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L’affaire  T M Krishna

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By Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan

No matter who says what on L’affaire  T M Krishna, unless The Music Academy gives a convincing and acceptable answer to the simple and straightforward question, “Why did TMA announce the next Sangita Kalanidhi designate on March 18th,2024, for the slated anointment on Dec 16th,2024- Jan,1,2025 Sadas, contrary to past practice/consistent precedents, there may be no closure to  L’affaire T M Krishna? In that answer is tucked in the nub of the rub of the kerfuffle.

The dust is unlikely to settle down any time soon. TMA and TMK may not  have anticipated this blowback or scale or it . Times they are a changing! But, both  are unlikely to back down,  as TMA President N Murali chose to inflict the designation  as if an ‘unanimous committee construct’. It was not. At least a ‘few’  of them ‘feebly got up even if not stand up’ said one. Rest meekly fell in line as lambs to….

Let us allude to some of TMKspeak to get to know where we have gotten to. Contemporaneous news reports of Dec 4,2017 said this, “In a lecture about culture and its role in creating identities, Krishna said that Subbulakshmi had gained acceptance in broader society by distancing herself from her Devadasi roots and identity to become someone else culturally – an ideal Brahmin woman. This was a tragedy, he said. “If MS’s voice came from a dark, non-upper-caste beauty-ish lady, would all of us celebrate her like we do today?” he asked. His sharp shooting was intended to communicate his allegation that Carnatic music was imbued in ‘Brahminical Patriarchy’.

Then, on Tyagaraja’s Rama,  TMK ruthlessly juxtaposed E V Ramasami Naicker  a.k.a. Periyar. Why not quote Thalaivar on Periyar? On January 14,2020 during the 50th-anniversary celebrations of the Thuglak magazine held, Rajini mentioned that the Hindu deities, Ram and Sita, were insulted at the 1971 rally with a ‘naked’ photo of them and a garland of slippers were put on it. Actor Rajinikanth held news articles to substantiate his statement about the conduct of the Dravidian outfit.

TMK is entitled to his views and ideology. No   one dare question it or is foolishly engaged in it. The question is,would such a ‘respected fellow musician’ as TMA President called him in his reply to RaGa sisters’ missive to ‘withdraw’ from Margazhi 2024-25 conference, deserve the highest accolade from the iconic institution, now closing in on its centenary?

More so, when he disdainfully  ‘kept off’ the Academy platform itself for nine long years. TMK ‘graciously condescended’ as a TMA member put it to perform in a special Tyagaraja performance, tantalizingly timed just before his SK  designation  in March,2024 and announcement of general elections on 16th March,2024.

We would be nincompoops to believe and accept that the sequence was highly ‘coincidental’ and not ‘planned’. And reports said it was a ‘disciplined’ katcheri , as prayed  for by TMA. For one was privy to a performance in a Sabha, hundred metres away from TMA, during his ‘boycott period’ when he began with ‘Mangalam’ and ended with ‘ Mahaganapathim’.  It was nothing but utter disrespect to the art form which has ‘made’ him and put him where he is today.

As for his brazenness to sing on EVR after bad mouthing the so called  ‘Brahminical Patriarchy’, by replacing Prabhu Ram or rejecting any association to religiosity to Tygaraja or spiritual faculties ( of course, he mocks with HIS construct of ‘spiritual’ connects),are not the rasikas  ( It is the Rasika who makes us, said the humble MS Amma) entitled to their outrage?

As for EVR’s so called opposition to ‘Brahminism’ not ‘Brahmins’, well one can  google away to glory on what he wanted to happen to Brahmins and Brahmin women in particular, and they may not belong here,in dignified print.  Does it detract from EVR’s contribution to campaigning for temple entry of the oppressed? And  should TMK be ‘cancelled’ for the company he keeps?

One is reminded of the  enshrined ideal of liberty in the American narrative which stands in stark contrast to the undeniable reality of slavery that existed at the nation’s founding. This dissonance is particularly glaring when examining the lives of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, the very men who penned the now-iconic phrase “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence. Their ownership of slaves presents a complex historical paradox, forcing us to grapple with the contradictions that shaped the early American republic. To this day, the oldest democracy is riddled with this dissonance, with no arithmetically accurate answers possible.

Be that as it may, TMA stands today what it  is, thanks to the devoted Rasika. It owes  respect to  him. That is where the political proclivities of the coterie in charge, for two decades plus now at TMA, appears to have swayed the decision to designate this maverick musician. Does he deserve it for his musical prowess? May be yes. But should he be given the zenith of such awards despite the  ‘extraneous factors’,probably not.

The man is the musician. The two are inseparable. Sangita Kalanidhi is the epitome of cultural moorings.Just scan across the awardees’ list,  since 1929. Not one is afflicted by the taint of such ‘extraneous factors’, particularly the pernicious precept and practice of deriding the very art form which has fed him not just bread and butter, but jam and more ( as he proudly proclaims- fish, meat and bottled variants). They don’t come cheap. It is he who has cheapened the art form,  despite the richness of it and the riches ‘it’ has munificently bestowed  him with.

He is  entitled to suggest that it was no gift from Lord Ram. And he has worked for it and his asura sadhagam  has put him where he is. Agreed. But, to play and behave as an asura to insultingly taint the art form and unfairly call names of vaggeyakaras, fellow artistes and keep off the Margazhi music season platforms, including TMA, for near decade, surely disentitles him to the one award viz. Sangita Kalanidhi, for sure. TMA has done  a huge disservice to the very institution and the ordinary Carnatic music Rasika,  in you and me!

(Writer is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court)

READ ALSO: Hypocrisy thy name is TMK!


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