Saroj Khan's Matak-Jhatak
- Shanta Serbjeet Singh, New Delhi

January 15, 2010

2009's end came on a frenetic note, with many diplomatic missions, the  raunak of Delhi, in an overdrive that is typical for this season.  And then, of course, the several cultural activities that are 'normal' for this peak Delhi season.The 31st found me in Chennai for the valedictory address of this year's annual dance conference of the Krishna Gana Sabha.  Convenor Ananda Shankar Jayant, as convenor, did a great job in this, the concluding episode of her two year term.  She called the event "Dance Matters" and matters concerning dance, from copyright issues to the lure of Bollywood, in the form of Saroj Khan, from the current scenario of dance schools mushrooming even as performance spaces shrink, from how young gurus are handling the aspirations and behaviour of Gen Next  to how experts like Sadanand Menon and Gautam Bhattacharya can help dancers light up the stage to their advantage.  

From hosting and managing hordes of participants from all over the world, dancers like Ramli Ibrahim from Malaysia, Americas-based, NRI dancers such as Uttara Asha Coorlawala from New York, Lata Pada from Canada, dance professor Hari Krishnan, also from Canada, Ratna Papa Kumar from Houston, Aravinth Kumaraswamy from Singapore, Siri Rama from Hong Kong....all milling around and having a whale of a time, enjoying the famous 'season,' te-teing with Indian dancers, also from all over the country.  There was Astad Deboo, Ramaa Bharadvaj, Chennai stalwarts Padma Subrahmanyam, Chitra Visweswaran, the Dhananjayans, who, incidentally, will handle the Natya Kala Conference for the next two years, Geeta Chandran, Padmini Chettur, the critics, Leela Venkataraman, Sunil Kothari, Sadanand Menon...

And then, Ananda's coup de grace ...Saroj Khan in this sanctum sanctorum of conservatism and primness!Popular choreographer Saroj, who claims she is 'self taught' but has actually trained in Kathak with traditional gurus based in Bombay in the 50s, was dressed in a simple white kurta-salwar.  She had all those pads of fat in her body that are an inevitable part of advancing age.  She brought with her a troupe of six dancers, short and rather fat who do the ‘padding’ in her filmy choreographies.  They did many routine numbers made famous by Saroj Khan such as "Ek, Do,Teen" and "Dhola re..."But they brought only yawns to the faces of the cognoscenti and the professional dancers who filled the hall.  And then came the moment of metamorphosis.Saroj agreed to a firmaish and danced an item.  She moved, slowly, languorously, simply, naturally to the song and beat of  "Jiya Jale..." from Devdas.  And that magical moment resulted, one which happens rarely and which is instantly recognizable –when it does happen! Atta girl, Saroj Khan!

The Arts of Enamelling
Enamelling as an art doesn't look at all complicated.  It looks beautiful, yes, especially when a master artist crafts something, be it a piece of jewellery or a mobile for the garden or the terrace, or a tall piece that catches your eye in a rich person’s drawing room or a single, delicate flower on a metal stem. All the same, you don't really stop to think of how complicated it actually is!

The art of Delhi's Veena Shah makes you think about what lies behind the passion with which she has served her muse for four decades.  And the result is not only art objects imbued with original patterns and shapes but freshness which comes from the medium itself.  Combined with Shah's aesthetics, it not only catches your eye but drives you to knowing more about the technique behind the work.  So you ask questions and are surprised to learn that enamel is basically glass, crushed to a powder somewhat finer than granulated sugar and somewhat coarser than flour.  This powder is applied, by one of several methods, to the metal surface.  Next, the article is heated to 1000-1600 F,  either in a preheated furnace, or with a hand-held torch.  After 1-1/2 to 10 minutes, the article is removed and allowed to cool to room temperature.  Subsequent coats, normally of different colors, are applied.  Sometimes 10-20 firings are required to bring about the desired results. 

It's history remains a mystery. We do not know when or where enamelling originated. The earliest known enamelled articles are six enamelled gold rings discovered in a Mycenaean tomb at Kouklia, Cyprus, dating from the thirteenth century B.C.

The Greeks were enamelling gold jewellery as early as the 5th century B.C.  Caesar found the Celtic inhabitants of Britain enamelling in the 1st century B.C.  During the Byzantine era, 4th through 12th centuries, numerous enamel religious works were made.Fifteenth century artisans in Limoges, France, perfected the use of enamels in a painting technique.  The 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and the early decades of the 20th century saw the production of a great volume of luxury and decorative enamels, made in many different centers.Since the last third of the 19th century, both Japan and China have exported an abundance of enamel as cloisonne - the name of the technique.

Starting early in the 19th century, it was realized enamel could be used for utilitarian purposes.  First in pots and pans for cooking, then stoves, refrigerators, kitchen sinks, bathtubs, home laundry appliances, architectural panels, etc.  And of course we have our own kundan work and indigenous techniques of enamelling.It would be interesting to find out exactly what is the history of our kundan work.  Did it come to us with the European traders and colonizers?Or was it an indigenous art?

Shanta Serbjeet Singh, for twenty-five years, columnist, critic and media analyst for The Hindustan Times, The Economic Times and The Times of India, India's most important mainstream English dailies, is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the premier Government cultural institution of India in 2000 and the same from Delhi Govt.'s Sahitya Kala Parishad in 2003 for her contribution to the field of culture.

She is on the Central Audition Board of Doordarshan, India's national television, as well as the selection committees of several prestigious government bodies involved in culture such as The Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Department of Culture. She was a member of the Tenth Five Year Plan Committee for Cultural Policy and of the First National Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

Singh has authored several best selling books on Indian arts such as 'Indian Dance: The Ultimate Metaphor,' 'The 50th Milestone: A Feminine Critique,' 'Nanak, The Guru' and 'America and You' (22 editions).

As elected Chairperson of APPAN (The Asia-Pacific Performing Arts Network) for the past nine years, she has individually organized and helped her team of eminent artistes to organize eight international symposiums and festivals in several Asian countries and in the United States. APPAN, set up in 1999 by UNESCO, has, with the collaboration of UNESCO, pioneered the concept of delivering stress therapy, in particular in disaster-prone situations such as the tsunami and earthquake victims. The pilot project of this series was done under her leadership in four Asian countries after the tsunami of 2005 and another for the cyclone affected of Myanmar in 2008. Singh is the founder-Secretary of The World Culture Forum -India and Director of WCF-India's first Global WCF to be held in New Delhi in 2011.