Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Lights Coordinator

Sajai was hip. He rode a motorcycle on campus. Just two others did. Each year, Sajai broke a different bone riding that bike. The bike didn't seem to mind. So one evening in our first year and his third, when he showed up at Mandakini hostel (in a cast) looking for some volunteers, I was amicably predisposed.

It was early January and Mardi Gras, our cultural festival, was around the corner. Any number of events masquerading as culture would be squeezed into this format. Among them was music—perhaps the most deserving of the moniker—itself, diced into Light, Classical, Carnatic, Western and other strains. Sajai, as Western Music Coordinator, was to organize the most popular event of the fest. Listeners liked the genre, but liked better what they were doing as they liked it. I was only in my first year and there were many ropes to be learned.

So after Sajai completed his impassionate pitch in the common room, I raised my hand and signed up for service. I was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division that would be dispatched to the Pacific theater. Almost. I was asked to be in charge of stage lighting and was given the title of Lights Coordinator that came with neither rank nor stripe. At that time I had no experience in this, or anything else for that matter. Sajai assured me that it would be a cakewalk and he looked like he generally knew what he talked about.

The equipment was awesome. Amps, power amps, equalizers, speakers, synthesizers… lots of hardware. Just as my excitement mounted, I had to ratchet it down when I discovered that all this was the playing field of the Sound Coordinator.

The Lights Coordinator had something decidedly more mundane. He worked a few boxes that operated the lights on the stage. There were three of them: green, red, and I think yellow. Each had a dial that you turned up to take up the intensity of that color. If you worked two of them in opposition, you could drench the stage in the color you turned up. The process was completely manual, which I liked, because you called all the shots.

You have a ear for music, just go with the flow—was all the advice I got. I think we might have had a dry-run or two but I can’t really recall them.

Mardi Gras soon got under way and it was the night of the western music competition. The location was the OAT, right under the stars. The place was packed with people, not one over twenty five. Things started up slowly as teams took their time tuning up their instruments and priming their youthful voices to get them properly hoarse. I had a control table with my boxes laid out in front of me and was working my way into a groove.

An hour into it, things were up several notches. The audience was on its feet clapping, cheering, hooting, swaying, screaming… the din was just deafening. Folks were lighting up all over the place, blowing thick blue acrid smoke. Even a rookie like me could tell that these weren't Gold Flakes pinched from Daddy. Drinks flowed and sank down gullets.

Someone came over to my desk and handed me a glass of beer. And another. And another. Things started to get easier. I could now match the colors, time them with the music, work things differently for the melody and harmony... create funky effects that only I could see. The whole theater was one throbbing cauldron of noise, smoke, light, heat – each in gorgeous excess.

Tan tan ta-dan, tan tan ta-dan, tan tan……
Smoooooooke on the water, fire in the sky-ay

Hits from Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, The Doors, The Who rent the air and rocked the audience off their feet. I was in seventh heaven, and it showed. Someone stopped by and asked to have a go at the controls. I would have none of it. The rheostats were smoking as my operations became manic. I must have looked like Charlie Chaplin on the assembly line in Modern Times. Not that anyone noticed.

But, all things must pass. The show wound down late night. Someone must have prised me away from them light controls. Campus families grit their teeth and finally managed to get to sleep over the din. Nair at Tarams doubled up his dhoti and got ready for rush hour.

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