Nurturing all things beautiful
Nurturing all things beautiful.Politburo member of CPI (M) and an authority on Indian music, art and culture, MA Baby opines that what has to be nurtured has to be taken forward whether it is coming from Mississippi, Volga, Yansi or GangaRajeshwari Kalyanam.
State of the art
Politburo member of CPI (M) and an authority on Indian music, art and culture, MA Baby opines that what has to be nurtured has to be taken forward whether it is coming from Mississippi, Volga, Yansi or GangaRajeshwari Kalyanam
Former Education and Culture Minister of Kerala and Polit Bureau member of Communist Party of India (Marxist), MA Baby is of course a popular politician; but it is his knowledge of Indian music and his commitment and contribution to promoting Indian art forms that mark his eminence in the cultural domain. Amongst his many achievements are upgrading the Kalamandalam into a deemed University, the first International Festival of Short Films in India, promoting Hindustani music and many fading traditional artforms of Kerala and conceptualising the Kochi Biennale. He started a national award for contribution to drama and theatre in memory of the eminent theatre artiste, Badel Sarkar and himself received many awards for his yeomen services.
Excerpts from an interview
What is behind your unquenchable passion for art and culture?
Interest in art and culture happened as my life evolved. As a student I used to go to various cultural programmes in my village held during anniversary celebrations of cultural organisations. When temples and places of worship celebrate, there used to be very interesting classical concerts, theatre performances, and the popular art form called ‘Katha Prasangam’ very similar to your ‘Harikatha Kalakshepam’. Ideas of social change and the need to bring different sections of people into an egalitarian living conditions were being presented through various theatre presentations and cultural expressions. As a spectator I became involved and when I became active in college politics, due to accident or design, the responsibility of cultural affairs fell upon me as the secretary to Arts Club. Working in cultural arena became a part and parcel of political work for me.
How do you relate art and culture to Marxism?
Marx and Angels did not write anything totally related to literature, art or culture, but there are books being brought out about literary and artistic dimensions of the thoughts and writings of Marx, Angles and Lenin. Recently, I found a book that had references Karl Marx made to great writers of his time in his Das Capital Vol 1. He stated that the works of Charles Dickens depicted the socio-economic conditions of English society more accurately than any of the pundits of sociology. There is a reference to Shakespeare; Goethe is quoted. Marx was deeply interested in classical music. He used to listen to Beethoven. There is dictum that he used to follow passionately – Nothing Human is Alien to Me - and this he had adapted from a Greek drama. He had a comprehensive view towards creative life of man. A Marxist cannot keep himself away from art and literature. Lenin also contributed meaningfully. Leo Tolstoy is generally viewed as an author reflecting society moving from feudalism to capitalism. But his philosophical views cannot be referred to in the context of revolution. But Lenin with his profound understanding of literature said that works of Tolstoy are mirrors of revolution. The way Tolstoy wrote about the Russian society reflected the Russian society in transition and urge of people to destroy the exploitation in society. For example of the short story, ‘How Much Land Does A Man Need’ focuses on the capitalist urge to acquire and how nature has to be used but it cannot be destroyed. The most important issue of ecology today found prominence in the literature written 150 years back.
How would you compare Hindustani, Carnatic and Western music forms?
Art and culture is creative expression of human beings. Birds sing, peacocks dance, but they do these unconsciously. It is only human beings that practice and nurture art. There is always a notion that classical music is superior. My view is that the so called classical art forms developed from folk art forms. When famous Hindustani musician Kumar Gandharwa could not give performances due to his physical problem, he spent a lot of time in Chattisgarh area, he mingled with folk artists and songs; he could relate all the wonderful ragas of Hindustani music in folk music. Saying that some are classical and some are not is unscientific and unhistorical approach. Each art form and cultural form has its own beauty. We have to celebrate diversity. And, we have a rich cultural tradition in India, it does not mean that else where it is less. We should create a society where all different cultural traditions can co-exist and thrive together through a process of give and take. For example we have in field of music two very strong currents, both powerful and beautiful – Carnatic and Hindustani. When I was in Kerala, I never listened to Hindustani and never thought I could appreciate Hindustani, but with my student organisation I spent time in Delhi and started listening to the likes of Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar Gandharwa, Kishori Amonkar, recordings of all great masters like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, I understood the richness of Hindustani, and that did not make me less appreciative of Carnatic. The greatest practitioner of Hindustani was Tansen and his Guru was Haridas. Swami Haridas was a disciple of Swamy Purandara dasa, the great Carnatic musician. So this given and take existed, but both these streams developed as independent streams even as they continued to give each other what is great in each of them.Violin is an inseparable accompanying instrument in Carnatic music. But, it is a by-product of colonial domination. Colonial rule exploited us tremendously, but unconsciously gave us in return. Again Marx described the colonial domination in India as an unconscious tool in history in modernising India. We are still anti-British rule, but we cannot ignore the benefits; Mandolin Srinivasan, Saxophone Kadari Gopalanath.
What do you think of BJP government’s emphasis on culture?
BJP wanted to give their communal politics a cultural explanation. They tried to achieve a conflation of nature, culture and religion. This is dangerous because in the field of music the greatest contribution is done by Persian musicians. The founding practitioners of Hindustani music are majorly from Persian origin. Pt Ravi Shankar has been made by Ustad Allaudin Khan. And there was Ali Akbar Khan, Vilayat Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Fayaz Khan of whom I have my unquenchable desire to listen more and more, of whatever of his recordings are available. The Dargah of Fayaz Khan was destroyed during communal riots in Gujarat. This is the problem. Our Bismillah Khan, our greatest exponent of Hindustani music, who transformed that small instrument, Shehnai into an instrument of classical status, was offered support by his European fans – Indians staying in Europe and America - Khan Saheb you come we will build a palace for you, we will make a university in your name. Whatever you want is available here, they said. He refused - Can you give me Ganga? Can you give me my Kashi Viswanath? he had asked. On the other hand, BJP Sangh Parivar agenda of transforming culture for their communal cultural domination by excluding different forms of culture that they hate and dislike is going to do damage. And even from West, we must take what is good, however, indiscriminate import of western culture is again a dangerous trend.
How can we achieve this give and take?
What is great in all the different forms of cultural expressions should be appreciated and upheld. As Deviprasad Chattopadhyay spoke about - “What is living and what is dead in Indian philosophy and Science” - while studying Indian tradition of science; our approach to culture too should be - What is living and what is dead and what has to be nurtured has to be differentiated. What is dead has to be given a ceremonial burial (traditions like Sati that arebeing eulogised in school text books) and what has to be nurtured has to be taken forward, whether it is coming from Mississippi, Volga, Yansi or Ganga.