Breaking new ground

Shabda, the online archive for Performing Arts, is the brainchild of three musicians – T.M. Krishna, H.K. Venkatram and Shriram Kumar. The second edition of the lecture series of this unique forum happens in Bangalore

Updated - August 11, 2016 03:21 pm IST

Published - August 25, 2011 07:53 pm IST

T.M. Krishna, H.K. Venkatram. Photo: Murali Kumar K

T.M. Krishna, H.K. Venkatram. Photo: Murali Kumar K

Many things can happen over coffee – the three musicians behind Shabda would perhaps want to consider this catch line. At the annual December Chennai music season, vocalist T.M. Krishna and violinists H.K. Venkatram and Shriram Kumar warmed up to a chat over coffee at the canteen, only to discover that even with a flood of information on the Net about various aspects of performing arts in India, there was neither “control” nor “authenticity”. “Anybody can edit Wikipedia. There’s a lacuna of real, good knowledge, and so we decided to give shape to Shabda,” explains Krishna, a significant thinking musician of our times.

TED, the forum that disseminates ideas be it art or science, was a huge inspiration for Venkatram and Krishna. Finding a model that worked like TED was the first challenge. “No frills, get straight down to the topic. Give each speaker only 20 minutes. We decided to get very specific. For instance, ‘Handling the raga Atana’ or ‘Abhinaya in Padam’,” says Krishna, speaking of the model that emerged after several exchanges for their online archive of the performing arts. The idea was received with enthusiasm, but there was great trepidation among artistes and scholars; would they be able to say anything worthwhile in such a short duration, they wondered. “It was important for us to record the transition the idea made from being a micro-level concept to a macro-level thesis,” adds Krishna, through which they were keen on tracing the how the creative process of an artiste worked.

Many scholars-performers who turned up for the inaugural edition of Shabda confessed in hushed tones to the trio that they had not worked harder for any other presentation. “But with all the apprehension, you won’t believe what Karaikudi Mani achieved in his talk; he at once struck a chord with the scholar and the lay listener. Plus it was so lively and engaging!” recalls Venkatram.

With great masters and great traditions silently disappearing from the scene, Shabda has a bigger role to play than simply making the distinction between knowledge and information. “The front end of our eco-system is performance. It is so obsessive that you get obsessed with it. However, if we have to preserve the performance aspect, the many other processes in the background have to be nurtured,” agrees Krishna, but recognises that as a society we don’t share knowledge easily. The question that bothered scholars in the past could have been on the seriousness of the seeker. Even without undermining its philosophical relevance, being judgemental will take us no further on the road whose landscape is fast changing. “Having said that, the end of all knowledge doesn’t have to culminate in tangible benefits,” avers Krishna. It can be for the pure joy of learning.

Is authenticity absolute? What then happens to the seeker’s endless negotiations with tradition that keeps throwing up new findings? Krishna explains with an example. At the Shabda event, musicologist Vedavalli revised her previous opinions and conceded that antara gandhara was employed in many renditions of raga Athana. Jayachandran, who spoke about Rukmini Devi Arundale’s choreography, saw patterns of temple and ritual practises in it. “All this is fascinating. Authenticity is a journey, it is about spending time with your art.” And at Shabda, it is possible to go back and revise or extend what you have articulated earlier; journeys have to be retraced.

The three are extremely clear that Shabda has to move beyond event-based ideas. They want to post long interviews, old recordings, pieces of writing that have slipped into oblivion and much more. “Shabda is our idea, but it doesn’t belong to us. Anyone who shares our passion can take it up and organise their own Shabda,” they say.

Any discourse on Art is a challenge. It can never be complete; art history is deeply intertwined with social history and every artiste is a product of his times. “The situation is actually sad,” says Krishna. Inter-disciplinary exchanges rarely happen; artistes live in their own bubble, and are hardly excited by each other’s artistic expressions. “This is such short-sightedness and we intend to break these barriers. It’s important not to be insular and each other’s creative processes must take us further in our own expeditions. And so in our second edition, we have included theatre as well.”

The Internet as a medium has immense scope, and Shabda hopes to use it not just as a fund of information. They hope that a constructive, interactive community emerges in the days to come.

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