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Articles on Carnatic Music

The mAmi effect
by R Bharathwaj

(This is the seventh of our article entries. Here we will print several entries to our article contest for your benefit.)

One cannot but help notice this special species of Homo sapiens while attending Carnatic music concerts. They're not too difficult to spot you'll find them dressed in expensive attires with associated metallic paraphernalia to underline their status - usually madisaar silk sarees with expansive zari borders. Glittering diamond earrings, ornamental pieces perched on each nostril, different varieties of rings - the neLi and navaratna ones being essential, a dozen bangles of gold with precious stones of all colours and sizes, decorative kumkum in the forehead, strands of flowers on the koNdai are other distinguishing features of these species. Members of this species are colloquially known by the appellation 'mAmi'.

They populate music performances throughout the day. The apparent reason is to listen to some good music, while the actual reason usually is to display their latest acquisition of dress and jewelry to fellow mAmis. Not a piece in the performance passes without eliciting some comments from them, usually intended to draw attention to their accessories. The mAmis generally are seen occupying seats in groups so as to ensure ease of information transfer. Each mAmi usually has an anecdote for every piece performed and takes it upon herself to share it with not only fellow mAmis but also other rasikAs around, who, she is convinced, are eager for the information she's ladling out.

If one chances to sit in close proximity to one such group, one usually manages to download volumes of information. mAmis shoulder the enormous responsibility not only of explaining the complete history and fundamentals of each piece, like the rAgam, the tAlam and the composer, but also to enlighten them about the prior renditions of the piece that they have heard. If the mAmi happens to know somebody known to one of the performing artist(s) (leave alone knowing any of the artists themselves), then you may be assured that you'll end up listening to the expostulations of the mAmi more than anything else.

There is, of course, a purpose behind it all mAmis do the talking so as to show that they are connoisseurs of carnatic music to the plebs. Of course, there're occasions when slight factual inaccuracy creeps into their talks but hey, you'd better believe it from a maami, what?

Most mAmis are accompanied by their better halves, the mAmAs, who are usually in dhotis that really are of no comparison to the mAmi's saree in any regard. The poor men are very easily identifiable from the bag they carry, that is full of concert listings and the kaapi flask, from their old shirts, half-white beard, and occasionally a shika (tuft). The poor men have to put up with the mAmis all through their journey in quest of good music. Usually the mAmAs have been taught by experience to be immune to their spouse's vociferations, and quickly learn to enjoy the concert only.

mAmis are unchangeable fixtures at a carnatic kutcheri much like the accompaniment to the music, the maami effect is essential for wholesome entertainment.

R. Bharathwaj is a PhD student in chemistry at IIT Madras, and a student of Carnatic music.

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updated on 08/23/2006