Friday, December 24, 2004

Notes from `Bangalore Habba'

Notes from `Bangalore Habba'
Aditi De, The Hindu Business Line

A city event breathes to life for the second year running.

December 1

Isn't it Bangalore Habba time yet? We're closing in on December 5 to 12, when our city celebrated its cultural spirit with panache in 2003. No sign of a publicity blitz yet.

Listen to the core Habba team, the front-office presence of the Artistes' Foundation for the Arts (AFFA), whose brainchild it is, at a Press Club meet. Three cheers for classical dancers Nandini Alva and Padmini Ravi, and ex-corporate honcho Kumar Iyengar, who launched last year's extravaganza. With 850 artists, an audience turnout of over 3 lakh.

What's in store this time? Over 1,000 artistes, presented at 12 venues, including folk artistes at ten parks, magicians at Cubbon Park. Religious events at temples at Malleswaram, Chamrajpet and Ulsoor. A presentation of popular US children's films at Plaza theatre, a three-play English Louis Philippe festival at Chowdiah Hall. A budget of about Rs 1.25 crore, downscaled from last year's Rs 2 crore.

But no mention of where or when those all-important passes can be accessed. One would have given anything to listen to magical Sufi singer Syed Adil Husseini one more time.

December 5

It's 8 p.m. A few hundred Bangaloreans are rocking to the bands Yell'o and Stomp by King Edward's statue in Cubbon Park. It's a whole new angle on an upbeat city.

Reports speak of Kannada activists being up in arms over the `MNC festival' that does not represent them. But what of the cosmopolitan city that belongs as much to the 60-odd per cent of non-Kannadigas who live here?

December 6

After dozen phone calls, a wasted hour at the Habba office, a litany about the lack of event managers, one corners an elusive press pass. But will culture buffs dash to each venue a day ahead to collect their passes? That seems impossible. But one's proved wrong.

Check out the ongoing Artists' Walkway at the M.G. Road promenade. Last year it allowed interaction with practising artists, while this one resembles a shoddy school fete. What binds Lambani pouches, Spastics Society of Karnataka products, and kitschy caricatures together?

At 7 p.m., Chowdiah Memorial Hall resounds with empty seats. For the hot-from-Mumbai, over-priced, 60-shows-old Christopher Durang's Laughing Wild, starring TV heartthrob Mandira Bedi in her stage debut with veteran Darshan Jariwala. He's brilliant, she's lacklustre, limp locks and all. Rael Padamsee's direction is a tad over the top.

December 7

Raga Marwa enthrals Ambedkar Bhavan rasikas through flute whiz Pravin Godkhindi and his fusion band Krishna. Suddenly, their mridangam player grabs a mike — to voice his take on how Kannadiga musicians are being sidelined at the Habba.

Another nonpareil memory awaits in the wings. It's Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhat with his mohana veena, lilting through a cadenced, charismatic Raga Maru Bihag. The total master of the pluck-and-slide instrument, he reflects his family's mastery of the gayaki ang over 11 generations. By the time the Grammy awardee plays `Meeting by the river', we're collectively on our feet, applauding.

"Bangalore Habba is an opportunity for even the layman to connect with our culture," smiles Bhat graciously. "Every Indian city should have a festival like this."

December 9

Jnanpith awardee U.R. Ananthamurthy opines that the Habba should have been linked to the panchanga. Which side is he on? Why, then, did he speak about Kannada literature at the pre-Habba session at the Alliance Francaise?

Dusk falls. Music calls. An unusual Carnatic violin trio with maestro Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, who delights in musical exchanges with Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan and Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi. The notes are pure, the improvisations brilliant. A rasika tries to guess the raga the trio will play next. A mobile phone company bigwig swoops to touch Jayaraman's feet reverentially.

December 10

Cue for the Palace Grounds mega-events. The food court offers a break from the teeming crowd. A taste of delectable, local mutton fry, a lemongrass-rich Vietnamese fish curry with Thai glass noodles. An upgrade from boiled peanuts as dinner in 2003.

Against the vivid Habba backdrop, Dr Padma Subrahmanyam emerges as the all-conquering goddess Chamundeshwari.

Canada-based sitarist Ustad Nishat Khan sets the night ablaze with his Raga Yaman. Distilled into his performance is six generations of music. Could we expect less of Ustad Vilayat Khan's nephew?

But the crowd is baying for entertainment. Abracadabra! On comes magician K.S. Ramesh, with pan-Indian practitioners. Birds fly out of red handkerchiefs. An aide appears out of a seemingly empty box. Voila! It's the right magic note.

After an hour to set up the stage, it's Sandeep Chowta's turn to woo us in the 16 degrees Celsius cold. As true Bangaloreans, we try to `swalpa adjust maadi'. He brings on his buddy Jay Oliver, the man who launched Sheryl Crowe. It's a wonder the keyboards don't catch fire. He's that brilliant.

Bangalore listens rapt as Oliver's AO band shares a preview of their composition, the 2008 Beijing Olympics theme song, rendered by tousle-haired, bright-eyed local kids, way past their bedtime. The audience can hardly bear to drag itself home.

December 11

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and his son Rahul waft us away with their santoor genius, interspersed with brilliant pakhawaj and tabla jugalbandis. As the raga dips, seethes and soars, the crowd is entranced.

The chatterbox emcees signal a change of mood, of mode. Maharaja Srikantadatta Wodeyar of Mysore presents his signature collection of silk saris and wedding wear. Svelte models in sci-fi make-up and outlandish hairdos sashay down ramps, freeze into tableaux. As one stifles a yawn, a roar goes up. One hasn't heard of the Pakistani pop band, Strings. But thousands in the audience have. The teenyboppers sigh, reach out to touch singer Faisal Kapadia as he croons the captivating `Dhaani' in Urdu. "Please, please, sing Duur for us," a teenager cries out aloud. To her, Faisal is the future. He's spellbinding, so is Bilal Maqsood on the guitar.

Strings bows out with a song about... cricket! The audience stands, sways and cheers their electrifying presence. This is real cultural bonding, cross borders, cross genres.

December 12

At midnight, we welcome Syed Adil Husseini once more. Can he be only 25? Is he really a disciple of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan? My questions are blown away as warm, riveting Sufi notes oscillate through the air. We're on our feet, swaying with abandon. For aren't we all children of a single creator? Allah hu Allah hu Allah hu hu hu...

As we reluctantly meander home at 2.30 a.m., one thinks of the train to be boarded for Chennai the next morning, thus missing the grand Habba finale tonight.

Should that be mourned? No way. As Husseini's haunting notes reverberate for the second year running, one realises that the Bangalore Habba isn't about local or global culture. It is, finally, a celebration of a state of mind.

Is it possible to fast-forward our calendar to December 5, 2005?


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