Almost a month ago, the violent discourse and the insensitivity debates disturbed and astonished Carnatic classical musician Thodur Madabusi Krishna to the affect that he decided to hole himself up in his cottage, away from his residence in Chennai and the world of ragas and talas, to ponder over the situation. “I was following the news. The conversations I heard around me, unfortunately the same kind, were so black and white, the whole idea of right and wrong and justifying violence and saying that it was reactionary became quite difficult to deal with,” said Krishna, in conversation with The Indian Express, just before he addressed the session “Creativity and Censorship” at the Indian Languages Festival, Samanvay.
The result of the two days in the hide out was an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which he wrote after returning to Chennai. “This is not the time for platitudes, Pradhan Mantriji, but for a ringing condemnation from you, a kind of condemnation which will leave no one in doubt that the Indian State is not going to tolerate anyone being killed for his views, his faith, his food,” Krishna had written on October 10.
Condemning the violence through this letter seemed to be the only outlet Krishna had. “When you are in the government, you have the power to say things and make an impact. And the PM of India knows he does — he does it every day; he does it in London, he does it in Hamburg, at Madison Square. If you don’t use that, and if you have people of the rank of ministers propagating this notion of unrest, and well, they continue to do so, then it’s not a good situation to be in. The Aamir Khan controversy is a classic example of what’s happening in this country. I’m glad he said what he said,” said Krishna. He is relieved that artistes and the intelligentsia of the nation have reacted to the violence — be it in Dadri or killings of writers MM Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare.
“Finally, at least some artistes are coming out of this bubble. Ironically, in this country, artistes have become synthetic, insensitive people. They believe that the beauty of their craft is in sensitivity. It’s not. The beauty of what you write or what you sing comes from beyond how it’s created. Which is why art is losing that quality. I am glad that even if it was reactionary, artistes are reacting to something,” said Krishna, who hopes that this will also lead to more inclusiveness.
It’s notable that Krishna had withdrawn himself from the iconic December Music Season earlier this year, raising concerns about the inherent caste system of the music season. He believes that the current situation in the country, like a lot of our music, stems from this idea of exclusivity. “Political conversations and social conversations change. Who does this art belong to changes. There cannot be this condescension. That’s scary. Oh, I am so benevolent, I am allowing you to sing this art form, which is also the political condition right now. It can’t work like that,” said Krishna, who added that any art form thrives when diverse people from diverse backgrounds practise it. “All this is about enriching and not offering something. There is an internal dialogue when I am singing. At the same time, I want those to listen who usually don’t. The art form will be enriched by their response. The moment we understand this pluralism, as musicians, as a nation, things will be better,” said Krishna.