An appearance in a Page 3 photograph has become déclassé, the doubtful achievement of the arriviste. So if you’re upwardly mobile and seek a more “cultured” social profile, the upscale cultural event has become the rage. But this, too, has metamorphosed along with the evolving cosmopolitan character of the National Capital Region (NCR). For instance, there was a time when select book launches attended by what Indians love to call “intellectuals” were all the rage, as much, I suspect, for the (then) relative novelties of unlimited hors d’euvres and wine as the quality of the discussion. Now that that infinite variety has been staled by custom, the literati has shifted its focus to lit-fests and art shows.
The anxiety to be seen at cultural events is an endemic pastime in any big city anywhere in the world — the term “culture vulture” has its roots in precisely this visceral desire. For the most part, culture vulturing is quite a harmless, even understandable, pastime. Uniquely, in the NCR, though, this species (the NCR CV) is something to seriously dread.
The Padshanama from Queen Elizabeth’s collection is on display? Let’s ignore the organiser’s note about the low lighting designed to preserve the delicate paint pigments. Let’s scrutinise each painting up close — with a torch. And blocking everyone else’s view while we’re about it.
A Picasso exhibition at the National Gallery? Who’s going to obey the many all-cap signs exhorting you not to touch the exhibits?
The Bayer Philharmonic Orchestra’s playing? Oh, you shouldn’t clap between movements? And why was the audience slow-clapping in embarrassment when the conductor stopped midway through a performance, turned around and requested a ringing mobile phone to be switched off?
Amjad Ali Khan’s performing at Nehru Park? No, it’s not okay to instruct the maid about your children’s dinner while the performance is on.
So far, and oddly (and thankfully too), jazz and blues concerts have been outside this creature’s purview. Perhaps that’s because pre-liberalisation NCR had less exposure to the global popular music scene than carelessly cosmopolitan Bombay and Calcutta. As a result, these events were usually peopled exclusively by fans and aficionados.
Till now. An entertainment company called Zorba recently hosted a three-day jazz concert on its lawns. The billing was a mouth-watering selection of established and emerging artistes of the global jazz scene — including Igor Butman, the amiable saxophonist whom Bill Clinton (no mean sax player himself) described as his favourite living saxophone player.
The concert was organised on attractively relaxed lines. There was no fixed seating, just chairs and tables scattered over the grass. A variety of decent food and drink was on sale. Since the concert was held in the open air and after dark, you would think the NCR CV would not make an appearance — after all, what’s the point of attending an event at which no one can really see you.
No such luck. But there was a bigger discovery to make, more of which later. As the pure notes of Igor Butman’s soprano sax soared into the smoggy night sky, a group behind us started a loud and animated conversation about the merits of their new house in England. There’s plenty of place, so we shift.
Night two: we had good seats. Our neighbours were quiet and appreciative, as was the bulk of the audience. Then, as a band from New Orleans played its opening number, another group arrived. Much laughter and chatter ensued. An appeal for silence quieted them; soon after, they left. Peace. Till their place was taken by a couple; the woman was lamenting, for anyone who cared to hear, that the talk time on her phone was over. We shift again.
Night three: now the problem’s with what the compere called “premium guests” — that is, the guys in special sponsored tables just in front of what he described as the “general public” (that’s us). It’s the last night, so there’s an impromptu mini-party in session among these premium people. They air-kiss, laugh raucously, joke and swap fashion tips and Diwali plans and yell into mobiles, as waiters circulate with food and drink. The exciting young Japanese pianist and the vocalist from Las Vegas were largely ignored.
So that was three nights of great jazz, each one disrupted by some version of the NCR CV. And here’s the discovery. Not all of these disrupters were Indian, as you might think. One of those noisy groups was British and another American. In other words, the NCR CV has become cosmopolitan! Now that’s surely a dubious claim to globalisation.
Every week, Eye Culture features writers with an entertaining critical take on art, music, dance, film and sport