T M Krishna: The Cacophonous Posterboy of the Radical Left
And so, according to news reports last week, it appears that Thodur Madabusi Krishna has struck yet again with yet another attack against the musical legend, the dear departed, venerable M S Subbulakshmi. I could say that the key question that one needs to ask is this: what ails T M Krishna? But I’d be slightly erroneous in asking this question because T M Krishna is himself an ailment.
Let me elaborate.
To those who have followed T M Krishna’s musical career for a while, it’s clear that while this career’s metamorphosis has been on expected lines, it has reached its logical end. A wealthy, well-connected and talented Classical musician who has today morphed into a posterboy and mouthpiece of the nation-wrecking, rogue, Radical Left-Liberal ecosystem.
Over the past decade or so, his reverse Darwinism from being a practitioner of one of the most sublime and evolved forms of music into an unabashed, crass political propagandist has been as swift as it has been soulless. Especially over the last five or six years, he has converted the sacred podium of Classical Music into a pedestal for spewing said propaganda than providing joy for the Rasikas. Unsurprisingly, the stench of Leftist ideology jars the true Rasika’s ears even when he performs an Alapanam today.
The Ideological Iyengar
It appears that there’s nothing under the sun that T M Krishna doesn’t have an opinion on. From detecting the Great Insight that “power that flows from the backseat of a car” to “concluding” that the festival of Raksha Bandhan discriminates against women to writing commentaries about the functioning of the Lok Sabha and then advocating for the human rights of Jihadi Saints like Ajmal Kasab, this ideological Iyengar has scaled all the peaks, plumbed all the depths. His Ajmal Kasab piece is both illustrative and symptomatic of the lamentably condemnable mentality of a garden-variety specimen of a section of the Musical Mamas of Madras. Sample this:
When I saw the image of the smiling public prosecutor holding what looked like a file or a book with the cover picture of Kasab and a noose, I was quite taken aback by the happiness on his face. On May 6 I realised that this was the universal feeling all over the country. People were actually dancing and celebrating the declaration of death.
If I hadn’t already revealed that this was written by T M Krishna, you would’ve correctly concluded that this pile of textual rubbish would’ve been written by the likes of Sitaram Yechury, Arundhati Roy or similar bleeding-heart liberal hypocrites. Because it’s typical of them to celebrate terrorists, to pile court petitions urging the taxpayer to feed them biryani in prison, etc. Equally, therefore, the deserved hanging of Kasab becomes “the death of a humane society” in their words. Except that these are T M Krishna’s words.
And the instances I’ve quoted so far are a tiny fraction of the entire corpus of T M Krishna’s pearls of wisdom archived fittingly in the Red Vaults of The Hindu, the Communist paper run by deracinated Madras Iyengars. At one time, the pages of The Hindu were adorned by fine writing flowing from the pens of such luminaries as D V Gundappa. And today, T M Krishna seems to have become a sort of ideological furniture in this paper.
Small wonder that T M Krishna’s writings are much sought after by every Far Left rag including The Wire, Scroll etc. Because one of the chief strains that’s concomitant with the ideology he proudly espouses happens to be the unremitting and relentless bashing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP, the RSS, the VHP and every organisation and person sympathetic to Hindu causes. And he makes no bones about his hostility against them. Here’s what he writes, mourning the murder of the Naxal-sympathiser Gauri Lankesh:
It is well known that I am no supporter of Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad or their affiliates, but right now this is not just political distaste. I hold them morally responsible for permeating religious, intellectual and cultural hate in this country…let me say this out loud, the BJP and company have not only poisoned the minds of their own supporters, they have achieved a larger goal. They have made the rest of us crass and inhuman to the extent that we are unable to empathise when an RSS member is killed. [Emphasis added]
His own words.
The Journey from a Musician to a Left Ideologue
It’s thus imperative that we need to trace in brief the journey of how he got here.
One can begin anywhere but in the interests of space, we can peg his rise to Leftist stardom to the launch of T M Krishna’s book titled A Southern Music at the hands of Communist China-Addict Amartya Sen in December 2013 who gave a clarion call to “make classical music accessible to the masses.”
In a manner of speaking, that set the tone.
Ever since, the constant refrain of T M Krishna has been to “take Carnatic Classical Music to the Dalits, to the slums,” and his pet theme, to “de-Brahminize it” whatever that means. If classical music is “Brahminical,” every Brahmin should’ve been a classical musician, right at the foetal stage. Equally, if a non-Brahmin attains mastery in classical music, will this “Brahminical music” say to him/her, “I refuse to emanate from the mouth of non-Brahmins?” But then since when have Leftist ideologues been known to make logical sense? As history is witness, the galaxy of Carnatic Classical Music has been decorated with innumerable non-Brahmin stalwarts since for example, the time of Purandara Dasa, widely revered as the Pitamaha of Carnatic Classical Music.
But such questions only skim the surface of the hypocrisy of the kind of discourse that T M Krishna propagates. Why for example, doesn’t he ask that Hindustani Classical Music be “de-Brahminized?” After all, there are any number of Brahmin musicians there as well. But T M Krishna answering that question is akin to touching a live wire: because there are plenty of Muslim Hindustani Classical Musicians, and that is one lobby no Leftist eminence wants to piss off. As an accomplished Classical Musician, I’m sure T M Krishna knows fully well that the distinction of Bharatiya Music as Hindustani and Carnatic is artificial yet he touts this “de-Brahminizing” sleight of hand as some sort of the need-of-the-hour or whatever.
In reality, there’s a deeper ideological ploy underlying said “de-Brahminization.”
The Caravan Hitjob Against M S Subbulakshmi
Fortunately, T M Krishna has himself revealed this ploy in full technicolour detail in his October 2015 cover story in the Johnny-come-lately Leftist magazine, Caravan. Pompously titled M S Understood, this long form essay can be charitably, politely described as a vicious hitjob against one of the greatest Carnatic Musicians of our time, the rightly-revered M S Subbulakshmi. This is not the place to dissect his hitjob but a few things are in order.
The first thing that stares at you is his cowardice. What are the chances that T M Krishna would’ve written this had M S Subbulakshmi been still alive? He’s able to get away with such repeated hitjobs against her simply because she’s now a soft target.
The second obvious element is the practised technique and tactic of the Leftist narrative. Take an eminent, revered personality, pry into their private life, rely on hearsay and “private conversation” that the reader has no way to verify, and conclude that, “you know, they weren’t so great after all.” One only needs to look at how effectively this slander tactic was applied by the same Leftist cabal to truly honest scholars and historians which devastated their careers and lives.
The third and indeed, the very aadhara-shruti (base note) of T M Krishna’s textual assault against a dead musical eminence who has no way of rebutting him is this: his naked Brahmin-bashing, yet another prime weapon in the arsenal of the Leftists. This indeed is why T M Krishna repeatedly stresses on M S Subbulakshmi’s origins as a Devadasi who became “Brahminised” to gain “social acceptance.” This disgusting approach shows two things: one, that although T M Krishna has learned Classical Music, he never imbibed the Samskara that it brings, which adds effulgence to its performer; two, by invoking her origins, this great Musical Messiah of the Masses has actually slandered the “low classes” he claims to liberate with his music.
The fourth and the final element, or rather the defining tenor of T M Krishna’s hitjob, when you strip it of all its fluff is the fact that it follows the standard Leftist template. Name the catch phrases of Leftists, and you find them in his hitjob: oppressive patriarchy, feminism, free-spirited women, ugly Brahminical superiority, upper caste privilege, and the rest. Or how patriarchy and marriage killed M S Subbulakshmi’s music and its soul.
Here are some nuggets from the hitjob:
“GNB’s love for MS has been underplayed, thanks to the latent patriarchy of Mylapore”
“The free-spirited young woman was to become the embodiment of the ideal Brahmin housewife, seen among the elite as the epitome of purity and devotion.”
“The story is unsubstantiated, but even concocted tales can reveal something of the inner workings of the environment that produced them.”
It’s quite rich that T M Krishna should be dissing the same “latent patriarchy of Myalpore” and the selfsame “Mylaporean conformity.” In many ways, he is among the landed gentry of Mylapore, being the grand nephew of India’s former Finance Minister and industrialist, T T Krishnamachari who was also one of the founding members of the Madras Music Academy. The kind of clout that T M Krishna enjoys in this circuit is anybody’s guess.
One fails to understand what is at the root of the Left’s incurable fascination with people’s romantic, sexual or love lives. The bigger the icon or greater the public respect for a person, the stronger is the Left’s obsession to dig up something, anything that borders on the salacious and blow it out of proportion and bring that person down. And of course, it’s convenient to give self-proclaimed disclaimers that concocted tales are valid as proof. This then is the precisely the problem with the Leftist sappers and miners of human frailties: they simply can’t accept that such a thing as purity and devotion and duty for its own sake can even exist.
While it’s all well and dandy for T M Krishna to rely on conjecture and hearsay and make convenient interpretations about M S Subbulakshmi and assess her contribution to Classical Music to suit his narrative, what about his own record as a Carnatic Classical performer? I’ll quote John Dryden’s verses by way of contrasting her musical contribution with his.
Nor let false friends seduce thy mind to fame, By arrogating [Ben] Jonson’s hostile name…
Thou art my blood, where Jonson has no part; What share have we in Nature or in Art?
Where did his wit on learning fix a brand, And rail at arts he did not understand?…
Where sold he bargains, whip-stitch, kiss my arse, Promis’d a play and dwindled to a farce?…
But so transfus’d as oil on waters flow, His always floats above, thine sinks below.
In passing, this is a good and detailed deconstruction of T M Krishna’s hitjob.
The Magsaysay Award and its Aftermath
While T M Krishna’s hitjob in the Caravan invited a maelstrom of outrage, it also raised his stature in the Left-Liberal stratosphere of ideological delusion. His busy-ness as its propagandist grew more frenetic. Sure enough, a Magsaysay Award followed in 2016 for his efforts at promoting “social inclusiveness in culture.” This award drew widespread condemnation as well, with culture and music aficionados like Jataayu and Jeyamohan writing stinging reproofs calling out T M Krishna’s credentials as a “pop sociologist.”
But more fundamentally, Carnatic Classical Music was one bastion the Left could never break into despite their toughest efforts. In one of his interviews, Padmashri Dr S L Bhyrappa had stated that unlike literature which has been nearly monopolised by the Left-Liberal clique, Classical Music largely remained intact because, “what [Communist] revolution can you bring about by singing an Alaapanam in say, the Todi or Bhairavi Ragam?” But then, Dr. Bhyrappa had perhaps not foreseen or bargained for the revolutionary genius of T M Krishna.
And so, in T M Krishna, the Left-Liberal circuit now has a wealthy and well-connected tool that they can use to peddle the same dangerous agenda that led Stalin and Mao and others to commit genocide on an industrial scale. Or the societal breakdown that came out in full force during the Hillary Clinton campaign trail. As the history of the last century has shown, there are any number of rich industrialists, businessmen, corporates etc whom the Left can exploit by crafting a narrative based on compassion and feelings than on facts. Or to borrow from Christopher Hitchens, the Left preys on “the rich world [which] has a poor conscience.” A recognition doled out by the likes of Amartya Sen & co is still much sought-after, still counts in many circles. The Left has indeed caught the pulse of how some innate psychological impulses work.
In any case, it’s not that T M Krishna is being singled out for unfair criticism. There have been numerous musicians, artists, and poets throughout history who have praised their kings and patrons and espoused their causes. Even independent India has its share of such artists who have curried favour with politicians and businessmen but it would be really hard-pressed to find classical musicians donning the garb of and vociferously dedicating themselves to a destructive and nation-wrecking ideology like Leftism — whatever be the reason or motivation. This is the fundamental and chief distinction between them and T M Krishna. Indeed, it appears as if T M Krishna’s current full-time occupation is the dissemination of Leftist ideology, and not music.
And it is this that explains his frequent tirades against M S Subbulakshmi, his chosen target of relentless attacks. But this time around, it seems that he has been paid back in the same coin from the same Classical Music fraternity which has given him so much, and which he has repaid with brazen ingratitude.
MS Amma is on the pedestal that she is today because she went through the ardous journey overcoming many an obstacle and focusing purely on her music…She and her music are much above any form of debates and discussions as MS Amma transcends any lineage or ‘origin’. She was not just an icon. She was a consummate musician. Analysing her personal choices or her journey through the prevailing ethos of her time nearly a century later is both unjust and wrought with present day biases. Future generations should talk of her music. The point on upper class hegemony is overdone…When the focus is just music and the Almighty, nothing else matters and even if Amma were to be alive today, she would only remain unperturbed.
Indeed, Sudha Raghunathan, who wrote the aforementioned lines must be commended for taking on his overt Brahmin-bashing. Her Samskara shows in her reference to M S Subbulakshmi as “Amma,” Mother. That then is the difference: while T M Krishna’s jaundiced eyes can detect only M S Subbulakshmi’s love affairs, Sudha Raghunathan sees something far nobler in her that transcends all these: Yadbhaavam tadbhavati.
Of course, one can be certain that none of this will deter T M Krishna, who’ll find some or the other Leftist “cause” at the altar of which he will continue to offer his music. One such recent “cause” was the much-publicised Chennai Poromboke Paadal to which he lent his voice. While this campaign was flagged off and publicised ostensibly to raise awareness about environmental damage around the Ennore Creek, one also suspects a deeper agenda when you hear names like Perumal Murugan associated with it.
In the end, whatever the drawbacks of M S Subbulakshmi, her Bhakti was genuine both towards Ishwara and Classical Music, and conducted herself with refined grace and dignity.
And so, before T M Krishna tries to embark on another round of Subbulakshmi-bashing, it will behoove of him to look up the other meaning of the word, “Poromboke” and see where he stands in relation to that. Or the meaning of the word, “Samskara.”