December 31, 2011

Kolam contest goes world-wide

Partying between shopping for kolam maavu and shooting for a film on a painter of kolu dolls may not be the best way to celebrate this season.

But then I do not have an option.

At this time of the year, my team and I is busy seeing through the final acts of the famed December Season of classical music and dance, managing the weekly newspapers and working on the countdown for the annual Mylapore Festival ( this year it is from January 5 to 8 in the precincts of the Sri Kapali Temple, Mylapore.

There is a lot of fun partying this way. I am still unsure what my friend C. K. Murali has in store for New Year's day but I am sure that I will make time between kolam maavu and kolu dolls to get to Murali's place.

We are feeling good just now because some special guests plan to attend the widely-known Kolam Contests which are the flagship events of the Fest, wholly supported by Sundaram Finance.

To recap, a one-hour long Kolam Contest which we hosted in a school playground over a decade ago actually made way for this Festival.

Today, the Kolam Display has caught the attention of people in various parts of the world.

Three guests will be here this year. Chantal is an artist and scholar from France. She has come back for the second time to soak in the December season and to film the kolams.

Dr. Sunita Vatuk is professor at Rutgers Univ. in the USA and will be here to study the kolams and the women who design them.

Deborah Keller-Rihsn is a professor and arts organiser in the USA and she too wants to witness the spectacle as part of her study.

Three weeks ago, I briefed the city's Commissioner of Police, J. K. Tripathy of the importance and the need to permit us to have the 100 kolams displayed on the weekend till late in the evening on North Mada Street.

Fully-lit, these kolams will make a great art display. The display will allow tourists, visitors and guests to enjoy the showcase of a fantastic tradition through the January night.

Much like the flower display in the town square of  Ghent in Holland.

If the Kolam Display becomes a reality, it will be wonderful for our city.

December 25, 2011

Showcase Chennai's art festival

When Prabhu Edouard was a teenager, the music bug bit him and he made his way to Calcutta to learn to play Hindustani music on the tabla. One big break in his career took him to France.

This past week, Prabhu had the final concert of the India tour of a jazz world music trio he is part of.

The Saiyuki Trio performed at the Alliance Francaise in the city and it was a very interesting concert. Alongside Prabhu was an internationally known guitarist, the French-Vietnamese maestro Ngyeun Le, and Japanese Koto virtuoso Meiko Miyazaki. who plays on the vintage music instrument that is closest to a chitra-vina.

The trio cut an album about three years ago and since then, have been on the road around the world.

After the city concert was over, it was time for Prabhu to catch up, first with his family from Pondicherry, and then with his friends from that town. And that is when I got introduced to this talented musician.

For the next two days, we were his guides to the famed December Season in the city. For, these Paris-based artistes wanted to be at as many Carnatic music concerts as they could.

So they hopped from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha in T. Nagar to Indian Fine Arts' show at the Bala Mandir hall, also in T. Nagar and then to The Music Academy and on the next evening, to Kalakshetra campus in Thiruvanmiyur.

Prabhu's day was made when he and his wife took a walk down Elliots Beach, had tiffin at Murugan Idli Shop and walked around the verdant Kalakshetra campus before checking out the concerts there.

Lots of musicians and arts-loving tourists pass through our city this time of the year.

They get a whiff, a sniff, a glimpse of the music and the dance that dominates this metro in December.

But there is hardly a place or a group to turn to for help, guidance and briefing. If there was, hundreds of people would come to enjoy what we have to offer.

It is time artistes, sabhas and the state made a serious effort to showcase this city's unique art festival.

December 17, 2011

Record oral history

Professor T. N. Krishnan is an internationally known Carnatic music violinist and a very senior vidwan. His fans are legion. I am one of them.
But there is another reason why I would not miss a meeting or a kutcheri where he is featured.
Prof. Krishnan is a charming raconteur. And he has lots of stories to share and anecdotes to give you.
On Thursday evening, the famed violinist who is in his 80s was decorated at the opening evening of the art festival of the 111-year-old Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha which has its roots in Triplicane but does not have a hall of its own.
At a function held at a community hall tucked away in a street that runs of the well known landmark of Jammi Buildings in Mylapore, Krishnan got into rewind mode.
He took us to the times in the 40s and 50s when Triplicane was the hub of the classical arts, of the days when he rented a little house in a lane off Sri Parthasarathy Temple, of the moods of the temple precincts.
Those days, Parthasarathy Swami Sabha's kutcheris were held at Hindu High School, said Krishnan.
But since the hall was on the top floor all the vidwans had to make an effort to climb up. But greats like Ariyakudi and Semmangudi would all be there half an hour before the concert began which was always at 4.30 p.m.
"We would play for close to four hours", said Krishnan.
We at Kutcheribuzz have begun recording stories that vidwans like Prof. Krishnan share with the audience.
We intend to post these audio clips on the web site ( as we cover the famed December Season of music and dance this year.
Oral histories of the art and the artistes are aplenty and they are shared at many events which allow for talks and exchanges.
Much of it is not documented and the loss is great.
Your parents, grandparents and elders also have stories to share - on art, or on a neighbourhood. Or on lives and people.
Perhaps you may want to record them now.

December 11, 2011

Indian Christian Art

What is the colour of temptation?
And of sin?
Purple. And black.
There were 12 framed pieces of art on the wall. Mostly done in crayon. And the 12 pieces were an artist's interpretation of the Lord's Prayer, the widely known Our Father.
Fr. Thamburaj, a Jesuit priest took me through his creation he had worked on for close to a year, keen as he was to see how people looked at his work.
He told me that he himself had seen it differently on one morning when he woke up and looked at the pieces and realised that while the first few pieces were in bright colours, the next few were in deep, dark colours but the series ended positively. Amen!
Father Thamburaj's artworks on the 'Our Father' must be a rare series in this part of the world.
Better known as a passionate preacher, a vocation he pursued after he moved out of Loyola College, this priest is also a artist.
This past week, he and a few others were present at a function held to launch a fantastic book on Indian Christian Art, whose co-author is another well known Jesuit, Fr. A. Amaladass. A book that is possibly the best document on this subject.
The community of Christians who are artists and sculptors is small.
I got to know one many years ago.
A. Alphonso Doss is a senior, well known artist who came from Bangalore in the late 1940s to study at Government College of Art, Madras and went on to become its Principal.
I got introduced to him when a friend wanted a Christian backdrop to a musical he was producing. Since then I have spent time at Alphonso's space in Virugambakkam, a  place he chose to go to when PTC buses used to run on red earth paths ploughed through abandoned rice fields and rest under clumps of palm trees.
Every now and then, Alphonso has let me enjoy his 'Christian' works - Jesus washing the feet of a disciple, Jesus breaking bread at the Last Supper, a damsel holding up a lamp, waiting for the Master . .
Alphonso, I suspect is not a regular church-goer but he has his beliefs and even in his advanced age, paints like a man fired up by the Holy Spirit!
Meeting this small group of artists and listening to them was interesting. For, many non Christian artists since the Mughal times have worked on Christian themes. There has been a dialogue. And it seems to continue even today.
And to be reminded that the stone-carved cross set inside the church atop St. Thomas Mount is a precious piece of Christian art.

December 03, 2011

Music makes Madras

If jazz swings you, then you may want to listen to the music of a man who is said to be a big star in distant Norway.
Bassist Arild Andersen has played with many greats and made a name for himself around the world.
This past week, he and his band mates, saxophonist Tommy Smith and percussionist Paolo Vinaccia were here in the city to perform at a few campuses and at the Alliance Francaise before traveling to Auroville and thereafter to the JazzYatra in New Delhi.
Andersen, who is in his late 60s displayed his wizardry at the group's concert at the Alliance and for the audience of about less than a hundred it was an evening to remember.
Here was an opportunity to listen to world class musicians.
I had to skip a Carnatic music concert by the internationally-known violinist Dr. L. Subramaniam to be on time for Andersen's show on the other side of Mount Road. Having enjoyed the music of the violin maestro on many occasions, the choice to head for jazz was the right one.
There is a lot of music in this city of ours.
To be able to listen to a Carnatic music concert at 4 p.m. and then drive to another venue to enjoy a jazz concert at 7 p.m. is heaven's grace for anyone who soaks in the arts, for those who wish to explore music.
December is that time of the year when our city hosts what is perhaps the biggest music festival of its kind anywhere in the world. When dozens of organizations host Carnatic music concerts of the maestros, the stars and the bright talents.
The day starts as early as 7 a.m. with the academic sessions of lectures and demonstrations and progresses into concert after concert that end at 9.30 p.m.
For many connoisseurs, their lives in December are wrapped around this festival. Lots more tie in their holidays with the December season.
For the managers of the arts organizations, there is much at stake in hosting the fests and they go all out to seek sponsors in order to ensure the show goes on.
Very few look up to the state for help and monetary assistance.
This is a wonderful collaboration - of managers, artistes and rasikas - that this city can be proud of.