Reverse Swing: Apaswara over a son-in-law
Imagine, a high-born, fair-skinned musician of the purest of pure and holiest of holy classical art lineage like our traditional Carnatic form, allowing her daughter to bring home an African-American mappillai (son-in-law)!
It took me fewer seconds than it takes Usain Bolt to lope through 100 metres to agree with the frothing critics of leading Carnatic vocalist Sudha Raghunathan.
No, she did not mutilate a Mayamalavagowla raga or make a Shuddha Saveri, ashuddha. Neither did she indulge in grave acts of heresy of the type equally prominent vocalists like O.S. Arun and Nithyashree Mahadevan were guilty of, by rendering and singing Christian devotionals in the Carnatic mode and even singing, god forbid, in a church. Though mercilessly trolled, the fact that they were not instantly handed a one-way ticket to some far-off Christian kingdom – like artist M. F. Husain was a decade-and-half ago – speaks volumes for the generous, tolerant nature of our ancient-most civilization.
The baying for Sudha Raghunathan’s blood, though, was certainly justified. Imagine, a high-born, fair-skinned musician of the purest of pure and holiest of holy classical art lineage like our traditional Carnatic form, allowing her daughter to bring home an African-American mappillai (son-in-law)! A sacrilege that pollutes and contaminates our sanatana society forever. The uproar has not died down and is only likely to intensify. It is as shocking as if the daughter of the melshanthi (high priest) of the Sabarimala temple, Kandarararararu Rajivararararu (I forget how many ‘ra’s to add there), were to get hitched to the son of some Maulvi from Pakistan. The Mylapore gang (close cousins of those from Khan Market) have all rights to fulminate in the intemperate language that Shakespeare bestowed Brabantio with, to rage against his daughter, the fair-skinned Desdemona, getting betrothed to the dark-skinned moor, Othello. There too the issue was racism. Listen to Brabantio:
‘To fall in love with what she fear’d to look on;
It is a judgment maim’d and most imperfect;
….Against all rules of nature’.
Of course, all of us know that the romantic idea of romance is no longer valid in contemporary India. Mainstream cinema in Hindi, Tamil, Bhojpuri, Telugu, Malayalam, Bengali, Marathi, etc. might make one believe that innocent romance is the permanent occupation of the average Indian. But, off-screen, the scenario is written by more realistic script-writers. Hindu-Muslim, avarna-savarna, Hindu-Christian, and such liaisons are increasingly frowned upon and even penalised. Religious and caste pollution markers are applied, pejorative epithets like ‘love jihad’ are flung around, and active penal and coercive measures are deployed by non-judicial, extra-constitutional agencies like khap panchayats in the North and katta panchayats in the South. The numbers of young men and women killed by these lynch mobs in recent times are staggering. And the media invests it with the clinical description of being ‘honour killings’.
In the case of musician Sudha Raghunathan, the aggression is online. Because her daughter is getting married outside her caste, community, religion, nationality and even colour, it stands to reason, I suppose, that the celebrity mother should be burnt at the stakes. It is a highly cerebral argument indeed that her daughter’s marriage to a man of colour renders all of Ms. Raghunathan’s skills, knowledge, and achievements as a musician invalid and unacceptable. Because young Malavika’s marriage to Dr. Michael Murphy violates Brahmanical ideas of caste and racial purity, her mother should no longer be allowed to perform at those sanctified shrines called sabhas. The perfectly logical argument follows that the highest honour in the Carnatic community that had been bestowed on her – the ‘Sangita Kalanidhi’ title of the Madras Music Academy – should be peremptorily withdrawn from her. So too the Padma Bhushan by the central government and the Kalaimamani by the state government.
Of course, none of this will apply if the daughter were to repent, reconsider, rescind, revoke and get married, instead, to a white male. The wheel of karma will turn and the mother’s musical virtues will once again become acceptable.
While this allergy to a son-in-law of colour is all too new within the firmament of Carnatic music, some action must also be initiated against Ms. Raghunathan for past sins. For example, should she not be disqualified entirely from singing for having trained under M.L. Vasanthakumari, who belonged to the devadasi, isai vellala community. How can a Brahmin claim to have received knowledge from someone way below on the caste ladder? On top of that MLV’s ancestors too were equally dark-skinned.
In fact, while we are at it, might it not be a bad idea to wipe out all traces of devadasi contamination from the landscape of the divine Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam dance? Isn’t it totally against all agamic laws that we should be listening to our daily dose of devotional music, like the Sri Venkatesa suprabhatam, sung by someone of near-Dalit lineage like M.S. Subbulakshmi? And all those others like her mother Madurai Shanmukhavadivu or dancer Balasaraswati’s grandmother Veena Dhanammal? Since when did Brahmin creativity get so impoverished that it has to, not only borrow but attribute the origins of its music and dance to avarna jaatis? And, then, there are all these new-fangled claims being laid on the Nadaswaram, an isai Vellalar instrument, as being the source of Carnatic music. Sheer blasphemy.
Obviously, all this is fake news. Those pathetic castes down below were just empty vessels, considering all knowledge-production happened at the top. The ancient Brahmins were generous enough to transfer some knowledge and skill to those downstream, enabling them to slowly climb up the ladder. But the time has come now to restore the balance. All references to these upstarts must be erased from our musical history. If we can erase Nehru or Gandhi and retrieve Savarkar and Godse, this should not be such a difficult thing to achieve.
And all sabhas and Carnatic music performance venues must put up notices announcing that non-Brahmins, particularly those with dark skin, are not welcome. They should even be prohibited from buying tapes and CDs of the astral music.
But the clearest warning should go out to the daughters of all Carnatic musicians – go abroad, study, get your PhDs, join Apple or Microsoft or Citibank. Even choose a white-skinned partner. But steer clear of Arab or Muslim or Afro-American boys. For, that is going to jeopardise your mother or father’s musical career. Why, their names might not even feature in the National Citizenship register! Our music should remain pure. For this, our sons-in-law should be white.