TM Krishna is a man of many talents. He’s a Carnatic music vocalist, activist, columnist, and author. His most recent book is Sebastian and Sons, which explores the history of the Dalit makers of mridangam, a percussion instrument used in Carnatic music. He won the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2016 for “his forceful commitment as artist and advocate to art’s power to heal India’s deep social divisions, breaking barriers of caste and class to unleash what music has to offer not just for some but for all”.
He sits down with Mehraj D Lone to talk about his book, the ugliness of caste discrimination that underpins the beauty of art, how the Brahmin culture has come to dictate what art means in this country, and the role of art in the political moment we live in.
Given that high art is defined by the cultural elite, which in turn is a product of power, does art have any intrinsic value? “Words such as classical music, folk music need to be thrown into the Bay of Bengal,” Krishna replies. He argues that the qualities we assume distinguish classical music exist in many other forms of art that aren’t necessarily called classical. He emphasizes that art is a power structure.
Yet, he sings, Krishna adds, “because I truly believe that beyond all this there is something that art offers. The only reason I am asking these questions is that I think there’s the possibility that occasionally, through the experience of art, which is theatre or literature, or music, momentarily we become slightly better human beings.”
Speaking about the communal violence in Delhi, and the role of art in such troubled times, Krishna says, “I think one of the things in this country that we have ignored is that change is not a political thing. It is a cultural thing which is why art becomes very important.”
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