This post is difficult to write because what can you say about something that goes beyond just being a experience? Where do we start, what do we write? Some experiences can only be experienced, attempting to describe them is futile. But there is an excitement to give it the shape of words not as a record for posterity but to organise our feelings that have been going crazy ever since we witnessed the Man himself, performing his magic before us ! A.R.Rahman – The Man, The Music !
It was some day in 1992, a school assembly in Chennai was abuzz with discussion, they had just heard a whole new kind of music on the previous Friday’s “Oliyum, Oliyum” (DD Chennai’s version of Chitrahaar), the song “Chinna Chinna Asai” was the topic of discussion everywhere, the frenzy started 20 years ago and remains unchanged to this day as “Kadal” plays for the nth time in our car, for last 10 days our car has not heard any other sound !
The whole purpose of this trip was to attend A.R.Rahman’s Thai Manne Vanakkam concert in Chennai on 29th December ’12. There was a concert in Hyderabad 3 years back but we couldn’t attend it then, this time it was in Chennai, during a vacation, so there was no way we would miss it. We weren’t expecting to get the tickets but a stroke of luck, we happened to check Indian Stage’s website on the day the bookings opened and we promptly got the tickets, we surprised ourselves by not thinking twice before buying the Rs.3000/- tickets, it was after all once in a lifetime, we told ourselves. We have to thank our friend in Chennai who did the booking for us and who guided us about the dos and don’ts, he had the experience of attending the “Jai Ho” concert in Sydney.
The concert scheduled to be held at an indoor stadium, was later shifted to YMCA college grounds to accommodate more people.
We decided to go to Chennai a day in advance to catch up with friends. For this writer, a trip to Chennai is a drive to nostalgia, having lived there for 20 years, Chennai is all about memories, happiest memories. Even as we reached Chennai from Nellore, it started to rain. We thought it was just a stray incident of rain, the NE monsoon was supposed to be over in these parts of the country. It turned out to be a depression in the Bay of Bengal and it rained as we entered a hopelessly, haphazardly, chaotically crowded Chennai. The Chennai Metro Rail project seems to have created havoc in the city, unbelievable traffic, bad roads and rain – brought back 15 year old memories of the days when walking on the under-construction Kasi theatre flyover was faster than taking the public transport ! It took us a whole 30 minutes to drive the 500 meters on Velachery main road where we had gone to meet someone. We visited some really close friends and were treated to the best Sambhar we had in our lives, if it is Sambar, it has to be Chennai !
It rained the whole night and the next morning, the possibility of the concert seemed dim. Preparing ourselves for a disappointment, we checked with the event management’s helpline who gave us the good news that the show was on and venue was going to have a shelter. So we went ahead with our plans, a visit to a friend’s house in Adayar, preceeded by an amazing breakfast of Pongal and Vada, Pongal takes on a divine avatar in Tamil Nadu !
It rained heavily when we went to Spencers’ Plaza to meet a friend for lunch. The idea was to go to Landmark at Spencers’ and buy original A.R.Rahman Audio CDs. Good old Mount Road is now a mess.
Landmark turned out to be a damp squib because except for the latest “Kadal”, there were no other originals ACDs. All other music stores in Spencers’ had closed down because people were no longer interested in buying ACDs, we live in a world of MP3s and downloads which are no match to the quality of ACDs.
Having nothing else to do, we had lunch at Saravana Bhavan, which was shocker, where was the Sambar that we cheaply fought over as kids? Saravana Bhavan had betrayed us, the food that we had there was a taint on our memories of heavenly Sambar. The disappointment of being let down by, in the words of our friend, our “first love”, was soon overcome by some awesome fruit juice at “Fruit Shop on Greams Road” that is located at Spencers’ Plaza, funny ! They have some innovative fruit juice ideas and we loved it, the Flosbuy Flop, a Pineapple-Mint mix was superb !
Soon, it was 3 PM and we headed to the venue of the concert, YMCA College grounds at Nandanam. The concert was supposed to start at 6 PM but we had to go as early as possible to get decent seats as it was on first come, first serve basis. The place was teeming with people even at 4 PM, the whole place was muddy, slushy and puddles everywhere. Thankfully, we found parking close to the gate. We got our tickets and went to the concert arena. There was shelter, yes, a shelter for the stage and the VIP area, the rest of the crowd was left at the mercy of the rain ! They had taken “Isai mazhai” (Rain of music) literally !
The organisation of the show was deplorable, nobody had an idea where to go, when the venue changed, some tickets got upgraded and the Rs.5000/- ticket holders did not have enough seats, surprising how the organisers of a mega event such as this couldn’t keep track of such basic things.
We managed to find a decent place and waited. 4 PM turned 5 and 6, the stage lights came on, the buzz started in anticipation. We were told cameras were not allowed and had to make do with our Nokia 900 mobile phone, many people had bought their cameras though and we wished we had too but the rain would have been fatal to our camera !
Nasty looking clouds gathered overhead as the clock ticked to 6.30 PM, there was no sign of the concert starting, no announcements either. In the next 15 minutes, it poured, people like us without umbrellas were drenched. It was 7 PM and people started losing hope of the concert taking place because there was nothing happening anywhere except the rain that kept pinging us every now and then.
The sad state of event management enraged everybody and the crowd got restless. Many had lost it, some were almost losing it when suddenly at 7.30 PM the stage lit up and a most soulful voice sang “Undan desathin kural”, now the crowd had really lost it, they forgot the inconvenience of the last 3 hours, nothing mattered, they had seen the Man in person ! For many like this writer, that moment must have left them numb, emotional, proud and with a feeling of “this is it” !
From where we sat, we could hardly see anything on the stage, the Rs.5000/- ticket holders had to stand because they didn’t have enough seats, people on our side gave up their seats for them to a round of applause from the others, it was an act of goodwill and also to get rid of those blocking the view !
“Chennai” he called out and what looked like close to 50,000 crowd responded like that was the best they had ever been called. What followed next was a musical deluge. The crowd cheered when he said this concert was exclusively for them and he would sing only Tamil songs.
“Eley Keechan” by the man himself was followed by a medley of Rahman’s immortal Tamil compositions sung by Mano and Hariharan. Every song that was sung sent the crowd wild with joy. The only song that didn’t work was a remixed version of “Kadhal Rojave”, Hariharan ruined it and embarrassed himself by forgetting the Tamil lyrics and singing it in Hindi, a big no before a Chennai crowd !
This was followed by more Rahman’s best songs performed by Benny Dayal, Karthik, Naresh Iyer and Chinmayi, Rahman was busy sometimes at the keyboard, sometimes with a keyboard around his neck in guitar style and completely involved in his own music like he was the only one there.
In between, the main event sponsor Jaya TV annoyed the crowd with their commercial breaks, it was to give the artists time out to change. They kept repeating ads for their daily serials, at first the crowd booed, then it became a joke everytime the breaks came on.
Then He came back to rock the crowd, “Humma, Humma” had people asking for more and more. One classic after another was showered on us, the rain showers had to shy away before the music. Then came “Mustafa, Mustafa”, the entire crowd seemed to have been transported back to their teens when every school, every college fest swayed to that one song. The entire crowd stood up and waved their hands in “Mustafa Mustafa” style.
We had heard the song all through our teen years and hearing it live by the maker himself was like a dream, every worry was forgotten, life felt good. At the end of the song, Rahman said he was singing with his eyes open for the first time and that he was overwhelmed by the response, it was overwhelming for us too, as someone commented on a Rahman 360 Facebook page, a truly “semma super” moment!
Chitra received a big welcome from the crowd as she sang the unforgettable melodies, followed by an interesting session of music where Rahman played on the Harpejji instrument and Chitra sang some of his classical tunes.
Then it was Shaktishree Gopalan’s turn to make people go crazy with her “Nenjukulle” from Kadal. We were treated to all time favourites like “Thee Thee”, “Hello Mr.Ethirkatchi” and more songs from the latest Kadal, “Adiye” took the cake as the crowd chanted “Adiye, Adiye”.
Rahman came back again to a loud cheer to sing “Irumbile” from Endiran, this was followed by the one and only “Oorvasi, Oorvasi”, the song that made a generation !
As Rahman, Benny Dayal and Naresh Iyer sang like they were having fun, the crowd danced, cheered and sang along, this is what the feeling “alive is awesome” is all about ! People loved it when Rahman pointed to the bald Benny Dayal while singing “Vazhukka talayan Tirupati pona, take it easy policy”. At the end of the song, he said “it was nostalgic”, we couldn’t agree more, it was nostalgia at its best.
“Magudi”, from Kadal was one of the last songs sung, Chinmayi has an amazingly sensuous voice, her “Na Magudi da, nee Pambu” was fantastic !
The Tamil version of “Jai Ho” was the penultimate song before “Thai manne vanakkam”, a song, that is now a legend, ended the show with a flourish ! We stood on the chairs and sang along. Listening to the A.R.Rahman sing the “Vande Mataram” live, is stuff that dreams are made of. The dream turned a reality for us and we could go in peace !
From what seemed to be an endless wait, we had no idea how the next 2 & 1/2 hours went, all sense of time and space was lost. A.R.Rahman’s music was all that existed.
At the end of the concert, they celebrated Rahman’s birthday a week in advance and asked us to sing “Happy Birthday” for him, we sang as a thank you note for the man whose music has given us so much joy , was an integral part of our growing years and continues to be a companion in our adulthood.
If you want to complain, yes, the show was badly organized, the rain pelted on us but every bit of inconvenience only added to the experience, an experience for a lifetime, an experience that enriched our lives, an experience we would look back upon in the far away future and it would fill us with the contentment of a life well lived.
We now know what to say about an experience like this, in Rahman’s own tune from Kadal “Idhu podhum enakku, idhu podhume” (This is all I need) !
We played Kadal all the way home till 11 PM and the next day and the next and haven’t stopped to date. As for the Rs.6,000/- we spent on the tickets convincing ourselves as being once in a life spending, well, we are already waiting for the next chance, some things are needed more than once in a lifetime !