Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Article - How Malavika Sarukkai led me first to heaven, then to hospital - Bruno Kavanagh

A plea for lower volumes in Carnatic music and classical dance presentations

Last Sunday morning I found myself deep inside the marvelous Malar Hospital in Adyar, where a doctor was probing my right ear with a long and pointed implement. He was attempting to remove a foreign object that had become lodged far inside my aural canal, dangerously close to the ear drum.

As he calmly and competently went about his work, I asked myself the question: “Am I the first person in history to be hospitalized as a result of attending a Bharatanatyam performance?”

Perhaps I should provide some context to this bizarre turn of events: my injury was sustained during a performance the previous evening by Malavika Sarukkai at the Sri YGP auditorium. It was self-inflicted: as is frequently the case at Carnatic concerts and dance recitals in Chennai, I had found the volume from the speakers stacked beside the stage (and throughout the auditorium) unbearably loud. But rather than complain, or leave (since I very much wanted to see Malavika perform) I decided that the best way forward would be to stuff the well-chewed corners of a paper napkin into each of my ears, to filter out the excess sound.


  1. Poor Bruno! He didn't know that the audience who attend carnatic music concerts and Bharatanatyam performances are actually deaf or half-deaf! :(

  2. Mr.Kavanagh,
    I agree with you,entirely. I hear you, LOUD and clear. :)
    I have often wondered why the volume is always high and unbearable in Indian programs (not just music concerts, in dance recitals too and just about any program, actually). Many of my friends have agreed that the volume is loud, but have told me that it is not unbearable. There have been many dance programs where I wished I could just bring down the volume to zero (yes, zero!) so that I could watch the dance in peace!
    I think we need to look into the general Indian attitude towards things - say food, clothing, decorations, for instance. Everything is almost always "high" - meaning, overdone, bright, loud, garish, isn't it? A typical bride - wears the most ornate saree her parents can afford to buy for her, and then wears as much jewelry as she possibly can, puts on heavy make-up, does up her hair with jewelry(again!) and goes on. What about food? Unless a person is sick and has been ordered by a doctor to eat bland food, most dishes are high in all kinds of spices - altogether drowning the taste of the vegetable or grain that was the main ingredient. Tasted baingan bartha? :) And decorations? I think you get my point.

    There seems to be an irresistible need to be louder, brighter, faster....etc, with no sense of direction or purpose. As you pointed out, I too wonder - doesn't an artiste of T.M.Krishna's caliber ever wonder how his singing sounds in an auditorium when he has the volume sky high? The music is definitely lost completely. It is just one big noisy mess, just like baingan bartha is one huge spicy mess (IMHO).
    Elegance and simplicity in style and presentation are few (Kalakshetra programs come to mind, but here again, I am not that sure about the volume levels in their presentations! Their visual presentation is definitely elegant and pleasing to my eyes, never overdone) and rare.
    I think that over the years, people's ability to hear has gone down, thanks to setting the volume high in the television sets in their own homes and consequently, everyone has become partially deaf! Maybe it is time to reverse this process by lowering the volume and forcing everyone to strain their ears and listen carefully and re-learn the listening process.

    Until then, those of us who find the volume levels unbearable will have to resort to listening to our favorite musicians in the comfort of our homes.

  3. Oh, how I agree with you. I'm just done documenting an eight-day Odissi festival with terrible sound and sometimes, bad music. Go PLUGS!