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Margazhi Musings: All tickets sold out; but where are the Rasikas?

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Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
The author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court

Academy always leads the way. While other Sabhas have gone digital, in a practically desperate bid, in tune with the times, in the sale of season and daily tickets, Music Academy has not joined in. One is told that Academy ‘respects’ the rasikas and is inclined to sell only to those who come in person. It makes robust common sense, considering that Academy advertises for sale and insisting on the buyer/representative to come with a Citizenship Photo identity akin to CAA/NRC in news. And the rasikas send representatives who form a Queue, from the night before. A rasika says, “I am reminded of sending a representative to stand in queue, the night before for LKG seat in DAV school in Chennai”. This, notwithstanding the fact that year on year, the school makes it clear that online access was available, and there was no need for parents to indulge in midnight vigils. Allotment of seats was not on First Come First Served route. The anxiety of the parents is the prime cause and no one wants to take a chance. Just in case…

In times of Impeachment of Donald J Trump, President  of US of A, it is akin to those desirous of being in the audience, on the historic occasion, of just the 3rd POTUS to be impeached, in all of 236 years, networking for a seat or sending in ‘paid representatives to ensure a seat’. The Academy counter opens at 09.00 am of 2nd Dec usually. But the gate is generously opened around 07.30 am, if the officials show any mercy. Otherwise, the platform is the space to be seated or standing in line.

Academy distributes tokens to those let in, whenever they choose to, and within a couple of hours or before noon, Notice Board goes up “All Tickets Sold Out”. There are those who risked coming late, not wanting to sleep over outside the Academy, missing out on a season ticket for the lower priced ones. Higher priced tickets as Rs.13,000/- or above are advertised the day next, as “ few available’ and within minutes are grabbed or told as sold out as well.

The reason why Academy has not embraced digital sale is because ‘they are graceful and chivalrous’ as an Executive Committee member was overheard saying. To paraphrase the member, “Rest assured, if we took the sale online, within minutes of its opening,  tickets would be purchased big and early, by all NRIs from wherever they land in Chennai from, come Margazhi season. We therefore want to protect the common rasika like you and others, by offering tickets only  to those who come in body and soul”. Good. One was reminded of the famous fan quote at Lords to Sir Neville Cardus himself, the legendary cricket critic, when his allotted seat was found occupied by an early bird, “Gentleman, It is Butts that gets the seat at Lords. Not hats or things. Sorry.”

The Committee member added, for emphasis, “In addition to insisting on the in person mandate, we also withhold a few tickets for sale on the morning of the concert, to those who may have missed out. We do not want to disappoint them, as times without number rasikas check out the Engagements column of The Hindu and take a last minute call.” Those ‘few tickets’, very few, including those on the Dais, alongside the performer, are picked up for the few top notch artistes, by those rasikas/representatives, forming the Queue, in the wee hours of the concert day

It all sounds so great. Chennai is not on UNESCO Creative Cities Network since 2017, for nothing. One feels so good that there is so much of demand for tickets and networking to have access at the last minute is also not unknown. Add the LED screen live telecast of the performance, when the Hall gets full, at Mini Auditorium, which ticket is also made available on concert days. A combined reading of the above, let’s you get your collars up that Chennai is head and shoulders above on the cultural map of India. You feel so good and proud that Magnificent Margazhi Madras Morphs Musically Magical.

Well, Well, Well. It all sounds so hunky dory. But come concert day, except for the concerts of Sanjay Subramanian (typically, on 28th Dec,2019, when the Hall was filled to the brim, spilled over to the Dias and even the Stairs had to be filled with chairs to seat overflowing rasikar kootam), Ranjani Gayathri, Abhishek Raghuram, Ramakrishnan Murthy, Tiruchur Brothers, Sowmya, Aruna Sairam, Bombay Jayshree, Sudha Raghunathan and Nithyashree Mahadevan (to stick one’s neck out,  and  say it like it is- in that very order), the Hall is full of listeners who have the benefit of sold out ticketed seats. The rest have to inspire themselves by closing their eyes  and perform with feelings, passion, emotions and whatever they can muster, that they were on the hallowed Academy stage. For the ‘other performers’, truth to tell, friends and family circle ought to be vast, and have to be inspirationally a disciplined audience.

“All Tickets Sold Out’ means little or nothing to them. Yes, Tickets were and are sold out. But the ticket holders are not there. As a perceptive observer says, “It appears that the same set of ticket holders book them for several Sabhas. They then pick and choose the concerts to attend. They throng to the concerts of the Big 3 or 5, as is your pick, and rest of the performers are left to be inspired by the excellent seats on offer in the refurbished Academy Auditorium. The season ticket holders rarely share for they retain the right to make an entry as is their wont.

As for the instrumentalists performing solo,  the entire audience could be accommodated on  the dais with the performer. The hall and balcony, in particular, sport a desolated look. One is scared to sit alone as the neighbour is nearly 80 seats away, every row. Scarier still that if there is a chance neighbour, in ear shot, you may be asked the Vaggeyakara and Raaga of the Krithi, the performer was essaying. It makes sense to quietly slip away to the Canteen, where there is a provision made for hearing the performance. The Canteen, of course, is full to the brim, almost always,  and if possible, even  the performer may love to be live. before these patrons, for a full house feel.

This experience is true for ‘others’’ concerts than the identified and these are all ticketed concerts, mind you. As for the afternoon concerts, which are of ‘All Are Welcome’ genre, surely the ground floor is packed to capacity and performers  can block their mind to the balcony, to feel inspired. As Subbudu mama cheekily said, as only he can, “If I were on the verge of being elevated to evening ticketed concerts, on the Academy platform, I would rather not be, for I would  be grateful to be singing to rasikas than chairs, if I am not a star performer”. That has remained true all these years with no solution in sight.

(Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan- Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court).

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Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
The author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court
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