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In Re­shap­ing Art, just re­leased, Kr­ishna fur­ther probes artis­tic bar­ri­ers and hi­er­ar­chies. He com­pares the safe spa­ces in which priv­i­leged artists per­form with the ob­scu­rity of art from op­pressed com­mu­ni­ties, of­ten a caste obli­ga­tion or an ob­ject of cu­rios­ity. Ex­changes have been lim­ited and do noth­ing to al­ter the own­er­ship struc­ture of cul­ture, he writes. For that art to be heard and truly shared, we must all be taught how to lis­ten, through doc­u­men­ta­tion and sup­port­ing in­sti­tu­tions orig­i­nat­ing from the com­mu­ni­ties them­selves. The book is ar­tic­u­late and bold and, like most of his writ­ing, re­li­ably lib­eral. In a pre-launch in­ter­view with Latha Anan­thara­man, he dis­cusses how he came to these ideas.

You write that you were a star by 2002, and then be­gan to look for some­thing more in your art. Where did you be­gin to turn in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion?

It is dif­fi­cult to find those mark­ers and say when what hap­pened. The first thing that changed was that I be­came more aware of how I was singing. What it means to share art be­came a se­ri­ous ques­tion to me. What am I shar­ing? What am I of­fer­ing as a mu­si­cian? What is the need for it? What is the tex­ture of that need? Who needs it? Why do they need it? Are there some who need it who are not get­ting it? It was not so­ci­o­log­i­cal or po­lit­i­cal but very much an aes­thetic move. It came from a mu­si­cal per­spec­tive. My win­dow to life is mu­sic. I’m a singer.

You write about art, in­fra­struc­ture, lit­er­a­ture, sec­u­lar­ism, power and poverty. Did you get to the point where you could no longer com­part­men­talise these is­sues?

I have never been able to com­part­men­talise. For me, one thing un­folds into another. There is pol­i­tics in mu­sic, aes­thet­ics in pol­i­tics.

At the Kup­pam Vizha [cul­tural fes­ti­val held in the Urur Ol­cott fish­ing vil­lage], where you are shar­ing art, or when en­gag­ing with artists of var­i­ous art forms, how do you keep from be­ing the most vis­i­ble and vo­cal mu­si­cian by virtue of your celebrity?

That is the big­gest strug­gle. You’re con­stantly con­scious. It’s a huge chal­lenge. I do not have an an­swer to this. We take as much care as pos­si­ble to keep it as even as pos­si­ble, to try to knock off that priv­i­lege. I take two steps for­ward to en­gage with the other artists, then two steps back—it’s a bit of a dance. But that’s not a rea­son not to do any­thing. We all need to go through our own process of in­tro­spec­tion. I’m go­ing to ac­cept this crit­i­cism, watch for it. Yes, [my] priv­i­lege gets in the way. Still, some­thing beau­ti­ful also hap­pens.

You write that the “fake so­cio-cul­tural rep­re­sen­ta­tion” of our cul­tural fests “must be an­ni­hi­lated”. Do you feel such fes­ti­vals do not progress to ac­tual par­ity or progress too slowly?

Sani­tised cul­tural fes­ti­vals lead to no new con­ver­sa­tion. Fun­da­men­tally, un­less you politi­cise the is­sue, the con­ver­sa­tion will never go for­ward. When you hold such pro­grammes, you’ve al­ready de­cided that ev­ery­thing is fine. When you politi­cise, you say there is a prob­lem. How are we go­ing to cu­rate it dif­fer­ently? The proof of that [to­kenism] lies in the way we treat the artists. They are paid dif­fer­ently. They are treated dif­fer­ently.

You write that “a so­ci­ety where art is al­lowed to just be re­mains thought­ful”. What do you mean by thought­ful?

By thought­ful I mean sen­si­tive, awake to ev­ery­thing that is hap­pen­ing, aware... Our senses are acutely alert while singing, at­ten­tive to ev­ery atom of sound. I don’t like to say I get lost in the mu­sic. I am awake in the mu­sic. If you de­tach your­self from ev­ery­thing, that is not art. You need to be com­pletely con­nected, in a self­less state. Art cre­ates an en­vi­ron­ment for that non-self­ish state.

Can this be­ing awake lead to another golden age of Car­natic mu­sic?

Well, what do you mean by a golden age? What was the golden age? For some of us it was the For­ties. For those artists it was some pre­vi­ous time. The con­text has changed. What we treat as knowl­edge and what we treat as in­for­ma­tion is dif­fer­ent. We can’t go back in time. We have to recog­nise the ad­van­tages to break­ing the bub­ble and en­gag­ing in in­ter-cul­tural, in­ter-com­mu­nity con­ver­sa­tions. The days I have a con­cert are the peace­ful ones. My days are oth­er­wise crazily packed be­cause I have my hands in a lot of things. I’ve never been a slog at prac­tis­ing. Never been that ev­ery­day type. Many years ago, I used to prac­tise eight hours a day. Still, I find time to do it. Even in the car on the way to the air­port, in my head I’m singing.

How do you prac­tise your art? What is your day like?

RE­SHAP­ING ART by T.M. Kr­ishna ALEPH BOOK COM­PANY `300; 128 pages

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