I first started writing a review for this book in the form of a letter to the author, and later changed my mind. In the letter version are many questions I had written as I read the book, hoping to pose them to the author some day. I am still hopeful.
The author TM Krishna has sometimes been sung as the rare personality that challenged the prevailing conditions of their profession, while still being at the apex of popularity. Is that true? I am not so sure.
There are 3 sections of the book — which he calls Book 1, 2 & 3. After reading it, I feel like they must actually have been 3 different books — with the possibility of combining 1 and 3. The first section of the book deals — in great detail — with the format of a Karnatik concert, including the structure, definition and construct of the individual components and how it ought to be experienced. While doing this, he asks many questions challenging how it is done today and how it ought to be done — which left me confused. A reader who “needs” those definitions is not in a position to contemplate or provide a response. Someone that is in a position to contemplate is probably skipping that section. It is an irony. In any case, I thought this section deserved to be a lecdem.
The 3rd section delves into the history of Karnatik music — how different concepts evolved, who the torch-bearers of specific traditions were, the evolution of specific practices — all in a beautiful narrative. While I enjoyed this section, I felt this could have been part of a lecdem as well or at least could have been less theoretical and more narrative.
Section 2 (aka Book 2) is perhaps the most compelling section of the book. Karnatik music today suffers a heavy dose of religion and a multitude of smaller issues, when it doesn’t have to. Also, most Karnatik musicians and aspirants quickly get into the mold, unjust as it is, and hardly get time and voice to articulate them, much less challenge them. In this regard, the author comes across almost a whistleblower and exposes several issues the discipline of Karnatik music still suffers. In addition to religion, the music still suffers diseases of gender inequalities and those of religion and caste. The industry also suffers corruption — the author dives into each of these topics and proposes actionable ideas on how to make Karnatik music clean. He also discusses external issues such as technology, film music and influence of other systems of music etc.
The biggest puzzle I am still not able to figure out is who is his target audience for this book? Fellow musicians may not read it, newbies will find it too technical — is he targeting a very niche segment of people who are neither here nor there — somewhere in-between but thirsty to advance to their next level? I wonder how many such people there are. Overall, it is a good read — especially if you kept yourself to the 2nd section.