And it’s not Hindi either. A couple of weeks ago, I attended my first A. R. Rahman concert – actually, my first concert ever – and after days of procrastinating, I’ve finally found the bandwidth to write this post. While the way the concert was organized itself is a different story, my partner and I got into a discussion as we entered the venue about the recent controversy surrounding the maestro’s London performance. Concertgoers were miffed as Rahman belted out a sizable number of his Tamil hits, which led to a whole lot of discussion (read: intellectual masturbation) on social media and the outrage could be broadly classified into the following two schools. As an artist – and a national icon – Rahman should have been more aware and cognizant of the cultural sensibilities that delineate his audience, and therefore played only Hindi songs. And then there was the argument that Rahman’s lineage and pedigree is Tamil, and that music knows no language.
As we searched for our places at the back – because those are the only ones we can afford at this stage in life – I told her I belonged to the first school of thought. I told her I believed that if I was paying for a concert and an evening of fun, it had to be in a language I understood. Being proud of your language is one thing, but aren’t artists supposed to converse with people through media or channels that they understand? And then there’s also the bias of my experiences in Chennai over the course of the last couple of years – unsettling and overwhelming, by virtue of the fact that I was an outsider in a city that was proud of its language, to the point of being boorish.
As the concert progressed however, I began to realize that I couldn’t be more wrong. That an artist was not supposed to confine his work to a single medium or channel of communication. That there was no obligation on his part to pander to the lowest common denominator. Rahman did croon a few songs in Tamil in the second half and those were the ones that the audience enjoyed the most – including me. I have never seen a cosmopolitan crowd in a city like Mumbai sway – and sing along – to music in a language they didn’t understand. It was then that I realized that the language of music was not Tamil. Or Hindi. I realized that being chauvinistic and jingoistic about one’s language is a pointless thing. It’s simply about connecting with people.
PS: Over the years, I grew to love Chennai. I spent nearly a month there during the floods (2015) and I will never forget the courtesy and friendship that was extended to me during my sojourn. Yes, it’s a proud city that’s difficult to outsiders, but so is Mumbai. And every other metropolis in this country.