I must say Anil Srinivasan seems to have completely missed the point in my article that the essence of tradition is change. At no point am I talking about an autoregressive posture to Carnatic music. Let me just say that the beauty of Carnatic music, like any other art form, is that it's never stagnant; it's a flow. I have spent a considerable amount of time looking at music as it might have been before the time of recordings and can definitely say that it's very different from what any of us sing today. So we are actually celebrating this very essence. There is no way anyone can trap this art form in a time capsule. But as Bob Marley said “In this bright future you can't forget your past ”.
The essence of my article is complete understanding of and respect for an existing aesthetic. This aesthetic identity is not a closeted box but actually an ever-changing beauty. What keeps it together are the threads that remain from the past. These threads lead to another one and so on and so forth. Now when will this happen? Only if we, at the point of time that we are in actually can completely understand and comprehend the existing thread, the existing aesthetic quality. This is the essence of the problem when we talk about interpreting Carnatic music in some instruments. We start with a compromise. The very comprehension of the existing thread/aesthetic is not possible in these instruments. Without this we are talking about a new aesthetic evolving from misinterpretation and lack of understanding. If this is to be accepted as a change then we are cheating ourselves. When you cannot express an existing aesthetic what are we going to develop from?
Let me give you an example. Let's say that certain ragas are not played in an instrument because the instrument cannot accommodate them. What do we then do? Just ignore them and let them become irrelevant over a period of time? This way we only narrow down the mural of Carnatic music. Carnatic music is not only about scales like Gamanashrama and Dharmavathi, it's also about Dhanyasi, Sahana, Ahiri, Anandabharavi, Devagandhari, Manji, Varali, Nayaki, Narayanagoula, Surutti and these are only samples. There are so many more ragas like these that every instrument should be able to express represent.
I am also talking about approximations of a raga identity, not interpretation. The way Lalgudi Jayaraman plays raga Nattaikurunji is very different from G.N. Balasubramaniam. These are interpretations born out of complete understanding and complete ability. These people did not adjust the raga to suit an inability. You must make your instrument or voice capable of expressing all that is presently present, and then you make a new interpretation. This is true change, this change we want and this change we celebrate.
When I call Carnatic music a tradition, I am actually celebrating its diversity and change. Tradition does not box but actually liberates. But not when you don't properly comprehend it and yet think you are changing it. This is the state of illusionary brilliance.
J. Krishnamurthy would say we love to label and need identity only because we don't “see”. So when we actually “see” tradition, labels have no place. When we don't, we seek this state of so-called ‘ beyond the clutches of tradition' which is as much a seeking of an identity; it's just in another framework.
Everybody faces resistance whether you sing or play a new instrument. Anil has got it wrong, I am not resisting change; I am resisting compromise. There is a world of a difference. I also think that his childhood memories of resistance to U. Srinivas are quite wrong. As one who attended hundreds of his concerts as a very young active Carnatic music student when he was the rage, the resistance was minimal if at all — considering the resistance others who played even traditional instruments got at different periods of time in musical history. The fact is that whatever new colour U. Srinivas has given Carnatic music has come after he mastered every existing Carnatic nuance. This is true dynamism born out of respect and mastery of the existing beauty.
I would just like to say that I consider Carnatic music far larger than all of us players in it. Let's first try and represent it in all its grandeur in whatever instrument. Let's not create an aesthetic that is born out of inability but create new aesthetics born from complete internalisation and expression of the existing aesthetic.