Attendance male focus issue gets rousing Delhi launch
- Shanta Serbjeet Singh, New Delhi

August 16, 2010

Gurus and Maharajas always manage to cast a unique patina on any event. So, it was at Ashish Khokar's recent launch of the 2010 ATTENDANCE issue at the Habitat. Not only did a receptive audience pack it in to welcome the launch, praise the intrepid author, critic, conservator, collector and chip off the unique id bequeathed to him by Mohan Khokar and MK Saroja but they were joined by a lot of gurus and luminaries on the stage to take the edge off the entirely thankless and very hard task of surviving as a writer of serious issues in contemporary India.

The volume was released by the one and only Maharajdhiraj, Motiyan Wale Dr. Karan Singh, the youngest Sadre-Riyasat (governor) of Jammu and Kashmir back in the Fifties. Accompanying him was the Secretary of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, Jayant Kastuar, himself an unusual package of the ability to create rasa and be a rasika, of knowledge and of passion for dance and music.

From Bangalore came the evening's co-hosts, Sudhakar Rao, the Chairman and Director of the Bangalore School of Music, and Aruna Sunderlal, Founder and Managing Trustee. The Guest of Honour was Dr. B Jayahree, MP from Karnataka, member of the Parliamentary Committee for Culture and herself a singer. Our extremely hard-pressed and very erudite Secretary of Culture, Jawahar Sircar, slated to receive the first copy from Dr. Karan Singh, had to send his regrets and felicitation remarks instead. After a gap of 64 years, the British Prime Minister's visit that week had also brought to town a cultural delegation and a major cultural exchange agreement was being hammered out by them and Mr. Sircar's team.

The special invitees were of course the gurus, Guru Birju Maharaj, Guru Yamini Krishnamurthy, Guru Raja Reddy, Shovana Narayan, Pratap Pawar...The Polish Ambassador, Prof. Piotr Klodkowski was a surprise. He is a Sanskrit scholar and speaks Hindi fluently. The evening's highlight came at the start - a 15 minute AV on the famous Mohan Khokar dance collection, a capsule of a century of Indian dance. Seeing her guru Swarna Saraswati in the opening images, Geeta Chandran picked up the reference, in my welcome address, to the tin trunks in which the collection rests, in Saroja-ji's house by the sea front in Chennai. It takes up a whole floor and causes Ashish and her, much travail in terms of upkeep and storage. Geeta was so moved at the rare image of her guru, a low-profile artiste of the old school whose encounters with the camera were so few and far in between. Geeta said, "I can't wait to get my hands into these trunks and dig until I can find another such image."

Meanwhile, the trunks sit there, waiting for the National Museum of Performing Arts to come up under the expert supervision of the Sangeet Natak Akademi. It has already received the full-throated 'yeah' of the Joint Committee on Culture of Parliament. It has recommended that the Ministry of Culture create it in New Delhi at the earliest. All the VIPs that evening noted the importance of the collection and the importance of its preservation and towards that end, the SNA is already looking for a rented place to start the work, not wait for the building to come up. Good that the land for the project has already been earmarked by DDA.

The four boys who came from Bangalore especially for the launch brought glory to Karnataka with their polished solo dance performances. Seshadri Iyengar's Bharatanatyam, in particular, was a joy in terms of restraint and communicative power.

I will end this piece with a quiz. Do you see anything unusual in the accompanying image of the 'Nataraja'?

Give up? The answer is that this is no 'Nataraja.' It is the American dance icon, Ted Shawn, dressed as the Hindu god, in a typical Nataraja pose, framed by the circle of fire. It is from the Mohan Khokar collection and was the original invite for a "Solo Male Dancers Season in 'Madras'"!

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.