The Big Trip

Please turn off all cellphones at this time – Indian style


During our stay in Hyderabad, a friend in the city urged us to go to a concert that she promised would be outstanding. The performers were an all-star duo of Shivkumar Sharma and Zakir Hussain.

Shivkumar Sharma is an Indian musician who brought an old Indian 90 to 100-stringed instrument called the santoor back from obscurity. He is considered to be a national treasure worthy of the Indian title “Pandit” (from which is derived our word “pundit”).

Zakir Hussain is another giant in the Indian classical music world. He plays the tabla, which looks something like a pair of bongo drums. Sharma and his santoor were wonderful, but Hussain stole the show for me. What he is able to do with his hands on the drumheads was beyond amazing.

Almost as amazing for us were the practices and audience etiquette at the concert. The first thing that struck us was the use of an emcee whose primary function was to get the audience’s enthusiasm up a notch: “Let’s put your hands together and give Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and Zakir Hussain a rousing welcome!”

Then the concert began and the audience participation really ramped up. Cell phones came out by the score and were held high to take photos and videos of the performance, with camera flashes going off repeatedly. Also, people continued to walk in and out throughout the performance, often walking across the front of the hall between the stage and the first row of seats, literally 10 feet from the two musicians.

The ultimate in audience participation was a man who climbed up a set of steps onto the stage to take in-your-face photos of the two performers. Because Sharma and Hussain were playing while seated yoga-style on the floor, the overly enthusiastic fan loomed over them. He left the stage only when Hussain invited him to leave.

The question I was left asking is how did the man ever make it up the steps onto the stage? There was a bouncer standing next to the steps, and his job was to stop audience members from going up onto the stage. The guy was big and all in black, including a black spandex polo shirt stretched tight across his rippling Schwarzenegger-like chest. He stood silently, back to the wall, legs slightly spread and arms crossed in front of him to expose biceps as large as a tree trunk. Later, our hosts told us that bouncers are routinely hired at concerts to keep fans and critics off the stage. But when our fan walked up the steps to shove a camera into the face of one of India’s national treasures, the guy in black didn’t move a muscle. Go figure.

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