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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

playing drums ~ not in music party alone.... the vague other uses...

At Thiruvallikkeni, I recall in olden days there was a screeching cart on which a drum was mounted – would precede the purappadu announcing the procession of the deity…… 

In an epic Tamil film released the year after our Independence, there was artistic and brilliantly choreographed drum dance, the highlight of the film and the first of its kind in Indian cinema.  The drum is a member of the percussion group of musical instruments. Drums consist of at least one membrane, called a drumhead or drum skin, that is stretched over a shell and struck, either directly with the player's hands, or with a drum stick, to produce sound. There is usually a resonance head on the underside of the drum. When that film was being made, Gemini Studio, right in the heart of the city,  reportedly became a veritable hive of film-making activity, a small kingdom of the past.  The film being referred to is ‘Chandralekha’ bilingual epic film directed and produced by S. S. Vasan with star cast of  M.K.Radha, Ranjan, T. R. Rajakumari, N. S. Krishnan and T. A. Madhuram. Made on a lavish budget of  30 lakh it held the record of the most expensive Indian film of its time. Chandralekha crossed all language borders and released in 609 screens worldwide with subtitles. Reportedly it took 5 years for completion. 

The plot revolves around the two sons of a King who both fall in love for a beauty – Chandralekha played by TR Rajakumari.  The younger bro denied the kingdom creates confusion in the kingdom with his henchmen.  Towards the end, a huge drum dance gets organized before her proposed marriage with her abductor; Chandralekha dances on the drums. Towards the end of the song, the elder and his men come out from their hiding inside drums.

Drums have been part of our culture – our music has revolved around them – so also long distance communication.  We read that in kingdoms announcements were made after playing of drums which captured the attention of people conveying the decision of King.  In modern day Parades also drums are an integral part. There are references to usage of drums in very olden era and excavations have also thrown up various forms of drums. Many a times, they were simple contraptions of animal skins on hollowed logs.  The drum beats mimicked the highs, lows, and syllables of tonal speech. The languages reportedly had drum equivalents. The drummed words were placed in context with other drummed words, sometimes creating long messages.

Drums have reverberated on many battlefields. The sound could rally troops or intimidate the foe. There were a type known as rattle drums too… The English army of the 16th century assigned two drummers to each 100 soldiers to carry a half dozen different messages.

A few months ago there was the news item that authorities in Gurgaon were to resort to beating of drums to spread messages.  It was reported that to refrain people living in the restricted zone of ammunition depot from carrying out any construction activity, district administration of Gurgaon had planned to go on a publicity overdrive to spread the message.  Among several tools to spread the word, drums were to be  beaten at the behest of administration in the restricted area of 900 meters from the ammunition depot of Indian Air Force (IAF) and 100 meters of Arjun Garh. To publicise message that construction in notified areas are violative of Govt notification, the administrators planned to beat drums in the area, second is to announce through publicity vans and then follow up by pasting copies of the DC’s order on the walls of colonies falling in the vicinity of Arjun Garh. 

But this drumming in Bangalore as reported by BBC appears to be different. Here is report partially reproduced :  ‘The band of drummers, with their matching shirts and bright bandanas, is beating out a fast-paced tattoo to a small appreciative audience. With the sound of the drums echoing off the walls of the surrounding buildings, it feels as if it could be an impromptu street performance - but it's not. ~ This is tax collecting Bangalore-style.’

Fed up with companies refusing to pay their tax bills, the city has gone one better than merely sending out reminder letters. Instead it is striking back, shaming local tax avoiders, through the use of music. About 50% of the firms we have targeted have come to us to pay up their taxes” the Bangalore Municipal Corpn is quoted as saying.  It was a clear message of Bangalore to the offenders : Pay up or we send in the drummers, and then everybody will know what you've done wrong. It will be music to the ears of audience but not to those who were targeted.  "Usually the firms have a good name in their area and when this comes to people's attention and the real picture comes out of it, they start paying their tax immediately - they respond immediately." The lorry that carried the drummers had big banners on the front and sides displaying the name of the company that had evaded tax.

Bangalore's civic body isn't the only one to adopt this method to try to recover taxes. The Delhi city corporation has launched a similar drive, and some years ago in Patna, the capital city of the central India state of Bihar, eunuchs were deployed to sing outside shops that had not paid taxes.  The report states that India has one of the lowest rates of tax payment in the world. Only 3% of India's population of 1.2 billion pay any tax at all. Next time you see a drummer on road, remember  he may not be out there to play for any marriage party !

Here on a totally different note ~ drummer Sivamani in action....

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.


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