Only in Mumbai: 17 hour queue for Western classical music

But Audience For Zubin Mehta Event Suffers Culture Shock At Box Office

MUMBAI: Apart from Ganpati Darshan or something like the final of the cricket world cup, no one in Mumbai queues up for as long as 17 hours for an event. Except when it is a Zubin Mehta show. In the last 11 years, the maestro has wielded the baton in his hometown on five occasions, and the story has always been the same. It played out again this time as well.

IMG-20151010-WA0007Starting somewhere during 4-5pm on Friday, people from various corners of Mumbai and the immediate beyond began trickling into Nariman Point. This was because at 9:30am on Saturday, the box office at the NCPA was to open for Mehta’s October 25-26 concerts. His devotees, all ardent lovers of Western classical music, started arriving so far in advance as they didn’t want to lose their sanity in the foreseeable mad scramble for tickets. But along with them arrived contingents, the members of which hadn’t even heard of Beethoven. “Sethji bheje hai unka ticket lene ke liye,” said a scruffy-looking Vinod Kumar, a driver who was right behind a foreigner on the pavement along the eastern wall of the NCPA. “I arrived at 3am and already there were so many people here!” said the foreigner, before becoming unintelligible as he uttered his name at 6am.

By then the queue had become an odd mix of humans. Old ladies with new accents, sundry adults with baby faces, pretty girls in ugly moods, and plain lookers in sexy shoes. There was one more category, and to Zubin lovers who were latecomers, they were to deliver box office blues of another nature.

“There was a long queue which I stood in and was immediately told that there was no purpose of being there unless I had a red coupon. The lady in front of me said it was something I needed to buy from a ‘tout’ who I realized very quickly were the very rough looking men standing alongside,” said Navaz Daruwalla, a UK-born barrister settled in Mumbai for five years. The complaints against the touts kept crescendoing till a scuffle broke out among some of them and the drivers of the sethjis.

“I came here at 8am reading a newspaper ad. Had the organizers mentioned in it about the token system, I too would have come in the night to get a token at 6:30am,” said Jyotsna Banerjee, a lawyer who lives in Thane. She didn’t get a coupon as only a limited number was distributed, based on a calculation of seating capacity.

Thus the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation (MMMF), the presenter of the concerts, came under severe censure. Mehroo Jeejeebhoy, its founder trustee, said, “We started the coupon system as we wanted the process to be as painless as possible, but it went out of our control. We gave the coupons so that people could leave for a few hours and come back according to an estimate of the time it would take for their turn to come at the booking counter. We can’t control touts. I think no one can. Someone complained to the police and a van came and picked up a couple of them, to little effect. Touts can only be discouraged if people resolutely refuse to pay them.”

It is ironical that the foundation, named after Mehta’s late violinist-conductor father, should come under such severe criticism from music lovers, some of whom bizarrely alleged that it was in cahoots with the touts. For the record, it is the MMMF, an all-women volunteer organization, which has been instrumental in bringing Mehta and other stellar musicians to Mumbai for years. While it relies on sponsors’ funds to stage concerts, it puts the proceeds from the sale of tickets into music education for underprivileged children and other teaching programmes.

The concerts were sold out by 4pm. For the unlucky ones, there was the solace of rehearsal passes. For the beleaguered ladies of the MMMF, the restoration of silence was like music.