IKs examine TMK’s latest offering of Hinduphobic atrocity literature. This is Part 2. Read Part 1 here.
…. With TMK, there seems to be no clarity of thought on whether the focus is on the “dishonesty” of the brahmin mridangist who wants to revere the cow and at the same time has no qualms killing it for its hide, or on the marginalized and neglected mridangam maker who is a dalit / christian / dalit christian. What is the Southern Hinduphobe trying to establish , one wonders.
By trying to tie up two disparate thoughts, does he want to say that brahmins consume beef or that they used to ill-treat those who did? It makes for dramatic reading, especially for a population that is very sensitive on issues of the cow but even a faint strand of logic is absent.
How many non-vegetarians actually butcher the animal they eat? Is it necessary that both have to be the same? Let’s examine the case of the person carving up the beef and the eventual consumer of beef curry. Does the consumer praise the chef who prepared the curry or the butcher who cut it up? Eating or consuming the final product be it beef curry or cow hide is not the same as being the producer. It’s always the end user who consumes, who is more visible. If TMK had not worn his caste oppression lens, he might have seen basic ordinary supply chain behaviour at play in the Mani Iyer case and would not have painted it as a case of oppression and untouchability. Besides as the mridangam maestro’s grandson amply informs us, “Mani Iyer presented the family of Fernandes with a golden cross one Christmas; and even bore his medical expenses when he fell seriously ill…”.
There are probably innumerable instances where the Karnatic music ecosystem fraternity has supported the community members, but as TMK is fact-inoculated they do not fit his brahmin-phobic agenda. Mridangam is not the only instrument used in the Karnatic music community.There are at least a dozen more. A dozen more ecosystems of instrument makers and supply chains. The narrative of brahminical influenced cow slaughter is a legitimate trope, which must have been approved with glee by his handlers. A trope very important in the context of the contemporary Breaking India narratives. Also, as indicated previously, the need to deflect public opinion, and attention from “halal” certified cattle slaughter is paramount.
TMK has chosen to print his book using paper which is not an environmentally conscious thing to do especially for someone who positions himself to be a green champion. If he was as concerned, why did he choose to print his book, then have a release ceremony to which the wealthy and well heeled are invited, who come in their posh cars (causing more pollution through their carbon emissions). Why did he not consent to having only an ebook? Why a wasteful printed book? And why an elaborate release function? After all, a champion of climate change should do away with this ostentation.
This is the genre of argument that TMK’s entire book is based on. An argument that is as silly and absurd as saying that someone is a hypocrite because s/he chooses not to eat the animal whose skin is used to make her/his musical instrument.
Videshi Theories abound
In an interview given to Huffington Post TMK says:
“How does the maker translate that abstraction to a tangible sound? Over a period of time, the maker does indeed find a way to attain the perfection that the artist seeks. This is not a mind-reading game, but a matter of discovering the artist’s emotional nature, the texture of his fingers, the strength of his strokes, playing style and his inherent musicality.”
“…And for their troubles, they earn unfortunate epithets: drunks, untrustworthy, labourers who must be kept in their place.”
It is a well known thing that artists often patronize only one artisan. The reason for this loyalty can be easily viewed in positive terms rather than a negative one. For instance, a car buyer who is loyal to the brand, say Toyota, will continue to buy a Toyota because he trusts the brand and has a relationship with the brand. He feels the company manufacturing the car, the showroom retailing it and the particular salesman selling it understands him well. If we want to read caste equations into this relationship it is extremely easy to do so. But it is just an arbitrary reading of caste into a relationship built on trust and brand loyalty. Similar is the case with a mridangam maker and the artist he caters to. They have a relationship much like the car salesman and the buyer. Just because the salesman understands the buyer’s needs and indeed even anticipates it in some cases, he cannot assume that he is a driver just as accomplished (or not) as the buyer. Will anyone read caste meanings into a relationship like this. But that is what TMK wishes to read into the relationship between the mridangam maker and the artist. A relationship (usually even more intimate than the one between a salesman and a loyal customer) that has stood the test of time is sought to be reframed in caste overtones apart from making an obvious erroneous assumption that a mridangam maker can play the instrument as well as the end user, the artist. The mridangam maker knows his instrument. Does he know the music that is played with the instrument? It is absurd to equate knowing the instrument to knowing the art itself. It is not to say that the two will never converge but to assume convergence of the two always is illogical to say the least.
When asked, what his reaction was when a mridangam maker questioned him (a vocalist) on why he is documenting their lives, TMK in his response says:
“Kasumani was the last one—nobody had asked me why I was writing this book. But I realised why he did. Like his son said, many people come and take photos and make a film on the making of the instrument. You’ll find several videos on YouTube, and in many, I found the maker is, as a human being, invisibilised. You really don’t know anything about the person. Their life doesn’t change because of it. And they don’t believe that it will because of this book either. So while I was surprised at the question, I understood the reason.”
As seen , TMK indeed outlines the issue very well. But the moot point is that TMK has stopped at “understanding” the reason for the question. He is silent on whether he is going to do anything to change that outlook. TMK is no better (possibly even worse) than the western anthropologist who comes to India looking for native informants. The anthropologists take copious notes, strike up friendships and collect intimate information from their informers. But what they then do with the notes does not involve the native informant.
This is borne out in the place where he says:
“But I went over every recording once again and annotated every transcription, replaced the English word with the original Tamil if I thought that was better and made notes of subtle ideas that might have been missed.” [emphasis ours]
The above words imply that TMK has applied his interpretive lens to the conversations he has had with the makers and it is most likely that the “native subjects” know nothing of it.
There is a question by the reporter which goes as follows:
“Why is it that despite being an unequal partnership, both players and makers refer to their relationship as that of ‘father and son’?”
This means that his recordings with the makers has them saying that their relationship with each other is characterized as that of a ‘father and son’ one. TMK here typically plays the role of the western anthropologist who knows better than the persons transacting in a relationship, as to what their relationship means.
TMK’s answer to the above question firmly establishes him as dishonest, patronizing and condescending towards his subjects, lecturing to them that he knows better than they do, as to what their relationships actually mean. His response reproduced below just showcases his deep seated arrogance , sense of entitlement and confidence in his own superiority vis -a- vis them, those native subjects.
“Ultimately, caste—like gender, race and colour—is about power. So these emotional tropes such as father-son, guru-shishya, husband-wife are all used as metaphors to normalise unequal and unfair relationships. When the person who is being oppressed normalises this power, it becomes so difficult to digest it.” [emphasis ours]
TMK’s “white-man’s burden” is on display here. The abrahamic saviour mentality is clearly evident in the arrogant and disdainful reply above. How dare ordinary people interpret their own relationships!
Interpretations are best left to “intellectuals” like TMK beholden to videshi theories , a viveka-free acceptance of theories emanating from marxism, subalternism, post-modernism and a host of intellectual-isms designed to ‘other’.
Here’s another question from the same interview.
“This was a very unexpected line in the book: “To my mind, at least part of this need for a larger mridangam was driven by male testosterone.”
In response TMK says:
“One of the players, Madras Kannan, said to me that previously the instrument used to fit comfortably between the hands. The verdict is still out about the relationship between the size of the mridangam and the sound, so the question is, why do you need a larger one? To me, going up to 30 inches seems driven by the need to be a hero. The increase in size definitely changed the perception of the mridangam and the instrumentalist.”
These Wendy Doniger inspired tropes, that TMK unleashes on the unsuspecting reader are absurd and outlandish. This comes from the same line of thinking which saw overbearing masculinity in the posture of Swami Vivekananda, Ganesha’s trunk likened to a limp phallus and what not. Postmodern interpretations allow for such outlandish inferences limited only by the perversion of the interpreter. Thankfully , TMK has stopped at this. It is clear that the artist Madras Kannan had only told TMK that earlier, the instrument would fit within the hands. He never held forth on testosterone or masculinity and indeed he must have talked about the relationship between the sound and size of mridangam on which according to TMK, “the verdict is still out”. So, beyond this, the extrapolation to testosterone and masculinity is deliberate and loaded with colorful intent. Also, what about the growing number of women mridangam artists? Are they also hung on testosterone!!
Featured Image Credits: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/GVyK45WmRGs/maxresdefault.jpg