Hindu RW is angry with TM Krishna’s Magsaysay because they don’t want orthodoxy challenged

What else can you expect from the right-wing?
Hindu RW is angry with TM Krishna’s Magsaysay because they don’t want orthodoxy challenged
Hindu RW is angry with TM Krishna’s Magsaysay because they don’t want orthodoxy challenged
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MS Subbulakshmi, the famous Carnatic music singer who mesmerized several generations of audiences, received the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1974, for public service. What was the public service she rendered? Raising funds for assorted projects, at the bidding of her overbearing and ambitious husband Sadasivam?

George Verghese, an editor best known for his equivocations, got it the very next year. TN Seshan and Kiran Bedi too have bagged the award at some point. Mother Teresa, Jayaprakash Narayan and Mahasweta Devi too feature in the list.

The award is touted as Asia’s very own Nobel - naturally then, Indians regularly feature in its roll-call of honour. The cash component is about Rs.20 lakh. Some of the awardees are the pedestrian kind, some windbags, yet others self-promoters.  It is a mixed bag, all the same those winning would have something to cheer about and the media can celebrate for a day or too. That is about all.

But this year’s award to TM Krishna, the enfant terrible of the Carnatic music, has the right-wing raging no end.

Referring to the citation, “Recognizing that dismantling artistic hierarchies can be a way of changing India’s divisive society, Krishna devoted himself to democratizing the arts as an independent artist, writer, speaker, and activist,” Jataayu, a well-known Sanatanist writes, “India's society is diverse, NOT divisive. In fact, it is largely harmonious and egalitarian and is united by strong cultural and Dharmic bonds sustained and nurtured over centuries. It is such attempts by the likes of TM Krishna that are divisive... and the divisiveness gets *awarded* by the agencies who have an ulterior motive of seeing India divided and broken.”

For the Sanghis, untouchability is almost an Arabic invention, further solidified by the colonial masters. Everything was fine with Hinduism, whatever it was, till the Quran and the Bible blotted the idyll. It is the obverse of the argument that 9/11 would not have happened but for the evil Americans.

The right-wing just can’t stand any challenge to orthodoxy – from throwing rice balls to crows imagined as ancestors to pouring litres of milk on idols, anything and everything about Hindu religious practices derives from the Vedic wisdom. Anyone questioning the traditions is ipso facto anti-Hindu.

Never forget Hinduism is so all embracing that even Savarnas and Chandalas are not left out of its ‘humane’ vision, barring occasional whipping or burning of the Dalits. Kabir Das up north and Nandanar down south are sterling examples of our enlightened traditions, despite corruption by the Abrahamics.

Naturally then, the pretentious right-wing won’t agree that Carnatic music is largely the preserve of the Brahmins. They will talk of some isolated instances wherein some non-Brahmins did make it big and the reverence shown to the Nadaswaram artistes who mostly hail from the non-Brahmin Isai Vellalar community – this is a euphemism for the community from which hailed the hapless devadasis, 'dedicated to temples' and a plaything of the feudal elites but who also specialized in classical arts.

Jataayu, referred to above, is a close associate of noted Tamil writer Jeyamohan who has also slammed TK Krishna for the award, and also attributed his award to Iyer-Iyengar peeves, by comparing him with Sanjay Subrahmanyam, another noted Carnatic singer and an Iyer and who is generally rated higher. 

Jeyamohan also says that it was because of The Hindu, an Iyengar group, that Krishna, a fellow Iyengar, won the Magsaysay. What he doesn’t know is that The Hindu Iyengars also indirectly control the Music Academy which, in turn, feted Sanjay last year, conferring on him the much coveted title of Sangita Kalanidhi. A bit too early in his career, but the title was some kind of a message to Krishna who had been carrying on a running battle with the music establishment. 

In the circumstances, Jeyamohan’s seeking to belittle Krishna’s stature as a singer is the last nail on the coffin of his absurd arguments. Is he the authority on who is good and who isn't?

Krishna’s virtuosity is formidable.  His first public performance was at the age of 12, and he is now 40. Along the way he has carved out a niche for himself in a crowded field by his mastery of various facets of Carnatic music and fashioning a style of his own. If he is listened to in his concerts or read so avidly by thousands, it is not because of any cheap theatricals – it is actually the other way around, only because he became an eminent singer at a very young age, his views began to earn respect.  He has been experimenting his own way.

And his experimentation cannot undermine his continuing contribution to Carnatic music at various levels.  A Southern Music, the Karnatik Story is a heavy tome from Krishna, but is also a passionate exposition of everything you would like to know about Carnatic music.

There are those who find his calls for egalitarianism unrealistic and who charge he is only playing to the gallery. But they too acknowledge that his words of learned length and thundering sound are indeed backed by solid scholarship.

A knowledgeable critic, who didn’t want to be identified, points out, “It’s silly to say he talks of taking Carnatic to the non- Brahmins only as a publicity stunt. One doesn’t keep hammering on such radical ideas only for their attention-seeking value. Whether an Arundhati Roy or a TM Krishna, they might go overboard in their enthusiasm or want to jolt the middle class out of their complacency, but that doesn’t mean it’s not felt innately. His efforts among the slum children might not be much more than photo-ops, but the fact remains he has set the ball rolling.  He deserves kudos and support and not ill-informed denunciations.”

Ananthakrishnan Pakshirajan, a retired IAS official and a well-known intellectual, stresses, “What TM Krishna says is simple. Carnatic Music was once enjoyed by all because the concerts were performed in public spaces like temples. Earlier there were stalwarts in Carnatic music like the Tanjore Quartet who were not Brahmins. But over a period of time, the singing part (and playing of instruments such as violin) has become almost exclusively the private property of the Brahmins, thanks largely to the sabhas which are run like fiefdoms. He says that he has performed in hundreds of temples in Kerala and his programmes are attended by all. On the contrary, Sabha organized concerts in Tamil Nadu are attended overwhelmingly by Brahmins. Everyone will agree that he is broadly right.”

Lastly, my friends from the Parivaar should know that Ramon Magsaysay, in whose name the awards are being given away, was a visceral anti-communist and an avid collaborator with the CIA. He was a man of financial integrity alright, but otherwise a thoroughgoing reactionary. Perhaps they should tell the Magsaysay Foundation that it would be more befitting if they choose Narendra Damodardas Modi next time around for the award for his sterling leadership qualities!

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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