Yet another season is winding up and so are our frenzied sabha hopping schedules. I wanted to write a “Sanjay Seasons musings” but someone did it before me so I was stuck…for I wanted to communicate and if I do it now, am sure it will be regarded as “FOMO”.
However the message, I think, is pertinent so I am going to say it anyway.
Being a Sanjay Subrahmanyan fan, apart from the amazing music, has its fringe benefits. We, his fans, become “One month superstars”. We get to write, get written about, we get interviewed (LOL!) we get to take photographs and publish them. We all participate in the freelance journalism project that a “Sanjay season” becomes. All of us bask in his shine. And gratefully so, thanks to his benevolence. Evidently, we have been doing it for sometime now that an aunt of mine who came down to Mylapore Fine Arts just for his concert (all the way from Kolkata),exclaimed, “ Its Sanjay’s concert , I knew I would find you here (So didn’t see the need to inform you that I’m around)”. Its therefore no more a surprise, no more news and this note, is not anymore meant to exalt or eulogize but perhaps to state some facts..
I often sense a scorn around me that I attend only his concerts, I am asked openly, subtly sometimes sarcastically if I do not attend others’ concerts during the season. I am termed a “groupie”, sometimes applauded for it, sometimes bashed- let me admit, most of the times, it’s the latter…I am fine to be branded this way, I consider it a badge of honor. However the use of the term “Bhakt” when it comes to human beings almost always implies, blind fanaticism, and that’s where I beg to differ.
You have all heard of return on investment (ROI), I presume. You all invest. Where do you usually put in your money? In places that give you the highest return value for what you put in. Which could be stocks or mutual funds or whatever works best for you. It’s a fair process right? You don’t ask someone why they do not keep their money in a bank account instead of investing in real estate for example?
Why is it then so difficult to draw a parallel in the Carnatic music world?
The effort taken to stand in queues , deal with “certain” Sabha tantrums, purchase tickets (which are forever sold out), stand in queues again to get seats, and then sit for 3 whole hours, not counting the Chennai traffic trauma. The rasika’s life is seldom made easy to attend a concert- and a good rasika invests in a concert and the music- personally and emotionally. Why would someone go through this rigmarole and not want maximum returns for all the effort put in? A friend of mine recently commented when we attended another concert together “I am missing Sanjay. It’s unfair to compare, but he keeps us on needle point from the word go. Nothing ever comes close”
So does it mean that nobody else sings or performs well? Absolutely, not. It just means that we see maximum value in his concerts than elsewhere- from the perspective of an overall “live concert experience”. And therefore do not want to miss chances of maximum ROI-In any given day during the season. I use plain business terms here since the concept of sincere followership seems to irk many.
He sings around 13-14 concerts in a season, and to be able to do justice to each concert, each time and every time, is no child’s play. And trust me, the rasika is not a fool! If Sanjay Subrahmanyan’s standards were showing fluctuation , there would not be this consistent standing ovation, which only increases with intensity year after year. I mean, even if we are considered blindfolded imbeciles ( worst case scenario), you can still not fool everyone all the time.
And imagine being able to get consistent user feedback with no frills or fancies, by just sticking to a standard ( “ Supposed to be boring?”) concert format ? I would think he means some serious business.
He also sticks to his core work- and is not interested in larger than life images – You see, the rasika is very comfortable with an artist who knows his command on stage and is a common man off stage. It quite easily exasperates the rasika when some artists carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, do not even bother to smile or make eye contact on stage, or indulge in fake interactions off stage to ensure fanaticism. Here is a man – who is just one step away from cut out and paal abishekam- and still does not let that bring an affectation on his music, performance or delivery. Wins the common man, every time!
I cannot do much about the indignation that surrounds Sanjay’s fan following. But if I have to say it, instead of finding fault with his groupies, his mannerisms or some rare technical slip that some ultrasound ears have discerningly found, why doesn’t the critic actually try and figure out ways in which this followership can be challenged by sheer honest delivery? Try us!