Sunday, October 25, 2015

August 23, 2015: Madras Day events at the Luz House

Attended Madras Day events at Luz House (the family home of the Buchi Babu Naidu family). The venue was the only let down- there weren't enough fans so ventilation was poor and the hosts, in my experience, weren't so helpful.  But suffering such minor inconveniences was worth when you consider what a terrific night it was. And author and translator Mr. Venkatesh added flavour to the wonderful evening by chipping in interesting bits of trivia. Another disappointment was that I couldn't take good pictures of the events as the display in my mobile had shattered. But then, the absence of pictures was in the end a blessing in disguise as it added to the mystique of a magical night.

The evening began with a talk on  the difficulties of translation with authors Padma Narayanan and Kalyan Raman that lasted from 4.45 PM to about 6 PM. The conversation, as I can understand, was quite useful but the speakers could have made it more interesting for the audience (perhaps, with a bit of humour) many of whom appeared lulled to sleep. The point which they repeatedly stressed upon was that it was not possible to justifiably render each and every vernacular phrase in English. This I wholeheartedly agree with. One extreme viewpoint was that making a translation was even more cumbersome than writing an original work. So, the authors sat down and set out to carry out a lousy late afternoon discussion on the nuances of translating vernacular works. The question and answer session was a bit more lively. There was a suggestion that writers should trans-content and not simply translate or transliterate in order to provide faithful translations.   A particular lady in the crowd objected to the translation of keywords related to food items and opined that words like idly, sambhar, spaghetti, etc. should be  used as in the original. If the readers do not known the meaning of those words let them look into a dictionary, she opined. This was particularly my view, too. Of course when I first read Sidney Sheldon I found his works deeply entrenched in the culture and traditions of the places they were set in.   And finally, the guy in the cut baniyan who is a regular at such functions stood and summarily demanded of the two authors to stop making any translations in the future if they cannot do justice to it.  

After the conversation came to an end, we had a tea break after which Dr. Swarnamalya's programme "Dancing in the parlour"  commenced. During this litle break, Ms. Vidhya Singh, a scion of the Vizianagaram royal family made an emotionally-charged speech about Madras and her connect with it.  Many a time during the course of her short one-minute-or-so speech I felt that she was going overboard with her Madras flattery.  Frankly speaking, I feel Madras is truly a great city with a number of firsts to its credit and ahead of many other comparable cities in the subcontinent in a number of aspects but when someone tries to evoke a London, Switzerland or a New York of a typically dirty Indian city, it falls flat on the face. If you ask me, yeah, it was surely a great city but like all Indian cities, it is surely deteriorating with a growing population, increasingly rude people and motorists with scant respect for traffic rules, corrupt police officers, dug-out roads, long pending infrastructure projects and the kind - the same problems which cities across India face. So please don't talk of practising tennis, golf or horse riding at the Club - such glittery tales have no connection, whatsoever, with the life the growing middle-class leads.

The superbly choreographed dance performances of erstwhile actress Dr. Swarnamalya kept us tied to our seats for the next two hours.  Her expertise was keenly visible in screenplay and dialogue delivery. I could not but gape in awe at her versatility as she churned out Tamil, English and Telugu dialogues with equal fluency. And what of the generous amounts of research done. Many of the parts she played and dances she danced had allusions to real people and real performances in history. Starting with a typical Indian sadir, Swarnamalya and her group presented an improvised dance with very European gestures. Then, suddenly, the fuse blew off. As kerosene lkamps in the heritage home were lit to compensate for the poor visibility, we felt ourself transported to another age and taking the places of the exalted nobility of 19th century Madras. Perhaps, it must have been quite impressive back then.  (I sometimes even doubt if the fuse was purposely removed to make it look more real) Next, Swarnamalya rendered a multilingual javali composed by the Tamil poet Sivaramayya from Karur. (The javali was made in a mix of four languages - Tamil, Telugu, English and Kannada).   Following the javali, Swarnamalya and her group danced to the tunes of "Sarasa sarvabhauma jarjinama bhupa", the Sanskrit version of the British monarchical anthem "God Save the King" composed by Pillai Narasimha Rao Naidu during the Delhi durbar of 1911. Next in her repertoire was a Parsi kavadi cindu  - a dance-drama played by two young girls from her group described as her "disciples". It was clearly an awe inspiring performance by all the members of her group and their performance provided us with many moments to cherish. Perhaps, it could easily be explained that most of the ideas were plucked out from Davesh Soneji's book "Unfinished Gestures: Devadasis, Memory, and Modernity in South India" but even with ideas in hand, it would have still been a very difficult task to conceptualize them into a dance performance.

After the dance performance by Swarnamalya and her group came to an end at about 7. 15 PM, we had a break that lasted till eight. I had a look around the house which carried framed pictures and photographs from a supposedly glorious past. The ground floor was littered with cuttings from The Illustrated London News (mostly news clippings from The Mutiny). I wonder why we need an exhibition for such public domain newspaper stuff (that too, an UK-based newspaper) that is easily available on the internet. The first floor had something of genuine value though members of the household weren't too keen to perpetuate their knowledge either . A gentleman in one of the photographs bore an uncanny resemblance to Douglas Jardine of Bodyline reputation but the snobbishness of Buchi Babu Naidu clan really put me down. I wonder why the Buchi Babu Naidu family was interested in having this exhibition if they don't want photographs of their photographs taken or people knowing about them. I can understand privacy concerns if they were contemporary portraits but these people died long ago.

As the long break between performances came to an end, we had The Folk Repertory group walk onto the stage to perform their "Chennaiyin Gnanaratham". A melting pot of boisterous folk tunes and biographical snippets from Bharatiyar's life, Gnanaratham was a class apart - all credit to The Folk Repertory team for coming up with this novel idea and to Mr. Kannan Kumar for unconventionally rendering Bharatiyar songs to folk music. Bharatiyar's life story was interestingly narrated in the form of a play that was played in parts with folk performances sandwiched between. Another novelty in the play was the introduction of characters who reflected the culture and lifestyle of the places Bharathiyar lived in at different stages of his life. For example, integrated seamlessly into the play was a Triplicane rowdy speaking the Madras lingo always muttering anecdotes from Bharatiyar's life. Hats off all the dancers - V. Chandrasekaran, Sharadha Chandrasekar whom I understand are in their fifties but they had the passion and agility of twenty-year olds. Hats off also to the narrators - Rajagopalan Venkataraman, Vallabha Srinivasan and Ananya Mahadevan. The performance culminated in an interesting climax when Mr. Balasubramanian Natarajan came on the stage and told the interesting story of the disappearance and accidental discovery of the Bharat Matha statue that the Mandyam brothers created sometime in the early 20th century. With Mr. Balasubramanian's story, the curtains drew to a close. It was a fitting finale to Madras Week, though the celebrations themselves weren't over and would continue into early September. 

The functions came to an end at about 8.45 and I left a few minutes later. Was truly mesmerized and it took sometime for the effects to wean off. So that was it - Madras Week ends now though celebrations will still continue.


Classical dancer, scholar  and erstwhile actress Dr. Swarnamalya during the "Dancing in the Parlour" programme with the Rangamandira team






 This particular gesture in the dance - the salute was originally introduced for an European guest.



 A Parsi "kavadi chindu" on a railway journey from Madras to Kolar


Chennaiyin Gnanaratham - folk dance performance on Bharathiyar's songs


Chennaiyin Gnanaratham

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