Thursday, December 18, 2014

Artist's creativity vs Audience expectation - T.M. Krishna

Art forms flourish based on the creativity of the artistes. If the creative endeavors of artistes are too closely trammeled, it could end up stultifying the art itself - since any creative endeavor needs an atmosphere that welcomes change to flourish. The obverse of this is the fact that art flourishes only when it communicates to a large audience for all art is, inherently, a mode of communication. People, though, are normally averse to change and, thus, any change attempted by the artiste is bound to face opposition.

Thus, any art flourishes as an exquisite balancing act - one that allows creative freedom to the artiste while simultaneously meeting audience expectations. This, in effect, means that the creative freedom of the artiste shall, by and large, lie in pushing the boundaries rather than in a wholesale redrawing of the boundaries. When the boundaries are sought to be redrawn, the endeavor is always fraught with tension and the risk of failure is high.

One of the foremost Carnatic musicians of the age - T.M. Krishna - is currently in the process of trying to redraw the boundaries of the way Carnatic music is performed on stage. His points relating to the attitude towards women vocalists and to the treatment of instruments like the Nadaswaram. Points well taken and needing some change.

My brush with T.M. Krishna's unorthodoxy, though, comes as a ignorant rasika of the oeuvre. I cannot really say that the freedom for the artiste to cut short a concert to half the scheduled time appealed to me. One does understand, and recognize, that an artiste may not always be inclined to practice his art. A painter or writer, for example, can take a break and get back to it when he feels he can give his best. When it comes to performances on stage, though, there is a problem. The least of audience expectations that a performer needs to meet is the time for which the performance is held. People do choose where they spend their time and, if you make them rue their choice by not meeting even a basic expectation, you are doing no service to the art. This, in his defense, I need to say happened last year.

T.M. Krishna has gained an reputation for setting the entire concert procedure on its head. The regular expectations of how the concert would start, when the smaller length Kritis would be sung, when and how the Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi would be sung and what would be sung to tail off the concert - nothing is predictable in a Krishna concert these days. The one thing that seems almost certain these days is that he will NOT adhere to the regular modus operandi. But for that, the theme seems to be to expect the unexpected.

Creation changes and evolves by someone breaking the tradition. The current modus operandi was also an innovation in its time and, probably, much reviled then. The changes now being wrought by T.M. Krishna could well be the harbinger of another change. The only problem is that any audience needs SOMETHING to expect. It may not be the existing modus operandi but there needs to be a Krishna modus operandi, at least. There is no point in saying that the audience need have no expectation but to hear good music - what constitutes good music OR a good concert is always a matter of taste.

Creativity is not merely an exhibition of chaos. It is judicious use of chaos to upset and improve the existing order. If there is no order that the audience can pin itself to, then the change that Krishna brings shall work only for a genius like Krishna but will fail in the intent of bringing any lasting change to the Carnatic landscape. It is only when other and, dare I say, lesser musicians are also able to do what Krishna does, and still attract an audience, can the change become lasting.

Human beings still do not readily adapt to change. How much more hide-bound will both the organizers and rasikas of what calls itself a traditional system of music be? The only way to really change a traditional system is to bring in a new 'tradition'!

The irony is that a creator fighting for creative freedom can only succeed when he himself sets up a new pattern that sets a discipline - and not a sing-as-you-please system - for others to follow. Failing which, he shall remain merely an eccentric one-off experimenter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Admetus and Alcestis - Guest post for The Fool

One of the lesser known facts about me is that I mainlined on myths of various origins throughout my youth. In addition to Indian myth, Graeco-Roman myth, Celtic Myth, Nordic myth, Germanic myth - I had read them all. The Iliad, the Odyssey, The Aeneid, Metamorphoses, The tale of Beowulf, the Nordic sagas - you name it, I had read it. Some of them stuck in my mind, some memories need refreshing.

The Fool has a blog dedicated to Myth, Science Fiction and Fantasy. Currently, he is running a series of fiction written based on myth. This tale of 'Admetus and Alcestis' is my guest post on his blog for that series.

I need to warn you - it is NOT a humorous retelling and it is a slightly long tale. I hope you enjoy it, nevertheless.

The tale can be read here - Admetus and Alcestis

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tales from the Mahabharat - GP for Alka Narula

As people who know me know, every now and I then I dust off my saffron robes, sit in the Padmasan and start pontificating on the wisdom of the sages of yore. It is true that I do it even without any active encouragement but, if I can find someone who encourages me, my enthusiasm is boundless.

Alka Narula is my major source of encouragement in this area. This time, I have written a guest post for her - a lesser known tale from the Mahabharat (known only to people like me who delve in detail into the epics OR people who patiently sat through all of Ramanand Sagar's serials based on epics.)

The tale of the Rishi Uttang is a surprising exposition of what our epics really had to say about caste discrimination. You can read it here - The Tale of Uttang Rishi

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I am determined

There is a whole world of knowledge out there of which I am blissfully ignorant but I thought I knew my words at least. Even that consolation has suffered a few blows in the past, as followers of these chronicles know, and it suffered yet another blow recently.

I had always prided myself on the determination with which I pursue a life of watching TV and reading books and, now, someone tells me that I cannot call it determination. What the heck? I decided, as usual, to take recourse to my wise friend on this matter.

The problem, though, with my friend is that he never ever sides me.

"So, WHY can't I call it determination, damn it?"

"THAT is mere self-indulgence. What is so great about doing it?"

"What is so great about eating bottles, if you like eating them? Those guys tout their determination to eat the most bottles on TV and no-one objects."

"Well - they provide entertainment. What is the use of what you are doing to anyone except you?"

"Well - if people want to come and get entertained by watching me read books, am I stopping them? Just because they do not choose to do it, you question my determination?"

"Come on! Do not be fixated on just the fringe. There are lot of other examples of people pursuing worthwhile ambitions and not merely indulging themselves."

"Like who? You? Your pursuit of your ambition to become the CEO of your company is determination? Like you are not doing it because you want a bigger car, a huge house, business class travel and foreign vacations in five star hotels. AND what is all that if not self-indulgence?"

"Forget what I do with the money I earn. Concentrate on what I do to earn it. The social purpose I serve"

"Hmm! Really? I cannot see that the existence on one less soft drink in the world - or even all soft drinks - is such a huge loss to Society."

"Ah! You are incorrigible. Why am I arguing with you? IF Society chooses to pay money for your doing something, then what you are doing has social purpose and a pursuit of that is determination. Otherwise, it is not."

NOW - I got it. If I get paid to do anything, I am doing something worthwhile, even if what I am doing is spamming people with porn-site links. If I am not paid, then it is not.

I am NOW determined to pursue a life of reading books and watching TV, till they become socially relevant!