Trust The New Indian Express to utterly ruin someone’s day. There’s just no other way to describe this headline that assaulted the sensibilities and offended the basic sense of decency of millions of Indians this morning.
This headline easily ranks as one of the most condemnable instances of agenda masquerading as news and is completely in line with the other equally notorious “And they hanged Yakub Memon” propagandist headline. Over four hundred years ago, the epic poet John Milton best described the nature of the mind set that drives such propaganda:
This essence to incarnate and imbrute…
But what will not Ambition and Revenge
Descend to? who aspires must down as low…
obnoxious first or last
To basest things…
Some of [the] Serpent kind
Wondrous in length and corpulence involve’d
Their Snaky folds, and added wings…
Of huge extent sometimes, with brazen Eyes…
The Serpent, subtlest Beast of all the Field
Fit Vessel, fittest Imp of fraud, in whom…
dark suggestions hide
From sharpest sight: for in the wily Snake,
Whatever sleights none would suspicious mark
(Paradise Lost: Book IX)
Small wonder that social media exploded with outrage and hashtags like #Ilayaraja_Insulted began trending like wildfire.
When news of the list of Padma Awardees for 2018 broke last evening, legions of Ilaiyaraaja fans—devotees is indeed a more apt descriptor—were ecstatic that he had been awarded the Padma Vibhushan and rightly so. Which is not something that the worthies at the New Indian Express would’ve missed. Or if they have indeed missed it, it only goes to reinforce what a majority of Indians believe: that the Lutyens media has long transformed itself into a vast den of cocooned elitism, completely out of touch with and has arrogated to itself the right to humiliate the proverbial ordinary Indian with impunity.
Perhaps no other culture has elevated both art and artist to such exalted levels as Bharata. There are any number of verses and works that testify to this but my favourite is Bhartruhari’s timeless verse:
Jayanti te sukrutino rasasiddAh kavIshwarAh |
nAsti yeshAm yaSah kAye jarAmaraNajam bhayam ||
Victorious are the masters, the rasa-siddha poets |
whose body of fame has no fear of age or death ||
Incidentally, Ilaiyaraaja has himself set this verse to tune in the classic Sagara Sangamam, and his body of work shows that he respects and remains true to this rooted conception of art. It requires brainwashing or malevolence of an extreme strain to impute caste and political motives behind the decision to bestow the honour that Ilaiyaraaja justly, richly deserves.
Ilaiyaraaja’s music enthralled and enraptured at least two generations of Indians and his compositions continue to stand the proverbial test of time. This quality of formidable endurance that marks his music cuts across all the four South Indian languages and roughly spans his career that began in 1976 and continued unimpeded for over one thousand films. The so-called new-age Tamil director Mysskin convinced Ilaiyaraaja to score only the background score for his 2013 blockbuster Onaayum Aattukkuttiyum. As a mark of paying tribute to Ilaiyaraaja’s genius, allowed the public to freely download the entire background score.
Ilaiyaraaja is also the only surviving legend in the mould of say Shankar-Jaikishen, Salil Choudhury (with who he worked as an assistant), and S D Burman whose base, largely was Indian classical music but were masters at adapting and readapting it to suit the numerous demands of popularity and an overwhelming conformity to the ever-changing trends of Western music. He was adept in composing heavy classical pieces like Om Namah Shivaya, Koluvai unnade, Aadal Kalaiyae Devan, Lalita priya and Kalaivaniye and equally deft in belting out “club dance” numbers such as Ennadi Meenakshi, Chinna Rasave, Yaarigagi Aata, Idhu oru nila kaalam and Anando Brahma. Or to put it bluntly, while his repertoire ranges from the mellifluous to the mindless, it never loses its characteristic quality of underlying melody.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the period between the late 1970s up to the mid-1990s can be called the Ilaiyaraaja Era in Tamil film music. One chief reason for this owes to a sort of vacuum left behind after the decline and/or demise of stalwart-composers of the earlier era like M S Viswanathan, and K V Mahadevan as well as a generational change in musical taste. As a backhanded compliment to Ilaiyaraaja’s towering influence during his peak, one can cite numerous instances of his chartbusting compositions being literally lifted off by other music directors with the Anand-Milind duo leading this pack of notoriety.
Throughout the most productive and the best years of his career, Ilaiyaraaja focussed purely on music. In an industry dominated and largely controlled by Dravidian politics, he largely remained aloof from politics unlike the vast swathes of his colleagues in the film industry who painted themselves in indignity and ignominy. Nor did he care for any sort of ideology, and continues to abide by his conviction in the innate value that Masters like Ramana Maharshi bring. He also wears his devotion to Kollur Mookambika on his sleeve, donates liberally to various temples, pays his reverence to Kanchi Perival, dedicates his work to Saint Thyagaraja and others in that tradition.
His unapologetic conviction, which he has expressed very publicly on countless occasions over the decades has naturally earned him the ire of said Dravidian and other imported ideologues still waiting for that one golden opportunity where he slips up. They know full well that thanks to his Demigod-like stature, they can’t mindlessly malign him and get away unscathed.
Which is unsurprisingly why one of the ways in they try to “punish” him for his “crimes” is by writing such vile, agenda-driven headlines. The undertone just screams out: “Ilaiyaraaja was given the Padma Vibhushan by the Narendra Modi Government only because he’s a Dalit. Don’t bother about his music.” Elsewhere, the same eminences waste no time in sanctimoniously pontificating about creating a “true casteless India” and variants thereof. This hypocritical narrative is why the clarion call of “say no to Lutyens journalism” has become so pervasive, urgent, and immediate.
In any case, the occasion of Ilaiyaraaja receiving the Padma Vibhushan award calls for savouring a partial playlist of some of his best compositions. Here is mine: