The Magsaysay Masterstroke

The Ramon Magsaysay Foundation announced its 58th set of awards, probably on July 27. The function is on August 31. An artist by name T.M. Krishna who initially made a name for himself singing a style of music known as the Traditional South Indian Classical or Carnatic Music – was also named as one of the recipients. That raised eyebrows. Some eyebrows not only went up much more than that of others but other parts of their anatomy too joined the eyebrows in protesting the award to him.

The causes for which he has been given the award, as mentioned in the citation, are already being addressed, partly by technology and partly by the initiatives of some musicians who are busy doing something about the issues that the citation mentions. Here is a line from the citation on Thodur Madabusi Krishna:

An ancient vocal and instrumental musical system, Carnatic music started centuries ago in temples and courts but was subsequently ‘classicized’ to become the almost exclusive cultural preserve of the Brahmin caste – performed, organized, and enjoyed by the elite who have access to it. [Link]

Now, as to the much vilified ‘Sabhas’ that are allegedly at the heart of the ‘conspiracy’ to make it the exclusive cultural preserve of the Brahmin caste, there is a very simple fact that has not been mentioned:

During the Chennai Music and Dance Festival that commences in December and goes on until mid-January, most of the lecture-demonstrations and concerts up to 4 PM are not ticketed. Concerts from 4 to 9 PM are ticketed. Well, the ‘Sabha’s do have to sustain themselves and they do pay artists. But, I think they are doing a good balancing act between ‘free entry’ and ‘ticketed entry’.

Besides, with music festivals being organised around the year now, many festivals are open to all fans and lovers of music. They are also available on YouTube which India’s ubiquitous mobile phone users can download and listen to.

It is not that ‘Sabhas’ have snatched away concerts from Temples. Temples continue to host music and dance performances during festivals. They are free. The temple at Mylapore (Sri Kapaleeswarar Temple) and the temple in Adyar (Sri Anantha Padmanabhaswamy Temple) come to mind. There must be many other examples.

Further, with distances and traffic becoming an issue in all major urban centres, including Chennai, many localities and communities have started their own music festivals. They are accessible to all those who are interested. Over time, some of them will gain popularity. The temptation to ticket them will arise even as legitimate expenses would arise, with the need for proper concert halls with good acoustics, seating, food and toilet facilities. These commercial considerations will have nothing to do with ‘classicism’.

Many online and face-to-face courses have been started by musicians. They are not picky and choosy about their students. Non-Brah is No Bar.

Much before Krishna, ‘Kalki’ Krishnamurthy, Rasikamani T.K. Chidambaranatha Mudaliyar and Rajaji had also done their part to form a bridge between Tamil language and South Indian Classical Music.

Even now, the Raja Annamalai Mandram in Chennai near Fort St. George demands of its musicians to sing in Tamil and provides a great platform for musicians of all hues and classes. The so-called Brahmin musicians come and perform there.

Finally, before Krishna, there have been TV Channels that, with their music competitions, have taken music to all cities and to all communities and castes. For all their emphasis on filmy music, these channels are arguably doing more for enhancing the accessibility of Carnatic music to all and for the popularity of Carnatic music itself.

Tamil writer Jayamohan wrote a stinging post on the award. One can argue with writer Jeyamohan on his evaluation of TM Krishna’s music. But, the broad thrust of his post was correct. He received many letters – some in praise and some in criticism of his post. He chose to comment on one of them, explaining his original scathing criticism of the conferment of the award on Krishna.

These paragraphs (in Tamil) from his response to a reader are worth reiterating here:

வரலாற்றின் போக்கில் இருபெரும் இசை மரபுகளுக்கிடையே உருவான பெரிய இடைவெளியே பிரச்சினை. சபாவில் வந்து பாட்டுகேட்க குப்பத்து மக்களால் முடியவில்லை என்பதல்ல. அய்யரும் அய்யங்காரும் வந்து தெருவில் பாடவில்லை என்பதும் அல்ல. நுண்ணிய கள ஆய்வு மூலம், முழுமையான மரபுப்பயிற்சி மூலம், ஒட்டுமொத்தப் பண்பாட்டுப் பார்வைமூலம் சீர்செய்யவேண்டியது அது.

இதை எதையுமே உணராமல் ஒருவர் காலையில் எழுந்து சென்னை குப்பத்தில் ஒரு சாலையில் குந்தி தொடையில் தட்டி சபா சங்கீதத்தைப் பாடுகிறார். கர்நாடக இசையை மக்களிடம் கொண்டுசெல்கிறேன் என குடும்பநாளிதழில் ஆங்கிலக்கட்டுரை எழுதுகிறார். இசைமூலம் சமூகப்பிளவை இணைத்த சமூகப்பணிக்காக உலகப்புகழ்பெற்ற பரிசை ‘வென்றெடுக்கிறார்’. தமிழிலன்றி வேறெங்காவது இந்த அபத்தம் நிகழுமா என்ன?

உண்மையான பண்பாட்டு அக்கறை இருந்தால் சிலநாட்களிலேயே தெரிந்துகொள்ளக்கூடிய வரலாற்றுப்பின்னணி இது. களமிறங்கி ஏதேனும் செய்யத்தொடங்கினால் மிக எளிதில் கைகூடும் தெளிவு இது. அது ஏதுமில்லாமல் பிராமண உட்சாதி அரசியல், சுயமுன்னேற்ற உத்திகள் , ஊடகவெறி என சென்றுகொண்டிருக்கும் ஒருவரிடம் இதையெல்லாம் சொல்லிப்புரியவைக்க என்னைப்போன்ற ஒருவரால் முடியாதுதான். மேலும் டி.எம்.கிருஷ்ணா செல்லும்பாதை இந்தியாவில் மிகவெற்றிகரமானது என நிரூபிக்கப்பட்டது. அவருக்கு வானமே எல்லை. என்ன செய்யமுடியும்? [Link]

More than his original critique of the award to TMK, Jeyamohan provides a far more cogent and coherent critique in this response to a reader. Jeyamohan is on the money when he mentions in the last line that the path that Krishna has chosen for himself is likely highly rewarding, especially in India.

Clearly, regardless of what one thinks of T. M. Krishna’s music (which is, for the most part, praiseworthy) and his social commitment (I do not think much of it at all – well, I do not waste time thinking about it at all), the award was a surprise. It is usually given to those who have had a lifetime of demonstrated work and results. Even Krishna’s admirers would be hard pressed to come up with a tangible list of what he has done to deserve the award. The citation mentions his ’emergent’ leadership and acknowledges that much of his work lies ahead of him. Both are give-aways. So, what is the hurry to confer this award on him?  The broader agenda is deeper.

That is the masterstroke that many are missing. The award is meant to lock him in his current path; it is meant to prevent the return of the ‘prodigal’ to the Brahminical fold from where he emerged and won his popularity, acclaim and stature. It is to ensure that the split and division within the community – between Krishna and those who support him and others who don’t – continue to fester. Well, ‘divide and rule’ is not that original but it has been put to good use here.

Krishna would, forever, be in gratitude and debt to those who conferred the award on him prematurely and the network behind them – in India and elsewhere. Finally, by conferring the award on someone who has not earned it, those who confer the award are expressing the reasonable hope that he would redouble his efforts and prove worthy of the award in the years to come. Mission accomplished.

Failing to see these aspects of the award and focusing on the very aspects that the citation mentions ends up vindicating the citation. They have neatly created a ‘win-win’ situation for themselves and ‘lose-lose’ for Krishna’s critics. For the most part, Krishna is a pawn in a larger game that is played in the Indian society. Sometimes, many pawns – and Krishna is not alone in this – think that they are the ones who are making the move.

Those who are railing on about Krishna and his undeserved award are missing the wood for the trees.

One thought on “The Magsaysay Masterstroke

  1. Anil Srinivasan and Sudha Raja are teaching music in corporation schools. In fact they are willing to teach in any school. This form of education includes classical music in a form which can be easily absorbed by the children. I believe that in terms of reach, impact and outcomes their work is far superior and socially relevant than what TMK has accomplished.

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