“You speak to many upper class people and they will tell you, caste is not an issue in my house, we never talk about it. That’s the fundamental problem” – Francesca Recchia in conversation with T.M. Krishna

On the third episode of her Podcast, In Your Face, Francesca Recchia sits down with TM Krishna to discuss the complex relationship between art and politics in India.

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TM Krishna, is a leading vocalist in Carnatic music. The extraordinary rendition of music paired with the originality of his interpretation of it, Krishna is one of the most distinctive voices in the Carnatic tradition today. As a vocalist, he has collaborated with the Chennai Poromboke Paadal, performed with the Jogappas (transgender musicians) and co-conceptualised and performed Karnatic Kattaikuttu, a unique conversation between art forms and communities that belong to two ends of the social spectrum. In an attempt to redress the existing caste elitism from the Carnatic music system, Krishna launched his own Carnatic classical music festival, the Uroor-Olcott Kuppam Marghazi Vizha.  

Author of three books, ‘Voices Within: Carnatic Music — Passing on an Inheritance‘ (2007), ‘A Southern Music — The Karnatik Story’ (2013) and more recently ‘Reshaping Art‘ (2018), his writing explores the issues affecting the human condition. His books are amongst the first to study the philosophical, aesthetic and socio-political aspects of Carnatic Music.

In 2016, Krishna was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award,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 is also the recipient of the Tata Literature Award for Best First Book in the non-fiction category in 2014, the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration Award as well as the Professor V Aravindakshan Memorial Award.

Francesca Recchia: Hello, welcome to a new episode of In Your Face podcast series. My name is Francesca Recchia. And today I’m here with a very special guest. We have TM Krishna with us. Welcome to our podcast.

TM Krishna: Thank you very much for having me.

Francesca Recchia: I think TM Krishna doesn’t really need an introduction, but for those who don’t know him, he is a Carnatic vocalist, a writer, an author and a social activist.

Your work is quite unique and absolutely remarkable, for you can combine a kind of scholastic adherence to the canons of Carnatic music and yet you challenge every possible convention. Can you tell us a bit about how your unique style came about.

TM Krishna: Well I must say that the TM Krishna you’re talking to today is definitely not the TM Krishna you would have spoken to say about fifteen, eighteen, twenty years ago. There’s a very different person.

I grew up in a family of business people, actually. But Carnatic music was very much part of the household listening and my mother used to sing and learn music and I learned music like many upper caste Brahman children in southern India, especially Tamil Nadu. Or Karnataka for that matter or Kerala for that matter learn Carnatic music. and I started performing at a very young age. And this was something I loved, was very passionate about, But I really did not think much about the structures that went into making this form, both in aesthetic terms and in political and social terms.Though my household was not a household where anything was taboo discussion. Many of these subjects did not really come up for discussion at my home and I started performing concerts and I was considered a young star and blah blah blah. As they say, things happened, I started becoming popular, singing in concerts, traveling the world, cutting albums. All this, Everything was fine. So what happened to me was kind of unusual because I didn’t really get involved in the politics of art directly. What first intrigued me was the history of the musical form. There were a series of things that happened that made me wonder about its history, its sounding. what I was very interested in was how did it sound two hundred years, and this led me to a project with a colleague of mine, Sri Ram Kumar, who is a violinist and scholar musician, said, okay there is this (inaudible) called Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarsini. It’s a (inaudible) written in nineteenth, early twentieth century, by a pretty great musicologist by name Subbarama Dikshitar. And it’s probably the first time that Carnatic music, Indian, so-called classical music, I’d like call it that was actually notated in a descriptive form. I suppose we created notations in a recording, how will it sound.

So basically wondering where the music that was about a hundred and fifty years old would sound similar to what we consider incredible music today. As I plunged into the project, it became very difficult because when we tried to recreate that music it sounded so alien. So many things we took for granted as beauty, as something that we cherish as the epitome of the art form. I mean the core of this form was missing. In fact there was a disconnection, aesthetically sometimes I just couldn’t connect with the music that I was singing. And this then further plunged me into this question of, OK what is tradition? What are we carrying forward?

Is it just time bound? is it is contextual to who you are, where you belong, your culture, your people and it only works for a certain period of time and it changes after that. And is there truly something tradition? This is a fundamental question especially for somebody practising an art form that we constantly tout is two thousand years old. As you would know most things in the east anyway here it has to be a minimum of 200 years old to be even respected. If it’s 200 years old it’s its modernity and we have this great conflict about these two words. with tradition and modernity, and whether they are in conflict at all is something that we never explore but we believe that one in some way hurts the other or limits the other discourse.

Anyway, I started then (inaudible).  I’m no scholar, I’m just a dabbler. And so I took the help of scholars and started reading old (inaudible), understanding where these Ragas came from. How did they probably sound and what is this history we talk about. finally the further I started doing that, I was also reading about people. What we forget many times I think is we can’t just read about content. When I say content I mean abstract technical forms. Because the abstract technical forms exist in the hands of humanity. Otherwise they do not exist. They are imagined by humanity. They’re destroyed by humanity, manipulated by humanity and they disappear because of human beings. and very soon I realized that I may be just studying a Raga, but I’m actually understanding people. I’m trying to understand, why did this note in that Raga change over 300 years. Which meant who was handling it, which also meant why did some people handle it. Why did some people stop handling it. Now these questions suddenly started cropping up and I was surprised that these questions that anybody else,  and I never actually dealt with these questions of gender and caste with any seriousness and that is very normal for a very privileged upper class person because you know you speak to many upper class people and they will tell you, oh caste is not an issue in my house, we never talk about it. That’s the fundamental problem. You don’t need to talk about it right. It’s like race. A white person need not discuss the issues of race in their house because you’re at the top of the ladder, it doesn’t matter to you.

And similarly in an Indian context, an upper class person of Brahmin household, how will the Catholic, how a liberal, how inquiring it may be, rarely discuss caste. Because it’s just not in our purview. It’s just not our horizon. It has never affected us. Whereas, if you go to the household of a Dalit, caste is an everyday conversation. It may not be said but it is there living and hurting everyday. So I have never dealt with this word caste honestly. It was just something I read in textbooks in my school and soon I was grappling with these issues that I was very uncomfortable with, that’s the truth. I didn’t believe there was a problem. Like most people from my cultural background. Then I realized the problems multitude, problems were everywhere and I think my explanation did something, it converged, collapsed the aesthetic world and the socio-political world. I realized that you can’t have them independence, they live together. So my first changes that happened to me as a human being manifested themselves in the sound of the music that I sang. I started exploring questions of what compositions are sung, what compositions are not sung. What is the centrality of this art form. And this led to a very fundamental musical question. I’m keeping aside the indirect socio-political aspects, is what is the core of something you practice.

Is there a core. Is there something pure, I mean, truly treasurable about this art form that is not tainted by the ugliness of the social political scene.

This was the question and this was the question that was scary, and I do believe even today that in the experience of the sound there is something transcendent. There is something (inaudible) but I think that the profound and the transcendence that happens when there is greater awareness of the ugliness and the distance that is built around every one of these profundities. And I think that’s the interrelationship of the ugly and the beautiful an inability to separate the two actually. That the realization of that is where I think art or living itself lives to a large extent. So that’s how my work started then expanding into asking questions that were just not about Carnatic music. It was about its practice, about who sang it. Of course it’s about the politics in it. There is the politics of art. Then it became the politics of society and I guess I’m giving you in a nutshell. I’ve tried to compress what happened.

 Listen to: The fine balance between representing conflict and preserving a sense of humanity – Francesca Recchia in conversation with Lorenzo Tugnoli

Francesca Recchia: Thank you. This brings me to, I mean, you addressed it but I would like you to expand on it. So I would like to know whether you think that art is even possible when at the core, as you said, is a very deep inequality and a profound division in terms of who can actually access it.

TM Krishna: That’s you know, that’s the complexity, there’s complexity of the question. There is no correct answer, there is no black and white answer to that at all. And I think that is what living is about to a large extent. Can there be a profound experience when it’s exclusive is the question you’re asking. You know I think, let me put it this way, even in the discriminating nature of any art, I think every art form is discriminating in some form or the other. That’s how we are as human beings. That’s a constant battle. But what I’m trying to say is when there is truly a profound experience in art, what is that experience is the question (inaudible) from that angle.

And I think what that experience is in the awareness of the inequality in what you’re practicing. It’s a kind of a very paradoxical situation because when you experience the profundity in whatever art form is what it opens you to is the fact that what you’re doing is not pure. What is experiencing is not other-worldy, what you’re experiencing is an opening through a window to see your own ugliness, to see your own discriminating nature. If you, if you look at it from this angle then the paradox exists together, inseparable. So that’s why it’s not possible for me to answer your question by saying  no it’s not possible. So if I say no it’s not possible you’re basically saying utopia is where it’s possible in which case a profound experience is just impossible in reality which doesn’t make sense to me. if I say no it is profound and pure, experience in a way is negating the reality of the ugliness. So both those ends of the spectrum and in this yes-no debate are problematic. And my own experience as an artist tells me that the profundity is acute awareness, the profundity is an acknowledgement that profundity is the complexity, grappling, the muddle, the inability to come to conclusive answers and the fact that the moment you’re engage you’re going to fall and make mistakes.

I think that’s the profundity and I think art does give us without doubt. But the problem is, there is a problem there, let me put that also. The problem is first is how receptive to that are we as human beings question one, two, how much to be like to cleanse even that experience and make it this pure, divine or otherworldly kind of thing that’s detached from reality, this is what we do. We are either not receptive enough to see that it’s a mirror, profundity is a mirror, it’s a reflection. Or we’re so scared of the reflection, we don’t want to see the ugliness. We say, no no no, that’s not what it is. It is pure sanctify and it is this something you know that is disconnected to the temporality of our living. It’s disconnected to the tangible, which is utter rubbish. These are the pitfalls of profundity. These are the pitfalls of the (inaudible). If it is a word that many use in art very often which I have resisted using it or whatever (inaudible)  said and that word is spiritual. And it’s been a conscious decision of mine never to use that word because if I said the experience is spiritual, that’s a process of cleansing the experience, that’s a process of detaching it from reality and that is when the problems of how we deal with these experiences are, and this need to be art. This happens to us when we take a beautiful walk by the sea.

It happens to us and there is nothing so pure about it. There is something so acutely aware about it. think one of the problems is as human beings we always want to defend something, we always want to protect somebody.

The problem with art, if it is received openly and offered openly also, and its constructed that sensibility is it’s very disturbing. It can demolish everything you believe. It can make you challenge the fundamental notions which you’ve lived and you don’t want that to happen. And unfortunately because of that most are across the globe is a pleasurable superficial and I think that’s also true. I know my answer is complex and probably does not give an answer. But that’s also true.

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Francesca Recchia: It’s really fascinating. So what I want to ask the following on this is whether you know this paradox that you’re pointing to and the fact that there is this if you like creative impurity is also what trigger your decision to bring music out of its traditional context. Being with the work that you’re doing in schools or the festivals that you’re organizing or you know you help promoting in contexts and situations that are not canonical.

TM Krishna:Yeah I mean that’s that was the starting point, but I must say that that also needs to be questioned and I question it myself is yes my starting point was what are the different traps that I am stuck in not the musical form I am stuck in as a practitioner. And it was it was content it was in structure. It was in the performance canon. It was also in space, in the place where it is performing. Who will listen to it who cannot access it. So these are these multiple aspects that I felt needed subversion.

So the subversion for me started as a practitioner. I did not change spaces for people. I started changing content and form and what can I sing about, how should I sing it. Where does it play, what does it say if I change the way it sounds, all these explorations began. And it also extended like you said to where it’s performed. All of this was to challenge to idea of purity and divinity and exclusiveness. And I think this is a problem of the classical arts of course. And I want to go back to that word classical I think.

I personally think it’s actually a word that’s a discriminator word as much as we have a problem with the words which point to ethnicity or point to caste, we should have a problem with aesthetically discriminating words too. Because they are hideouts for the true discrimination that happens among people. And one of the words that is a hideout is classical which is used actually to discriminate people or practitioners or communities or geographical locations. And therefore I think folk and classical are two of these words that need to be actually removed from the aesthetic discourse entirely. Now going back to what you said. That’s how it started. I was exploring trying to see what happens if you disturb every one of these so-called canons of art form. Then you very soon realize that I realized, that’s because of all the colleagues I worked with and we have these rich conversations is that this cannot be about Carnatic music. This is not a new project where I’m trying to make everybody love this art form. Make everybody says this is a beautiful art form, because that is fundamentally a casteist notion. It’s fundamentally a classist notion, and then you realize that this is about a conversation amongst people, between, within, beyond people and which means that this has to be a conversation of multiple cultures. This has to be a conversation of contestation.

This also has to be a conversation of disregard. This has to be a conversation of discarding. So it’s not about Carnatic music or classical music it’s about cultural diversity morality and allowing every one of them to innovate come in contact with each other. They don’t have to have a pleasant experience. They don’t have to like it, but just come in contact, because when I say they come in contact I’m saying people come in contact. The truth is as human beings we all live in clusters of societal comfort and societal comfort comes from ethnic, race, caste, gender divisionality. And if you can use the various cultures of these various groups to bring people together and do kind of a rub shoulders then what happens to conversation. Otherwise, most conversations we have are really transactional. We don’t have more than one transactional conversation with the larger society. You go to a shop you buy something the person selling maybe through a different social group than you, you may have to speak two pleasantries with the person but that’s not a relationship. So how can you build relationships is what I think fundamentally, is how can you build relationships through culture and art. So very soon I realized that it’s about expanding everything. It’s not expanding only the classical or the Carnatic environment. It’s about expanding environments. (Inaudible) and allowing yourself to drench yourself in various cultures and see what happens. Then it is not easy, it’s not simple.

It’s not always successful. What are we supposed to mean. But you have to constantly be added and keep trying to find these different ways to negotiate these different problems that you want to face. And that’s what it is. It’s about allowing cultures to contest  and people meet, people speak, try to create entry points into each other’s lives. And I think that’s that’s the direction I think I’m taking. And if you mean it’s not just about curating festivals or school taking art schools et cetera, there are two collaborations that we do and that also is about the very same thing one is the collaboration with a transgender community called the Jogappas, they live in border regions of the state callled Karnataka and a state called Maharashtra. And we do this collaboration, we have been collaborating with their Music and Carnatic music for about two years and that collaboration is exactly that. It’s about creating a conversation and more recently my wife, Sangeeta Sivakumar, and myself have been collaborating with another art form called (inaudible) belonging fundamentally originally to the Dalit community in certain areas of Tamil Nadu. And we’ve created a performance structure called the Carnatic (inaudible) and that again explores that space of conversation and sound movement and storytelling again. What conversations do these lead to.

What kind of aesthetic awareness do these lead to. I just want to add one thing that a lot of perception is also based on our idea of beauty. We don’t realize that violence emanates from our idea of beauty. That’s something we don’t connect. It’s because it’s an ideal of what is- and I’m using beauty as a slightly larger experiencial thing because it’s not just about something in the eyes. It’s about something that comes into me that, that makes me feel elated. And that’s beauty. So in a way the ocean is also beauty, in a way belief systems are beauty, because beauty is fundamentally a support structure to who I am and what I believe is the way to do things. And therefore if you address beauty and if you can in a way problematise beauty in our experience then a lot of the violence may actually be addressed in a very very different fashion, because, for example you go to the back streets near my home why do people feel- most people feel that those living there are roudies, are people who are gangsters or people who are going to be raping and killing and taking money away, these are stereotypes, right?This happens across the world. Now where does this come from? Just step back a little bit. Forget the social political direct connotations. He’s got to walk on the street (inaudible) when I walk on the street and look at those individuals they don’t look beautiful, they’re not attractive somehow they’re physical-ness tells me they’re dangerous, they’re dirty.

Now these are all perceptions of what? lot of what I find beautiful. If you can problematise that and use the various cultures of these various communities- and the inverse is also true. When somebody put back streets sees me walking there, they see either an oppressor, they could see somebody was trying to exploit something, take land away, which is probably true and happening every day in their lives. But that is also it’s associated with how I look, how I walk, the arrogance of my body language because I feel I own everything and I’m at the top of the ladder of social hierarchy.

All of this gives them a perception of who I am. If you can address this. How do I address,is using the art and the culture that each of these communities celebrate.

And in a way invert these inner feelings of beauty, maybe violence can be addressed slightly differently.

Francesca Recchia:Following up on this when you’ve written about these things in the past. One thing that really touched me is the fact that you are profoundly aware of obviously the power dynamics that are at play when you know people from different communities and different as you say steps of the social ladder interact and how fine is the line between exploitation and collaboration, and how it’s all the personal engagement and personal questioning is necessary for that desire to collaborate not to turn into the possibility of exploitation.

TM Krishna: Yeah that’s I think the biggest pitfall especially when people of of social privilege get involved in this conversation. There is no easy answer to this. It’s always a danger because the fact of the matter is I have to be constantly aware that I’m having this conversation with you also because of my social privilege, very simple. Everything I do gets attention, gets noticed or even combated because of my social privilege and therefore how does one create collaborations? How does it make sure that collaboration doesn’t become like you said exploitation and it happened so fast and I’ve seen it happen in many times and I can tell you that the people doing it are not necessarily thinking of it as exploitative. I’m not going to accuse anybody of ulterior motives. It just suddenly becomes a spectacle, a spectacle of performance and I think one example I could use is of Manganiars who are incredible musicians from Rajasthan from across the globe. It’s turned them. I mean yes it’s got some families the money, but it’s not social status. It’s not changed the realities and their religion. But it’s a spectacle and they take it all over the world. Some of them are collaborating with classical so-called classical musicians but it’s a spectacle.

It’s a showpiece and even worse, sometimes it is a way of the socially privileged to prove that they’re so Catholic, to prove to through the media and to prove to the rest of the world that we are so inclusive. Another word that needs explanation. So you know these things can turn into these very very dangerous exploitative models of any (inaudible). So I think if you’re what you have to be constantly watchful of yourself and I don’t think this has as it restrictive nature. No, I think the watchfulness makes your collaboration more sensitive which means you have to be from the word go on how such a collaboration is developed or how these conversations are happening. The fact that there was this disagreement in the evolution of the concept, that there is no sanitization of anything. I think one very important thing to keep in mind especially in aesthetic collaboration between art, ones that belong to uneven sections of society is that there has to be contestation, it all need not work out creaselesly.

There have to be creases. There have to be places where it just doesn’t go together. And you have to let that play. I think that’s one of the things I have learned aesthetically that I am conscious of that it doesn’t have to fit like hand-in-glove. We are always desperate to show that humanity is one. No, we should be desperate to show that we are not one. And I’m saying this is a very very different context than than what it’s usually used when I say you have to celebrate not diversity, we have to celebrate contestation. There’s a huge, there’s  a sea of difference between the two. If you celebrate the contestation then there is a different kind of an acknowledgement of each other. There’s a combative-ness about it that tightens the relationship, you know, let’s reduce this to something very very simple and personal. Look at our friendships and look at our closest relationships- they’re combative, our closest relationship are not hunky dory.

They are not about, “oh who you’re so wonderful and I’m so wonderful let’s hug and kiss.” No. Our closest relations are combative, there is a constant fight, this constant disagreement. That’s because there’s equality. Equality comes in this ability to fight each other.

So aesthetically you’ll have to also keep that in mind in collaborations. That it has to be combative. You have to create a context for the combativeness. You’d keep context for that tightness. For the fact that each of us might be pulling in different directions but it holds both of us together. If we can keep this in mind I’m not saying it’s always going to work. I’m not saying it’s perfect. I’m not saying I’m right. If we can keep this in mind then I think it’s so positive that people will believe.

I mean there are people who criticize me saying that I’m doing exactly what I’m saying you should not do. In a way just using the caste discourse to uplift myself in the social hierarchy and therefore upper guys have no role in this conversation. It’s like saying white people have no role in the African-American struggle. And that’s where that extreme position I disagree. It’s not possible to move ahead in social discourse unless everybody participates in some fashion.

Let me make a mistake. Please point the mistake out and tell me I am full of shit, please  say it’s wrong. Please chastise me, but if I, if we all don’t involve ourselves in this spirit of holding ourselves together in disagreement then I don’t think we can move forward. We are anyway going to move forward at the speed of tortoises, but we all need to move at that pace.

Francesca Recchia:So what you talk about basically shakes all the life comforts of a whole lot of people and you’ve obviously received quite harsh criticism because you know you through your art you question the status quo and the existing social order in many ways. A lot of the debate in India at this point happens on a fine line that confuses the sense with hate speech and hate speech becomes the answer to every one of those contestations that you mentioned before. My question is Whether you think the impact of this hate speech can affect critical thinking and free expression.

TM Krishna:I think it already has. I think it already has in our country. the hate speech. I mean you and I call hate speech. You know many people who don’t call it hate speech. Many people call it the reaction to people who are dividing society. I’m accused of dividing society because I speak of cast. I’m accused of creating separations where they don’t exist. I’m accused of pitting communities in our homes against each other when actually they are each having according to people having their own domain at their own beats their own audiences and their own communities. So what has happened in India unfortunately is that hate speech has been legitimised as a way to rebuke, as a rebuttal to people who are engaging in the discourses of discrimination, discources of any politics. The dangerous levels to which hate speech has been taken today, I myself have been told that I’m actually, what I’m doing is not social engagement, it’s actually hate mongering. So, now the whole question is what is hate speech? We’ve unfortunately had to go back to the drawing board. It seems like a no-brainer for many but it isn’t. What is hate speech and what are disagreements and what are conversations that problematise our existence? Huge difference between the two, and we know there is a difference but  India has become of noisy drum of shouting and what hate speech does very conveniently and I’m more and more convinced that many people doing the hate speech may not see the sinisterness of it, but those who have built this environment of hate, know the sinisterness. The whole system seems to be- you create so much anger and abuse and legitimise that as being reactional to people who are engaged in these areas. You raise it to such a high decibel that you invert the whole thing on its head. And then what you do is you completely silence any voice that wants a social, political discussion. You make them the outsider, you make them the people who hate the country. You make them what people love to call now the anti-India, urban Naxal, pseudo-secular, there are too many adjectives that I’ve forgotten most of it. The moment you do that, you have then made hate-mongering as patriotic. You have made anger nationalism and that unfortunately I think has been quite successful in India. I say this with great sadness. But that is the reality today and I don’t know how we’re going to negotiate a way out of it, but we have to seriously think about it because this inversion of what it means to engage, this inversion of what it means to belong, this inversion of what it means to love and hence ask the difficult questions, and just invert the whole thing on its head, has been pretty successful, at least till now, in the subcontinent.

Francesca Recchia:After the Pulwama attacks, on the article you wrote for your scroll.in column, you asked a very poignant question that I want to ask back at you. So you ask, “What do we really want from this democracy?” and I want to ask you that on this particular, historical moment that India is leading.

TM Krishna: I know. What do I want from this democracy? Very simplistically…You know, a friend of mine sent me this email about ten days ago, wondering if this whole notion of democracy is just an intellectual bubble, he said maybe it’s just an intellectual bubble, maybe there’s no reality to it. The whole idea that, you know, multiple voices and all voices are heard and the person who belongs to, metaphorically the last denominator, in social structure, is listened to, taken care of, maybe all of this is just hocus pocus. All this is not real, this is just some utopian notion in our head and I responded saying, I disagree. What do I expect from this democracy? I expect this democracy to be in constant acknowledgement of its own inequalities. That’s all. One of the biggest problems in the discourse today is (inaudible) wiping away, cleansing- This again goes back to our initial discussion of purity. It’s not very far from there. Because the intention of Indian politics today is to go back to that sense of purity. We as a civilisation are a pure civilisation. We as people are actually- we love each other, we are equals, we take care of each other. Yes, few aberrations may exist but that can be (inaudible). So this is what? This is again going back to this idea of purity. Going back to this idea of cleanness. About being creaseless, about being error free. That is inversion, that is the complete destruction of democracy. I expect democracy to be a place where there is a constant acknowledgement that we are unequal people and I think that is what democracy allows us. Representational politics allows us. The idea of  a parliament is that, it’s that we acknowledge that we are not equal, we don’t treat people equally, and therefore we need to constantly listen to each other, look out for each other. And I think that’s what I really hope this democracy can- and also this never going to happen in its complete perfection, if at all something like that exists. It’s always going to be a work in progress, it’s always going to be. But can we constantly be people who are a work in progress? Not people who say, there is (inaudible), all this is done and dusted. There is nothing that’s done and dusted. Nothing that’s covered. So that’s what I expect from this democracy. This ability to live in the problematised people that we are. I think, you can extend this as a philosophical discussion. I think democracy is an incredibly beautiful abstraction that we have thought of. This abstraction is taken from us, it doesn’t come from anywhere, from human beings. The possibility of being politically and structurally sensitive, that’s what it is. It’s a very unusual, it’s a very fascinating thing. So, you look at these qualities of empathy and sensitivity and listening, which are all in a way very abstract notions, and try to create a socio-political-economic structure, which is very temporal and tactile, that will allow us, enable us to functionalise these qualities of human beings and I think that’s what I’m hoping for. Can we move closer to it? You know, it’s always going to be moving away from us. But let’s keep moving. But if you’re going to shut it, if you’re going to put locks on it and throw away the keys, and say no, we are in this perfect silo and anybody who says we are not perfect and constantly talks about our problems does not belong here then… I don’t believe we are in a democracy. And let’s not reduce democracy to electoral politics, this is far far larger than who wins the elections and who loses an election and if I was going to answer your question in that point of view, are we democratic as a country today? That’s a very very difficult question to answer. I don’t have an easy answer to that.

Francesca Recchia: So, one last question. When we discussed the potential of art, we discussed about this paradoxical space, where we basically embrace impurity. And now you’re saying that democracy is the acknowledgement of a constant work-in-progress to recognise inequalities and work towards the acceptance that things are in flux. So, what comes to my mind is the fact that possibly art in whatever physical manifestation it may take, is one of the privileged spaces where the thinking of democracy can happen.

TM Krishna: Yes, and I in fact believe that democracy and art in their idealism are very close to each other, and are very connected. I do agree with you that it’s one of those spaces where democracy could happen. But then again art doesn’t exist in thin air, it exists amongst us, between us. So, again, you have to work more spaces. You have to work the spaces which is beyond art to influence the art structures to respond to the inequalities. You have to work within art to influence the structures beyond art to acknowledge their inequalities and discriminative nature. But art is a possibility, a channel, a kind of a pathway to create a certain awareness to at least temporarily create a phase of being open, a phase of form of realisation that is (inaudible). But for that you need- it’s not going to happen by itself. Art is not an accident, democracy is not an accident. Art is a willed human act. Democracy is a willed human act. Therefore, art is not going to do it by itself. Unless the artist engages politically with the art. Unless the artist engages socially with the art. And not just go ta-ra-ra-ra with the sound and saying it’s so gorgeous, no. You have to engage politically and socially with the art. And that’s from everything. That’s from its socio-political structure to its very sound, I have to engage with the sound of music as being a political (inaudible). I have to engage with the fact that I find a sound in Carnatic music beautiful as being political. The fact that I find it beautiful is political not just an aesthetic aspect. So, we have to engage with it consciously, and if we can do that, then I do believe that it is a pathway. it’s a slow pathway, it’s not going to be magically happening tomorrow morning. But slowpaths of actually enabling a democratic procedure, it is a pathway. But for this pathway to happen, you also need democratic structure that is willing to allow it to happen. If you have a dictatorial structure that says this cannot happen, then you’ll probably kill all artists and put them in jail and make sure this process doesn’t happen. Though, it is kind of a hand-in-glove relationship that needs to be built.

Francesca Recchia: So, basically the end of it is that we really do not have any escape from our responsibility as citizens.

TM Krishna: Absolutely, that’s the fundamental thing. We cannot escape our responsibility as citizens. We cannot escape our responsibility as human beings. You know, I think one of the biggest problems is this word ‘sympathy’. I think sympathy is as problematic as violence. Because sympathy allows you to not move beyond your own comfort zone. Empathy is not that. Empathy means you have to remove yourself from where you are. And I think there’s no point being sympathetic to situations. There’s no point feeling bad for somebody. It’s important for you to move away, move beyond where you are seated. Which means, engage as citizens, engage as human beings, and so therefore to me charity and sympathy are as violent as violence itself.

Francesca Recchia: Thank you so much, you gave us so much food for thought. Thank you.

TM Krishn: Thank you very much.

 Podcast and transcription edited by Zoor Barooah. 

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