Hindi in Madras
Delhi has flown south for the winter
PHOTO: K.V. SRINIVASAN
SOUTHERN SEASONING Birju Maharaj and Saswati Sen perform with L. Subramaniam, Kavita Krishnamurti and others in Chennai
Planning a trip to Chennai in the near future? Better brush up on your Hindi.
It sure seems as if the capital of Tamil Nadu has got a new lingua franca. With the bustling music season, which started buzzing when November was barely over and will go on through mid January, in full flow, much of Delhi has headed South.
This winter migration used to be a regular feature of life for families settled in Delhi, who, rather in the NRI tradition, went back every winter for a taste of their cultural roots and the iddli-vadas served up by the canteens set up at every venue. Many of the kids brought up in that tradition have now become artistes in their own right, and the language they are comfortable speaking among themselves is the rashtra bhasha, even if their language on stage is that of swaras and mudras.
The Capital has shifted to Makkah - of Carnatic music.
Order in Hindi
It is not just the artistes. Walk into a popular eating joint like Bombay Halwa. The name should have been a giveaway, but this is Anna Salai in the heart of Chennai.
If you want to practice your Tamil, you won't be indulged. "Roti, hai, naan hai, biryani hai," the young waiter tells you. Now where did he see the sign `just arrived from Delhi' you wonder, till you find him shouting the orders to his colleagues in Hindi.
A bit of Delhi has rubbed off on the auto rickshaw drivers as well. Chennai's autowallahs used to be famed as cultured beings, as excited about the programmes going on around the city as their customers hopping from sabha to sabha (as the thousands of cultural organisations around the city are referred to). "Which ragam did Balamurali sing today," was not considered a shocking question from an auto driver in the old days.
Now though, not only does the average ferryman seem to have no interest in the classical arts, he hasn't even heard of the sabha names. He needs a landmark like a bank, temple or hotel to figure out the area. They are good at holding their own over fares Delhi style too, willing to pull up and offload a customer who insists the price asked is too high.
Many have cell phones, and you can't crib, because they are all equipped with earphones. Guess what one of them shouted into his no-hands set while negotiating the mad, mad rush hour traffic? "Abhi gaadi chala raha hoon, das minute baad phone karna." Would he have been more reasonable about the fare if one had bargained in Hindi? One will never know!
Who else is speaking Hindi? All the suited, booted, neck-tied young managers attending business conferences.
But it's not just the visitors who speak the language that looks like becoming the lingua franca of a billion.
When Bharatanatyam dancers performed extracts from their productions based on Hindi and Punjabi poetry, someone ventured to say the audience would not understand the lyrics. "No no," came the protest from the spectators. "We understood just fine!"
This season Chennai gets the best weather of the year. Artistes and rasikas move cheerfully around the city in specially selected saris and designer kurtas.
Sonal Mansingh, Birju Maharaj and Saswati Sen, Yamini Krishnamurti, Bharati Shivaji and daughter Vijayalakshmi, Navtej Johar, Rama Vaidyanathan, Santosh Nair, Geeta Chandran, Akram Khan, Vidya Srinivasan, Lalgudi Sriganesh's Dhwani ensemble, Mahalaxmi, Yamini Reddy... they have all been savouring filter coffee and rasanand.
Some of the younger lot get scolded by veterans for adopting an unorthodox dress code on stage. The atmosphere is a unique blend of professionalism and family bonhomie. The biggest stage, the largest auditorium with an overflowing crowd is considered okay for a "maestro in the making" to be introduced, called on stage to touch a senior artiste's feet. Then what can you expect of the intimate temple concerts? It's all part of the manna from Makkah!
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