Talking Covid, Dissent, Wokeness, & Cancel Culture with TM Krishna

Classical singer TM Krishna discusses dissent, democracy, PM Modi, and dangers of the guru-shishya parampara. 

3 min read

VIDEO EDITOR: Shubham Khurana

Thodur Madabusi Krishna, a Carnatic music vocalist, is popularly known as TM Krishna or TMK. Getting increasing political in his practice of music and in the larger social space, TM Krishna is out with his new book with a title that instantaneously transports one to the era of Enlightenment in Europe.

In this exclusive video interview with The Quint, TM Krishna discusses everything from covid deaths to the importance of asking the right questions; from cancel culture to the guru-shishya parampara of Indian classical music.

The Book and TM Krishna’s Politics

The Spirit Of Enquiry: Notes of Dissent, your new book has an extremely loaded philosophical title.

The title comes from where I grew up. At home and in school questioning was naturally encouraged. We learnt even how to ask questions. Framing the right question is very important.

Are you trying to make a political statement?

It is utterly political, cannot not be political. Today we are forced to miss asking questions. Today, the establishment has triviliased the questions, trivialised people asking questions. They have labelled them anti-national, pseudo-secular and what not, the labels just keep growing. It is an uncomfortable period in our democracy when holding people responsible seen as anti-national.

Questioning is a creative act. So, when you stop people from asking questions, creative spirit of people gets stifled. The government makes it seem everything is fine. Dead bodies are floating in the river but “Don’t ask any questions”. The number of people dying from COVID-19 is not being counted deaths...oh, it’s just a clerical error. Humanity is lost when questions are not asked.

Or when wrong questions are asked?

Yes, wrong questions are asked either because one’s blinded by certain imagery or when one wants to shut out truthful questions, honest questions.


Dangers of Traditional Way of Perceiving Classical Indian Music

In India the classical music space is seen with reverence. The teacher-student relationship is almost like the deity-devotee relationship. Isn’t this space more unequal?

You have nailed it. The Guru-Shishya parampara needs a complete shake-up, if not dismantling. Things we treasure about it shall still exist if relationship is honest, healthy and equal. Sharing and caring happens not just in India. It’s not unique to us. There are stories of mentorship that are scattered across the globe.

The way we treat classical space as ‘divine’ needs rehashing. It’s a form of music, that’s it. Power dynamic here is more powerful than elsewhere. As a teacher I know it how dangerous it is.

What have you done to change it?

I, initially, imitated my teacher. He was a lovely person but the power dynamic was intact. I changed over time. My students and I are friends. Our classrooms are full of arguments. My students have shouted at me over disagreements. Blind spots need light shown on them and we need an environment for it, which is absent today.

Is it because of the change of political regime, or is it because of something inherent to us?

To believe that it happened only six years ago is nonsensical. It’s us, the people. Democracy goes against people’s fundamental urge to capture and control power. But not much work was done towards it. Who cares for ideals written in a book? We are a feudal, casteist, misogynistic and patriarchal society. We haven’t nurtured the culture of ethical living. Whenever it has happened it’s happened only by accident through some clusters and some individuals. A political party has opportunistically used all of this, polarised us further and magnified the impact.


On ‘Wokeness’ and Cancel Culture

Are you woke?

That depends on the person asking this question. If you believe I am woke, I am not going to convince you otherwise. If you don’t, it’s fine, too. And if you are suspicious, please be so. Please watch me for sometime and then decide.

You don’t fear being cancelled?

No, I don’t. I can be cancelled in any direction anyway. I don’t believe in cancel culture. Everything should be argued about and up for criticism. I critiqued my older essay in my new book Tomorrow I could disagree with what I write today. That’s best I can do to remain honest. So, cancel me, if you want!

This makes you a hero but others hypocrites. Why?

Some people supported PM Modi seven years ago and have changed now. I disagreed with them even then. But a change of opinion should be allowed to happen. I wouldn’t cancel but welcome them. We should accept change.

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