The Man from Madras Musings has, during the past one month, spent many a happy hour at sabhas and has come away an enlightened man. This is not merely with reference to music, but also audience behaviour. On the latter, MMM has come to the conclusion that you can make out the various stereotypes based on the cell-phones they carry and their usage.
Among these, the elderly invariably forgets to switch off his/her phone or put it onto silent mode. The instrument rings at the most unexpected moments during concerts, adding to the music in the air. The owner of the phone, thanks to either hearing loss or loss of consciousness owing to this being siesta time, or being lost in the music, is invariably blissfully unaware of the persistent rings. Keeping the eyes closed also means that the person is not able to see the angry looks of everyone around. After a while, someone in the vicinity picks up courage to prod the person into the present and whisper (and at times roar) that the phone is ringing and something ought to be done about it.
Whereupon, the senior citizen begins delving into his/her handbag and produces in the order named – the sabha ticket, a packet of vibhuti prasadam from a temple, a couple of medicine bottles, and cash. All the while, now that the bag is open, the phone rings louder than ever, enough to make even the percussionist pause and look around. By this time, the phone has ceased ringing. Peace is restored (if a Carnatic concert can ever be deemed peaceful) and everyone goes back to listening. It is then the cash, the medicine bottles, the sacred ash and the ticket are put back, the bag zipped tight. The senior citizen closes his/her eyes. This is usually the cue for the phone to ring again, the caller no doubt anxious to know where ancestor is and why ancestor is not answering.
The procedure as described above is repeated, except that willing hands are happy to help from all around. Someone grabs the bag, others rummage within and soon enough the offending phone is found and thrust into the hands of its owner with the terse remark that it better be silenced. But our senior citizen is made of sterner stuff. He first answers the call, speaks in usual stentorian tone into the instrument, assures whoever is in Denver, Saratoga or Milwaukee that all is well and that the milk did come and what was that? Oh yes, the medicines arrived and had done wonders for skin itch.
Those who are new to the Carnatic environment, and that includes the Chief who is ever an outsider, will no doubt assume that by now the concert would have ground to a complete halt. But that is where they make their bloomin’ error. The music proceeds unimpeded, artistes and audience having decided to ‘adjust’ (fast becoming our national motto – and a word in the Oxford lexicon – ‘jugaad’) and go on, leaving Methuselah to his devices.
At this point, MMM has observed that these phone-wielding paters/maters divide themselves into two sub-categories. The first disconnects and then turns around and requests someone to put the phone on to silent. The other variety is brazen. He/she tells whoever it is at the other end (the caller from Denver) that he/she is in a concert and would the caller care to listen? Whereupon the phone is kept on for the rest of the concert, with the numbers in the audience now added to by one more, who is there in spirit if not in form. This is a good thing from MMM’s point of view, for there will be no more calls till the concert is over.
MMM is aware that by sending this piece in, he is going to be cursed by several readers of this column for his insensitivity to the elderly. Let MMM assure them that he is second to none in his respect for the aged. And he is aware that there are several who are comfortable handling gadgets and this is, therefore, not a generalisation. This piece is on those who are not so savvy and, what is worse, give a damn about it. And they do not mind making nuisances of themselves at music performances. To them MMM addresses this missive and is fully braced to receive brickbats in writing. No cell-phone calls, please.