TM Krishna shocks his Carnatic music world using the very story the community has built.
It was Mylapore and the TAG center. Ground zero of classic Carnatic fans, steeped in tradition and upper class sensibilities in the arts. And there was a poet who faced strong protests for his fictional portrayal of a traditional ritual at Ardhanareeswara temple in Tiruchengode in his novel Madorubagam (a female part). He had to sign an unconditional apology to the police and withdraw all copies of the novel. He had indeed announced on his Facebook page in January 2015 that he was giving up writing and proclaimed: “Perumal Murugan the writer is dead. Since he is not God, he will not be resurrected. in revival. Ordinary teacher, he will live like P Murugan. Leave him alone. Some people were of the opinion that the controversy was not so much about the content as about the fact that he had married a Dalit woman.
The Madras High Court dismissed the lawsuits that had been brought against Madorubagam, saying there was no coercion or obligation in the previous state intervention that forced him to apologize and remove the books. The court further ordered the state to provide appropriate protection when artists or literati are attacked and to form a panel of experts to help guide police and local government to develop sensitivity to the issues in cause. Perumal Murugan returned to his literary career with a solid collection of poetry.
Here he is, welcomed by the Prakriti Foundation during its annual festival “Poetry with Prakriti” with a new collection of poems in the form of keertanas and they were all sung in the classical Carnatic format by one of the most famous young musicians, TM Krishna. Krishna, fresh out of a controversy after his lecture on “Culture and Community”, had outraged the Carnatic classical music community. He sang in a most delicious carnatic form, a content that had nothing to do with the gods. Krishna had asked Perumal Murugan to write keertanas with the local dialect of the Kongu region where he comes from and on topics such as the palm tree, water, fire, etc. There was a love song to end.
What a combination. An ostracized poet and a musician so outspoken that he left untouched any topic of public interest on which to opine. What audacity in someone so young!
Krishna shocks his Carnatic music world using the very story the community has built. He gives her an immensely formidable challenge that forces her to question herself. He had made his debut as a classical singer at the age of 12 at the Academy of Music in Madras, the Mecca of music. As he grew, his concerts drew large crowds and his confidence grew. He began to question himself and his environment, making the right tremble. He stayed away from Madras’ holy musical season in December, going to concerts instead of singing. He started to build bridges, first with a book on senior musicians which he co-wrote with Bombay Jayashree, then the Svanubhava experience for college students and classical and folk arts schools has many again started with Bombay Jayashree but continued solo with own students and volunteers. Then came the Urur Olcott Kuppam Vizha who presented the classical arts in a fishing village on the beach, then he started collaborations with the transgender Jogappas of Karnataka, now with Perumal Murugan.
The classical music world began to spit venom at him when the Deccan Chronicle gave a sensational cape to the report on his speech “Community and Culture” at the launch of the Telugu translation of the biography of MS Subbulakshmi by TJS George.
He speaks without moderating or masking reality in any way. He stands firmly within the community and confronts and agitates it like an outsider. He offers his own interpretation of socio-cultural equations with larger communities and classical music dominated by the upper class. Highlighting this has already infuriated her community, and then comes this lecture which analyzes the Goddess of Carnatic Music MS Subbulakshmi. He thinks her voice had a rich spontaneity before marriage and after being organized with Sanskritized Bhakthi songs, she lost that spontaneity and her singing became tinged with pain. This made Subbulakshmi extraordinary in his singing and he goes on to say, “No one can move our hearts with music like M. S. Subbulakshmi can.”
Krishna gave his speech distinctive shades of meaning, characteristics and qualities of his own, but then they are political and considered by many to be super realistic and therefore hated by those who live only by their music. They see him as a manipulator for most of the media attention while many see no reason why he should seek this out. To be outraged and to be sensitive is of course now our national pastime and why shouldn’t the conservative classical music world be outraged by a fellow musician who has completely freed himself from routine, conventional repertoire, programming conventional and yet attracts such huge crowds?
TM Krishna’s musical aesthetic, fully wired to build impossible bridges with deep empathy, may perhaps be the project to lead his listeners into an experience of Jagrutasamadhi.