Sigh! My friend Ramanathan Iyer just reminded me that right now, under normal circumstances, there would have been an inauguration in progress, and to quote him, ‘a clueless Chief Guest would enlighten us about the Ocean of Carnatic Music’. I chuckled to myself. There have been so many occasions. And yet I have now been reduced to a situation where I look back at even those events with nostalgia.
And so it was one season, when we, the Gods who preside over the Music Academy, had assembled in all grandeur on stage. The Chief Guest was a legal luminary from a very cultural part of our country. The person concerned had just recovered from an eye surgery and was peering around most disconcertedly, the bright lights no doubt not helping. It was my job to make all the announcements and I had jumped up and down several times, like a Jack-in-the-box, announcing this, that and the other.
This was one of those evenings when everyone, felicitator, felicitatee and felicitated had all exceeded their time limits. The audience was getting restless. I was worried that the event would eat into the evening performance to follow. Anyway, the time had come for the Chief Guest to speak and the personality duly lumbered to the podium. I saw dully that the speech ran into several pages.
Chief Guest cleared throat and looked down at the sheaf of papers. There was a startled cry, which only I, by virtue of being seated just behind could hear. And then there was dead silence. The Chief Guest looked around helplessly and eventually realised that no help was forthcoming. My own guess was that someone had substituted a death sentence for the speech. Or maybe it was a judgment in a civil suit.
The speech that followed was notable for its brevity. There was a quote from a national poet, which only I could have understood. And then a quick congrats to all the vidyans (my guess is that there must have been a quick tutorial on how to say vidwan which backfired). And then Chief Guest lumbered back. It was the shortest speech in the history of the Music Academy. It also got the loudest applause.
We were ten minutes early for the next event.
This article is part of a series I write each December. You can read the earlier parts here