If there was a good time to show that art and artistes can be of great social relevance and help, it is in these times of crisis.

Dr Padma Subrahmanyam says we must support Chennai by attending the Margazhi concerts

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What is a reference to Chennai without Bharatanatyam or Carnatic music? It would be like VS Naipaul’s idea of India; tone-deaf and blind to culture. Criticism aside, the December Margazhi festival and life in Chennai are interlinked. The Margazhi, over the last century, became the city’s signature festival. However, this December didn’t begin well for Chennai and parts of Tamil Nadu with the century’s worst floods creating havoc. Death, devastation and destruction were unprecedented. At a time when social media was being debated as one of the most intrusive inventions of the century, for once, it felt useful and worthy. Scores of volunteers launched into mobilising funds and other relief material. Amidst all this chaos, the artistes’ community that was readying itself for the Margazhi was caught off guard. Social media went abuzz with several dancers and musicians announcing the cancellation of their season performances. There were two sides to this. It was ok to cancel performances. But those cancelling, suddenly began giving ‘gyaan’ to others, about being insensitive, cold-hearted and what not. Cancelling their shows seemed to have given them a sense of moral superiority and the need to preach. Hundreds of messages were flying across, for and against performing this Margazhi. I was asked what I felt. My old theatre background and training always told me ‘the show must go on’. It is not about right or wrong or trying to be judgmental. I decided to get the voice of a few artistes and what they felt. <!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Also Read – Margazhi Utsavam: As Chennai gets back on its feet, should artistes be the exception?Dr Padma Subrahmanyam, a dance veteran who needs no introduction, spoke to me over a frail phone connection. “I just returned from London. If I were an hour late, I would have been one of the four thousand stranded in the airport. My house and dance studio have been flooded. These are miserable times for all of us. I think artistes have a role to play in the society. We cannot sit home and mourn. If you feel art is auspicious, this is the time to spread that auspiciousness. That is why it was a part of our ancient temple rituals too, despite all the wars and bloodshed in the land. Our city needs prayers and positive energy now, more than ever before. We as artistes must come ahead and do our bit. I remember when floods happened in Odisha, I gathered many dancers and we performed and raised funds for relief work. Everyone is going through misery and still putting up a strong face and helping with the aim of ‘Nishkaama Karma’ or doing good without desiring any benefits. I am very proud of Chennai. If you want to show your support to Chennai, come for this year’s Margazhi. Attend concerts and show support!” she said. “Also think of the junior artistes, dance music orchestras and others who have worked hard for this. This is their source of livelihood. Is it fair to deny them?”, she added. “If Bombay Jayashri cancelled her concerts, it is up to her. She is a brand name today, rich and famous and can afford to cancel and wear her solidarity on her sleeve. What about us juniors? Once all this ends, sabhas will still call her and she will perform. She is a brand name in the market and they want to encash on it. For us, it will continue to be a struggle. I think this is a very personal thing. If others are going to office and working, and continuing to help in relief and rehabilitation, so can musicians. I see nothing wrong in performing and doing relief work on the side”, said another young musician who didn’t want to be named. “I heard Sudharani Raghupathy and Chitra Vishweshwaran cancelled their shows. It was laughable. How many shows did they have anyway? They are veterans who have barely performed in the last decade. If I say this in this open, I will be killed. Being seniors in the field, they have seen more of the world than me. Shouldn’t their wisdom allow them to think ahead? They should be the first to organise shows and raise funds. Instead of that, they sit back and preach. This is no time to judge anyone with a moral compass,” added another dancer who didn’t want to be named. One could sense the threat of being judged, or worse labeled for a lifetime for speaking out in the open. This would also affect their careers in the future. But these are voices of the next generation artistes. They want to make a difference to this world and they believe their art will do it. They must be allowed to. Several prestigious institutions like the Madras Music Academy, Krishna Gana Sabha, Bhavans and others have issued a joint press statement in support of the Margazhi. They plan to divert funds towards relief and rehabilitation measures. We got reports of several artistes who suffered badly in the floods. These funds could go towards helping them. “The Margazhi has turned into a fund-raising effort, more than just a festival. So hopefully this helps many musicians and other displaced individuals who will need aid in rebuilding their lives in the months to come,” said Sandeep Narayan, a young Carnatic vocalist who has been offering help in several relief camps. Some artistes were worried if venues and sponsors would profit more from benefit concerts. Transparency is the key word. Monitoring fund-flow strictly will help curb any malpractices. Film actor Siddharth and RJ Balaji have been mobilising funds very efficiently. If they can do it, there is nothing stopping classical artistes from replicating a successful module of working. Last but not the least, this is the birth centenary year of MS Subbulakshmi. For the larger part of her performing career, she gave benefit concerts to raise large funds towards humanitarian causes. Her Ramon Magsaysay award is a witness to her public service. She had the strong conviction that, through her art, she could help resurrect many battered and suffering souls. Were she around today, she would have done what she did all her life, perform with the same sense of ‘Nishkaama Karma’ that Padma mentioned. If there was a good time to show that art and artistes can be of great social relevance and help, it is in these times of crisis. For now, the show, my friends, must go on! Veejay Sai is a writer, editor and a culture criticRelated Read: Can artistes serve humanity by postponing the December music season?

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Chennai Floods: Why the December music season must go on