‘Remember Shakti’ was performing in Hyderabad, and I was lucky to get a ticket.
The gig was a reunion of the ‘Shakti’ band, which disbanded in the 70s, and now consists of John McLaughlin (ranked 49 in the Rolling Stones’ Greatest Guitarists of All Time), Zakir Hussain (tabla), V. Selvaganesh (Ghatam, Kanjira, Mridangam), Mandolin Srinivas, and Shankar Mahadevan.
The concert was to be at the Chowmahalla Palace, the majestic palace built by the Nizam that has been converted into a tourist attraction. Beautiful music, in a beautiful location. Just perfect, right?
You have to consider the many ways in which Indians would fuck up a perfectly good concert. So, for music lovers (or at least the ones who sat where I was sitting), it was a battle you had to win. Against all these elements constantly trying to challenge the band.
The concert surprisingly began bang at 8.30. While the artists were ready on the stage, some IAS officer who was supposed to light the lamp and begin the proceedings, took his own sweet time, lighting all the wicks on the lamp.
The seating system was the usual. The ‘Silver’ tickets at the back, the ‘Gold’ category was in the front, separated by a barricade. In front of the ‘Gold’ category, was the ‘Asshole’ category, which meant politicians, and their stooges who could waltz in and out of the concert whenever they wanted.
After the first number, Zakir Hussain took the mike and announced, “A concert is about creating a rapport with the audience. It’s like driving a car, with the wiper constantly on the windshield, which makes it difficult for you to drive. So the people in the front please stop walking around.” This was met with cheers from the back rows – serious people who had come early and were sitting on their chairs, craning their necks to watch the artists.
To add to the mahaul at the Chowmahalla, the organisers had come up with the idea of having food stalls. Which meant a constant ruckus of people asking for Pepsi, coffee, pop corn, and mirchi bajjis. Not unlike going to watch an Akshay Kumar film.
If you managed to overlook the noise and immerse yourself into the music, there were the children. Now, why do parents bring in children to movies and music concerts? Children, considered to be incarnations of God, hate silence.
The tranquility of the concert was interrupted when an imp next to us decided to test his vocal chords and went, “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, WAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH”
Zakir Hussain promptly got down from the stage, ruffled his hair, smiled and said, “Wah Taj! bolo”.
Ok, I made that up. Everybody just turned and cursed the kid in their minds, and smiled benevolently at him, and his dad took him away. Things remained calm for a while, but Hyderabad was planning its next attack.
A loud boom caused everyone to look up, and there it was. Crackers going off in the sky – bright and loud like Rakhi in the Sky. At one point, even Zakir Hussain looked up to see what the commotion was about.
The crackers eventually fizzled out, only to give way to some classic Indian shadi songs, being played at full blast. Getting married in India gives you the right to fuck with everyone’s peace of mind, and these guys were going at it with a vengeance.
At one point, Shankar Mahadevan stopped and said, “Sur thoda alag hai unka.”
To which Zakir adds, “Ek ticket mein do do concerts ho gaye.”
But the marriage songs faded into oblivion as the Jugalbandis reached a crescendo. First between the guitar and mandolin, and then between the two percussionists. And Shankar Mahadevan’s silken voice seemed to caress every note, helping it on its way.
Since I had the ‘Silver’ tickets, and my father is not a politician, I had to contend with staring at the two screens that was were installed on both sides of the stage. But the cameraman…..!
The cameraman clearly harboured ambitions of working with Mani Ratnam. So instead of zooming in the middle of a terrific solo, he would zoom out to a panoramic shot of the palace. The last piece of the concert was the jugalbandi between Hussain and Selvaganesh and this is where the cameraman’s true genius showed.
By the time he would pan left to Hussain, his part would be over. The cameraman would then slowly pan to the right with BBC like precision, only to realise Selvaganesh’s part was over too. At one point, he thought ‘Fuck it’ and zoomed in on Shankar Mahadevan, sitting right in the middle!
At one point, I thought about how it would be if this concert was being held a hundred years ago, with the Nizam sitting in the first row in his own palace. He would probably jail everyone who disturbed his concert.
And here we were, contending with democracy and all the bullshit that free will brings with it. I might sound like a grumpy old man, but in spite of the the popcorn, the kids, the crackers, the marriage songs, and the ambitious cameraman, the music was worth it.