The home of violin maestro, VV Subramaniam has been completely destroyed by the floods and he, along with his family, had to be physically carried out of his home. The eminent singer, N Vijay Siva, also faced similar devastation.

Sharada Ramanathan

The debate on whether the Chennai annual music and dance festival should take place or not has raised a larger question: Is art and culture an integral part of life or not? The Chennai floods overwhelmed the city just a couple of weeks before the most phenomenal annual event was scheduled to begin— the Chennai December arts festival, known as the Margazhi Utsavam. Among the upper and middle-class households that were, for once, as affected as the poor, are several classical artistes. The home of violin maestro, VV Subramaniam was completely destroyed by the floods and he, along with his family, had to be physically carried out of his home. The eminent singer, N Vijay Siva, also faced similar devastation.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The response from the artistic community has been swift and effective. For example, the Chennai-based Bharatanatyam association, ABHAI, swung into action and set up a fund to provide relief to artistes with colossal damage, including loss of their livelihoods— their musical instruments. Simultaneously, the classical, artistic community began to call for the cancellation and/or postponement of the music and dance festival. The fact that the hundreds of sabhas have decided to carry on with the festival as scheduled, has triggered a “moral” debate on their decision because the classical world of Chennai is somewhat divided on this issue.The Margazhi Utsavam, is a defining feature of Chennai’s cultural landscape. Having grown organically over a 100 years, it is a defining moment for Chennai as one of the cultural capitals of India. The festival attracts audiences from all over the world and has developed an economy around itself by providing a holistic experience of traditional food, clothing and the arts.Some artistes like Anita Ratnam have cancelled their festival performances because they strongly feel that the atmosphere is not conducive for arts and “entertainment”. Other artistes like Sanjay Subrahmanyan carry the conviction that while relief and rehabilitation must not lose momentum, life too must be restored to normalcy.There are several who sit on the fence, not knowing how to address this dilemma. One conciliatory move made by several artistes has been to announce the proceeds of their concerts going towards flood relief so that both the festival and the need of humanity have a constructive symbiotic relationship.But the question that will be debated for a longer time to come is: When all other walks of life in the city are going back to work, why should artistes be the exception? Is art not a way of life? Do the arts not provide livelihoods for many? Did the artistes not perform as usual after the tsunami hit Chennai in 2004? How is it different now? Should the artistes intensify their engagement with socio-cultural development in the longer term, rather than cancel a short-term event?Even as the debate rages on, we have been reminded yet again that whenever there is a calamity, the artiste takes the beating.
Sharada Ramanathan is a Chennai-based film director-producer who has a passion for dance and music.Also read: Chennai Floods- Can artistes serve humanity by postponing the December music season?

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Margazhi Utsavam: As Chennai gets back on its feet, should artistes be the exception?