On a chilly Saturday evening, S Sundaresan, a resident of Delhi, stood eagerly with his family, waiting for Carnatic musician TM Krishna’s concert to begin. The concert was held in the city’s Garden of Five Senses in Saket. “I am here to protest against those who had a problem with Krishna performing in the city,” said Sundaresan, 60, who works as a chartered accountant. He was among hundreds of residents, journalists, activists and students who came to watch Krishna perform at the concert organised by the Delhi government. Sundaresan was also among those who found out about the concert after the controversy over it being initially “postponed”.

Krishna was earlier scheduled to perform on Saturday at an event organised by Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth (SPIC-MACAY) that was also sponsored by the Airports Authority of India. However, on November 14, the Airports Authority of India said that the event had been postponed due to “some exigencies at work”. The postponement came after trolls on the internet accused the airport authority of using public funds to invite an “anti-India” musician, a “converted bigot” and an “urban Naxal”, who sang about Jesus and Allah.

After this, the classical musician announced that he would be willing to perform anywhere in Delhi on the same date. On November 16, the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government announced that Krishna would perform in the city as part of “Avam ki Awaz”, a series of concerts launched by the Arts and Culture Department in October 2017.

“How can they [the trolls on the internet] protest a cultural event? The AAI [Airports Authority of India] gave such a flimsy reason to cancel the event,” Sundaresan said.

TM Krishna performing in Delhi on Saturday.

‘Big statement’

Before the concert started, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal addressed the audience and said that their attendance in large numbers was a “big statement” and that the country’s diversity needed to be preserved. “This country belongs to everyone,” he said. “Whether you are Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Tamils, Malayalis, Gujaratis or Maharashtrians, this country is yours. There is no other country in the world other than India with as much diversity and we have to preserve it.”

While addressing the audience, writer Sohail Hashmi said that the country also belonged to atheists who should not be left out. “One thing that has come out very clearly from Krishna’s music is the entire exercise to remove the music from the control of a handful of people,” Hashmi said.

Krishna started the concert with Shri Narayana tu, a hymn from MK Gandhi’s ashram songs and continued performing compositions by 19th-century saint and Carnatic music composer Thyagaraja, and 17th-century saint and poet Tukaram. At the event, which was also attended by activist Aruna Roy, Justice AP Shah, Editor of The Print, Shekhar Gupta, lawyer Indira Jaising and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury, an overwhelming number of residents were seen standing while the others were huddled together in their sweaters, shawls and masks as the night grew colder.

Standing amidst the crowd at the back, Sunisha Ahuja, a social worker, said that she found out about the event after she watched an interview with Krishna on television and decided to attend. “I was disappointed when I found out about the earlier event getting cancelled,” Ahuja, 52, said. “It just reflects on an immature government that gets offended about anything. You cannot get offended about a musician.”

Far from the crowd, sitting on the edge of a fence, Ankita Kumari, 21, is sceptical of the purpose of the event. “This is being used as a political agenda,” said Kumari, a student at Delhi University and an Odissi dancer. She questioned why the other artists in the earlier event did not get treated like Krishna. “For me as an artist, it doesn’t matter who is organising the event. Whether it is the Bharatiya Janata Party or Aam Aadmi Party, I will perform there.”

There were also others who attended the event without any prior knowledge of what transpired with the airport authority’s decision to postpone the earlier event. “I just found out three hours ago,” said Aruvi, 21, a student. “I am hearing TM Krishna for the first time and I really like his style. I didn’t know anything about the controversy earlier and I found out about the concert from a friend.”

For many residents who attended, the event was also an opportunity to watch Krishna perform for the first time. Anil and Vijay Lakshmi, also residents of Delhi, decided to attend after they read about the earlier event getting postponed in the newspaper and had heard of Krishna earlier but had never watched him perform live. “We don’t get such opportunities in Delhi very regularly,” said Anil.