‘If it sounds good to your ear, it’s Carnatic music’

Before the brain-chewing harate sessions poisoned our plasma screens, Carnatic music was what enlightened South Indians woke up to on Ugadi mornings.

After having an early-morning oil bath, the women in nine-yard Kancheeepurams would draw an elaborate rangoli with the temple bells clanging away in the far distance. The men in their kachche panche would tie torana to the door with fervour. After eating a bit of bevu-bella and reading the panchanga, the whole family would sit down to the divine strains of Tygaraja and Purandara Dasa, .

That’s what the purists would say, wouldn’t they?

But what is tradition and what is modernism? Who is to decide what is right, what is correct, what is appropriate—and what is no longer?

There is nobody quite as qualified as Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna to explain the present’s eternal battle with the past. In an interview with India’s most versatile television correspondent, T.S. Sudhir of NDTV (above), the Telugu boy who couldn’t pass third standard but went on to earn seven honorary doctorates through his extraordinary renditions of Carnatic music, answers the question with verve.

“Carnatic music is about the ear (karna). If it sounds good to your ear, it’s Carnatic music. If it doesn’t, it isn’t. If you go to a Carnatic classical music concert and not like it, it’s not a Carnatic classical music concert.”