Posted in Books

Review: The Spirit Of Enquiry: Notes Of Dissent : T M Krishna

Recommendation: Buy this book, read this book!

In the spirit of the book ‘The spirit of enquiry’ by TM Krishna, I feel obliged to make the following enquiries with the author:

  • Since you are so brash and bold, and are such a hi-fi social activist, may I expect you to take up the matter of liberating the temple elephants held captive in Kerala please? Your communist friends and none less than CM Pinarayi Vijayan may come to your aid here. You may take up the issue right from your next concert in a Kerala temple be it Vadukkunatha temple in Thrissur or Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram! Please start a campaign to this effect because it looks like a lost cause already. I am willing to make a decent contribution. I shall sponsor your team’s t shirts and logo expenses plus others. Only Aug 12 we observed the World Elephant Day bro. Observed, not celebrated, because what is there to celebrate. Our elephant population is dwindling at lightening speed that for next generation, we might be able to show elephant only in museum or biology book. And when the elephants go, they will take away with them the bees and the trees, do you know that Krishna.
  • Since you are against Guru Shishya Parampara and at the same time also against institutionalizing music with a set syllabus and university and text books, would you please research and educate us how to go about both imparting and learning Classical music to enthusiastic aspirants. Or more specifically Karnatic music.
  • Is there anyone preventing by legal means or by physical means the general janata from learning or mastering carnatic music or instrumental? You can name and shame the parties here for further action by concerned authorities!
  • Is there anyhing sacred to you at all? You don’t respect or probably recognize national anthem, notion of nationality… in short anything that is an arrangement or discipline or institution. How about the institution of marriage? Should this also be dismantled by mankind. Already it is being done just that in many parts of the world! Wait it is coming to India!
  • Answer this: How many islamic nations are there in the world? How many christian nations are there ? How many Hindu nations are there officially as of today.
  • From Jerusalem, what stopped you from meeting with the Yazidis on your way back to India??
  • Who told you World war II or the year 1947 is the defining line for everything. That we cannot change anything after that. When did Bangladesh come into being. How many temples got razed in Pakistan after 1947. How many temples got razed even in Malaysia. If you are to quote the constitution, let us make some amendments then.

Having said that, let me add some salient points from this fine book. Let me make it clear, i am just a housewife past my prime, and I am here only for timepass.

At the outset, I have to give the author a standing ovation, for the way he has thoughtfully constructed each and every sentence with such a depth, insight, meaning and essence to leave a lasting impact on the reader. Exceptionally articulate and versatile, I have never read such a profound writing in my life, especially coming from an Indian author. I must confess I am not much into non-fictions. Even so, I can vouch this is one very fine assessment of so many, many faculties of human brain and behaviour. I share many of the author’s abstract views that he has so artfully captured into precise words, phrasing them just exactly as I would have wanted them to be and working out unimaginable permutation of ideas and possibilities with that skillful penmanship of his. Proud that he is a fellow Chennaiite, a Thamizh, and a local Alwarpet Andavaa 😀 I really feel like adopting this fine young man as my kutti brother!

Now when I finally finish the book, i get his formula. He is like, proposing an idea, treats it to various interpretations pro and anti, discusses it thoroughly inside out with his self-confessed spirit of enquiry and then tries to deliver a balanced judgment. Or I must say, which side he thinks is heavily favoured. Judgment is one word anathema to this author! The author has paid attention to the voice of the dissent that we seldom get to hear in every single idea he discusses chapter after chapter. That treatment deserves respect and commendation. The spectrum of the debates is varied and priceless covering Karnatic to Kashmir.

I liked the way he discussed how and why Karnatic music came to be the classical and not the vintage folk or tribal for instance that also may have a matching antiquity. The same words that come to his mind when he thinks of classical Karnatic also keep coming to my mind: ancient, hoary, superior, intellectual, elevating, traditional, religious, complex, difficult, subtle, sophisticated. So that sets apart Karnatic from the rest. Like Kamal Hasan the author never gives a definite conclusion! I had to keep looking at TMK the way I was looking at the limping man fading away in ‘Anbe Sivam’ as the screens went down! Anyway, that was one brilliant way of thrashing a point and closing the chapter. Kudos!

I never so far distinguished between stage art (live rendering) and, the kind of art where the art object seems to be independent of its creator at the point when it is received (as in the case of an oil painting or cinema). Thanks for reminding us of this quintessential difference. This is the reason I have started reading TMK. He draws my attention to things I took for granted all this time that I forgot their existence. I do remember this point from his last book ‘Sebastian and sons’ when receivers of art (such as musical instrument Mrdangam for instance) have this disconnect with makers of the art. But is this not true of every profession. Do teachers and doctors and builders exercise proprietary rights over their produce. I am at loss to know why the author cannot make that professional distinction. That detachment or sense of separation for the creator from his object or art is necessary in some sectors (but not all). In this digital age when the stage concert can come to our living rooms, even Karnatic classical is being packaged an art that can be delivered like celluloid cinema. Covid has altered many equations. As TMK avers, this may be a step in evolution of Karnatic.

The author has a valid point on computer generated music that can do serious damage to the musical sense in humankind once and for all. In his words, “The composer today has become more of an arranger, a choice-maker, a compiler …. The composer in gaining technological mastery is losing musical relevance ” Which is kind of sad. I made up my mind never to enjoy the sax music or keyboard in future. Or even the steely sounding ear-piercing drums. This is very educative to layman like me although I had had an idea.

Hard-hitting truth: ” .. most of the time it is the item number that musically echoes the subaltern sound, further polarizing musical understandingIt is also true that the section of the population that will probably for certain have ‘Kolaveri’ on their list will never be asked their all time favourites.

On an entirely different tack now: Zero tolerance for plagiarism of traditional, native, ancient Karnatic music which is divinely Hindu by heritage. Let TMK not confuse appropriation of art with inspirations of art.

Loved the use of metaphors and simile comparing original Karnatic compositions with variations to the handblock handmade textile prints and dyes and weaves of India that come with a human error which is charming. On this, I have to agree with the author cent percent. Such a rich tapestry of choicest words and eloquence. Masterpiece. And cute!

In any society the dominant class determines authenticity, quality and standard.” The author simply drove home a brilliant point, point blank. The ensuing paras need a careful contemplation from the book.

…. Nada… is metaphysical…. . The idea of nada is not interpreted only as an abstract experience of transcending sounds, it is considered also a sound that unifies man with the paramatma.” Can’t put it in better words. A layman can make out what classical is all about or get clear picture about its components from this dissection on Karnatic.

So is Hindustani more refined than Karnatic. May be. It could be the difference between the sweetish bhasha Hindi and the tongue twister called Thamizh.

The technicality of the raga, kriya/laya/tala is fascinating to layman like me. Thanks for this explanation. I think the quality of my understanding of music can get better with this. Raga not to be bottled up in any one context representing a particular emotion? This is tough. Because I always associated Todi, Mukhari to despair and despondency and meloncholy thanks to our T Rajender !! But classical is definitely an emotion. No two opinions on that. The chapter on classical is too good even if its too technical.

Classical is abstract. I find this abstract thing always a curious thing that I can’t figure out. True of abstract form of art (oil on canvas) as well. Without deep thinking, I just imbibe the honeyed melody and move on. To me personally carnatic is…. peace? harmony? calming? soothing? balm? divine?

The author has laid specific emphasis on the state of the Isai Vellala community which gave the finest classical art forms of Bharat Natyam dance and Karnatic music to Thamizh Nadu, India. He does have a valid point here. I must say that from the community which is now engaged with economic emancipation via university education, we can expect a flowback into Karnatic as socially forward generations will have more time and resources to take up art once again among them. And this time, they shall command respect and attention.

The author’s take on the concert scene is also realistic. Let us hope things will change for the better in future.

The book is too technical in places and a bit rambling (!) but all is well that ends well! With TMK the prose is matchless and authentic and inspiring and motivating and even enquiring! He opens up avenues of my mind that hitherto remained closed to introspection. Intense and heavy, saturated with dense inside information, this print is a collection of previously published articles of the author in media, with or without edits.

I am leaving out the political discussions here AS WELL AS THE CONTROVERSIES as our author is known for his penchant for mischiefs. This post in winding! Many stalwarts will be reviewing this gem of a book of his. Still I thought I must also review it hahaha whether the author likes it or not!

I will close with this personal note to the author: Even the intention can go a long way when it comes to a good deed which may or may not materialize. To borrow from Paul Coelho, ‘when you want something , all the universe conspires in helping with you to achieve it!’ Best of luck, but do not forget the Indian wild elephant and the temple elephant.


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