Commonwealth Games celebrates concept of 'Wheel of Life'
- Shanta Serbjeet Singh, New Delhi

August 1, 2010

When the long-awaited, much in the news 2010 Commonwealth Games opens at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi on October 3rd, the 75,000 capacity venue will reverberate to the melody of A.R. Rehman's music and the rhythm and beat of 5,000 dancers from all parts of India. Rehman, however, has gone back to London - to redo the tracks. So hugely did Shakira and the "Waka, Waka" melody affect him that he decided to rehearse and compose afresh! Meanwhile, of course, everyone waits, because nothing further can be done until the music arrives!

Be that as it may, and notwithstanding China's marvellous flying apsaras at its opening for the 2008 Olympics, the Indian opening promises to be no less spectacular. It will begin with dancers flying overhead and also coming out from the underground. A group of Thang Ta dancers from Manipur, bare-chested, clad only in chaste, white dhotis, will fly over the flood-lit stadium, piercing the dark sky with the distinctive beat of their choloms, the Manipuri drums, strapped in true classical style to their chests.

The chaar pyare of the Games' 'super' creative team, Prasoon Joshi, Javed Akhtar, Shyam Benegal and Bharat Bala, plus the two convenors of the Art and Culture Committee, dancers Shovana Narayan, also the Special Director General of CWG, and the one and only Prathibha Prahlad, have given show director, Bansi Kaul, the theme of 'WHEEL OF LIFE - VASUDHAIVA KUTUMBAKAM. ' This is in keeping with the logo of the Games, the spiralling chakra. The wheel of time and the circle of life has always been the leit-motif of Indian philosophy, inspiring the country as a symbol of freedom, hope and energy. The spiral in the logo of the chakra is meant to represent the spiralling and ascending aspiration of India on the Move.

With this and a medley being composed by a set of top musicians, from Hariharan and Niladri to Ranjit Barot and Tawfiq Qureshi to Shubha Mudgal and Gurdas Mann. The 30 minutes track of the closing ceremony will combine many different kinds of music, from Indi-pop to Bhangra to Sufi.

Bansi Kaul is predictably rehearsing madly with the 5,000 odd folk and traditional dancers, drummers and others. With the experience of the many mega shows he has done all over the world for the Festival of India, he will hopefully weave together all the segments and create the magic of Indian dance and music. The production and handling of the technical ropes is by Wizcraft, the show people who specialise in Bollywood awards functions like IFFA. Costuming for the opening and closing shows is under the baton of Delhi's Leena-Ashima and Seerat Narendra and Mumbai's Anna Singh.

The six classical dance styles that have been shortlisted, with the conspicuous and unexplained omission of that grand and most spectacular form, Kathakali, have been assigned to six top dancers. Although the total time for the dance is as little as just 9 minutes with barely time for the 40-50 odd dancers in each style to come onstage, strike a mudra and dance out, the work on choreographing and presenting them is intense and is being handled by six senior dancers. These are: Sonal Mansingh for Odissi, Saroja Vaidyanathan for Bharatanatyam, Bharti Shivaji for Mohiniattam, Raja - Radha Reddy for Kuchipudi and Birju Maharaj for both Kathak and the overall dance presentation and choreography.

When curtain comes down on the Games finally, on October 14th, again at the JN Stadium, there will be an attempt to showcase equally spectacular action on about 5 stages. This will be called Agni and the focus is on martial arts as well as folk, traditional, and classical arts.

The total budget estimate for hosting the Games began with the figure of US $ 1.6 billion and this amount does not include non-sports-related infrastructure development in the city like airports, stadiums, roads and suchlike. This figure has already been outstripped many times over and detractors like Mani Shankar Aiyar gleefully point out that it is now 35,000 crores. On the one hand, Delhi is like a bombed city these days, with every part of the hapless city, with the happy exception of east Delhi, Sheila Dixit's own constituency, full of craters, dug-outs and heaps of 'malba' in the middle of the roads, on the other the inflation has dented all budget estimates. The security concerns of the city are very genuine and serious concerns and already the Police Commissioner has advised Delhiites to "stay at home" for the entire period of October 3rd to 14th!

[All this will definitely make the 2010 Commonwealth Games the most memorable and of course the most expensive Commonwealth Games ever, being larger than the previous games in Melbourne 2006 pegged at approx. US$ 1.1 billion. The closing ceremony will reserve space for a big cultural representation from Glasgow, as Scotland is the host for the next Games. As for Delhi, come October 15th, it will heave a sigh of relief and speedily hope to get back to normal life.

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.