Song ethereal

With the slangy Poromboke, T M Krishna has turned Carnatic music on its head.

I watched T M Krishna’s enchanting music video Poromboke for the umpteenth time with a librarian who works in a school that follows the values of J Krishnamurthy. The same which taught this singer “not to be afraid.” This video confirms it.

It is a powerful plea to save the endangered Ennore creek on the Tamil Nadu coastline from the ravages of progress. It also exposes the chicanery of people in high places. Politicians, builders and land sharks who encroach on precious land and water spaces. Graphic details of suffocating fumes and toxic waste form the backdrop to a song which passionately cries out in protest.

But what has all this got to do with a musician trained by no less a mentor than that patriarch of Carnatic music, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer? This is where the JK idealism comes in. Krishna lent his voice for a cause. And in doing so, he has risked antagonising the rich and the powerful. By singing a seemingly bawdy song in slangy Tamil, he has also done something astonishing. He has turned Carnatic music on its head.

A music which, for generations, was associated with the spiritual works of a Thyagaraja or Annamacharya, is rendered with the same passion and emotional depth to describe pollution. What more, he succeeds in raising it to the level of great art. Who would imagine that an exquisite raga like Anandabhairavi could visualise ugly concrete structures?

Krishna has accomplished the impossible here. He has used a topical subject for his music. He and his accompanists are wearing masks to drive home the message. They are not in a conventional sabha singing to an elite audience. They are seated on solitary rocks surrounded by a vast expanse of endangered water and barren land. It is a picture of desolation. But the musician invests in his presentation the best of musical traditions. By singing in a true Carnatic style ragamalika — replete with alapana and kalpanaswaras — he has revealed that music does not get diluted no matter what the subject. It does not have to be Rama or Vitthala. It can be ugly structures ruining the skyline or toxic wastes suffocating a city.

Poromboke may shock traditionalists who are used to compositions praising gods and goddesses. Did not bhakthas like Purandhara Dasa or Narayana Theertha compose music as a result of their religious fervour? This artist proves that heavenly music can exist otherwise, too. It reminds me of Mozart’s opera Abduction from the Seraglio which has music that is sublime, although the theme describes a brothel. Mozart flouted all the rules of the game simply to create music that would never die. His own apology for his masterpiece — “I am a vulgar man, but I assure you my music is not!” — tells all.

Touch-me-not purists may think that Poromboke is cheap and vulgar in its coarse language and common swear words. But the ragamalika, rendered in the midst of all that grime and waste, is sheer magic that leaves the listener mesmerised. It validates Krishna’s doctrine: “Music is the window through which I see everything.”

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