Armed with a leather bound notebook, TM Krishna enthralled an overflowing audience at the third UR Ananthamurthy memorial lecture at Suchitra Film Society on Sunday.
The lecture, delivered in the form of a letter to Ananthamurthy, flowed with a rhythm that made it sound like poetry. He tackled complex ideas of purity, solitude, privilege and rituals without any friction.
He began by saying that as much as he, who was recently booked for anti-CAA protests in Chennai, is tempted to speak about the CAA and NRC, he will resist. “There are larger questions to be asked, so that we don’t come back to the same position in a few years,”
Speaking on ‘Samskara’, he explained our convoluted understanding of purity with the example of the mridangam. “The instrument, revered by Brahmin players and kept in their puja rooms, is made by Dalit Christians and other marginalised sections using cow and buffalo skin,” he said. He questioned when and where the impurity of the slaughterhouse is shed to allow men, who don’t even carry leather slippers into the puja room, place the instrument there with pride.
He said that we must remain rooted in questioning and distil the dichotomies of such concepts, while also understanding our privileges.
He also didn’t spare modern liberals from criticism. “We look at ourselves as the preservers of the idea of India while championing only rational thinking,” he said, adding that “creating a narrative that is condescending of rituals and religion can be dangerous”.
“When we celebrate bhakti poetry as a part of the caste battle, we must not forget the immense devotion and belief it was written with,” he said, dismissing the celebration of only the ‘protest’ aspect of art.
“I know it’s contentious for me to say as a Savarna, but we must acknowledge the deep religiosity and faith of Dalits and not just see them as removed from religion as a whole,” he said while on the topic of devotion.
He concluded the lecture by saying that this is the time that we must be out on the streets asking questions. “To those saying that there are many ways to protest, I agree, but now is the time to do it on the streets. It is the only way to keep our country alive.” He punctuated this conclusion with a rendition of a song by Rabindranath Tagore.
At the end of the lecture, there was a question-and-answer session. When someone asked him whether his background plays a role in what he questions and the kind of backlash he receives, he said he gets away with his questioning because he is an upper-caste English speaking man and it is important to acknowledge that. He added that the so-called difficulties he faces are nothing compared to what others have to go through.
One of the questions also lead to a critique of the current schooling system in the country. He said that the education system is structured in such a way that, if you map it, you can clearly see the divisions of caste and class. “We need a complete reimagining of what we know as diversity and interconnectivity, through reform in the education system,” he added.
He said that the preamble should’ve been, and still must be, presented in the form of song and plays and performed everyday. “We have failed to change the fabric of our culture to reflect a real sense of diversity.”
When asked about entering politics, he said with a sly smile, “Never say no to anything.”
The programme concluded with another song by Tagore, the national anthem. The auditorium stood together and sang with pride.
Afterwards, when he was asked about the omission of the Northeastern states from the anthem he has no qualms about saying that it was an oversight on the part of Tagore and even if it is symbolic we must change the anthem to include them.