On a crisp winter evening, with a half moon in the sky, T M Krishna did not spend time talking politics. He sang it.
“Sangeet ko bantney ke liye aaye hai hum, baatcheet ke liye nahin, so I am not going to speak,” said the vocalist before commencing on the first piece — multi-religious verses put together by Mahatma Gandhi and sung at Sabarmati Ashram. Almost a thousand people had turned up at The Garden of Five Senses at Said ul Ajaib in New Delhi, many of them standing throughout the two-hour concert.
Krishna was performing in Delhi on a platform provided by the Delhi government, three days after the Airports Authority of India scrapped an event featuring the Carnatic maestro, allegedly owing to a backlash from right-wing trolls. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who inaugurated the event with his deputy Manish Sisodia, said the audience at the open-air concert had turned up for the music but was also making a statement that India belongs to all, cutting across religious and linguistic divisions.
Kejriwal arrived at the event, part of the state government’s ‘Avam ki Awaz’ series, straight from Haryana, a state where the AAP is looking to expand its base. “When we decided to organise the event two days ago, I asked Manish, will it be possible to put together everything so quickly? He said we will do it on the 17th. I thank him for pulling it off. Your (the audience) presence here sends out a statement. That this country belongs to all, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Tamils, Malayalees, Harryanvis, Punjabis. I do not know of any other country with so much diversity. We have to preserve this diversity. We cannot let our rich heritage be diluted,” Kejriwal said. Sisodia said the AAP government considers art and culture to be part of the process of education. AAP leader Raghav Chadha said that the Delhi government has, through the event, given a “befitting reply to divisive forces”.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury sat beside Kejriwal in the front row as Krishna presented a musical journey that cut across languages, religions, castes and communities.
He sang from Tukaram in Marathi, proceeded to present a composition in Kannada by philosopher, poet and thinker Basava. “He is somewho who asks those difficult questions that we should still be asking,” said Krishna in his introduction to this piece.
Krishna brought in the issue of caste discrimination early on by selecting a composition by the Kannada poet-saint Kanaka Dasa. “Because of his caste, Kanaka Dasa was not allowed to go inside the Udupi temple and worship Krishna. The legend is that Krishna turned towards the small, little square window so that Kanaka Dasa could see him. Even today, if you go to the Udupi temple, you can see Krishna only though that small, little square window,” said Krishna.
After singing Kabir’s compositions, he asked, “Any Mallus here?” and was greeted by a resounding response from those from Kerala in the audience. “As suspected,” he joked before launching into a song on Jesus Christ that featured in a Malayalee movie many years ago. A Tamil verse came next, by “a very dear friend who fought for the right to expression — poet and author Perumal Murugan”.
This segued into a Tamil devotional Islamic song by Nagur Hanifa, written by Nagoor Siddiqui. “To the who don’t know, Nagoor is a very, very important Sufi shrine in Tamil Nadu and has a very famous tradition of music and singing.”
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The audience, which applauded him constantly and even sang along when he performed Vaishnav jan to, sent out their own requests for Krishna’s Poramboke. “Poramboke is a song of the commons, it is a song about the commons. The word in Tamil for commons is poramboke. Unfortunately in Tamil, it is also an abuse, which means good for nothing and useless. So, we have made the commons good for nothing and useless. It also means we are calling everybody that does not have ownership as good for nothing and useless. The commons have no ownership, they belong to all of us and, hopefully, the sensibility of the commons will also live within us and and we will realise that we don’t own anything,” he said, adding, “We only share everything and I hope that in this country, very soon…. sharing is the way forward. That is the most essential part of what we celebrate as the Constitution of India.”
Krishna rounded off with renditions of a Bengali song, Amar janmabhoomi, and Raghupati Raghav.
After the concert, he said, “The love and affection that I received over the last few days is overwhelming. It’s just music and it’s beautiful…” A fan asked if he has political ambitions. “I am a musician, let me be that only,” he replied.