An interview – T M Krishna
TMK at Patil’s house
What is the role of an artist in society in general?
The role of artiste is the aesthetic question of what is within and what is outside? Because that is the primary vehicle of art. It reflects and challenges. And both coexist. So, for a musician finally the question should begin from within. From their own music or their own thinking. Unless you grapple or allow for that mess or unless that happens you will be just delivering a product that the market will consume. That I don’t believe is the function of an artiste. Depending on the kind of art form, the mode may be different, context may be different, the stories may be different all that is true. But that energy and spirit is common. The spirit to be reflective, to be a reflection and to be a challenge. I think this is the role of a musician.
Do you think there is a difference between music and other media, for example, literature, film etc.?
I think this sense or spirit is not different. Literature itself has so many categories. I think poetry is very different from prose. The way they deal with this spirit is very different. So, within music, there is a lot of categories. But the core of that is “Why do we create art?” Any art is a response to something. It is not passivity. Art cannot exist in a state of passivity. All art is a response, all art is action. Which means that art is always conscious. It cannot sleep. So irrespective of the art form. This is universal. But the way it happens in art from or art genre is entirely different. And also, the angle of view is different. For example, let us take religious music. Is it an unquestioning happening? No, it is not, because bhakti sangeet in its own spirit challenges the norm of other things. So, bhakti movement itself is a purely religious thing. Is it conformative? No, we made it conformative. In its spirit it is just the opposite. But it does it within a different sphere, a different angle, different environment.
What do you want to do though Pormbeke, Perumal Murugan?
That is a kind of a shift that has happened in my perception. It happened naturally. I did not work it out consciously. You know I have always spoken about the art music and its abstractness and meaninglessness of meaning. I very soon realized that there is a problem in that discourse. The problem in the discourse is the fact that we understand the world through meaning. Therefore, it is very difficult to make that mega jump from how we are grounded in meaning to the idea that meaning is immaterial. So then I said, if we can find many profounds within meaning, which means Poromboke comes in. Murugan comes in, Islamic comes in, Christian comes in. atheistic comes in. Nature and anything come in. They are all meaning driven. Many people ask me “you are contradicting yourself. You say there is no sense for meaning and you are singing all this.” I think it is a mechanism. Then I realized that if I can explore multiple profounds in the meaning and allow the experiences including me to receive that in Poromboke,. Today when I sing poromboke for me there is no difference in the way I sing a Tyagaraja kriti and Poromboke inside me. It took me time also. Two days ago, it made me very little difference whether I was singing Poromboke or Soundararajam Ashraye. So if that sense of equality of experience happens then the whole idea of where is meaning in this appear in the consciousness. That is my hope. If I bring multiple discourses within meaning, it can lead to a point where I say does it matter. That question can hopefully raise many other interesting thoughts.
The purpose of singing Tyagaraja and the purpose of singing Poromboke is different.
Poromboke has two lives. It had a life when it was performed for the video. And that is a purely socio-political life. When it is sung in a concert, it is a different poromboke. Perumal is a different case. He is composing for the Carnatic. There is no other entity for that. He is composing with Carnatic music in mind. With my ideas in mind and his ideas in mind. The earlier one was composed with a political, social and environmental reason in mind. It had a target which was political. The intentionality of that was defined by that. Then the moment poromboke became the part of a repertoire of Carnatic, an example parallelly is singing Nidhi Chala Sukhama in a bhajan mandali is different from singing it in a concert stage. There are two Nidhi Chala sukhamas. In a Bhajana Mandali if this song does not evoke Rama then it is useless. In a concert stage, Rama is irrelevant. So even one art object has multiple beings if the context is shifted.
So you are trying to create a new environment now?
Yes, now I am using a semantic discourse. It is a shift from my position. I believe that this shift was necessary to move to look at certain equality of perception. Then say ok can we transcend it also. And then see what happens. It is a shift from holding on to what was entirely an abstractive thing. Now let us use abstractiveness in meaning itself.
Has your Poromboke transcended that meaning?
Yes it has, within me, it has.
But if it has why do you try to explain Perumal Murugan before singing. That was again to make a point over there. To create that possibility of a mess. I was complicating people’s mind. In spite of that if something can happen, it challenges the complication. It depends on the audience also. But it does, right! I am using meaning entirely. I intend to use it. There is a shift. But there is no shift in what I standby. There is a shift in the way I am going about it. But I think it is also important to hold that shift. You can extend the spectrum.
Has it affected your teaching? You are not just teaching kritits and all that?
My classrooms are never been just singing or learning kritis. Sometimes no kritis at all. There will be only discussions. The classroom has never been apolitical, sanitized singing sessions.
Has this changed the view of your students too? Can you see the perception in their presentation too?
In spite of me being a domineering and tough person, I have been very conscious about not pushing a certain philosophy or a certain direction in my students. I have allowed the discussion to happen. I have allowed disagreements to happen. Anyway, I should not say allowed, but I have said. Not all of them agree with me. They are having their own struggles. But I am glad they are struggling. That I feel is very important. And I have offered that. I mean classroom is provocative. For me, a classroom is a provocatory space. Even performance is also provocative. But in class I intentionally provoke. There is a certain beautifulness about it. I provoke and they also provoke back. It is not passive. That provocation is important for them to go deeper. It could be musical, political and social. So they carry it with them. Does it manifest itself in their singing? It may not. There are many other dimensions of their professional life that they have to deal with. The realities of who they are? The realities of where they want to be. I completely understand them. But the conversation is still going on. I can definitely say that it is very active. One thing I feel happy is all the students who have shared space with me at home, sung and talked have definitely not passive and allow let things be. I am happy with that.
Even before TMK this tradition of question and everything. In Kannada we have Putina and Rallapalli and others. How do you understand those traditions and where do you place them?
I am not going to place myself. I think every society has it. We are not unique. I am asking those uncomfortable, larger and difficult questions. There is always this capacity for the people to come out and put it there. Place it for everybody to see, understand, disagree. I think that is what gives us strength. Or at least gives me strength. In that sense, we are not doing anything new. You may frame the question differently, the context may be different, all that is true. If the same conditions are coming out again then they say something about human condition. Why is it that there is some grappling with certain questions? That is also something that we should think about. The only thing that is different now is the political environment of this country. It is drastically different. And that we have to understand. Scenario today is very impressive. People in this country, who ask questions, which are dangerous were very small patch, but now it is very big. So that is the only difference. In every society there had always been people from various sections asking these questions.
When Rallapalli made statements about singing varnams elaborately in the middle of the concerts and singing three mangalams, very little protests came?
There is a point here. This is where power comes into the equation. Rallapalli was not an active, powerful, performing individual. He was not a centre stage performer who could influence the music world. He was more a musicologist. This is the whole hierarchy that comes in. Therefore what he said is went by. It was neither contested nor followed also. Even that I can say. Nobody took on to say it was a great idea. If that was said by Semmangudi Shreenivasa iyer, the whole deal would have been a different thing. Those are the dynamics of the individual. Who is saying is closely intertwined with what is being said. It should not be so. Ramanathan called me when sang varnam in the middle for the first time and told me that he was very happy and told me that Rallapalli had said this in his acceptance speech while accepting Sangeeth Kalanidhi. But people just ignored him. Even if he had been protested it means he had not been ignored. If you do not protest or agree to means you have not taken him seriously. But now there is no running away from it. It may take time, even ten years, it is now there for everybody to think over. I scanned Rallapalli’s academy speech.