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June 1, 2011

Summer holidays are over and we are all back home... kids are back in school and dancers have hit the rehearsal studios. I took time off for a long overdue ten day retreat in the mountains. The gentle mist and the long walks without any agenda, appointments, cell phone, Blackberry PINGS, laptops and rehearsal was a TREAT. The honest part of the break was that I did not miss dancing. Not for a moment. Now does that make me a dishonest dancer? Or not a truly committed artiste? I am not sure, except that taking time off from thinking, talking and doing the dance was so long overdue.

I was among the many artistes and dignitaries who watched and listened to India's Prime Minister and leader of the UPA Government, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi inaugurate the year-long celebration of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore in New Delhi. Mrs. Gandhi's marvelous speech drew upon her mother-in-law, the late Indira Gandhi's early years at Shantiniketan and Jawaharlal Nehru's admiration for the renaissance poet. With the lapse of the Tagore copyright, his words and ideas are now being interpreted in so many interesting ways. The initiation of the national Tagore Award for Humanitarian Understanding, on the lines of the Padma and Bharat Ratna honours means that anyone from the international community who has contributed to fostering intercultural understanding will be honoured annually by the President of India starting from 2012.

The premiere cultural body - Sangeet Natak Akademi - meets in the cool of the Dalhousie / Mussoorie mountains to discuss the rapidly changing cultural groundswell in India. How do our young dancers stay motivated? How can they hope to dream of a career in the arts if the basic infrastructure pressures them to give up with every breath? Dancer Geeta Chandran has written a thoughtful article in the Sunday New Indian Express about the bleak future of GEN NEXT. For all those who constantly criticize me for throwing up examples of how other countries approach this situation, it would augur well for the pseudo Indians to look around and observe how seriously talent is nurtured, groomed and promoted through a local, national and international network - with the synergy of private and state initiatives.

It is also fashionable in India to criticize the Government. However, with all the pitfalls of bureaucracy, in the area of culture, the government of India has done some remarkable things to reviving and stabilizing so many rare and near-extinct performance traditions. To expect the government to constantly underwrite all cultural activity is also too much to expect from an enormous and diverse country like India. If we can bring corporate efficiency to join hands with the creative communities, much can be achieved, keeping the innate spirit of enterprise that Indians are brilliant at.

June is the month for many beginnings. New ideas, new collaborations, new journeys...
I will be spending my time polishing my manuscript and getting the first of many books ready for print. And there is the conference... MAD AND DIVINE... three days focusing on the female poet saints of India. Exciting times ahead for those who embrace dance, theory, music, academics, philosophy, feminism and mythology.

In these strange, exciting and often confusing times, we can remember that it is art that binds, heals and energises us all. In a world that constantly reminds us about ROI - return on investment - it may be time to throw the letters right back at the cynics. As I do. When any of my superstar business relatives ask me with scorn about my ROI, I reply confidently, "Return on Investment? You mean RETURN ON INFLUENCE? I have a surplus of it."

Smile, laugh, cry, celebrate and enjoy the moment...

Dr Anita R Ratnam
Chennai/Hyderabad and cooler climes of the West