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Rediff.com  » News » 'How can any human being be alive and not be an activist?'

'How can any human being be alive and not be an activist?'

Last updated on: November 22, 2018 21:04 IST

To be alive is to be an artist, legendary Carnatic singer T M Krishna tells the Tata LitFest in Mumbai.
Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com presents videos and photographs of the artist in action.

TM Krishna, celebrated Carnatic vocalist, author and activist. Photograph: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

IMAGE: T M Krishna, singer and author, has a degree in economics and lectures at educational institutions on a regular basis. Photograph: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

T M Krishna, celebrated Carnatic vocalist, author and activist, might have had difficulty finding a venue for a concert in Delhi recently.

But Mumbai welcomed the artiste with open arms, offering the vast 1,010-seat Tata Theatre at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, as the venue from where he could perform his magic on Friday, November 16, as part of the Tata LitFest.

While the Indian Right may look askance at Krishna, that the audience didn't share its worldview was evident from the number of encore requests that went up.

 
 
WATCH: T M Krishna speak: "There can be no art without empathy." Video: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

From the same stage he also gave a talk on Art and Activism to a large, receptive and sometimes cheering room, a few hours before the concert.

T M Krishna, celebrated Carnatic vocalist performing at the NCPA, Mumbai. Photograph: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

IMAGE: Krishna has performed all over the world. Photograph: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

Chennai-born Thodur Madabusi Krishna, 42, began singing at age 12, and has interests that spill over much beyond the cultural realm.

He advocates for tribals, against the caste system, for communal harmony, for religious restructuring and the environment.

His causes in turn flow back into his music -- which has the purists clearly ranged against him.

 
WATCH: T M Krishna sings Pag Ghungroo at the NCPA, Mumbai. Video: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

In Reshaping Art, his book published by Aleph this year, the Magsaysay Awardee ponders the way art is performed and popularised while, side by side, examining class, caste and gender and its links with democracy and culture.

Krishna was scheduled to perform at the Nehru Park, New Delhi, over the November 17-18 weekend as part of the SPIC-MACAY festival, but the sponsors, the Airports Authority of India, pulled out last minute, calling for a 'postponement', apparently under pressure from right-wing trolls who went into overdrive on learning that Krishna would also sing Muslim and Christian devotional songs during his performance.

T M Krishna, celebrated Carnatic vocalist, author and activist. Photograph: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

IMAGE: T M Krishna was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2016 for 'his forceful commitment as artist and advocate to art's power to heal India's deep social divisions'.
Also awarded the Magsaysay Award the same year as Krishna was Bezwada Wilson, another Indian hero. Photograph Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

Krishna said he was accused of being pro-Christian, pro-conversion and an "urban Naxal". On Twitter, accusations were apparently levelled that public money was being used to allow an 'anti-Indian' to perform and ministers in the Narendra Damodardas Modi government were tagged on the posts.

T M Krishna, celebrated Carnatic vocalist, author and activist. Photograph: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

IMAGE: T M Krishna signs an autograph. Photograph: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

Krishna did have a concert, attended, news reports said, by thousands, in New Delhi, after his performance in Mumbai, at a venue organised swiftly by the Arvind Kejriwal government.

 
WATCH: Poromboke Paadal sung by T M Krishna at the NCPA, Mumbai. Video: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

In his talk at the NCPA Krishna delved into the ephemeral nature of art: "One of the problems with understanding art is that art is simplified to being something that is pretty, something that is beautiful, something that you attach value to... Art is no accident, art is a human endeavour, it is beautiful human endeavour and the question is, why did humanity think of that endeavour?"

T M Krishna, celebrated Carnatic vocalist performing at the NCPA, Mumbai. Photograph: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

IMAGE: T M Krishna performs to a packed house at the NCPA, Mumbai. Photograph: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

On activism, he said: "Being alive, being aware, being responsive, being empathetic is being an activist. I don't understand how any human being can be alive and not be an activist."

 
WATCH: "To be alive is to be an artist," says T M Krishna. Video: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

Hitesh Harisinghani / Rediff.com