Kalakshetra Foundation in Chennai on Thursday cancelled the permission for the use of their auditorium for the release of Carnatic singer T M Krishna’s latest book, Sebastian & Sons. The letter from the foundation to the publisher, Westland, a firm owned by Amazon India, said that since it is an autonomous body under the Union Ministry of Culture, it “cannot allow any programme that may instigate political, cultural and social disharmony”.
The letter sent by Revathi Ramachandran, director of the foundation, said excerpts of the book published by Westland Publications contain “certain statements relating to the book which touch controversial issues and certainly have a lot of political overtones”.
“We were unaware of the controversies surrounding the subject matter of the book at the time of renting our auditorium for the book release. We, therefore, regret to inform you that we hereby withdraw our permission given for the book release function,” the letter added.
Karthika V K, publisher of Westland, retweeted posts about the Kalakshetra decision. Shortly after one such retweet, she tweeted, “Delhi, Chennai, the saffron is blinding.”
The book chronicles the century-old history of mridangam, the primary percussion instrument in Carnatic music, through the stories of legendary mridangam players and makers, who were mainly from Dalit Christian communities.
Refusing to comment on whether there was political pressure on the foundation, a top office bearer alleged, “Excerpts they published were problematic and highly judgemental with lazy political opinions against a community. People who had gone through the entire book confirm that it was not an original book on artists but one to invite unnecessary controversy through Brahmin-bashing with graphical details of cow slaughter. There may be a market for such books but definitely not in Kalakshetra.”
Krishna, who was in Jaipur on Thursday, told The Indian Express that he was “astonished” at the decision of Kalakshetra Foundation. “In the morning, I had a request to speak to the Kalakshetra director. But my calls went unanswered. When I landed in Jaipur later, I received a mail about cancellation of the permission to use the auditorium. I presume the excerpts of the book published in a newspaper today must have led to this decision,” Krishna said.
Asked about his book, Krishna said it celebrates works of important people. “They have been making it (mridangam) for generations by walking through blood and dirt and everything to make sure that a good cow skin, good goat skin makes a good mridangam. With this decision, do they (Kalakshetra) mean to say, ‘Please, don’t discuss all that’?” he asked.
“What about respect to these people, understanding their lives, about what all they have done for over 100 years? Will all these make Kalakshetra uncomfortable? Making someone uncomfortable is not a wrong thing. That is what art and writing should do.,” Krishna said.
Responding to Kalakshetra foundation’s claim that the book was controversial, Krishna said he has no clue about what is controversial in it. “Yes, the cow is worshipped by certain section of the society. But the same section also listens to sound coming from cow skin. How can we deny that? My book is about these wonderful makers (of mridangam) who were marginalised. It is about the reality of mridangam makers and mridangam. Nobody has read the entire book. They have seen only excerpts and couple of interviews.” he added.