”I have come to bury Caesar, not praise him,” said Mark Antony if you recall one of those rare straightforward passages from The Bard. The Man from Madras Musings recalls those lines vividly, having had to write them down 100 times by way of an imposition when he, MMM, was a CCC – Cherubic Child of Calcutta – and had incurred the displeasure of an English tutor in school.
Those lines came swimming back to MMM’s mind when he, at considerable risk to posterior, sat in a Sabha seat watching a meeting in progress wherein a group of musicians had been assembled on stage to pay homage to a colleague whose anniversary of passing into eternity was being observed. MMM was keener on the concert that was to follow, as also were several members in the audience as was evident from the large turn-out. The full house, always a rarity at memorial meetings unless there is dinner or a concert to follow, evidently encouraged the speakers on stage to imagine that the audience had rolled up to listen to them. All of them without exception shot the time limit allotted to each and spoke in what can only be termed as ‘at length’.
That by itself would not have been so bad if they had restricted themselves to the nuggets from the life of the person being remembered or to facets of his art. This, however, was not the case and all the speakers converted the opportunity into a fulsome speech in praise of themselves and their art. This, of course, was done most cleverly – as though they were quoting the departed senior.
“He was most generous in his praise of other artistes,” began one. Ah, thought MMM, now there will be some interesting insights. But his hopes were all dashed for the speaker went on to state as to how the late lamented identified him, the speaker, as one of the best talents that Carnatic music has ever known. “He spoke to many sabha secretaries about me and told them that I was the best,” droned the speaker. “He also said that it was his ambition to perform in tandem with me as, according to him, I was near perfect even at a young age.” He then went on to narrate a rather long story about how a particular artiste was a terror to all accompanists, young and old. “Nobody wanted to accompany him. But when dear departed got to know of this, he immediately recommended my name. He then told me I was the only one who could prove equal to the demanding performer.”
While this rather long-winded panegyric to the self was in progress, others on stage were becoming restless. They had after all prepared identical speeches with what little information there was on the remembered artiste from the Internet. The longer the first speaker spoke, the less they would have to say. That gave a glimmer of hope to MMM and others in the audience about the concert beginning on time. But that was to be short-lived. All speakers took their time to speak, particularly as they were talking about their favourite subject – themselves.
To cap it all, there was a Mistress of Ceremonies who decided that she had to repeat in passive voice everything that a speaker had just said. MMM was of the view that this was her way of ensuring that the meanest intelligence in the audience could understand everything that was happening.
The upshot of all this was that the concert began half an hour behind schedule. MMM came away with the feeling that the best tribute a person could pay a departed artiste was by keeping silent. He dismissed as unworthy the other idea – placing a stick of dynamite under all those who gather to pay tribute.