Itinerant Ideas

On The Doniger Book Ban and Freedoms and Responsibilities in Scholarly Expression

Given the circumstances, I don’t see any wrong in the Penguin withdrawal of Wendy Doniger’s book on Indian religion. For one thing, Penguin were, in my view, responding legally, after fighting for four years in court. The petition that initiated the proceedings against the publisher was published on Firstpost in its original form, and points out several factual errors in the book that haven’t been contested by Doniger as not being errors of omission or commission. Scholars also have to take accountability for their mistakes, like engineers, doctors, bankers or politicians. All I see in the media and from Doniger’s interviews are some flippant humour and statements in interviews that indicate a relationship of legal victimhood with the Indian justice system (yes, as many Indians themselves doubtless claim) , rather than a defence of her historical work as would befit a scholar, that state why the petition was wrong, and why her work was okay. If a defence had been provided, and it provoked debate, Penguin and Doniger would both have redeemed immeasurable respect, at least from me.

In large part, the overreaction from India’s liberals and intellectuals is with respect to freedom of expression as a whole, and not specifically with respect to this book. Most people who criticized the ban (or those who have supported it) have probably not read the book (I haven’t read it yet, for instance), and while I agree that the principle of free expression must be upheld as far as possible, I also believe that people deserve the right to react as they please regarding the book. In short, if your book pisses enough people off, it may be worth taking a second look at. Short of writing other books to educate those who may be misled by Doniger’s works (as the petition seems to claim), seeking a withdrawal, especially when the book propagates falsehood at the cost of more authentic sources (and especially if it does so to a large audience) seems well within limits. Worse things have happened, perhaps, in the history of publishing: books rife with mistakes have been made better in future editions, surely. Books that were misunderstood were perhaps explained to potential audiences too. As I’ve said earlier, a rebuttal by Doniger herself on the points of contention, would have made things more lucid. Expecting someone else to write books to explain why Doniger’s book sucks (or why some other book rocks) is a naivete of literary excess, if not a waste of at least my time.

At risk of a false analogy (albeit merely as illustration): just as a doctor’s false diagnosis that may have claimed a life cannot be rectified by shouting from the rooftops about another doctor who carried out a correct diagnosis, writing a different book may not be our perfect recourse here. Sure, the correct diagnosis forms the pretext for future diagnoses, if society learns from this, but is that how things ought to be done? All this begs the question: how did Penguin’s editors allow the book to be published, if they believe what they claim now, that they didn’t want to offend anyone’s religious sentiments?

Freedom of expression has been stifled countless times in India under different governments, from history books to school textbooks, and archaeological findings. Even in countries that treat freedom as if it were a home-grown ingredient in their country, this is the case, as seen in countless attacks on free speech and expression in even the most developed of nations. Freedom of expression specific to religious ideas has and will always come under criticism because of the irrational nature of religious belief itself and the differing approaches to criticism of religion. This is nothing new, and in the past, there have surely been times where gagging was more prevalent. We’re not a developed enough nation to have truly enlightening and nuanced debates on a regular basis – quite to the contrary, we’re a nation of angry, embattled societies sewn together in the name of some unity in diversity, that seem to want gratification from every shred of information that makes any reference to our respective identities. In this setting, we can only get such retrograde laws. Without high quality people, there are no high quality societies and there will only be such laws that constrain someone’s freedom for the protection of another’s right. (Yes, I realize that “high quality” here is some kind of strawman, but short of that, I don’t have a concise way to put across what I mean by an enlightened, nuanced, considerate and analytical temper that is sorely missing in our increasingly angry nation.)

In an imperfect society, we will need laws. In an imperfect society, we not only have freedoms but also responsibilities.

PS: I realize I haven’t helped my own case to want to read the book. But I don’t see this as an irony, so don’t laugh yet when you read this. If anything, I’ve passed judgment without the thoroughness that comes with reading the book in this blog post, and would want to know my own reaction to the contents of the book – seeing as I seem to have a strong enough stomach to take even badly written Indian fiction – or a chapter of that much reviled James Joyce.

PS 2: In the viral world of the internet, all publicity is good publicity, so I will urge you to consider the conventional and well received books on Indian history, thought and religion before you venture into the controversial ones (provided you have access to them). If anything, this approach may give you a more nuanced, enlightened view of the subject. From writers immersed in the faiths of Hinduism such as A Govindacharya to atheists like Bijananda Kar and scholars like RK Majumdar, Romila Thapar and good old Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, there are countless sources that belie their portrayal of our religion’s esoteric, exotic and erotic content with frankness, subtlety, charm and grace. These are definitely worth a read.


The New Science of Synchrony


In Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order, scientist and mathematician Steven Strogatz takes the reader on a wild ride through more than a century of observations, theory and scientific research on the fascinating subject of synchronization in nature. Synchronization is a universal phenomenon that pervades many processes in the natural world and society. Strangely enough, most of us, most readers of this article, for instance, may not even be aware of Sync when it is happening around us. Flocks of birds fly together, keeping a uniform distance from one another, in a display of natural synchronization. Shoals of fish avoid obstacles and predators alike as they commute the grand waterways of our seas. Your heart beats unerringly a regular number of times every minute, thanks to pacemaker cells that work in synchrony from when you were a foetus in your mother’s womb, until the very last moment of life. When you see a certain kind of picture with similarly contrasted objects in specific positions, your brain tries to recognize a face from the image in a simultaneous, synchronized firing of neurons from your brain’s visual cortex. In the Olympic games and during the national parades, team based synchronized behaviour is on display in swimming events and in group dances alike. Traffic moves along everyday in our cities, where disparate sizes of vehicles ranging from bicycles to trucks – agents of essentially selfish commuters – collaboratively travel together to get to their respective destinations. Sync takes a look at all these phenomena at their very fundamental level. The book also touches upon the lives and work of researchers ranging from Victorian era scientists through the greats of the nuclear and space ages, to contemporary scientists that inhabit the same internet as you and I.

All stories of scientific research begin somewhere, usually from one or a few individuals who are party to exceptional experiences, and also have the insight and wherewithal to see the value in these exceptional experiences and not consider them trivial. Christiaan Huygens – famed astronomer; the Cassini Huygens Titan planetary probe is named for him – noticed on a long voyage by sea, that clock pendulums placed next to each other would automatically synchronize their oscillations. Even when you perturb them so that, for instance, one would approximately swing left even as the other swings right at a completely different speed, they would eventually start swinging together in perfect synchronized opposition. Kurt Wiesenfeld of Georgia Tech, a scientist associated with the renowned scientist Per Bak in his studies of self organizing systems in the 1980s, reproduced Huygens’ pendulum experiment in recent times and understood the underlying conditions for such pendulum synchronization to occur. Per Bak himself spent a large part of his career studying self-organization in complex systems, which is a pervasive order in nature that is related to the more fundamental subject of synchronization at some level. Decades before him, Edward Lorenz played with climate models that turned out to be representations of nonlinear dynamical systems, and decades before Lorenz, Lucien Poincare cogitated the first principles of what we now know as nonlinear dynamics in studies of topology. In a sense, Huygens’ child-like speculation on why pendulums synchronize, led to entire generations of scientists interested in why oscillators synchronize, and whether there was a greater order in nature. It was that seed of speculation that has led us to this self-similar tree of knowledge, where we see the same patterns of synchronization and self-organization in disparate things, whether in natural or in synthetic processes.

Before pendulums were studied in the lab in times of scientific speculation, humans have observed synchronization in various forms during the course of our evolution, and inevitably, become part of many phenomena that require synchronization. We’ve seen deadly locusts eat our crops and stampedes of animals (and humans) kill humans and animals alike. We’ve seen shoals of fish swim together or avoid obstacles and predators by collective intelligence. Each of these phenomena require communication by following simple rules in the space they navigate. By following simple rules, this large number of agents leads to complex behaviour and interesting results. An example of time based synchronization that is handled in the book, at the very beginning, is that of the fireflies on the banks of rivers in Thailand. Millions of fireflies exhibit time synchrony as they flash, in a kind of resplendent bioluminescent theatre. If it is as spectacular as it is described in the book by Strogatz, I hope to see it someday with my own eyes. Strogatz describes our ability to be surprised by such behaviour succinctly, when he suggests that humans are used to thinking in terms of direct cause and effect, and in terms of chains of command. Much scientific beauty remains unrecognized and unacknowledged, because our own limited imagination and because of how we see things with a limited scientific lexicon.

London’s Millenium bridge was famously party to the phenomenon of synchronization in a rather destructive form. On the day of its inauguration, the bridge featured hundreds of commuters stepping side to side as they walked forward, in an effort to maintain their balance on the bridge. Starting from a small sideways perturbation to the bridge, the oscillation developed into a self-reinforcing “emergent behaviour” that stressed the bridge enough to send off warning signals. The bridge was subsequently closed to the public before the engineers who worked on the structure remedied the problem. This and the Tacoma Narrows bridge, a favourite example for many of how not to design bridges for the kinds of wind loads it experienced, are touched upon in Strogatz’s book. Apart from this much studied structural engineering example, the book takes us on a tour to the surreal and sometimes unnatural-sounding phenomenon of superconductivity as discovered by Heike Kamerlingh-Onnes in the 1920s, in ultra low temperature substances. Everything about superconductivity seems counterintuitive – electrons have no need to march in step and not offer current any resistance – and yet, experiments proved superconductivity’s existence. In his narrative, Strogatz takes us through the work of Brian Josephson and electrons that pair up in “Cooper pairs”. The antecedents of this work lie in the work of one of India’s greatest sons: Sathyendra Nath Bose, who teamed up with Albert Einstein to propose the Fermion-Boson framework before Josephson’s research. Josephson’s contributions and his life, especially the tragic last phase of his scientific career are described in some detail. The reader is made to wonder whether the temerity to study the most fundamental principles of the universe comes only with the bravado to consider all ideas and sundry, with an open mind, and entertain even the strangest sounding ideas as long as they were plausible, and sometimes, even when they were implausible. How wide is the thicket of uncertainty that you wander, before you reach certainty, and if this is not the true spirit of inquiry, what is? If anything, Bose’s idea was itself dismissed by most scientists until Einstein came along to take it seriously. Science books can have souls. This discussion on superconductivity and the passages towards the end, where the beauty of sync notwithstanding its complexity is discussed, are where this particular book is revealed to have one.

Some of the enduringly beautiful passages in the book concern the early work of Edward Lorenz, Boris Belusov, Benoit Mandelbrot and other pioneers of chaos theory. Lorenz was a climate scientist – the kind of scientist you wouldn’t associate with big scientific breakthroughs in the 1960s. And yet, from his work and Belusov’s in the Soviet Union (Belusov’s rather tragic story makes for engaging reading in the book), later scientists developed the foundations of chaos theory and nonlinear dynamical systems. It is in the study of Belusov’s work that we are introduced to Arthur Winfree, a colourful and maverick researcher in the field, and a recipient of the Macarthur Genius award, one of the highest US awards for intellectual achievement. Winfree’s work inextricably involves Strogatz himself. As one of Strogatz’s inspirations for his work, Winfree sets up the context for Strogatz’s own research into nonlinear dynamics and chaos, and in the process, connects Belusov’s chemical reactions to trefoils – a unique class of geometric curves, in a series of experiments. Strogatz’s personal takes and his accounts of his growth as an experimental scientist here make for interesting reading. (In another context – that of cellular automata, Belusov’s work is shown to have similarities with the work of another genius who was visited by tragedy, Alan Turing, in an award winning BBC documentary, “The Secret Life of Chaos”.) The book also discusses Benoit Mandelbrot and the Mandelbrot fractal, which has become a sort of rubber stamp for modern day physics, like the stereotypical atom insignia with three electrons pervaded the nuclear age. Mandelbrot was an utterly unconventional, being a self-taught mathematician who haunted the halls of IBM in its heyday. Drawing upon old studies that started with Huygens’ contemporary, George Cantor (of Cantor set fame) and Swedish mathematician Helge von Koch’s eponymous curve, he mated computers with self-similar patterns and coined the term “fractal”, which has entered regular use in English. His work explained everything from the shapes of coastlines to the patterns of ferns and trees and many of the commonly observed, intricate shapes in nature. His book “The Fractal Geometry of Nature”, like James Gleick’s book on Chaos, Ron Eglash’s TED talk on African fractals, or the Xaos and FractForge fractal generator programs on old Linux distributions, had an incredible impact on how I saw the world, when I picked it up. Few ideas change your worldview and clear the mind’s cobwebs of old ideas and instigate new curiosity. Path breaking science like the science of complex systems surely has this capacity, given its depth, meaning and the broad swath of interdisciplinary problems its studies are applicable to.

The book engagingly discusses Strogatz’s own work as well. What does the synchronized beating of millions of fireflies or the behaviour of Josephson pairs of electrons in a superconducting liquid have to do with how well your friends are connected in your favourite social network? Quite a lot more than is immediately apparent, perhaps. Steven Strogatz has done important research that helps us understand how groups of agents behave. When that cat video goes “viral”, or when some earthquake survivor gets help thanks to social media, or when news spreads from its point of origin at some newsroom and transforms opinion across social networks, or indeed, when AIDS and similar epidemics spread across communities and countries, small world networks are at work. Recent studies into networks of terror outfits affirm similar principles of “small world-ness”, or, in the words of Albert Barabasi, “scale free” networks, apply. Duncan Watts, one of Strogatz’s collaborators, wrote a rather interesting book called “Six Degrees” that essentially delineated the Kevin Bacon game from a scientific view point. By examining the social connections we have, we can understand how the human race on this planet at large is connecting together and behaving as one “super organism”. Sync covers the Milgram experiment and Watts’ original research in the chapter on Small World Networks. Nature, it would appear, is not entirely random about the way it organizes networks, but exhibits a parsimonious behaviour somewhere between order and chaos – true order being a uniformly arranged social network, and true chaos being a social network with little semblance of any periodicity of any kind. Strogatz, Watts and MEJ Newman published a seminal paper in the Nature journal in 2006, which I read in around 2008 with awe. The authors describe random networks, small world networks and clustering. For those who haven’t read Six Degrees (and for everyone on Facebook or Twitter), this particular chapter is sure to drive home the importance of Sync to our new reality.

In conclusion, Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order, is a must read for those interested in contemporary science and for youngsters interested in doing scientific research. The book connects the past to the future, in an unending chain of scientific discoveries that lend increasing clarity to the complex world we inhabit. A theme that pervades the book, from the very start of it, is the creation of simple models that explain complex observations. I can’t think of one more pervasive need to read this book than to peer into the minds of people who provide simple explanations for the seemingly complex nature of the problems they explain. The book is a product of new ways of looking at the world that have their roots in timeless and childlike speculation from centuries ago. The science described here and research that stems from the work described will probably take us to the next scientific frontiers.

Other related books:

  1. Chaos: Making A New Science, James Gleick
  2. Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, Duncan Watts
  3. An Introduction to Complexity, Melanie Mitchell
  4. Linked: The New Science of Networks, Albert Laszlo Barabasi
  5. Introduction to Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos, Steven Strogatz

Carnatic Music’s Crises

While I have written briefly about how erudite and involved so many amateur and upcoming pro Carnatic performers and aficionados are, I have not encapsulated my views of the many trifling and not-so-trifling problems with contemporary Carnatic musical performance and appreciation. This post serves to jot these things down, from the point of view of an average concert-goer, albeit a young one compared to the generally older Carnatic music concert audience.

Perhaps I didn’t jot this down in any measure earlier, for a reason. The tendency of most rasikas and critics of Carnatic musical performance seems to be to eschew the negative and focus on the positive, regardless of the artist. This is a rather generous trait of most who write on the subject. There is some kind of unwritten honour code (perhaps there are aspects to this that are discussed in anecdotal ways or in exemplary ways by critics and sundry rasikas) for Carnatic music reviews, and popular publications and newspapers have no small part to play in sustaining these viewpoints and styles of reviews and shape the nature and discourse in criticism itself. That said, the more I sit in concerts, the more I feel the need for speaking out, especially since the bulk of the Carnatic concert going audience is what it is.

Like anything, even constructive, positively oriented criticism eschewing the negatives has disadvantages. The advantage, in my view, is allowing a wider interpretation of the art form than previous generations would allow, including quirks and improvisation that would, in another time, have been frowned upon by the leading artists and critics of the day. The disadvantages ironically stem from the same lack of “intolerance” for what is wrong with the status quo. As weird as it may sound, art encompasses within itself the tolerance levels for what defines the art form itself, as such and such. It is one view, perhaps a pervasive one, that art has no boundaries and should seek to liberate and create new aesthetic and intellectual experiences. While this is true of the superset of art itself, within specific pockets of the arts, within idioms of music that we know and relate to, unwritten (and eventually, well defined) boundaries start to form based on consensus. This leads to whatever we like or dislike about the extant of an idiom, and helps it evolve too. Constraints are the very foundations of musical performance. As much as shruti and laya provide structure, they also provide boundaries. Without binding rhythms and scales for music of any kind, music turns very quickly to noise (although if you smoke up enough, everything may sound like music).

Music, like morality, is determined by statistics. I heard the bit on morality and statistics from one of my old bosses, who uttered this a few times during our three year professional association, although I never understood the full implications of this retort at the time. With experience, the arbitrary (and statistical) nature of aesthetics came to light. The things we take for granted as beautiful, or correct, or precise or cute seem, at some level, arbitrary. Since it is these arbitrary measures that are used to condition ourselves and others we influence, memes of the aesthetic experiences of one propagate much like other memes. If aesthetics are determined by statistics, the popular representation of an art form can be understood from the pulse of the aficionados and critics.

Crowds may flock to a concert by one artist, who a certain classicist may find delectable, even as another may simultaneously detest them. The artist and the critic thereof gain a currency, a prominence, because of the crowd. The crowd, the mob, the statistical mode, the average and the layperson are what provide legitimacy to contemporary musical experiments, and make them more than experiments. It is therefore of absolute importance to develop the crowd’s sense of musical taste by exposing them to the very best the art form has to offer. Again, this “best” is a consensus, because, as we all know, mobs are problematic things to deal with.

You know who the popular artists are – and I mean popular artists in any genre of music, including Carnatic music. They offer the crowd something that they like. Regardless of how deplorable their performances may be at times, compared to someone who, in your view, truly represented the art form, compared to how arbitrary their rise to fame may be, these are the artists that determine the bulk of the crowd’s taste. There is a term for this in the Carnatic music circles, and that is “janaranjakam” which roughly translates to “adhering to that which the crowd likes” – a more exact representation of the (usually pejorative) English phrase “playing to the gallery”. Carnatic music doesn’t necessarily see janaranjakam as a bad thing. Debates abound in forums in the real and virtual world about how this artist is playing to the gallery or that one is, and there is truth in that. The average Carnatic artist, especially the top ones, want to sing to a full house, and increasingly this apparently seems to be the case at whatever cost to the music itself. They want people to throng to concerts and stand in long queues outside ticket counters staffed by inefficient clerks to buy tickets to their concert (and perhaps see fanboys gloat about their hard fought ticket). These rasikas are fanboys, in the most contemporary sense of the term. Old and young people alike, cutting across demographical groups, are part of sometimes fanatic fandom for the specific artist in question, despite their depth of understanding of the art form (or lack of it). It is no different here in Carnatic music from other musical forms. Fandom is a universal human burden. The art to them means less than the person performing it. As with all historically recorded cases of subject-object dissonance, the messenger is often mistaken for the message, and the musician is mistaken to be the music. This is the very beginning of fan cults and backyard revolutions, Carnatic music’s very own storm in a teacup.

Emphatic artists generally have the upper hand. Shruti is a problem? No worries! Can’t stick to the rhythm of the unfailing mridangam and ghatam? Don’t worry, most of these old fogeys don’t notice. As a mridanga vidwan, can’t change nadais seamlessly? No worries, they will all nod their heads to the beat anyway. Can you shout your phrases at the top of your voice? You’ve got it covered. Experimental artists also have an advantage. So, you didn’t try out some of these variations in rehearsals and practice before your concert? No problems, practice right there in the concert in front of your audience. Not imaginative enough to introduce variations? No problems, just holler loudly, knead virtual dough, play the deaf guy cooking pizza bases, or mimic imaginary steam turbines on the stage. It worked in rock music (actually, it didn’t), so it should work in Carnatic music too!

Of course, the point of that last paragraph isn’t to take on specific artists, but highlight behaviour that I find jarring, but that much of the crowd, strangely, finds interesting. The crowd does find this interesting, perhaps because the target audience doesn’t get enough excitement from their daily tele-serials with 25 minutes of advertisements and five minutes of actual tele-serial content. Just kidding. We know that crowds aren’t homogenous – there are the vocal ones that respond to a certain thing, and from that point on, it is all emergent behaviour. This works especially well when you have to react, rather than understand, critique, or analyze something. Fast and slow thinking, a la Daniel Goleman? Perhaps, perhaps not. 

Below, I will list a number of things in Carnatic music concerts, that, for better or for worse, have made the concerts what they are. Of course, these are listed in the spirit of complaint (if there is such a thing). Then there is the fact that this is, by no means, an exhaustive list.

  1. The audience applauds every half baked kalpanaswaram, however poor the adherence to shruti is. This is a classical art form, yes, so it is rather disturbing when audience blindly applaud what is obviously flawed. Again, defences here include “music is what sounds good to the ear”, and I have not enough rage-inspired patience to create Maddox-esque videos about all this, but I’ll let you know this that if you intend to sing a classical composition intended to be in a certain raga (or set of ragas), please sing the ragas at least well enough. Pointing a finger at the audience is futile. If the artists improve, the audience will learn to appreciate the right things about the music.
  2. Audiences don’t have a healthy respect for all artists (or even fellow audience). Walking out during thaniavarthanams is, of course, the most common manifestation of this passive aggressiveness. I suspect this has to do with bladder control, especially among the geriatric rasikas. A friendly plea, especially to geriatric audience members: please wear a diaper, or don’t attend the concert. Those who don’t have bladder troubles exactly during the thaniavarthanam, kindly refrain from leaving during it. If you can, leave after the piece is complete.
  3. Audience, don’t talk during the violin performances. Period. Let the poor violinist play. His ghatam accompaniment is usually weakly heard too, so this is a double whammy for those who actually want to listen to the music.
  4. Violinists, please don’t play stock phrases too often. Yeah, we get it – to a point, they’re useful in sketching out the raga. If, for a slow piece, you provide fast phrases, the effect of the original composition is lost. I am certain there are many nuances here that I am not qualified to cover, but squeaky violins, mouse-like running through ragas with zero adherence to the theme of the original composition, apaswarams, random variations in speed and randomly attempting the same things (grihabhedas, especially) that the vocalist attempted are all jarring. Please tune down your violins, if possible, especially for female artists. The higher pitches become intolerable at times. Please modulate volume – nobody likes to hear a boring constant volume alapana. Please use Ockham’s razor to reduce the length of some phrases. Don’t let the musical flow you experience when playing, make you blind to the value and impact of the silence between two great phrases.
  5. Mridangam and ghatam artists – please work out the right volumes for your instruments before the concert begins. We know sound engineering is a problem in Carnatic music, but alternately excessively loud or inaudible rhythm instruments are the flavour of every Carnatic music season. And I believe this is a flavour nobody likes. Please use more subtlety. There are far too many artists who can play fast, and we get it, you’re the Crazy Train that Ozzy wasn’t and you’re faster than Speed King. Please use more UKS and Palghat Mani Iyer style subtlety. Less can be more.
  6. Vocalists – please refrain from poor pronunciation. Play it safe when you can in your choice of compositions. If you don’t know Telugu or Kannada, or Tamil, for that matter, please learn it (even if it is an occupational hazard for you). We don’t want to hear Koguls and Bathmas from you, nor unflattering conversions of sahityam to cuss words. If we do, I suspect you may hear cuss words from some of your audience.
  7. Vocalists – don’t insert garbage syllables in between sahityam syllables when performing kalpanaswarams. Yes, I mean the “ka”, “ga”, “oo” and “ha” syllables that you use to separate consecutive syllables, especially in varnams. There is a way to not do this and still sound authentic and aesthetically beautiful.
  8. Vocalists – once and for all, refrain from using the rest of your frigging body to sing. Sing with your mouth. Your ridiculous facial expressions that you copied from leading artists including aas and oohs, waving hands, virtual dough kneading, obsolete yogic postures and other bowel movements are unwelcome on the stage. Then again, I say this at the peril of most Carnatic concert goers lynching me. After all, it is when these ridiculous things happen on stage that they actually get involved in the music. Such is the quality of the lowest common denominator audience in most concerts.
  9. Sound engineers and sabhas: please provide good sound engineering and high quality audio. The least you can do, given the number of concerts you host, is to provide glitch free audio. Nearly all sabhas, save a few, have this problem. All the major sabhas have these problems, save one or two. Historically important sabhas don’t have even basic audio facilities in good order. Crackling speakers, feedback, unbalanced volumes and poor equalization are just the beginning. Sound engineering can make or break the entire concert experience. Even great artists who are performing very well can sound poor as if they are on an off-day, when sound engineering goes kaput. Pay your sound engineers well. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Better yet, main artists could hire their own sound engineers, just like they hire the pakkavadyams.

So there it is, an incomplete list of peeves and crises in Carnatic music. I am certain that these aren’t going to change that much from this season to the next – change is, after all, a slow process. Maybe next year, I’ll strike some of these off the list? Maybe not. I think most of these problems are here to stay.