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A well-articulated April

April 28, 2019

Art articulates and a few genuine artistes, really articulated April well.

First - Mysore Nagaraj - who is a unique character of Mysore, settled in Bangalore, who learnt Kathak from veteran Kathak guru, the late Maya Rao - has served arts selflessly. A good guru himself now with well-trained students, Mysore Nagaraj presents through his Articulate Foundation, a monthly event in Mysore and a yearly one in Bangalore. Yeoman service he does to dance and mostly, selflessly. He is what can truly be called a rasika, a genuine art lover. Only a true art lover can honor and value other artists. I'm happy to note ten years ago, our Dance Discourse at Alliance Francaise started the trend of honoring gurus who were missed by the system, through the attenDance Awards.

For first few years it was Mysore Nagaraj who brought his own silver, yes, silver puja implements (can't call them utensils!) to do paada puja on guru's feet that we washed on stage, decorated with sandal, kumkum and offered flowers at feet of the Masters. This was done to show modern gurus and students how things should be done properly or not at all. Tokenism has invaded modern Indian mind and percolated down to our arts too.

Our Dance Discourse having stopped in 2017 (as I was elected on the Board of Alliance Francaise) I'm glad others like Mysore Nagaraj and our acolyte Madhulita Mohapatra, Murali Mohan of Nadam and many others in each city, have taken up some of our best practices and taking these acts forward, with same approach and attitude to arts and artists. So, on this occasion (which was also Nagaraj's birthday) he honoured Kittu sir or Prof. Krishnamurthy. All of 80 plus, he is a gem of BN, from first batch of Kalakshetra alumni no less. After this honouring (and Mysore Nagaraj seems to have read what I wrote last time so there were no wasteful flowers or shining shawls bestowed!) only handsome bag of dry fruits for all was given.

Madhu Nataraj next danced her minimal Kathak. Madhu's solo dancing is no patch or match for group work she choreographs. She has a flair for design and costumes and colours. She is a dance model for some of the young, city smart set, so best she develops that. Vyjayanthi Kashi had an instant electrifying connection with audiences. An artiste on stage gets magnified anyway but to see a senior up close on small Seva Sadan chamber hall, shows all aspects of dance closely and fills the space.

His reputation precedes him, that's Odissi guru Bichitrananda Swain. He was in his element depicting "Ahe Nila Saile...", a Muslim poet Salabeg's ode to Vishnu, appealing to him to reduce his suffering (from leprosy), just as he saved the elephant Gajendra from the jaws of a crocodile and Draupadi from Dushasana disrobing her completely in the Kaurava court, an item he had taught his ace student Lingaraj Pradhan, who presented it as a popular item in most places.

‘Binda Ke Shyam' by Articulate Dance Studio

Last portion of this annual function was reserved for in-house dancers and students of Mysore Nagaraj, who presented a beautiful, full of bhakti rasa, nicely woven "Binda Ke Shyam" production with projection of classical paintings which were used as a backdrop to Kathak rendition by star student Lakshminarayan Jena and Prarthana (whose Radha crown kept coming off, which both the dancers covered, smilingly!). A pleasant pair on stage, Jena and Prarthana look good together. Others too fit in well and on the whole a most enjoyable evening was had by all. Mysore Nagaraj himself conducted with flair and well articulated speech. His genuine love for art was evident.

Next week in Delhi, it was fulfilling to see Sonal Mansingh articulate Radha. Her deep association and empathy for the concept surfaced also through her grasp of mythology and traditional scholarship. It was a book launch basically - FINDING RADHA - edited by Namita Gokhale and Malashri Lal, brought out by Penguin. Sonal Mansingh is a diva all know; that behind the diva is also a diya of abundant shastric knowledge, few in Delhi IIC type audience may have known. She got very less time, just under 45 minutes to speak on a subject of such depth. But from the minute she came on stage in her soft rose pink, to when she took a standing ovation, she mesmerized all. Sanskrit, Odia, even Gurmukhi she could easily quote from and enact on. This was one stage appearance where for many long term dance watchers, Sonal Mansingh outdid herself. She was in supreme form and crossed to Still Radha Krishna land.

The panel discussion after this was like eating paper plate after a sumptuous meal. Pavan Varma said as much in his opening lines, "Any discussion after this offering by Sonalji is redundant." Yet 5 wise women plodded on with the concept. The compere mis-pronounced most common names and while Malashri Lal was direct to course in an academic manner, Pavan played mostly the devil's advocate, Renuka Narayan, the jester and Namita Gokhale, the director. It was left again to Sonal Mansingh to contextualize the concept of Radha and many layers to it. Delhi being Delhi, half the audience was in bling with others wanting to cling to photo op or selfies. Radha may well have retired to where she was from - Barsana! (near Mathura).

Mad love for dance should be his real name, not Abdul Khalid or Saddam. A sweet lad from back of beyond Gorakhpur (south India would have never even heard of it but north Hindi speaking folks know of it first as Geeta Press HQ - all those holy books in Hindi were printed here, the place is known now as CM Yogi's constituency). In dance, add Abdul Khalid. His story reads like a murder mystery and an eye opener. Murder of dance in eyes of small town India. Murder of systems of patronage. Possessed by dance, while at a Christian missionary school, this boy by chance got to dance at a school function. Since he danced so well, next year, all of just 14 he was asked to choreograph the annual day. At 15, he ran away from home to Benaras because he heard that's where dance gurus lived. Mind you, he had no idea which form, who. There, he walked 25 km from cantonment to Benaras junction, with 12Rs. in pocket. Reached one Kala Sadhana dance school but they would not admit a youngster of 15, that too who had run away from home. He cried more but they told him to finish basic school then come back. He went home. They beat him up then locked him up, all because he wanted to learn dance. A Muslim boy, brought up in Christian school learning Hindu dances. This is India today. The young boy endured all hardships (to punish him, his father cut his name off from school register, so he passed from self-study and correspondence course) and reached Delhi to learn dance. First from Sonal Mansingh, then his mansik guru, the iconic Yamini Krishnamurthy.

Through all these trials, travails and tribulations he survived because of one dance cassette he possessed (his father had burnt, when he ran away and returned) - that of Sudharani Raghupathy. He learnt each item in it by self. He recites sollukattus better than natives; his dance so impressed the great Yamini, she said: YOU ARE ME. At 27, he has no godfather, real father or holy father. He manages to survive in a mega city like Delhi by teaching dance to kids in Noida. He is mad about dance. Would anyone support him? Any real patron left in the city of Djinns, Delhi?

Abdul Khalid

Sonal Mansingh

Reva University is a happening multi-discipline university in outskirts of Bangalore, which hosted the most meaningful World Dance Day, which was divided into 3 parts: a seminar on dance in spirituality; live performance by 3 leading groups of the city and an outreach program, where its students went to Cancer hospital and crèches to entertain those rarely done so. This year Reva University's celebrations showed how a good idea travels far and can reach out to neglected and marginalized sections of society. Way to go, Young India, way to go. India is looking for something new.

So we end the month with Sonal Mansingh turning 75. The poster is an art work itself. And to think Waheeda Rehman was the guest of honor was different and heartening because both Sonal Mansingh and Waheeda Rehman learnt first from Mangalore guru Jayalakshmi Alva, then in Bombay. Later she settled in Mangalore. Icon Waheeda Rehman additionally learnt from doyen Lachchu Maharaj for Kathak (that helped her in all Hindi film dances like Guide) and Sonal Mansingh to USK Rao for Bharatanatyam. attenDance honored guru Alva one year before she passed away, as not even an SNA award had come her way. When I saw her off at station, with her devoted daughter Araty Shetty, this 80 year old blessed and said, "Thank you for making me feel valued and important."

Let us value our arts and artists. A nation's real wealth are its arts and artists.

The columnist is author of many books on arts and culture; senior critic, columnist for mainstream media, who served many govt. bodies. Having donated Mohan Khokar Dance Collection to IGNCA, Delhi, he is now helping gallerise and digitise it as permanent archive/museum. He edits yearbook attenDance, now in its 20th year.

Mr. Khokar's vast canvas with its many hues of dancers and their dance reminds me of Chavda's deft artwork. And the insider anecdotes satisfies the voyeur in us! Especially moving was Abdul Khalid's plight, quite like Billy Elliot's story of fighting age-old inherent prejudices against male dancers. Mr. Khokar's article urges you to reach out and "do something".
Keep up the good work !!
- Amber Vaid (May 3, 2019)

Very touching last lines, especially about Guru Jayalakshmi Alva-ji. I had the fortune of attending Natyasastra camp organized by her and conducted by Guru Padma Subrahmanyam way back in 1995, a 15 days residential camp. She was a doting mother who took good care of us.
- Deepa Narayanan Sashindran (May 2, 2019)

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