The Asian Age

Re­mem­ber­ing Chen­nai, the city and its mu­sic

- Va­sumathi Badri­nathan

Chen­nai turned 375 this year. A birth­day that was cel­e­brated with fan­fare. I feel I need to add my tes­ti­mony to a city that has been part of my life. If I com­pare it with Mumbai, which has been my city as well, I see it in com­plete con­trast. Sandy streets, yel­low broad boards of street names, cows, mu­sic, cool bars, grape juice and sights and sounds so char­ac­ter­is­tic of this sea­side city come to my mind. There’s also a stereo­typ­i­cal im­age of an idli- eat­ing peo­ple, flower- bedecked women and a cer­tain prud­ish men­tal­ity. Some of it holds true, but a lot about Chen­nai has changed and at a phe­nom­e­nal rate. For me, my mem­o­ries of the city are still about Madras, or Pat­ti­nam, its tra­di­tional South In­dian name, of the good old sum­mer hol­i­days in sprawl­ing homes of grand­par­ents, never end­ing days of leisure, vis­its to mu­si­cian homes and all that feel- good fac­tor dif­fi­cult to sum up in a few words.

Chen­nai was a lot about mu­sic and dance. It still is. Those many sab­has that dot the town, an en­tire city that is seem­ingly in love with Car­natic mu­sic, troupes of trim girls with sa­rees well above the an­kles clad for dance class in the evenings are still a fa­mil­iar sight. If there’s a place for those in­cred­i­ble yards of silk, it’s in those over­flow­ing sa­ree shops. Of course, there are the chic joints, less fre­quented by the hoi pol­loi, which showcase an ex­clu­sive di­men­sion of Chen­nai. The rush of West Mam­balam, Pondy bazar, T Na­gar, Trip­li­cane, con­trasted with the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of Boat Club Road, the colo­nial splen­dour by the Ma­rina Bay and ev­ery­thing con­verg­ing at the fes­tiv­i­ties at Parthasara­thy tem­ple are also an in­trin­sic part of this city. From the snob­bish gen­try that fre­quents the Mu­sic Academy to the free con­certs teem­ing with rasikas, Chen­nai has its over­pow­er­ing dose of Car­natic mu­sic, even Hin­dus­tani mu­sic, dance schools, avid learn­ers, pow­er­ful gu­rus and shrines of all mae­stros. Where would you find streets named after mu­si­cians as much as in Chen­nai? Musiri Subra­ma­niam Street, Tiger Varadachar­iar road and Pa­panasam Sivam Salai stand along­side Adam Street, Mount Road, Lloyds Road, Paris — all in­deli­ble torch­bear­ers of his­tory. For years, great mu­si­cians lived here, their neigh­bours treated to their mu­sic, mak­ing the city a con­cen­tra­tion of mu­si­cal good­ness. For me Chen­nai does em­body cul­ture, in its her­itage mon­u­ments, its fas­ci­nat­ing an­cient tem­ples, its art, which makes it the Mecca of mu­sic and dance. Of course, the Ra­jnikant cul­ture un­de­ni­ably runs par­al­lel. Along­side its pas­sion for Tamil lan­guage, co­ex­ists its un­ex­plained love for cer­tain English words that have en­trenched them­selves in the Tamil dic­tio­nary. Night, rice and face wash live along­side jaali ( read jolly), soop­per ( read su­per) and vettu ( the cut of vic­tory!) all so char­ac­ter­is­tic of the Madras lex­i­con!

Chen­nai turned 375 and a song was made for the occa- sion! A song in hon­our of Madras, does there ex­ist a bet­ter trib­ute than a mu­si­cal one! Yet I was a tri­fle dis­ap­pointed. The song and its video did not quite touch the chords of my heart. The in­ex­pli­ca­ble charm of Madras went un­sung to me in its jaunty lyrics of English- laced Tamil, in a young model’s jumping dance all over the city. It was too im­ma­ture in its rep­re­sen­ta­tion of an age- old city. It did not have images that sym­bol­ise the city in my eyes, but it bore the name Madras Song . I am my­self lost be­tween Chen­nai, so un­der­stood by ev­ery­one and the name Madras, a lit­tle hid­den in the misty past. Madras Song, for what its worth, hails Madras, a name to which I am still at­tached, un­abashedly.

Dr Va­sumathi Badri­nathan is an em­i­nent Car­natic vo­cal­ist based in Mumbai. She can be con­tacted on vasu@ va­sumathi. net

 ??  ?? The Parthasart­hy Tem­ple is one of old­est struc­tures in the city of Chen­nai
The Parthasart­hy Tem­ple is one of old­est struc­tures in the city of Chen­nai
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