Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Gopalkrishna Gandhi

Keynote address at Sruti awards function
80th Birth Anniversary of N Pattabhi Raman, 30th year of Sruti, Chennai, October 20, 2012
Sruti is 30.
It reads like it could be a hundred. It has the freshness of that which is young and the mellowness of that which has known ageing. It is a shoot, a twig born with a respect-inspiring coat of an agate’s moss or grey-green lichen. It is a panchaloha icon fresh from the casting fires at Swamimalai but with a patina already filming it. It is a new image, just printed, just minted but with a natural sepia giving it the distinction of age.
Of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, it used to be said, he was born old.

Likewise, of Rajaji that he must have attended school already equipped with a walking stick and dark glasses.
Those remarks were not, nor is mine about Sruti, meant to be ageist; they are just so.

Some are born wise, their minds developed beyond their brains.

And they become wiser and wiser.
Sri N Pattabhi Raman came into this world eighty years ago with the seed-pearl of musical appreciation already firm and growing in the oyster-clasp of his brain. In today’s lingua technologica we might  say Pattabhi Raman was born with a fully loaded microchip embedded in his mind. Loaded not with the raga-s of Carnatic music, not with musical phrases nor textual ones but with the striations of musical encounters already pre-drawn and waiting for Time to but ink them. And so in a sense, Sruti was born with him.

We are celebrating Sruti30 in Pattabhi80 and all of Pattabhi80 in Sruti’s 30.

We are celebrating the fluxion of concept and design, imagination and accomplishment. We are celebrating an idea in its progression from seed to a canopied tree in one organic continuum.

Sruti will therefore remain fresh even when it turns , chronologically, 80 and  100.
It will also, let us not forget, continue to be regarded as a very Senior Citizen of the world of journals though it is far from that condition. Sruti is therefore young and old, fresh and ancient, its veins gnarled, its blood new.
It has the dilemma of being young and sounding old, being new and seeming ancient. It wants to be neither, of course. It wants to be fair and objective if also frank and forthright.  But when have those lofty aims been reciprocated with understanding? Sruti’s comments can and will be taken by senior vidvan-s as cavilling, by yet-to-be-senior vidvan-s as carping. It can and will be  thought of as presumptuous by the old, patronizing by the young. Its comments, if appreciative can and will be thought of as being uncritical, if critical as being ungenerous. Its evaluations if not all-praise can and will be seen as catching at small faults  (carp) or as making trifling objections (cavil).
And it will always be obliged to, expected to, asked to balance between vocal musicians and instrumental musicians, between the main artist and the accompanying artist, between Carnatic and Hindustani music and – why not –  between Indian and western music, between the art and the craft of music, between the users and the makers of musical instruments, between music and dance, theory and practice, rasa and rasika, why, between rasika and rasika, the true rasika and the philistine, the expert and the dilettante, the serious and the superficial, the digger and the dabbler, the knower and the pretender, the self-effacing svara-palakas-s of Carnatic music and its  self-esteeming  dvara-palaka-s.
Sruti will want to be true to itself and false to none, but it can and will run the risk of having to defend itself and offend many. The ‘many’ include not just practicing artists but practicing connoisseurs as well, each of whom has clear preferences, predispositions, even prejudices. And yet Sruti cannot be in the business of being all things to everyone. It has a mandate and that is to hear and see with discernment and reflect that judiciously though not judgmentally.  Felicitously, its chosen niche is not some random corner formed by the accidental coming together of walls but a recognized recess, a grotto, if you like, on a great flank of aesthetics, with a well-defined grammar, syntax and vocabulary of its own. Sruti therefore works in a glyptography in which the channels and flutings, each mark, is carefully sculpted or carved. Sruti in other words does not work in a vacuum. It works out of a code, allowing for the subjectivisms of individual appreciation and the autonomy of individual anubhavam.  In Sruti’s discriminating readership lies Sruti’s greatest strength. ‘Iti sruteh’ or ‘Iti srutih’ (‘So says a sacred text’) is how the journal’s comments are taken by its readers.
All this requires Sruti, especially in a major anniversary year, to re-evaluate its identity, ask of itself what Ramana Maharishi proposed to persistent querists – ‘Naan yaar?’ Am I a journal to be read under a library desk’s lamp or a magazine of  thirty-two highly readable sheets double-stapled neatly at the infold to be  savoured after a meal, mukhete tambulam ?
Am I meant for research or for recreation ? Am I a critical review or a kutcheri guide ? Am I impossible to pick up or impossible to put down? Impossible to preserve or impossible to throw away ?

Am I a time-pass or a keep-sake ? Am I so serious as not to manage a smile, provoke a laugh especially at myself? Am I touchy ? Am I, dare I say it, scared?
Whatever be the several answers to these, I am sure that in the name of  greater accessibility,  Sruti will never dumb-down. Let reader-discrimination climb, even heave itself up, but Sruti stay on the high perch the late N.Pattabhi Raman placed it on, K V Ramanathan kept firm on and Ram preserves on.  

Pattabhi may not have been the easiest of persons to get on with. Sruti cannot, should not, I believe, and will never be a facile publication. One should not have to get on with Sruti. One should need, value, savour Sruti. I would suggest that it considers reducing its frequency. That will release the pressure on its makers.  Sruti should live in the hour, not the minute.
For one as illiterate in classical music as I, Sruti’s discussions on a particular raga being a janya of a particular mela or not ricochet. But Sruti is not meant for the likes of me. It is meant for the kind of people that are gathered in this hall. I can see the vital importance of rarefied discussions to Sruti’s scheme,  such as those on D1 and D2 in a particular raga and composition. No journal other than Sruti that I know of, can combine so recondite a theme with so fluent a discussion on it as successfully as Sruti does. In which journal other than Sruti  can we read one of the world’s most acknowledged experts on rivers, Ramaswami Iyer, on the hits and misses of a particular rendering in Carnatic music? 
For  me, it is a joy no less than an education to read Sruti’s personality profiles, invariably triggered by an anniversary.
The issue on the late Ramnad Krishnan, recently, and the one on Vidvan Sanjay Subrahmanyan were treats, no less. I have not had the privilege of hearing Semmangudi Srinivasier speak, say, on M D Ramanathan but reading Vidvan T M Krishna’s moving tribute to Vidvan Sanjay Subrahmanyan was a marvellous experience. Only Sruti could have made that possible.
Nothing less can be expected of a journal which, in the post-Pattabhi Raman phase  has had Sri K V Ramanathan guide it and which now has the benefit of V Ramnarayan’s sensitive and energetic  editorship. Sruti is frequently about the past, the living past, for the present, the pulsating present.
But let us be aware of the fact that each issue of Sruti  time-capsules the past and the present for the future. Each issue is an archive-in-the-making.  Each issue, like Pattabhi Raman, is born senior, born wise. Each issue opens a pair of new eyes upon an old, if not ancient, sight.
At times when about the only classical legacy that survives and in fact thrives in India is its classical music along with its classical dance forms, Sruti  is a flagship journal. May it hie strong of staff and swift of sail on the shoreless seas of rasa.

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