Degradation on and off the stage?
T M Krishna, a performing artist, writes about some of the unsavoury things that he notices (in a piece that is sure going to generate some heat) on and off the Carnatic music stage:
Yes, a concert is team play and the main singer or main performer is like the captain of a ship but does the captain exploit his position? Yes, he does. Right through the years, the main artist (this is an expression many accompanists don’t like) have used their position as the central figure in a concert to undermine the accompanists.
We, as the main performers, can easily prepare what we want to sing and throw it as a surprise to the violinist just to make him/her look incompetent.
This has happened before and is happening even today. We sing a complicated pallavi, a rare raga or extensive mathematical calculations (which can be easily prepared in advance) and sometimes the accompanist does find it difficult to cope, not because they are incapable, but the thought process in the mind takes a while for the transfer to the hand. Some of us make sure a mistake is committed, keep on singing complicated ideas until the point that the accompanist makes the mistake and then, of course, a smile of victory. Most accompanists actually need to be much more equipped than the singers. They must have such a strong grounding that they can respond to various styles, attitudes and requirements, yet we play mind games with them. Sometimes we make mistakes and give the accompanist an angry look as if to infer that the mistake came from them. This is disgraceful. So is this really team play? Are we really partners? I don’t know, but when we display such attitudes I find this whole team play concept a little utopian.
What about external attitudes? Many of us main artists do not pay our accompanists well. We expect the organisers to pay us handsomely but care very little about our accompanists. Why? Is it the arrogance that we are the main attraction in the concert? That people buy tickets to hear us, not the accompanists? May be. How right is this? There must be some balance between what we make and what we give the accompanists. We cannot accept Rs. 50,000 and pay our accompanist Rs. 500! This is nothing but exploitation.
From what we hear from many senior musicians, this was not the case before. The accompanists of yesteryears were paid in reasonable parity to the main performers. So why has it changed today? I think it has because carnatic music today is “main performer centric”.
Many times the hotels that are provided for the main performer are of a higher class than that of the accompanists. Cars of a better class are given to the main performer. This is as discriminatory as it can get and we don’t complain. We are as much party to this as anyone else. Therefore, the main performer is all who matters . This has to change. We cannot produce music alone, it is enhanced and embellished tremendously by our accompanists and we need the humility to accept it. There is also an urgent need for the audience and organisers to educate themselves so that they can understand the dynamics better.
Krishna also has some complaints about the behaviour of accompanying artists and how they undermine the performances with their callous attitude (like the accompanying artists who send sms messages during the concert while the musician is singing alapana!); a must-read (though, not a very pleasant read) for all Carnatic music afficianados!
 A book about S Chandrasekhar and the idea of creativity in Science
V R Devika writes about the novel Empire of the stars by the historian of science Arthur Miller:
Empire of the Stars traces the idea of black holes from early notions of “dark stars” to wormholes, quantum foam, and baby universes. In the process it follows the rise of the two great theories — relativity and quantum mechanics — that meet head on in black holes.
The novel provides a unique window into the remarkable quest to understand how stars are born, how they live, and, most portentously, how they die. It is also the moving tale of one man’s struggle against the establishment and exposes the deep-seated prejudices that plague even the most rational minds. Indeed, it took the nuclear arms race to persuade scientists to revisit Chandrashekar’s work from the 1930s. Only then did physicists realise the relevance, truth, and importance of Chandra’s work, which was finally awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983.
Set against the waning days of the British Empire in India and taking us right up to the present, this sweeping history examines the quest to understand one of the most forbidding phenomena in the universe, as well as the passions that fuelled the quest over the course of a century.
Sounds like fun!
 Materialisation of the mythology of Shiva
We had spent quite a lot of time, while we were in Chicago at the Cloud Gate — marvelling at its flawless shape, structure and finish; the photo of the cloud gate on my blog (Thanks Ram!) is also one of the most visited pages; but, I never suspected the “Shaivite iconography” that underlies the sculpture till I read this piece by Meenakshi Thirukode:
However, the definitive embodiment of traditional iconography and philosophy based on the mythology of Shiva materialised into “Cloud Gate” (2004), popularly known as the “Bean” because of its elliptical shape. The 110-ton of stainless steel that has been welded together seamlessly, sits at the AT & T plaza in Chicago’s Millennium Park. A 12-foot high arch encourages the viewer to walk under the sculpture and see their kaleidoscopic reflections on its pristine surface. “Cloud Gate” encompasses a space that is both material and spiritual at a level beyond the immediate comprehension of the viewer. Kapoor talks of this experience as being “a direct attribute of the sublime”, a description he made of another massive work, “Marsyas”, which was constructed at the Tate a year earlier. While it is impossible for the viewer to grasp the entirety of “Marsyas”, he experiences the “modern sublime” as a comprehensive whole when he stands in front of “Cloud Gate”. On its surface the viewer sees the reflection of the phallic skyline, the clouds above and himself; as if the sky, earth and the human soul have been conjoined in a transcendent communion. This experience takes place due to the placement of the sculpture in front of the towering buildings that run across Chicago’s skyline. These attributes associated with “Cloud Gate” make it the most profound manifestation of a highly evolved contemporary icon that Kapoor has created by constantly questioning and discovering the symbolism of traditional Shaivaite iconography throughout his career.
The curved organic form of “Cloud Gate” marks a departure from the rigid stone pieces, giving it the aura of a living breathing creature recalling the forms in his early works from the early eighties such as “1000 Names”. This quality, coupled with an emphasis on its horizontality, makes it a strong reference to the couchant bull, Nandi. Furthermore, its alignment to the skyline evokes the placement of Nandi in relation to the sanctum sanctorum in Shaivaite temples. This is because the skyline is dotted with a number of high rise buildings, which simultaneously recalls the phallic form of the Shiva Lingam, and the myth of the Lord’s ability to manifest multiple times. What makes this work profound is that Kapoor successfully creates a contemporary icon that projects an implicit simplicity, within which lies a complex assimilation of conventional mythology.