An enduring friendship wrapped in caste

T.M. Krishna

T.M. Krishna  

Krishna’s book explores bond between Brahmin musician, Dalit instrument maker

Caste is an inescapable element of life and discrimination is inherent in human nature. In ‘Sebastian & Sons: A Brief History of Mrdangam Makers’, Carnatic vocalist, writer, activist and author T.M. Krishna explores the complex yet beautiful relationship between a Brahmin mrdangam player, Mani Iyer and its maker, Parlandu Fernandez, who belonged to a Christian Dalit family.

At the launch of the book in Mumbai on Monday, Mr. Krishna, in conversation with journalist Sumana Ramanan, discussed several socially sensitive issues wrapped in the making of a mrdangam. “Depending on where you are, in terms of privilege and several other things, you choose to either have the conversation on it (caste) or not,” he said.

Mr. Krishna discussed how caste played a role in the friendship between Mani Iyer and Parlandu, without whom, the mrdangam player could never have produced the sound he wanted. Though Iyer’s affection for Parlandu was vivid from the fact that he often gave away gifts that he got from concerts to Fernandez, it was still a hidden friendship.

In his book, Mr. Krishna touches upon the events that occasionally led to Fernandez’s emotional outbursts. Fernandez, he said, realised his uniqueness in a setting where rights for his community were absent but also relished his association with the upper caste, which created internal turmoil till the end of his life.

The author spoke about three-and-a-half years of research and the interviews he conducted with mrdangam makers and players. The book talks about the contribution mrdangam makers make to the art form though most credit is given to the musicians who eventually play it. “The whole aspect of solo becoming such an important aspect is inspired from the Carnatic tradition,” he said.

The ‘most grievous ordeal’ he faced while writing the book was to decide what the story was going to be about since there were so many threads involved in every aesthetic of the making of the instrument.

On the role of women in the making of the mrdangam, the author and musician said, “It’s ‘Sebastian and Sons’ which gives it away. The makers will tell you how the job is physically strenuous and women cannot do it, which according to me is rubbish. There is a stone used in the making of the mrdangam, which is procured from different places. The stone is heavy and hard and women do the breaking and crushing of it. Women are not the primary makers but when the skin of a cow, buffalo comes home they have to dry it and cut it in circles.”

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 8:51:05 AM |

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