The recently concluded annual music festival in Chennai, an event that makes the city unique, again highlights the unprecedented reach and recognition the arena of the arts and letters has acquired in recent years. Not only does India play host to innumerable literary, film and art festivals; the sub-continent is also the leitmotif in many such international events. Little wonder then that even the diplomatic community increasingly emphasises the need for India’s leadership to leverage the country’s soft power on the global stage. The influence of a free and open economic environment at home and the spectacular contribution of the diaspora in different parts of the world to promote and propagate the India story also cannot be over-emphasised. It cannot, however, be gainsaid that an atmosphere of greater tolerance of cultural diversity and a healthy respect for the expression of dissent are prerequisites for artistic and intellectual freedom to thrive. The continuing problems in these areas do not particularly dovetail with our overall record of mutual respect and accommodation.
The practitioners of Carnatic classical music enjoy pride of place as the nation’s cultural ambassadors. This has been in evidence for some decades now, with a large number of expatriate and second-generation Indians from Europe and North America thronging concerts. Their participation may have been limited to that of a discerning audience until some years ago. But today their contribution is far more substantial, as performers at various sabhas as lead and accompanying artistes — even an exclusive platform created for Non-Resident Indians by one sabha. All of this is a tribute to the average middle class family’s tenacity and dedication to go the extra mile to inculcate among the younger generations a taste for, and sensitivity towards, the fine arts. This aspect tends to be overlooked given the growing concerns over thinning attendance at concerts. But the real reasons for this situation perhaps have to do with the scheduling of events within the space of a few weeks. For centuries, music has been an integral aspect of social life in southern India, especially in Tamil Nadu, which continues to remain a bastion of the arts. If classical music is to continue to prove attractive as a career option, compliance with copyright protection is essential. Chief Justice of India P. Sathasivam had underscored the economic implications of copyright infringement for the culture industry in his inaugural address at the 87th annual conference of The Music Academy last month.