For several years now I have found myself in Chennai for the music season (“season”). In the month of December, the holiest month of Markazhi in the Hindu calendar, the city comes alive with the finest display of devotional South Indian fine arts by preeminent artists of the day. Chennai hosts over 3000 concerts between December and January, its most temperate months. Visitors come from around the world to listen to music, reconnect with friends and savour the food at concert venues around town.
My mother, in-laws, aunt and uncle abandon their sedentary routines to attend the annual music conference and concerts at The Music Academy (Academy) and other venues around Chennai. I bring the group’s average age down a notch but can barely keep up with their rigorous 12 hour concert routines and zeal. They fortify their arthritic knees, pack a picnic, carry a consolidated program and flit from one concert to another, sometimes at different venues. Academy concerts being the most coveted, they jostle long line ups to purchase season tickets. I arrive just on time to enjoy the last half of the season and revel in their company, while also taking a page from their book on zest for life.
The average age of the audience at the Academy is 70, so my family is hardly unique. Many are their contemporaries, long time concert goers and there is much swapping of stories and critiques about artists, venues and of course canteen fare. As interesting as the music is the time spent with this amazing group of elders. Dressed in the latest sarees with matching jewellery and wearing jasmine flowers in their hair, the women carry themselves with elegance and grace. The men, true to all ages of that gender, are careless and casual.
Today is Vaikunta Ekadesi, a day of fasting. The canteen is sparse with all its older patrons observing the fast while keeping up their concert routines.
Vaikunta Ekadesi, notwithstanding I have a full meal. I relish the communal lunch served on a banana leaf, with other heretic young patrons. I do justice to the feast of vadai, payasam (almond kheer), another sweet, ghee and dhal, served with a variety of vegetables, rice dishes, rasam, sambar, chips, papad, pickles and yoghurt. I have two servings each of the hot almond kheer and rasam mentally postponing my fast by another year. We are on our third concert having started today at 9:15 with one by Trichur Ramachandran, this year’s Sangeeta Kalanidhi (music laureate), who took us on a 50 year musical journey paying homage to his many teachers. We have two more concerts and will conclude the day at 9 p.m. We have settled in nicely, with the older folks wrapped in shawls and mufflers to shield themselves from the effects of the AC. They doze from the calming effect of the music but wake up at the beginning of each song to chime in its raga. I too stop intellectualising and fall in with the crowd. It is peaceful and I am truly in the moment with no place to go and nothing to prove, so in tune with the company around – mellow, content and simply biding time, surfeit with amazing food and song!