Being an artiste

AlexAlexander Babu is a standup comedian performing with Evam Standup Tamasha. Alex manages to stay on the beat when he plays the Tabla. Otherwise, he is an off-beat guy – a christian learning carnatic music and teaching Yoga; a village boy from Tamil medium school doing standup comedy in English; and a responsible dad who quit quit his job when his kids started kindergarten.

Being an artiste
The artiste in me is having a dream run. On a Monday morning, I sit down to write this blog. The Plan for Tuesday morning is to catch Kakka Muttai. Thursday is matinee show – a Hindi movie with subtitles at Satyam. During corporate life, I looked forward to the weekend to unwind. Now, the week is all about tuning things up for the weekend shows. My performance appraisal happens every week, mostly on the weekends. Instead of one manager, a room full of audience sit, listen and give me instant appraisal. Louder, longer, stronger the laughter, better my performance. No room for arguing with the appraiser, the audience. I can’t pause a show to say “You don’t appreciate the amount of hard work gone in to this piece”. If I don’t agree with their appraisal on a joke, it is me who has an action item.
As a kid, watching movies in a tentu kottahai (touring talkies), all I wanted was to become an actor. Later, picking up some Tabla playing skills at the local Tamil church and then accidentally one day watching Zakkir Hussai on TV rolling his fingers on the Tabla – all I wanted was to become the next Zakkir bhai. Post college, I attended a live carnatic concert of a versatile musician Ragavan, and then had opportunities to accompany him on the Tabla on his concerts – all I wanted was to become a singer like him. Ragavan tried to make me a good singer. We did light music shows together and we needed comic relief in between songs during our shows. I got to do some comic sketches. Very soon – all I wanted was to become a comedian. In parallel, reality was running my life. My engineering life continued. Nearing mid-life (40), it was very hard to keep sanity, wanting to become something and working hard to become something else.
“Alex, you have quit your job eh? To be an artiste? Full time artiste? Really?  Are you that good?”. Typical questions. Do you have to be that good to do anything full time? You should become good at something if you spend a lot of time on it. They say, even a monkey will learn to use a smartphone if you give it enough time (and a smartphone). Over time, anything should be possible. It may take days, weeks, months or years, or going by Indian philosophy, births. Seeing life beyond births is in a way comforting. Everything will be useful one day in one of those births. Things will happen! Good or bad, for art, there is no finish line. For that matter for anything, there should not be a finish line. There should not be one big end goal that you run towards. Running should be the goal. Having a kick-ass show last weekend does not guarantee one next week. It just gives you experience. Having a humiliating show gives you the same, the experience. Just that it tastes bitter. Every show is an experience. I think I will enjoy this run the same way even after I become a financially more successful as an artiste. My insecurities will remain. When you enjoy your run, it is not hard work, it is just working hard to reap that experience and learn to take it with full heart.
Being an artiste full time, I have a new found respect for artistes. In a way, everyone is an artiste, whether they get on stage or not. Hence, my new found respect is for everybody around me. It possibly comes from the secret hope that, if I reward people around me well, my audience will like me more that weekend at the show. It is a selfish motive.
At wedding receptions, when a musician is performing with nobody paying attention, I am the only audience clapping after each song. It hurts to keep performing when you know half the people are not listening. Artistes singing/playing at wedding receptions are clearing off their karmic dues. What an irony? At wedding reception, a ‘performing’ artiste is pushed to the side stage, but the non-performing newly weds take the main stage. The reception hall is filled with chairs, facing away from the performing artiste. People hardly sit down on these chairs. People get in and quickly queue up towards the main stage, finish the handshake with the newly weds and then rush to queue up for dining hall, finish the meal and leave. Everyone wants to finish everything quickly. The queuing up time possibly can be somehow channelized to get people sit and listen to the poor performing artiste there. May be a simple FCFS token system will help. You pick a token as you enter the wedding hall. When you number is called, you go on stage and pose for the photograph. Then when your number is flashed, you go to the dining hall. Otherwise, just settle down and enjoy the show.
In a recent wedding reception, the artiste singing lsjust killing it but I was the only guy sitting there listening. The long queue towards the main stage was blocking my view often, but I managed to pay attention. When I clapped after each song, people gave me a look and they seem to wonder “looks like the musician has brought an audience along”. I felt so bad for the artiste. When I was talking to girl’s dad, we discussed the the plight of the artiste there. We both said that this problem should be addressed. I suggested the token system. He loved it. Another friend who joined our discussion said that it is a start up idea! Girl’s dad jumped into action. He called the event manager to suggest this idea. Event manager guy said he will consider the token system, but for now, he said, he will get a bunch of his team to sit there and listen. He had people, simply! A few minutes later, a whole bunch of boys and girls uniformly dressed were sitting and listening to the concert!
Being an artiste has made me care for and respect money. Starting from scratch  is lovely. As I am living off my savings now, every rupee matters. If I finish it too soon, I can’t live my artiste life. I have to stage things. When I go to the grocery shop and come back, I know how much each thing costs, at least roughly. I used to be clueless on these things. I know how much Tomatoes and potatoes are selling in Thiruvanmiyur market versus Nilgiris. Every rupee matters.  Every 100 rupee note is touched with respect. I recite a small prayer, when I touch a 500 rupee note. A 1000 rupee note can make me emotional. Now I get to somewhat understand what a head of poor family making a few thousands in one month would feel.  I used to find 3rd AC too crowed before.  Now I don’t complain at all when I am sweating around in the non-AC 2nd class sleeper coach. I say a lot of things to put myself and the family members to be at peace: “Once train starts running, the breeze you get is matchless.  AC is after all so unnatural, really not good for health (then I use a bunch of quotes I learnt at the Yoga camp). AC coaches are breeding boxes for germs and infection”
I am not sure whether its nearing mid-life or being an artiste, I have started sounding like my Dad often. Every time, there is a proposal to buy something new, I ask “Have we used well all the stuff we have bought already?”. “Do we really need that?”. “Can’t we manage with what we already have?”. “This thing will break very quickly”. I must have overdone these things. The other day, I took my kids to the toy shop and I was ready to get them something. The younger one said “Appa, these things will break quickly. You can buy toys later for my birth day”. Ouch!

About EVAM

Founded in 2003 by Sunil Vishnu K. and Karthik Kumar, ‘evam’ today is a profitable young thriving arts organization making people believe in the power of the Arts.
This entry was posted in Blog Talk, Evam Family, Evam Standup Tamasha and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Being an artiste

  1. Vandana says:

    Loved the article Alex! I’ve been curious to know what got u here and how things r going. I got the answers. Loved the token system idea. And the uniformed staff listening to the concert, that should have been more insulting to the performer!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lavanya says:

    Respects! It is not an easy for someone to quit an established career and atart something unconventional. I always wanted to do that but never dared to take the leap. For me quitting my job to be a full-time mum was a big accomplishment. You have gone way beyond. Bringing a smile to someone’s face is a feat. Making them laugh is godliness. You rock!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rahul says:

    Hi Alex,

    The step you took to pursue your dreams is very daring and inspiring, it made me feel that we are really are wasting so much time daily
    rather than investing some for our dreams.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bro,that was great reading your blog. ‘It’s the journey we take and not the destination’ well said bro. It would be nice if you tell us that transformation from an engineer to a yogi. Is it yoga that brought you this wisdom? or Life’s experiences?… And the token system is a very good idea bro. Keep going and all the best bro:)


  5. Aish Agneeswaran says:

    Lovely sir! Your take on life , going beyond the usual, daring to dig deeper, clarity is so amazing and inspiring! This blog was just as inspiring as your stand ups!😁 Could hear your voice and see your expressions while reading along… Great going ji! Respects!


  6. Shabda Priya says:

    Touche Alexander!
    Keep up the good work.
    Loved all the work I’ve seen till now.
    Best wishes. Love to you and your family.


  7. Mariaray says:

    Hi Alex, l know a guy by name Alex used to come to my home to meet his friend Vijai, my son at Anna Nagar West Extension near SBIOA school. R u the same guy?


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