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May 10, 2012

On Friday May 11, the EMERGENCY MEETING of the Kalakshetra Foundation Governing Board members will meet to discuss the unfortunate resignation of the dynamic director-artiste Leela Samson.

The unfortunate series of events that prompted Ms. Samson to resign her position on April 12, as head of modern Bharatanatyam’s altar and a cultural landmark in the historical canvas of Indian dance - KALAKSHETRA - spurred a global response.

Through this portal, we launched the online petition for the reinstatement of Leela Samson on May 1. Within 48 hours, the movement went viral with over 1000 signatures being collected. At the time of this writing, the total has exceeded 1847 and is marching quietly towards a higher figure.

NO MATTER WHAT THE OUTCOME OF THE EMERGENCY MEETING, THE PURPOSE OF THE PETITION WAS TO DEMAND THE REINSTATEMENT OF LEELA SAMSON AS DIRECTOR OF KALAKSHETRA.

What this petition has also done in a surprising but positive way has been to highlight the larger issue of mismanagement and meddling of the state in the area of culture. To take the late multi- faceted actor-poet Harindranath Chattopadhyaya’s words (borrowed from writer Sadanand Menon’s  fine article on the Kalakshetra/Kurukshetra mess), “THE STATE GETS INTO THE ARTS TO GET THE ARTS INTO A STATE.”
Nothing can better describe the past 45 years and the consistent bungling and chipping away at our most beloved of cultural citadels... Tagore’s Santiniketan, Kerala Kalamandalam being prime examples.

The other purpose of the online petition was to allow Leela Samson the dignity of an exit - if she truly wished for it - and the time to prepare for another successor. All this can be done and discussed while she is DIRECTOR of Kalakshetra and not by forcing her out (although her statements seem to indicate that she stepped down voluntarily).

Artistes may not be great administrators but Leela Samson contains both qualities in a rare combination. Besides, it is not her job to pore through files endlessly. An Administrative Director needs to be appointed to be the paper pusher and the liaison between government red tape and the financial health of the institution. Most ballet and modern dance schools around the world have two key positions, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR and EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR.

The wide reaching power of technology has never been more evident to us before this petition. I was personally astonished at the emotional response it evoked and the enthusiasm that so many across the world and across disciplines and professions showed when they stepped forward to add their names. 

A huge thumbs up to the print media across India for picking up the story and our petition to bring the issue to national focus. The very fact that DANCE, and not cinema, food, fashion and cricket could occupy so much space and debate in print and the cyber waves is proof that thousands are concerned about the arts. THE HINDU deserves a special pat for the way the story was tracked and all points being allowed.

To the invaluable and brilliant team at NARTHAKI.COM led by Sumathi (in Chennai)  and Lalitha Venkat (now in Seattle) and aided by Sujay in Chennai and Ragothaman from Madison, A BIG THANK YOU. With all our combined efforts, this site has reached out to so many and allowed you to share your views about this important matter.

Yes, we did get some unsavoury and fundamentalist responses with the issue of religion being brought up.

These are new times. Nothing succeeds but EXCELLENCE.  Not the mediocrity of stale arguments from stunted minds. The Leela Samson issue is about our fear of excellence, innovation and creativity. A larger shadow of suspicion about anyone who wants to raise standards and carve new paths.  India has shown time and time again, that in spite of having so many brilliant minds within its shores, it outwardly succumbs to the TALL POPPY SYNDROME (taken from a Greek myth of cutting down the most precious and beautiful flowers in the field), a malaise that shuns and insults our most dynamic thinkers, our most innovative
do-ers and our most fiery dreamers.

If Leela Samson IS reinstated, then she MUST have the united support of all within the institution she leads. Too many factions and infighting has also led to fractured opinions and divided energies. A leader must be respected and her wishes adhered to. Democracy does not mean chaos.

Let us hope for good news from the meeting on May 11. For me, the success of the petition alone proves that there is still a true heart beating silently in cyberspace for dance, for the arts and for our inner selves.

ANITA RATNAM
Chennai