The announcer said Indian classical music moves the listener to meditation and Pandit Vyas’ santoor proved him right. They were only two performers—the second instrument the tabla—and rich music from their two instruments occupied every space in the hall and converged upon the body from everywhere, roused every nerve and nerve-ending, and went into the innermost core.
The Pandit asked shyly whether we wanted an encore.
The interval was for ten minutes but they drew the curtains after twenty-five, to reveal an ensemble of six, Kishori Amonkar in the middle. This second show was what we’d all come for, to hear this Padma Vibhushana, the Gaana Saraswathi. She was engrossed in herself, in her troupe, in the state of their instruments. They took more minutes to tune up and started after a total break of fifty minutes. Many began to leave, and many left through her performance—the organizers hadn’t published a schedule, and the delay was too long.
The audio-sysem annoyed her. She stopped seconds after she started and asked that her mike-sound be sharp. A young technician ambled up and weakly pushed the speaker close to her until the systems screeched. Then he pulled it back and asked that she come close to the mike. She said that that wouldn’t sharpen the sound. No more could be done and she settled down and began. Her voice and song were divine, but though the tambooris and the tabla and the harmonium and the seconds played each very well, they mixed poorly; and the audio-system fought spiritedly to be counted in, itself rising when the notes from the instruments climbed.
The tabla was flat and she repeatedly gestured to the artiste to strike, to bring up some life, which the old man tried but he couldn’t deliver the oomph that all sought. So I wondered, and all must have wondered, that here in the best auditorium in our province, a great musician cannot rise to her potential. She continuously cleared her throat, sometimes midway of delivery. After the show she kneeled and bowed and touched her forehead to the ground and I thought, see how humble this great woman is, see how graciously she honors her listener.
Then I remembered shows I’ve been to outside India, where the stage is set before one enters and how the instruments are on the ready and performers walk in, bow, and begin without delay. I have not heard them clear their throats while performing, nor admonish fellow performers. So I thought, watching Amonkar leave the stage, isn’t such perfection in performance the way to respect your audience?
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