Monday, December 04, 2017

Should T.M.Krishna be stoned for blasphemy?

The event was the release of the Telugu version of TJS George’s book on M.S.Subbalakshmi. And T.M.Krishna was invited to speak on Culture and Community in that event. The event was reported in Deccan Chronicle and it has created a storm. The report had attributed certain quotes to TMK which was felt as unsavory by a cross section of the Carnatic Music fraternity spanning both artists and listeners. There were many articles, highly critical of TMK, published as reactions to the report.
Being familiar with the way mainstream media works, I decided not to express my views on this issue till I had a chance to hear the speech myself. I finally did come across the video of the full speech and after having heard it, I think that the unnamed reporter has performed as he is expected to, stringing a bunch of juicy quotes and presenting them without any context, to draw the reader’s attention. When reading that report, it is natural for the reader’s eyebrows to go up. Mine did too. But don’t we all know how a newspaper report is written? Why was there such a hurry to condemn even without giving the man a chance to defend himself?
If interested in going further, I request you to watch the video of the full speech, including the Q&A sessions first.

Let me reiterate that I don’t agree with all that he has said. I do have my differences of opinion on various issues with him. I have debated them with him in public and in private. And on certain points we have decided to agree on disagreeing. But has he committed blasphemy as some critics claim? I don’t think so. On the contrary I think he has nothing but the highest regards for her.
I have come off with the feeling that he has inherent respect for the music of MSS and for the persona herself. He clearly quips that she has become Saraswati and without a pause also puts forth a question as to why should she have to become one? He observes that over a period of time, her music has become more curated, choreographed and set up but despite that she was able to deliver divine music, that stirs and shakes. The transformation in her music might be observed by some as getting more classical and Bhakti oriented. But to him, it sounds like the earlier ebullience has been lost and a tinge of sorrow has been added. He is quick enough to say that he is hypothesizing here. I don’t see any disrespect here.
Another big point in the report that ruffled a lot of feathers was that he asked the audience if they would have adored and liked her songs if she was dark skinned and dressed differently. The single line in the newspaper did sound odd. But the context was totally different. The remark was not about MSS at all. He was giving out his hypothesis that the audience to which she catered was reaffirming its own identity through the looks, the intonation and the emotions that MSS was creating for them and that if the same music had come from someone who did not fit their profile, the impact would not have been the same. The reason being that the associations that gave the audience the feeling of comfort would not be complete. The questioning was about the recipients not the giver.
He goes on to say why great cultures question themselves, how they remove the barriers between the insiders and the outsiders and how when he raises these questions, he is questioning himself too. An interesting point here was how he was explaining why just keeping the doors open is not enough and an outreach has to be made to make this music more inclusive. Today, I came across a report of a concert of Ranjani Gayathri hosted in the Vadapalani Metro Station, the first time I am seeing such a program that was not arranged by TMK. I think that is a positive step.
The other interesting observation I had was that the Carnatic music fraternity, which normally does not express opinions on controversial subjects openly was pretty vocal in this case. This, in my opinion, is a welcome change. There were many who wrote articles condemning TMK for the alleged views. I have one simple question. You all believed a news paper report and were upset enough to pen your articles but why did not even one of you reach out to your own colleague and ask if he had indeed made those statements? Would that have not been a fair treatment of one of your own? I am sure that this has not happened when I read all those rejoinders.
Some weeks before, I had come across a Facebook post, which chronicled a speech on the life of MSS. The article was all in praise of how the speaker handled difficult to digest subjects such as how Sadasivam managed MSS with an iron hand or about her father or her alleged romance with GNB or the near dictatorship of Sadasivam as parodied by RK Narayan. But that friend of mine also went along with this newspaper report and was quite critical of TMK for saying how MSS’s music was choreographed. I find this hypocrisy hard to digest.
I have not read the book by TJS George on MSS and if the excerpts that I have read are any indication it is not likely to be a well rounded biography. But I would not want to commit the same crime as others and pass judgment on a book I have not read. I will try and read the book sooner than later and then make up my mind.
But if there were one authentic biography which is well researched, well balanced and not hagiographic, it would have been the go to reference on her life. There are historians who write today about the life of Benjamin Franklin after a great deal of research. Why can’t such an effort be taken for chronicling the life of the Queen of Carnatic music? To me it is a failure of the Carnatic music community for not having ensured that.
As TMK says in his speech, good art has the ability to break pattern, do to us things that we don’t like. I guess some artists do that too.