By now I am a Sanjay fanatic. I go to his concerts expecting to be moved, floored and stunned. Yes, people keep shifting, the aunty behind me wouldn’t stop humming, the uncle next to me would pick an international call, the young man would yell the words of a keerthanai after an exposition of ragam and taanam — I mean, hello? It is worth it. What about the see-saw of highs, lows, and averages that life throws at us at its own whims and fancies? As he said at the beginning of the year, music is for both the settled and the unsettled. Yet, how does one sit through three hours of pure joy and return to life? Well, Sanjay’s music is worth the epic tragedy.
For all the conservative boinks aimed at rank strangers by fans of all types and manners, you’d think the musician has founded a cult religion. A rockstar? A genius? An artist with a mercurial mad glint in his eyes? I hear (NGS) ‘Mamava Pattabhirama’ (Manirangu) ‘Aarendru Raghavanai’ (Yadhukulakhamboji) and ‘Kadaikkan nokki’ (Todi) and think this man is a genius and boy, he goes on to sing a grand RTP in Sivaranjani, can this get any better? (Side note: How many of you expected Jaya Jaya Padmanabhanujesa, courtesy the opening bit in the alaapana? )
He had to top it up with the atrociously gorgeous ‘Andha Rama soundaryam’ (Kedaragowlai) and the powerful ‘Vazhi maraithirukkudhu ‘(Nattaikurinji) — I love how he modulates his voice to suit the emotion of the lyrics and the ragam. Well, helps if you have an execution range between a Nagaswaram and Veena, I guess.
Then came THE Shanmukhapriya at Tamil Isai Sangam. (the best concert of the season, arguably) I thought he was already in the zone but this was a possessed act. It is a singularly pleasurable experience to watch a dramatic display of passion on stage. Think Tendulkar’s desert storm and World Cup 2003 (except finals, of course) and Virat Kohli on his mellow days of mastery — double it, add a Tony Stark and Doctor Strange to it, you got Sanjay Subrahmanyan on stage. One of my music teachers used to insist on hand movements while singing as he felt that the hands are amplifiers used to signify the stage of development of a raga. Take Sanjay — he would make tiny waves, steer an invisible wheel, display his knowledge of Fleming’s right hand rule, conjure up an aarathi plate and a bowl, take a catch at chin height and say a quick “Allahu Akbar”, stretch the gossamer thread and join the tributaries , gently push the heart to the right, plug the pigeon holes with cardboard, swat the whip above his head, swish chakrayudham and pose with sharp spears and drawn bows, string pearls and demand you take them at gun-point or simply invoke the goddess of torrential rains with a sickle in hand. A totally relaxing edge-of-the-seat experience, indeed.
And now, to the non-musical, non-Sanjay contributing factors to the electric atmosphere in the concerts:
R A S I K A S.
I can almost recognize his fans (the eminent members of the Sanjay Jana Gana Mana Sabha) by their twitter handle. I know the folks who would pine for Kedaragowlai and Ranjani, the woman who would live tweet the performance, the boy with Sanjay’s photo on his phone case and the girl who would click brilliant pictures of the concert. (Not that you have to declare allegiance to love his music.)
Some would say the packaging of Carnatic Music is a tad bit solemn and traditional for a rock performance and the audience is both trigger-happy and familiarity-fatigued to celebrate artists. In this context, when I say Sanjay’s connection with the audience is phenomenal, I mean it in a refreshing, respectful way. The day I turned lucky to get a seat on the dais, I felt the sincerity of the bond. Sitting on the sides of dais means being alert, constant leg shifting, back straightening and ducking alternatively to ensure you don’t ruin someone else’s musical evening and getting to see only the side profile of the artist who is looking straight ahead — all in the hope of catching the pristine tonal quality. Sanjay takes a little time out to maintain eye contact, nod, subtly acknowledge and gesture at the grinning, baby-tear-wiping, tch-tching close rangers, the equivalent of a pop musician tapping the outstretched palms of her fans. Accommodating seemingly insignificant gestures that touch people seems to be an extension of his persona.
The distractors and critics might have a different opinion though. Sanjay’s mild annoyance and characteristic sarcastic remarks are directed at those who don’t let him do what he does best and enjoys immensely. One can sense that he likes to use his voice exclusively for his music, which is fair enough. Sanjay’s politics is suitably layered, folded, embedded and polished off in the music itself. This is a man who is school-neutral, raga-unbiased, lyric conscious, occasion-specific and tag-fearing-boss-material. (Not to forget that he cheekily weaved in the omnipotent God and a CGI-aided comic hero in the same sentence in a recent interview. )
Well, call him anything you want to. On stage, there is no shade of surliness or bitterness. Sanjay radiates immeasurable, infectious, positive energy as if on God’s business and the fans totally dig it. As I left the concert hall, mindful that the tickets for his upcoming concert are already sold out, the image of a woman in teal blue kurta caught my sight — ‘Seer valar pasunthogai mayilaan’ was on at about 9.15 p.m and she left the hall shaking her head at the brutality of unleashing a song with such intensity just when she had to get back to that thing called reality. (Of course, If I were you, I wouldn’t tell her that he followed it up with the evergreen ‘Thunbam Nergayil’ (Desh) with the trademark “andrai na-a-a-a-a-tramizh” right when we had to deal with the multilingual loveless hearts. )
Such is life and so was my 2018 concert life, almost exclusively filled with the indefatigable voice of this artist par excellence. I am no Hemanatha Bhagavathar, but it wouldn’t be out of place to declare that அவர் இசைக்கு நான் அடிமை.