Eavesdropping at a Rahman concert

My ears had grown used to the crowd erupting into cheers every five minutes, as if Rahman had already arrived.

By Nivriti Butalia

Published: Sun 28 Jan 2018, 7:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 28 Jan 2018, 9:44 PM

It was post 9pm on Friday at Bollywood Parks and Resorts. The Rahman concert hadn't started. I was cursing myself for not carrying a jacket. There was a nip in the air. It would get foggy later and Rahman would speak about the blessings of nature.
My ears had grown used to the crowd erupting into cheers every five minutes, as if Rahman had already arrived. Everyone was looking around in the direction of the cheering. False alarms. Only 9.15 pm. The cheering was all part of the build-up, the excitement of live shows.
To distract myself from the chill, I was observing the people up ahead, in row F. Row G was still empty, I was in row H.
One duo, daughter in salwar-kameez and her dad in a suit, were minding their own business. Sweet of people to dress up for a concert, I was thinking. Me, my jeans were soaking in the dew of the chairs in the open-air seating. That's the other thing I was cursing.
The dad-daughter duo was chatting among themselves, dad checking WhatsApp - I could see the light of his phone throughout the concert.
On the left of the duo was a family: elderly parents, daughter and a son-in-law (married seven years, I overheard). Everyone was keeping to themselves till the daughter of the family on the left, wearing a sleeveless dress - don't people feel cold?! - and a long string of pearls, got up and exclaimed, "Oh my God! look who's here!"
They had a reunion. "So where are you these days?" kind of a thing. One picked up her phone and dialed a number, spoke into the phone, "guess who's here!" before passing the phone around for all to say hello to the person on the other end. Such a small world, they kept saying.
"I was  juuuuust  telling Appa she looks a lot like her ... I thought you were in Kochi, no? Back from the States?... And where are you these days!"
It was good to see. Then, mid-concert, I realised, the party had split. Dad-daughter duo was still seated, but married couple had moved up to the row ahead. I commiserated mentally. Imagine being stuck at a concert with mere acquaintances!
At dot 9.30, the cheering was with good reason. The screens on stage lit up. The crowd roared. The man had arrived. AR Rahman, I didn't realise, had a sense of humour. Everyone talks of him being a genius - yes, we're all fans - and a 'Mozart of Madras', but somehow, I had imagined him as a somber sort.
I liked that he tinkered around with the lyrics. At one point, he started a number, singing Columbus, Columbus  .  a few Tamil lyrics.' then chuckled, said "just kidding", everyone laughed, and then he broke into Humma Humma. Hooting all around.
Walking out of the concert, I was struck by his orchestra, how powerful most of his singers, and how nearly all the songs sounded like they do with the best noise cancellation head phones plugged in.
When he sang, Mustafa, Mustafa, he played around again with lyrics, swapped Mustafa with Marhaba, Marhaba - nice touch, I thought, nod to Arabia. Post-midnight, when the fog started to roll in, fans swayed their lit phones to his mellower numbers. Everything was hazy. People were sipping coffee, looking cold, one hand jammed into pockets. That atmosphere and the songs he belted out towards the end were the best part of the show. My camera roll is clogged with videos and blurry images of the fog and light and music that everyone present must have felt something for.
What did I like best? Urvashi, Urvashi.

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