I am a life long, fanatic motorcyclist who rides in India. The story so far is that I've chucked what looked like a crisp, successful career in software for motorcycles and I am now neck deep in the exploding Indian motorcycle market.
The Wife and I made out annual gentle ferry trip to the Elephanta Festival on Friday. On the menu were two lovely hour-long ferry rides, an unexpectedly close look at the massive, imposing INS Virat, the lovely bass horn of a container ship heading out of Mumbai, a kuchipudi performance by Dr Ananda Shankar Jayant and a table performance by Pandit Zakir Hussein.
Let me get the bad eggs out of the way first. Dr Jatant, no doubt well respected in the dancing community was a bit off-colour. A dancer having trouble standing on one foot in one the numerous mudras required is in deep trouble and so she was. The Wife, who knows these things, said her expressions and all were great, but the choreography overall was far from great and personally, there were at least two times I nearly fell asleep. And at the end, there were two things that really irked me. The metal plate was duly brought to as the penultimate 'item' on the agenda, which duly received a huge applause from the gathered audience and once more, I begged to differ – the footwork was far from impressive. And I won't even go into the final item, which involved a lion's face being drawn with red powder on a wet canvas with the dancer's feet. If there was any dancing involved in that part of the performance, it escaped me totally. An impressive lion did emerge, but I couldn't spot any kuchipudi in its execution. Then again, I don't know anything about dance, I think.
Pandit Zakir Hussain, as you already know, is a man of considerable talent, charm and articulation. That much was evident in the way he rapidly shepherded an audience distracted by the (usually horrible and terrifyingly expensive) food on offer in the break into rapt admiration as he opened with a serious bit. And then, horror of horrors, the performance rapidly tailed off into an impressive performance, but of all the usuals that between the wife and I, we have seen at least eight times now. The sounds of the mice, deer and elephant, the nagaras atop Red Ford, the radha-krishna argument, pink panther and so forth. We'd come to listen to a serious performance. Unfortunately that was not to be.
We were wondering later as to what had happened. When I heard the man for the first time, it was a Spic-Macay thing at school and we'd been given exactly this. As a class six student, it sounded fantastic. But in a serious music festival? I understand the need and desire to make classical music more accessible to the general, ignorant public. But all the time? Is it an assumption that everyone in the audience is incapable of appreciating the finer points of a serious teen taal play? Or is the man jaded from having tried to get people to appreciate serious music and has decided if the audience is always dumb, the music must be dumbed down too. Are his brothers, Faisal and Toufiq and maybe a handful of other confidants the only ones left who have the privilege of hearing Pandit Zakir Hussein at his serious, masterful best?
His table playing, without a doubt, is beyond anything I have ever seen. His fingers, perpetually blurred out, excellent articulation, all-embracing charm are absolutely brilliant. But, I remember, at the same place listening to Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia a couple of years ago. Another man, of excellent disposition, extremely gracious and likeable. But the flute played serious notes, embraced and enthralled everyone, without dumbing any of it down. A sweeter note ne'er was heard. So here I am, wishing to hear Pandit Hussain play seriously once.
The ferry ride, both ways, was lovely. Almost an end in itself. On the way back, we managed to secure the best place in the house, on the top deck, for'ard of the wheel house, on an expansive wooden box that, I imagine, housed the lifeboat. In a quiet voice, The Wife and I sang in hushed voices to each other. For that hour, everything was right in the world.
Then the lazy walk to Cafe Mondegar, a bit of Budweiser to mark a good night out in town... Ah, we'll do this again next year.
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