Sunday, 14 January 2018

If it is December, it must be Madras/Chennai - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

In the early seventies in Mumbai at Empire cinema, I had seen a Hollywood film titled 'If it is Tuesday, it must be Belgium.' It fits in well for my footloose and fancy free wanderings. Hence the title of this article. 

Way back in 1970 December on my return from a year long travels and considerable long stay in London, I had gone with Chandralekha to the early morning session at The Music Academy to attend a lec-dem by Dr V.Raghavan explaining subtle nuances of abhinaya by the legendary Balasaraswati. At that time there was a shamiana and lec dems were held under a pandal. Listening to Bala's exquisite singing, one was under her spell. She was a big built woman and used to dress in a simple saree, no makeup and would perform abhinaya padam, which Dr. V. Raghavan would explain in advance, mentioning raga and tala and gist of the song. 

It was quite an experience. It indeed opened up for someone like me a new way of looking at dance. In Chennai with predominant Tamil speaking community and the rasikas and connoisseurs the songs were understood and therefore also the subtleties of abhinaya along with sanchari bhavas, spontaneous improvisations. But in case of Bala, her manodharma, imaginative interpretations were not what everyone could understand and relish. Therefore Dr. V.Raghavan's explanations in English helped non Tamil speaking rasikas a lot. 

After the lec-dems, many a times, Chandralekha would be asked by Bala to join her for morning breakfast and coffee. It was indeed a privilege to join them. Chandra was learning from Kanchipuram Elappa Pillai, who accompanied Bala for nattuvangam. Bala and Chandra were good friends. Chandra introduced me to Bala and since then one had become a devotee of Bala.

So December meant Chennai. The Margazhi month then offered excellent music by stalwarts like Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iynegar, Mudikondan, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, DK Pattammal, M.S. Subbulakshmi and others. Chandra was at that time staying on Elliots Road, now Radhakrishnan Salai. Her neighbor was Vidya Shankar, a vastly gifted veena player. Behind her house was Dr. V. Raghavan's house. Since I stayed with Chandra and attended major classical music performances, I came to know Dr. Raghavan well. That was a blessing. Because when I undertook my researches in 1975 for dance drama traditions of Kuchipudi, Bhagavatamela Nataka and Kuravanji with special reference to Rasa Theory as expounded in Bharata's Natyashastra, his generous guidance was a boon. When he saw my industry and deep involvement, he gave me several books with English translations to study, in particular about Bhakti literature.

The die was cast. Since then except when I was away abroad, I never missed Margazhi celebrations in Chennai in December. Known as December 'season' many, like me, headed for Chennai planning well in advance to travel from Mumbai not to miss the major music and dance performances. It was a great learning for someone like me, who was exposed to dance conferences in Mumbai where at annual Sur Singar Samsad's Swami Haridas Sammelan I was exposed to Hindustani music and predominantly classical Kathak dance. There were also Bharatanatyam performances by Kamala Lakshman, Vyjayantimala, Balasaraswati. However the morning sessions at The Music Academy were very educative. There was vidvat, knowledge and technical discussions that threw lot of light on the musical forms. 

Over the years, now that we are in 2017 and 2018, the scene has changed a lot.

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