If Krishna can’t singhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/if-krishna-cant-sing-tm-krishna-delhi-concert-cancel-spic-macay-5446886/

If Krishna can’t sing

It’s in an uncivilised world that a great musician can be prevented from performing in the national capital

Ramchandra Guha on T M Krishna: “To prevent a great musician from performing in the national capital is not mere intolerance — it is barbarism.” (Cartoons by E P Unny)

An Indian institution I greatly admire is Spic Macay. Set up by Dr Kiran Seth, it has done remarkable work in taking the extraordinary riches of our music and dance traditions to young Indians. I first attended Spic Macay concerts in the 1970s, as a college student in Delhi; I continue to attend them in the second decade of the 21st century, as a 60-year-old in Bangalore. Under their generous auspices I have heard Padma Talwalkar sing and seen Leela Samson dance, gloried in the sarod of Amjad Ali Khan and in the flute of Hariprasad Chaurasia.

Another Indian institution I admire is T M Krishna. Krishna is a force of nature. He is, best known, of course, for his music. However, apart from being a singer of genius, he is a public-spirited individual with an abiding commitment to the greater good, whether it is the restoration of the forests of the Western Ghats or the restoration of social harmony in strife-torn Jaffna.

I have heard T M Krishna sing many times. The concert of his that will stay with me until I die was performed in a village named Belavadi, in the district of Chikmagalur. Belavadi has a Hoysala-era temple, built on the human scale, and with exquisite sculpture. A friend of Krishna’s has a farm nearby; and he had the inspired idea of asking him to sing at this 1,000-year-old temple.

My wife and I drove down from Bangalore for the occasion. The music was sublime; the setting gorgeous. Behind where Krishna sat was the deity. After several minutes in deep contemplation, his eyes shut, he sang for us the music of the divine. Krishna is thoroughly trained in the classical tradition; and this evening he brought us the full range of the Carnatic oeuvre. We city folks listened, transfixed; as did the villagers of Belavadi, young and old, men and women, who had come to this public space for this special, and especially joyous, occasion.

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After the concert we had dinner at the farm of the person who had brought Krishna to Belavadi. Here, one man from Bangalore complained that whereas the musician had in the recent past given concerts in the localities of Malleswaram and Seshadripuram, he had ignored a prestigious sabha organised in Chamarajpet. Krishna gave his reasons; that particular Gayana Samaj had, for a previous concert of his, invited a politician who spoke for 20 minutes after the musicians had finished. Krishna didn’t mind if speeches were made before a concert, but to have them afterwards was an insult, not to the artists, but to the audience, who wished to leave the hall and go home with music in their ears and in their soul.

The Chamarajpet partisan was unpersuaded. “You cannot refuse an invitation from our Sabha, sir”, he said: “It is 100 years old”. Krishna answered: “My music is 600 years old.”

As an admirer of Krishna’s music, and someone who had once been a student in Delhi myself, I was delighted when I heard that Spic Macay was hosting a two-day festival in Nehru Park where he would be one of the performers. This was to be held on the weekend of November 18/19. Though this was not the Veeranarayana temple in Belavadi, the venue was attractive enough. By then, the air would be crisp and cool, and the pollution levels would have abated. The music lovers of Delhi, and the young especially, were in for a feast. I was pleased for them, but also slightly envious on my own behalf.

The Nehru Park concert was a collaboration between Spic Macay and the Airports Authority of India. Till late last week, the AAI was enthusiastically tweeting about the event, and asking people to come. However, when they heard that T M Krishna was to sing there, right-wing trolls began abusing him, and demanded that the event be cancelled. These trolls know nothing about his music; all they know is that, in his work outside music, Krishna is a critic of Hindutva and the Modi government. On Tuesday the 13th, the AAI announced that the event had been indefinitely postponed. They had succumbed to pressure, most likely exercised from above as well as from below. Who knows what calls were made from which office to make the AAI act as they did. But, because of their shameful capitulation, the music lovers of Delhi shall be deprived not just of the sublime pleasure of listening to T M Krishna, but of the two-day festival as a whole. (The other artists slated to perform were the sitarist Shahid Parvez, and the dancers Sonal Mansingh and Priyadarshini Govind.)

Readers of this newspaper will know that this writer was recently prevented by Hindutvawadis from taking up a professorship in Ahmedabad University. The reports spoke of pressure from goons on the ground; in fact, there was also pressure from above, from powerful politicians in New Delhi. But I am being absolutely sincere when I say that I am much more upset with what has happened to T M Krishna. This is because Delhi is the capital of the nation, not of a mere state; and because I merely write books, whereas Krishna carries the true greatness of Indian culture and Indian civilisation in himself and in his art.

Indian architecture was once sublime; to see how far it has fallen one has only to look at the next building in the street. Two thousand years ago, India was a world leader in science and philosophy; but now it lags behind not just the West, but even small Asian countries like South Korea. However, our classical music, Hindustani as well as Carnatic, is both authentically Indian as well as gloriously alive. In a sane, civilised, world — that is to say, not the world we currently live in — our classical musicians would be infinitely more precious to us than our film stars, our cricketers, and our intellectuals.

When, as happened to me in Ahmedabad, a scholar is prevented from speaking, that is intolerance. But to prevent a great musician from performing in the national capital is not mere intolerance — it is barbarism.

The writer is a Bengaluru-based historian