I am a great believer in human talent irrespective of community, region, race or religion. As someone who has repeatedly proved that Carnatic is not the sole property of any one community or even one country through pioneering projects like Rural Music Education and Melharmony, I find it hard to condone malicious misrepresentations or exaggerated half-truths of social divides, communal disharmony or racism in the Carnatic field, despite my utmost personal goodwill towards my co-artistes.
It is surprising that some segments of the society have lapped up this plethora of ‘fake-news’ hastily, sacrificing both depth and diligence. The blunt truth is that there is far more harmony, unity and goodwill in the Carnatic world than most other spheres of our society. This is a field based on artistic merit and audience response. No artiste can come up or go down beyond a point due to extra-musical factors.
As a person deeply invested in social equilibrium (my music camp for 31,000 rural children across Tamil Nadu in 2006 proved that even core Carnatic ragas like Sahana are accessible to any normal child), I believe that true heroes are those with a positive Action-Talk (ideally at least 75:25) Ratio over time. It is nothing short of a cultural crime to drag things deliberately out of context for the sake of personal publicity inciting hate, divisiveness and mutual suspicion among people even if wins support from the covertly, overtly or inertly negative or garner a handful of awards (which of course lose credibility thereafter).
The accusation that Carnatic creates ‘rifts between insiders and outsiders’ sacrifices harmony and equilibrium at the altar of self-aggrandisement. There are no insiders and outsiders in true art and Carnatic has touched millions of people from all communities over centuries and in turn, been enriched by thousands of them. That said, things can always improve and I have composed and tuned specially for rural children and been lobbying with the Government to provide structured learning opportunities to them.
One finds it incredulous to read declarations like “M S Subbulakshmi’s life was a tragedy” because of communal crisis in the Carnatic world, based on nothing more than paltry 100thhand information. I have known MS amma and family since she graciously hosted a reception in my honour after my maiden public appearance as a prodigy at age 2, in 1969. I have spent considerable time with her and there was a time when she even wanted to adopt me! She did not distance herself from the devadasi community and transform herself into a Brahmin lady for the wrong reasons.
Insiders know that she had differences of opinions with certain family members and sought a partner who could provide her stability and solidity. After marrying Mr Sadashivam, she made appropriate adjustments that millions of people interested in enduring marriages make all the time. This is purely her personal business. To posthumously manipulate her personal decisions and call them as calculated career moves to prove communal disharmony is the very height of deplorable irony, given that she unified communities and countries through culture more than any other Carnatic icon.
MSS never had to be defensive about her devadasi background, which produced legends including Veena Dhanammal, my guru T Brinda, T Balasaraswati and a number of others, who commanded respect, based purely on merit, from both artistes and audiences of every community including brahmins. Some of the greatest icons trained under devadasi musicians. The field today owes immensely to these preservers of our tradition.
MSS herself learnt several masterpieces from Brindamma even after marriage. She performed at Brinda’s 80th birthday celebrations and I still recall the warmth she shared with my guru as well as with DKP and MLV. I can never forget the fact that Brindamma treated me with no less warmth than her closest family members. None of them dwelt on social divides simply because the art was by and large far too positive. Anyone who witnessed all these first-hand for decades will have zero-tolerance for falsehoods spread retrospectively under the garb of social analysis or reform.
If there is another statement that is even more absurd than this, it is about MSS’ skin-colour! The accusation of racism among Carnatic listeners is another unforgivable untruth. Even a rank outsider can see in a few minutes that 1000s of ‘fair-skinned’ brahmin ladies and gentlemen have been consigned to obscurity, if they didn’t possess ability. On the other hand, we have had scores of dark-skinned super-stars in the field too! To suggest that skin-colour had to play a role in the success of a super-talent like MSS is blatant blasphemy.
Changes in MSS’ style in her early versus later phase are no social studies either are nothing more than the evolution of a thinking artiste over time, who was influenced by the likes of Brindamma and Semmangudi. Any social drama over an artistic inevitability can only be categorised as self-serving ‘schematricks’.
The author Chitravina N. Ravikiran is a musician, composer and guru who manages his website www.ravikiranmusic.com