The Music season in chennai is slowly coming to its end. When RTp and Kaapi mix with malli and keerai vadai , chennai comes alive for a month of music.
I have been going to the Academy from the time when Nalli´s sent pavadais home on consignment basis and bodice pavadai with a big tuck was the in thing . As a seven year old it was mandatory that I went to all kutcheris at the Academy from 4 in the evening. The accompanying members would all change but I was the constant.
I would be asked to carry the program booklet , mark the ragams , put the thalams , keep the kanadis and reserve the seat with my kerchief . I didn't mind all this if in return I got my daily fix of pocorn and five star chocolate . The Academy canteen was taboo for me and I had not yet discovered that you could sneak in for a quick sugar fix.
Normally Patti would take me for the stellar kutcheris. Going with patti came with a lot of pre requisites. I had to wear the Nalli pavadai , hair in single jadai , December poo and jimkis. I had to sit and put all the thalams and identify ragams . In return Patti was very generous. When the RTp started she would open her money purse and give me a 5 rupee note for my goodies. The only painful job was if she spotted a diamond shining in any ear at a km radius she would ask for her kanadi and zoom in on the stone in question, I then had to walk by the mami and check 8 stone , open setting bling bling bling . But normally all the other pattis were busy doing the stone probe so it was not so bad.
Going with thatha was a terrible experience. Thatha would sleep so you had to keep putting thalam .... even during RTp. when the musician started ta nam tha , I could smell the popcorn in golden hues frothing over the machine .I would nudge thatha for my 5 rupees. Thatha would then start in the year 1930 I was in Loyola college 2 annas got me one dosa and coffee I would save one anna and keep it for my books .... and then would come the Wholesale price index of 1930 followed by the deterioration of moral values since . By now I had no appetite for popcorn and was happy thatha would go back to sleep and i could keep putting the thalam.
I remember attending Semangudi´s kutcheri once , when someone got up mid way through a song. The old maestro stopped singing and spoke into the mic sir you seem to be in a hurry we will wait. I was always scared that one day they would catch me with popcorn frothing at my mouth .... and patti could then say now we will see who in mylapore marries you.
Amma normally came with me for the dance program. Amma is strict in keeping traditions. So pavadai was just de rigeur , a gagra maybe .
Dance was always the glamour den. You had to be noticed and to be noticed you had to dazzle . But I liked the dances because the popcorn break came built in . They had clearly thought of people like me .
I was always fascinated at how some enthusiastic mama´s were . They would be fast asleep , and even snoring then suddenly get up at random and say bale , besh . The mami´s would always compliment with an inbuilt criticism . I felt the ragam was a bit superficial. The violin was a little loud. Mic was not ok . Some rasikas would read, some even do a sudoku now days . Some even try to talk to the musician , like saying reduce the mic, move back etc.
When I graduated from the Nalli´s bodice pavadai to the more femine pavadai davani my role in the kutcheri scene also evolved. See we had a cousin brother to be married . Rosapoo colour , well educated , dollar salary , respectful to parents , religious does sandhya vandanam in new york cold. In short hey mami catch him before he catches next door Mary or Susie.So we had to go for the kutchery even before the doors were opened. This was very important in marking out the prey . I was then asked to take a good look at all these girls . I had to file past and take a good look , diamonds tick , sari tick , homely looking tick . Who has she come with tick and also did I know her from school that was a major tick. Sometimes Patti had some preys already waiting . So at the appointed time me and my cousin had to walk past and pretend he was buying me popcorn and she would buy the same and looks could be exchanged. Later on I had to give the full nayaka nayaki avarum nokinan ... sanchari bhava to a rapt audience . Years later my husband confessed he had once been taken to a similar hunt . The only problem with this carefully laid out hunt is , he being who he is was seated in the front row . So all the preys ended up at the back . So he was asked to turn in a gradual natural motion and zoom in. He said every time he did , the mami behind would glare back at him . Somehow after this image of a stern Pattu mami glaring like a light house with diamonds on ear , nose and neck, fantasies of a bevy of good looking girls filing past were immediately squashed.
When I reached marriageable age , I was not asked to carry program booklets anymore , rather carry myself with grace. I didnt make much of an impression on the hunts , as I was living in Mumbai and in advertising ... My patti wasnt sure if the Mylapore crowd would find that a red flag . So I actually got to enjoy kutcheris with just the requisite of having to look like a good family girl.
The crowd at the sabhas seem to now include the NRI brigade who are now the backbone at many sabhas. They take over all the hotels near by and can be spotted in their haversack with a bisleri bottle and sanitiser. The mami´s will be in the most brightest silks . The NRi with his flowing kurta, crocs and a little fruit of the loom vest peeping out is the most knowledgeable. He shuns the oily food , brings his own pecan nuts , takes out his kindle and never misses a beat. They usually know the musicians well and will tell you of how Sanjay stayed at their home in LA and Aww did he like my pongal. And then continue inga mari illa mami .
Now as a married woman I get to enjoy kutcheris , watch the mami´s still in their lovely silks discussing the singer´s vaira thodu and pothy´s pattu very much like how MS blue became a rage with the elderly women.The canteens have become very important. The caterer in the canteen reflects on the management of the sabha. Some mama´s can be seen sneaking out to have a bonda and halwa while mami is inside lost in the music . One mama confessed , mami romba strict , cholestrol irokono so only olive oil and oats at home. The crowd in the sabhas are as knowledgeable about the RTP as they are about the bonda chutney outside. Many youngsters throng the sabhas and clearly the accent is on the arts . Wannabe mamis like myself in our designer cottons and clutch bags keep a keen eye on little girls in pavadais . Just to see if they put thalam in the kutchery and one day become a modern girl with traditional values.
Till then we have put away our music booklets away and warmly await the next margazhi when chennai puts out its most melodious face.