General ravings, Musings

Jai Vijaye Bhava,T M Krishna!

The other evening – 17th of November it was – I went with a couple of friends and heard T M Krishna sing at the Garden of Five Senses, Delhi.

It was great!

Krishna was in fine voice; a voice I’d heard only a couple of times earlier, rendering Thyagaraja krithis as smoothly as folk songs. Oh, and also singing in a short but powerful campaign video against Unilever for dumping toxic chemicals and endangering the people and ecology of Kodaikanal (click here to see it)

That’s all I knew of Krishna till around the 14th of November; that he was a great musician, innovative, that he sang for good causes.

And then this great big thing blew up in our faces, amplified to megaton levels by media: that Airports Authority of India  and Spic-Macay had abruptly cancelled a scheduled concert on 17th November featuring Krishna, among other artistes. AAI gave no reasons for the cancellation; but I understood, from editorials print and online, that Krishna was regarded by BJP sympathizers – and therefore, the Central Government, and by inference, AAI too— as ‘anti-Hindu’ and ‘anti-Indian culture’, all because he, Krishna, conveyed pithy political and social messages through his songs. I also heard and read that Krishna had been cruelly trolled by ‘right-wing Hindutva’ nuts.

All this I found profoundly disheartening, disturbing, disgusting.  I hoped, over those two days that followed, for some strong reaction from the Central Government, from AAI…but there was only stony silence.

And so, when Delhi’s AAP government announced that it would host a performance by Krishna on the 17th, I decided I must attend. Not to convey some glorious ‘secular message’ or make a ‘political statement’ or anything pretentious as that, but to simply hear Krishna, a musician who just wanted to sing from his heart about things he felt strongly about… and had been cruelly treated for wanting to do that.

Given the circumstances, I was a little worried about the event becoming more a political jamboree than a music concert. But credit to AAP leaders Kejriwal and Sisodia, not only did they arrive only about 20 minutes late, which is incredibly early by Delhi standards, but their bhashans were mercifully brief and non-incendiary. Krishna himself was all dignity: he murmured that he was there not to speak but to sing…and so he did: wonderfully, passionately, movingly.

Now, clacking out these words, I wonder: why must we taint everything in our lives that brings joy, with the corrosive acid of divisive politics?

My music or writing or theatre, my art, my rendering of what I think of as art, might not be to your liking, and vice versa; but surely we can each find the art we like and peacefully enjoy it without having to mock, disfigure, destroy others’ likes, others’ art? Without hurting others?

Just as you, gentle reader, might hold the view that I can’t write for nuts (doubtless with great justification). But that shouldn’t drive us – and our fans, our acolytes, assuming we have any – at each others’ throats?

Like:  I never liked M F Hussain’s paintings. M F Hussain, in my view, couldn’t paint for nuts. I have said so to friends who like M F Hussain’s paintings. It hasn’t affected our friendship.

I remember even writing so once (in Indian Express, in a letter): in the late 1990s, a time when, weirdly, it had become the politically correct thing to like M F Hussain, and you risked being branded ‘Hindu communalist’ or ‘fascist’ if you said you didn’t like Hussain. Well, I wrote I didn’t like M F Hussain’s work, not because his work offended my religious or cultural sensibilities but because his work offended my artistic sensibilities. But (I added) that didn’t mean I had the right to burn his paintings or run the man out of the country.

You, I, anyone at all, can take on T M Krishna fair and square, one-on-one, for his political views, such as they are…just as Krishna has the right to take on any of us fair and square for our political views, such as ours are.

But when Krishna the musician is invited to present his music, we must welcome him and respect him as musician.

I have heard Krishna, I love his music, I admire his politics. But that’s my opinion; you can think differently, it’s okay.

But none of us, none of us can allow a government institution like AAI to judge  an artiste, any artiste, by his or her perceived ‘politics’.

It is terrible, the way AAI has capitulated before a gang of nameless, faceless e-thugs whose claim to represent ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Indian culture’  is as well-founded as Lashkar e Toiba’s claim to represent ‘Islam’ or ‘Islamic culture’.

It is good that Delhi’s AAP government gave Krishna a chance to play at the Garden of Five Senses…and us the chance to hear him.

As of today, 19th November 2018, I am a votary of AAP.

But I shall watch AAP’s future activities with considerable interest before taking the call at the next polls. Knowing our politicians, be they from Left, Right or virtually non-existent Centre, chances are high that the AAP will commit some colossal balls-up ere long…

That’s why we need you, T M Krishna! Jai Vijaye Bhava! Jai Hind.

Musings

Entranced at India Music Summit

This is sentimental. Because music makes me sentimental.

I write this with the feeble authority of one who has taught himself to play percussion by ear. I must hastily add: I also play percussion by fingers, palms, and feet.

I write to say I was utterly swept away by the ocean of music created by the many ustaads who performed during the MTV India Music Summit, organized by Musiconcepts at the Fairmont, Jaipur from 12th to 14th October.

I dare not try and describe what they played or how they played or why their performances were so wonderful, so moving, so magical. That is best left to the countless others who are more qualified and knowledgeable than me in matters musical.

But this much I bravely declare: the music I heard during the Summit unshackled my mind (it is of no relevance whether the mind was already unhinged); it carried me off to float effortlessly into realms of utter harmony, where, on the waves of timeless rhythms and riffs and cadences and chords, I transcended – if only for a few days – the mechanical world of space-time that I think of, and usually dwell in, as Reality.

Borrowed and adapted shamelessly from Musiconcepts
Some of the maestros who played at the Summit [I’ve shamelessly ‘borrowed’ and adapted this collage from Musiconcepts ]
Among the maestros who performed at the Summit were Shujaat Khan on sitar, Ajay Prasanna on flute, Amit Choubey on tabla, Ambi and L. Subramanian on violin, Aruna Sairam and Suresh Wadkar on vocals, Prasanna on guitar…. to name just a few. We heard Indian and Western classical, jazz and rock and world music, pop and devotional…

And more than once, at the end of some performance when I opened my eyes to the sound of applause and cheering as the last ethereal notes faded, I remembered something that the great jazz drummer Max Roach once said: that a great musician makes music the way a lover makes love.

Many of the musicians at the Summit demonstrated (and how!) the truth of this maxim in their performances: blending boundless curiosity with childlike delight, self-control with confidence; tempering blazing passion with tenderness, raging desire with empathy; taking us soaring to celestial heights of ecstasy, utter abandon, and then gently, respectfully, bringing us back to earth…

They performed with love, pure and unselfish. The love resonated as much in the joyous, crystal-clear choruses of the Mizo Cardinal Choir as in Usha Uthup’s husky, throaty, sending-shivers-down-the-spine crooning; in the devotional songs of Mazhar and Javed Ali Khan and of Pandit Chhannulal Mishra; in the innocent, lilting violin-cello-piano melodies of the Ramakrishnan Trio comprising Aaliya, Naima and Nisha; in the divine flute duets with which Suchismita and Debopriya Chatterjee dispelled dawn’s chill and welcomed the rising sun.

And if the Summit was shaped and held together by these many delicious and diverse strands of music, their impact was hugely enhanced by the interludes during which the maestros shared their musical knowledge and insights with us, through relaxed baithaks and conversations filled with anecdotes and banter. It was amazing how, with seemingly no effort or intent, these little one-off sessions developed a dynamic and logic of their own, with the ideas and musings and music in one session reflecting and being built on in another, till they became threaded together into a single string of multi-faceted, many-hued gems of gyaan.

There was so much of value, so much to listen to and revel in, so much to learn. Here are just a few random strands drawn from rapidly fading memory, in no particular order (the interpretations and translations, and any inaccuracies in them, are entirely my own):

  • Shujaat Khan, fondly recalling his father Vilayat Khan, and also Bhimsen Joshi who would often visit their home:

“Once, while listening to me as I was doing my riyaz, Joshiji began to chant the refrain of what sounded like a bhajan. Of course the bhajan blended perfectly with the raga I was playing, but I was unfamiliar with the lyrics. They went something like this (sings):

       Pachhhee-suhha

       Lakshmi Maaaa Ryg Gyu – Poo

       Ney-Mahaa

       Raaaaasha-Trahah

“After we finished, I asked Joshiji what the bhajan was. He replied, with a chuckle, that having momentarily forgotten the actual lyrics, he had instead sung out the address of his residence in Pune: ‘25, Lakshmi Marg, Pune, Maharashtra’… 

  • Shankar Mahadevan, talking about his work with Bollywood songs and explaining—through songs—why we must, and how we can, respect, preserve, build on, and popularize our incomparable musical heritage—Hindustani, Carnatic, and all their many regional streams—without compromising on the rigour and purity of their classical systems and structures.
  • Shujaat Khan on sitar, sliding almost mischievously from a lovely contemplative Hindustani classical piece to a Bollywood pop tune. And leading us, with his wizardry on the strings, on a voyage along a river of liquid notes during which we experience the closeness of music to nature, to life, to Creation.
  • Ambi Subramaniam with his violin bearing us smoothly, blissfully, across the realms of jazz, world music, Carnatic raga.
  • Chhannulal Mishra effortlessly switching from Hindustani raga to Carnatic raga, providing glimpses into the one deep ocean whence both great rivers of traditional Indian music originate…
  • Sufi Kathak dancer Manjari Chaturvedi,  speaking  passionately on her ‘Courtesan Project’ to erase the social stigmas attached to the tawaifs (courtesans) and give them the respect and credit they deserve as  supreme exponents of dance, music, drama and literature:
    • Today, it has become so convenient for us to depict the tawaifs as ‘victims of sexual exploitation’ because they were women who performed in the nawabs’ courts. This is wrong! By the same token, we ought to be depicting as ‘victims of sexual abuse’ the men who performed in the nawab’s courts! The truth is, the tawaifs were great artistes, they were ustaads. And ustaad is a gender-neutral word! We only denigrate the tawaifs, we diminish and devalue their achievements by looking at them through the narrow prism of gender. Their music, all music, should be judged by its intrinsic value and quality, not by the gender or social position of the performer…”
    • “NASA’s two Voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977, carry ‘golden records’ containing sounds and images intended to depict the diversity of life on Earth for any extraterrestrial intelligence that may come across them. The records contain music from many countries: the song selected from India is the raga ‘Jaat Kahan Ho’ sung by khayal singer ‘Surshri’ Kesarbai Kerkar. Today Kerkar is still remembered in NASA’s golden disc on distant Voyager…but she is forgotten by us…”

The memories of the conversations blur and coalesce; presently they will fade and disappear altogether.

The music and passion endure, enthrall.

    High on music, captivated by this mighty war drum, I tried echoing the driving beat of  the Fairmont Gatekeeper…and succeeded in driving away a number of guests