). Speaking of tradition, here’s a cue from Kannaki to Padmavati.

There’s no real justice- this I know but let’s move on to what happened this week. The most important story from the Indian courts is that the Supreme Court didn’t provide much relief on Aadhar except for pushing the deadline to March 31, 2018. If you are getting very annoyed with every Hari, Rohan and Prateek wanting your Aadhar number, then you can always head to the website and petition whoever you want to. The judiciary has also come under criticism this week for its disregard of the Right to Information (RTI) Act and its inaction over joining the UN Torture Convention. Perhaps Indira Gandhi’s centenary birth anniversary should remind us of the dark period in our judicial history and to vow never to return to such dire straits again.

In foreign policy, Donald Trump dominates the headlines yet again. He might recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or keep position on North Korea but he remains ever popular amongst his voters. In the neighbourhood, Nepal finally got around to holding its elections at the provincial and national levels- it may even bear lessons for us considering out abysmal voting records. On the other side, Farzana Sheikh points out that there are lessons to be learnt from others’ mistakes: “But so long as the state’s vexed relation to Islam is allowed to hold governments to ransom in Pakistan, we can all expect to witness a re-run of present events.”

Looking at the outside from within, experts suggest engaging more multilateral organisations, not asking Britain to apologise for the Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre, calling for a better agricultural deal at the WTO and asking more from all the contributions towards UN peacekeeping.

If I’m going to be honest there was one story this week: The elections in Gujarat. Everyone is betting, polling and predicting. But as Amit pointed out earlier this week, facts have stopped mattering. Apart from Amit’s piece, I did not have the patience to string every op-ed this week into a coherent paragraph. So here you go, now you can catch up with everyone pontifying who is winning, who is losing and every small detail right down to how the toilets outside the polling booths will impact the 2019 elections:

  1. Dinesh Trivedi explains why the Gujarat elections is a microcosm of the Mahabharata.
  2. Surjit S Bhalla looks at all the opinion polls and realizes that they all say the same thing.
  3. Pratap Bhanu Mehta says that the Prime Minister reached a new low with the politics of fear.
  4. Meghnad Desai looks back in history to see how the Congress party chooses its leaders.
  5. Coomi Kapoor reports on the murmurs within the Congress.
  6. If P Chidambaram was a voter in Gujarat, he would vote for the party that would empathise with the poor and the middle class and pledge its time and resources to address their real problems irrespective of religion or caste.
  7. The line between caste interest, pride and jingoism is thin during elections and Gujarat is no different, says Ghanshyam Shah.
  8. Ajaz Ashraf says that BJP leaders play victim because of narcissism.
  9. Neerja Chowdhury believes that irrespective of the elections, Congress has hit upon an electoral strategy that could help revive the party nationally.
  10. Girish Shahane explains how Narendra Modi outmatched James Bond with his seaplane stunt.
  11. Manoj Joshi argues that Narendra Modi does not seem bound by propriety or even dignity in his attempt to win elections.

Some of the links in this article were compiled by Shristi Chhajer.

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About the author

Hamsini Hariharan

Hamsini Hariharan is the Associate Editor at Pragati. She is the host of the the States of Anarchy podcast. Her research interests include Chinese foreign policy, Asian geopolitics, and India's worldview.