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…!

“With acceptance there is only happiness”

‘The Happiness Road’ is a weekly Series on this Blog that appears on Sundays where I share my conversations with people while exploring their idea of happiness!
This Sunday I feature the dancer couple Shanta and V.P.Dhananjayan.
There’s a glint in the eyes of the Dhananjayan couple that you can’t miss. Over the last three decades, I have noticed the glint every time that I have seen them perform or on the few rare occasions that I have spoken to them. Recently, I met them for about an hour at their Shastri Nagar home. And all through the conversation, I couldn’t but help admire that glint. Perhaps, I wondered, the glint reflects their state of inner joy and peace – what you will find in people who love what they are doing and do only what they love!
Almost as if he is reading my mind, Dhananjayan says, “Happiness is just being.” “It is about being satisfied with what you are doing, with how you are living,” adds his wife Shanta.
Picture by Vaani Anand
Dhananjayan qualifies his earlier remark saying he feels blessed in many respects to have had the “right influences that impact happiness” at different times in his Life. First, he considers himself fortunate to have been born in a family where his father, a school teacher, instilled in him the value of ‘giving’ and taught him to never cling on to anything material. “He gave away everything he had to his sisters, leaving nothing for his eight children. Yet, all of us grew up happy, even if there was no food to eat at home on some days.” Second, living and learning in a gurukulam, at Kalakshetra, helped him understand that “group energy spreads harmony” – a work model that he has preserved over the years. Third, his companionship with soul-mate and partner Shanta, says Dhananjayan, has contributed immensely to the way he has grown through and evolved in Life. “We share each other’s ideology. Our art brings our hearts together. There’s a great understanding between us…we complete each other.”
Picture by Vaani Anand
Dhananjayan believes that when you know what you want from Life, and what makes you happy, you can face any situation, any challenge stoically. Shanta says that when they left Kalakshetra in 1968 they were only in their twenties, but they were already clear that they wanted to dedicate their lives to “putting Bharatanatyam on the world map”. “With the 25 continuous years we have spent conducting our summer gurukulam at Yogaville, Virginia, with the global collaborations we have had with artists from various genres and with the contribution we have been able to make to propagate Bharatiya sanskruti and kala worldwide, I guess we both have had a very fulfilling Life journey.”
But hasn’t there ever been a blemish on the bliss canvas? A challenge that threatened to disturb their inner equilibrium?
“Oh! There have been many,” exclaims Dhananjayan, adding, “But art teaches you humility and gratitude. When you have that attitude you always overcome.” He recounts his 15-year saga to establish Bhaskara, an academy to preserve and nurture the performing arts, in Payyanur in Kerala’s Kannur district. Everyone, from environmentalists to common-folk to a cold bureaucracy to disinterested politicians, came between him and his dream. For years, he soldiered on, investing every available hour and their hard-earned money in the project. Initially Bhaskara was only Dhananjayan’s baby. But when Shanta saw his intent and his passion being challenged by those who were opposing the project, she jumped in too, backing him fully. But “the people who operated the system” queered the pitch every single time. Finally the couple gave up, selling their investment to an educational institution that runs a B-school there now. “I was drained. When people don’t want to understand you, it can be very difficult. Kerala may be God’s own country, but it is also the Devil’s workshop! One day, seeing me frustrated, Shanta pointed out that there was no point in doing anything, even if it is your dream, if your inner peace is going to be disturbed. I saw light in her perspective,” confesses Dhananjayan.
Would he consider the Bhaskara project an epic loss – something that he failed at? “Fortunately, the Bhagavad Gita has taught me to keep my mind steady. Yes, there may be instances when the mind will waver. That’s when my art has helped steady it again. I have realized that there’s no success or failure. I have learnt to deal with both joy and sorrow with acceptance. With acceptance there is only happiness,” explains Dhananjayan.
So, here’s the secret, as I have discovered it, of that glint in Shanta’s and Dhananjayan’s eyes: Do what you believe in and love doing, always be grateful and content, simply accept whatever comes your way and never let anything disturb your inner peace!

Your age is a mere data point – it is not the focal point of your Life!!!

Age is but a number. Don’t ever get taken in by it!  
The other day I was sitting at a coffee shop enjoying my “quiet, me-time”. A bunch of 20-somethings sat at the adjacent table. And they were a riot. They ribbed each other, laughed loudly and were so full of Life. One of them even chided the others for being so noisy and said, “Stop behaving like teenagers!” To this, another among them asked her to how old she was, and she replied, “24”! And everyone burst out laughing!
I thought about those young folks at the café for a long time that day. And I thought about the question: “How old are you?” Closing in as I am on my 50s – just two-and-a-half-years away – this is a question that I have often found an interesting one to answer. To be honest, I never imagined I would be this old someday. Deep within me, I carry an image of me, of a boy wearing a blue printed shirt. I must have been 11 when that picture of me was shot by a Japanese guest who I befriended at the swimming pool at Taj Coromandel Hotel in Chennai – where I took my first swimming lessons. The gentleman, Yoshiro Kizuka, was a long-staying guest at the hotel and he liked me and my brother as he too had children our age. He snail-mailed me my picture when he went back to Japan (those days you had to process film rolls and print the pictures at a studio/film lab!!!). I still have that picture with me somewhere. It’s a picture that’s very school-boyish – a lot of curiosity and wonder in my eyes, the feel of being on the cusp of adolescence evident on my face, a certain innocence and an unstated ambition lend that picture a unique quality. Even today, within me, I feel the same way – curious about Life, naïve about how to deal with its trials and tribulations, despite having faced innumerable crises; and, importantly, I feel that I am still to grow old! I must confess, quickly, that with my progressives arriving last week, with my rheumatoid arthritis reminding me of the withering nature of the human body and with all the shades of grey that adorn the sides of my almost bald pate, I do have Life pointing to my biological age more frequently than I would like! Yet, I look around me and I have enough inspirations of people who are biologically older than me, but who are still young at heart and with all that they continue to do – Amitabh Bachchan, Apollo’s Dr.Pratap Reddy, Vyajayanthimala Bali (who at 80 performed at the Chennai Music & Dance Season last December), the dancer couple Shanta and V.P.Dhananjayan, my dear friend – the unputdownable and peripatetic Ejji Umamahesh, my father (who at 76 despite chronic diabetes remains active) and my father-in-law (who despite a stroke and Parkinsons Plus retains his zest for Life). And so, after unwittingly eavesdropping on the youthful conversation at the café the other day, I have decided to deal with my age as a mere data point from now on.
Indeed, your age is but a data point. It is when you make it the focal point of your Life that you miss the plot! This is what I have learnt from Life: the body is a vehicle, an instrument, to live and enjoy Life. Like all vehicles, all instruments, all machines, it ages and, through wear and tear, keeps withering away, until death, the inevitable end, consumes it finally. So, the body ages, the body dies. Not you. Not me. This is a natural cyclical process that encompasses all forms of creation from birth to death. No other aspect of creation, however, agonizes over aging and withering away or dying. Only man is obsessed with aging and dying. For instance, the leaves of a tree don’t agonize over falling off and being consumed by the earth. But we humans rue the same destiny, however intelligent we may be to know that such an end is inevitable. Which is why, we don’t live our lives fully. We are constantly, foolishly, fearing an end that we can’t really avoid or prevent.
Refusing to be taken in by your age, which is just another number, is an important step to live your Life fully! Nurturing this attitude to living does not mean you will not feel the body’s aches and pains as it ages. It only means that you will exercise your choice to live each day better, making it count, than pay heed to what you cannot change, what you cannot undo and what you cannot reverse. So, rather than crave for an ageless body, celebrate the timeless spirit within you. It is like pure wine – getting better and better as it grows older!