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New Muse for new normal

June 16, 2021

In ancient Greece, Muses were the inspirational goddesses of literature, science, and the arts. Considered as the source of knowledge embodied in the poetry, lyric songs, and myths -- related orally for centuries in the Greek culture -- the nine Muses were the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, figuring as personifications of knowledge and the arts. Out of them, Enterpe was the specific Muse for music, song and lyrical poetry, with a flute-like musical instrument as her symbol. Along with the Satyrs, she was supposed to have toured all Asia and Europe, teaching the arts wherever she went.

Apparently, Aditi Mangaldas, the renowned Kathak dancer with an international footprint and the trained performers from her Drishtikon Dance Foundation, did not quite accept the ugly visage of the rampaging monster of corona today at its face value. They set about the changing seasons experienced by each Drishtikon artist from the confines of their homes and yearned to interpret the seasons in the flight of their imagination to elucidate their feelings. They shot a film themselves -- with the help of their friends and family -- working within the limitations of the space they had and with whatever recording facilities they owned.

Khidki Se...Seasons from my window was the resultant dance film, premiered on 5 June on the occasion of World Environment Day. The concept by Aditi Mangaldas seemed to this critic much like an inverted equilateral triangle, where the passing panorama of colourful seasons occupied one bottom apex and the artistes cloistered within the confines of their homes behind windows were at the second bottom apex. And quite obviously, on the top apex of this triangle alighted the goddess Enterpe in a new travelling avatar, setting her flute on and airing some of her new librettos! These lyrics were to be danced to, by the Drishtikon dancers -scattered in Delhi, Agra and Goa -from their confined residences and nearby space in these fractured times.

One can listen to the poetic overture by Aditi: "Khidki seeing the Seasons from my window. Pitter patter...I hear from my window and I search within it rhythms and song. And suddenly there is the radiant moon... and I catch a moon beam! Later, a leaf - dry and crisp, floats into my room. From where are you, dear leaf? Which tree? But then the chills reach me... Penetrating through concrete and mortar! Khidki Se...spotting sprouts of new green! Multi chromatic flashes! Colour splendour! Is it the same tree? And just as suddenly, the grills of my window are on fire, burning me with it! Khidki even the humble 'Babool' glowing in yellow? Spring, the king of all the seasons has arrived! Ah! But now that I am awake, alas! It is still winter! The seasons from my window are all about Sharad, Hemant, Shishir, Vasant, Grishma and Varsha!"

Then, "There was much excitement -- finally travel and live performances on stage! Then suddenly darkness descended on many, in very devastating ways. But dance is all we knew and in this darkness of anxiety, we watched the seasons changing from our window. That's what Khidki"

Finally, "Each artist attempts to find creativity in dire circumstances, with whatever phone camera they had, whatever small or big space they had and whatever light that was available. Even the music was recorded at home on phones with street sounds entering the aural landscape. These are small vignettes of seasons experienced by the members of Drishtikon - conceptualised, visualised, choreographed, danced, and filmed by themselves."

DikshaTripathi (Photo: G Balatchandirane)

The programme begins with Sharad (pre-autumn) by perhaps the youngest of the lot, DikshaTripathi. Amidst concrete wall openings, she is encased behind a make believe window expressing bhao in a reposeful mood. Slowly she picks up steps: ta-dhin-ta-dhin / ta-ta-dhindhin-ta-ta. Warming up, she dances alongside a platter of water with floating blossoms. Her inspiration is from Sumitra Nandan Pant: I look up to the sky from my window to see the glorious 'Sharad Purnima' full moon... bathing the earth and its bounty with its enchanting moonlight. The gentle cool breeze bids farewell to the severe summer. I stand at my window counting each precious moment, as this eternal time slowly passes by...

Gaurav Bhatti (Photo: Arcelia Octana)

Hemant (autumn) is Gaurav Bhatti's forte, with visible restlessness and fast footwork. His tatkars are breathtaking, with dry leaves floating in through picture frame windows that make him pause and ponder with Rachana Yadav's poetry: In a fort you were initially within four walls to be safe, but once the entire world turned upside down... once everyone you knew and loved turned into piles of dead leaves, you ask the storm to take you as well... He ponders on how the horrific sight of dead bodies floating in the river and buried in the sand was unfolding as he worked on this piece and paused to wonder: how could this colossal human tragedy not permeate into his work?

Minhaz Khan (Photo: AAI)

Shishir (winter) is taken up by Minhaz Khan (who had played a very creative role in music design for the entire programme). Unfortunately, he was in a post-convalescent period himself after an attack of covid-19 and was content to bhao abinaya in a sit-down mode before a closed window. He chose an unknown poet to emote: In my dream, winter has worn Spring's clothing...Pollen dust is blowing in the air, wearing a crown of thorns. Even the humble 'Babool' is glowing in yellow. Spring, the king of all seasons has arrived! Ah! But now that I am awake, alas! It is still winter!

Sunny Shishodiya (Photo: Sanjit Debroy)

Vasant (spring) is taken up by Sunny Shishodiya, again beginning on a sit-down mode and gradually warming up. His listless wait is palpable and the garden opens up revealing its splendours to him. Amir Khusrau's poetry is sung with love around: The sound of the Koel bird singing draws me to the window. The lush mustard fields sway as if dancing to the rhythm of the buzzing bees. I visualise the village damsel adorning herself to meet her beloved. Love is in the air... Tiny green leaves start to sprout. New life is emerging giving way to the future. Vasant is here... and yet, I am waiting, waiting, waiting...

Manoj Sonagra (Photo: Anoop Arora )

Grishma (summer) is where Manoj Sonagra, descending down the stairs is accosted with burning luminescence slowly overpowering him. Is there too much sun in the unaccustomed times? He has a Nand Das verse guiding him into the blinding sunlight in the gardens and on the roof terrace: Between four walls...the rays shimmering through my window brightening up my room even on darker days. The sun is too bright to look at...yet too bright to look away from...I am being attracted to it like a moth to a flame...Warming not just my skin but my soul as well...the Sun embraces me like a warm blanket,arousing a blur of emotions. / Let me quench my water on parched earth, the rays shimmering through my window...

Musicians (Photo: NCPA, Mumbai)

Varsha (monsoon) is left open to the triad of musicians: Faraz Ahmed on vocals, Ashish Gangani on pakhawaj and Mohit Gangani on tabla, to improvise their way through the final pitter-patter of the rains that never turn into torrential downpours yet! The melody in Raga Megh is gentle yet energetic, traversing mostly the upper octaves and guiding them on and on: The sound of thunder and lightning is music to my ears. As the clouds gather and the wind blows into my room, enveloping my senses and my being, with the fresh smell of wet earth... I am overcome with sadness at the thought of being confined within my room. But then the rain lashes through the window, drenching me and my soul with hope. The monsoon is here. Good days, a good harvest and prosperity can't be too far behind...

In the harrowing times, it is not the quality of dance (uniformly good, bearing the mark of excellence one attaches to the Drishtikon training), but the defiant mood with which the youngsters look at the prevailing calamity that is striking. Throughout, the senior dancer Gauri Diwakar has provided mentoring assistance and sourced the poetry, and Gaurav Bhatti has stood consistently by the side of the dancers. The resultant product is consistently good and worth watching, with one saluting the group and their helmsman Aditi Mangaldas!

Dr. Utpal K Banerjee is a scholar-commentator on performing arts over last four decades. He has authored 23 books on Indian art and culture, and 10 on Tagore studies. He served IGNCA as National Project Director, was a Tagore Research Scholar and is recipient of Padma Shri.

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