Why the Madras Music Festival must go on

No matter what, Life goes on…and so every show must go on too!
Since the Chennai floods arrived around the same time that the famous annual Madras Music Festival was set to begin last week, there is considerable debate on whether artistes and sabhas should go ahead with the festival this season.
I believe they should. The Festival must go on.
However, the choice to perform or not must be with left to the artistes. If they feel like performing, they must. And if they don’t feel like it, they may like not to! To be sure, the Dhananjayans, Vijay Siva, Bombay Jayashri and a few others have chosen not to perform. And yet Sanjay Subrahmanyam performed yesterday.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with either choice. Music, if anything, is a form of expression of inner joy. Undoubtedly, all artistes, like everyone else is, are tormented by the floods in Chennai and the havoc it has caused in the lives of her citizens. While some artistes may want to immerse themselves in their music at this time, to get over their feeling of grief or to invoke their inner peace, others may not be able to bring themselves up to sing. And we must respect their individual choices and sentiments. Having said that, we must not forget that music has enormous healing power when it is performed as an offering to the Universe. No artiste really performs just for money or fame. They fundamentally perform because they lose themselves to the act of performing. When music, in fact when any work or service, is delivered with such selflessness, when it is an invocation and not just a mere stage performance, it heals. What Chennai – and the world at large – needs now is healing. In my humble opinion, going ahead with the Madras Music Festival this season would be not just right and apt, it will be hugely healing as well.
And, irrespective of what artistes and sabhas decide over this week, on what they want to do, let us not judge anyone. After all, all our lives will go on. They have to go on. Weddings will happen – given the season’s muhurthams already having been calibrated per an almanac – people will go to the movies, to parties and to nightclubs, cricket and football (ISL – Indian Super League) will be played and the Christmas and New Year festivities will soon be indulged in. Moping and mourning – not just now, but at any time – serves no purpose. If anything it can make people depressive. And what the people in Chennai need now is an uplifting energy, a celebration of human spirit, which only music can provide instantaneously – and uniformly!
One of the historic examples of the role musicians and music played at a calamitous time is of violinist Wallace Hartley and his band playing on even as the Titanic sank on the night of 14~15 April, 1912. After the Titanic hit an iceberg and began to sink, Hartley and his fellow band members started playing music to help keep the passengers calm as the crew loaded the lifeboats. To me, that’s true heroism, that’s a true celebration of Life!
Celebration does not always have to mean shouting from rooftops or dancing meaninglessly in an inebriated state. The whole journey of Life is a celebration – of being alive, of being human, of being a miracle. Death too is a celebration, as Osho, the Master, would say. His perspective: it’s freedom from the illusion called Life! On that spiritual plane, any loss – physical, material, emotional – is always an opportunity to start afresh. What Chennai needs now is that impetus, that fresh start, that new beginning…

So, to the artistes of Chennai, I would simply say, let the music play on….because the show, called Life, must go on…!

Life is a lot about being patient with what you want

Achieving whatever you set your sights on takes time. The key to achievement, above all else, is patience.  
Sandeep Narayan
Picture Courtesy: The Hindu/Internet
Yesterday we were at a Madras Week event where famed film critic and senior journalist Baradwaj Rangan was in conversation with Carnatic vocalist Sandeep Narayan, a disciple of renowned singer Sanjay Subrahmanyan. Sandeep was born in the US. He lived and grew up in Los Angeles for much of his Life until 1996, when he visited Chennai at the age of 11 to “touch and feel” the “world of Carnatic music at its Mecca”.  Ever since, Sandeep was drawn to Chennai and kept visiting here in summers and winters (for the famous Madras Music season). He completed his undergrad law degree in 2006 in the US and has since made Chennai his home. Evidently, Sandeep’s Life journey has been unique – most people from Chennai move westward after their undergrad programs. But here is someone who was drawn to Chennai, and to Carnatic music, from the West. Obviously, he faced huge cultural barriers and challenges. For one, most sabhas and people who mattered in the Carnatic music circuit treated him as an NRI – although he has been living here from 2006. His strong American accent while speaking English did not help much. Then breaking through the politics that governs the Carnatic music scene has been difficult – and often times depressing, especially because Sandeep chose not to do “his PR” with the sabhas or play “politics”. “I just didn’t fit in doing those things,” he confessed. This really meant that there would be long spells – often months – when he would not get concerts to sing. But he was patient. He kept practising and kept attending every concert possible – to learn as much as he could. Then, slowly, people started offering him concerts. And now, in the last few years, he’s among the more sought after Carnatic musicians.
Someone in the audience, empathizing with the challenges Sandeep had to face, asked him if he had a method to deal with his “lows”: “How did you handle those painful phases when you had no concerts and people were not willing to give you a chance?”
Sandeep replied: “I just kept believing in myself and my music. Thankfully I didn’t go into depression. But there were undoubtedly several lows amidst a lot of pain. But I kept practising and kept listening to music. I had decided that this, Carnatic music, is my Life. And I am not going to make compromises with it. Now, I can surely say that there are highs, some very high highs, and there are not too many lows, and never the deep lows. I guess being patient with what you want helps.”
I thought that was a very simple yet profound answer.
At this point popular television and film actor, Mohan Raman, piped in from the audience to say: “I have been around for 25 years in my industry and I have learnt to deal with the unpredictable nature of securing projects by simply being happy with whatever I get!” Mohan is a wonderful artiste and has done several celebrated roles in Tamil cinema. Even so, his ability to accept whatever comes his way, offers a teachable perspective for us to learn from.
Marrying both points of view – Sandeep’s and Mohan’s – I believe the best way to approach Life – and your business or career goals – is to keep doing your best and never get influenced by the outcomes. Life is a lot about being patient with what you want. I liked Sandeep’s attitude to invest the time he spent waiting for a break to practise being a better musician. And I like Mohan’s point that we must learn to be happy with what we get. Interestingly, when you are patient, you are actually demonstrating how much conviction you have in yourself and in all that you are pursuing. Most people want results instantly and get frustrated when things don’t work out despite their best efforts. This is where depression sets in and suffering takes over. Never let your frustration drive you. Be driven surely – but by your passion and your vision for yourself. When you are sure of the direction you have chosen in your Life and are patient – and happy – on the road, somewhere along the way, you do arrive at the destination that you were always destined to arrive at!