Banaras revisited
- Dr. Sunil Kothari

August 11, 2012

Dr. Lalji Singh
The renowned scientist Dr. Lalji Singh, Director of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, has been appointed as the Vice Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University (BHU). Known for his studies in Cytogenetic and work on Evolution of Karyotypes in snakes and seminal work in molecular basis of sex determination, DNA finger printing, forensic investigation and for establishing Centre for DNA Technology, Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Dr. Singh was a bright student of BHU and obtained Ph.D from there. Born in Jaunpur, UP, BHU is proud to have its own student as Vice Chancellor. I had known Dr. Lalji for many years as I was closely associated with CCMB, Hyderabad. Dr. Lalji used to attend my illustrated talks on dance at CCMB. It was Dr. PM Bhargav, scientist and former Director of CCMB, who had invited me to be a convener with him and Dr. Raja Ramanna, for a conference of scientists and artists at Hyderabad in 1986 during my tenure as Dean and Professor of School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi. That historic conference has been a turning point in my life, as thanks to Dr. Bhargav, I was ushered into the world of science and scientists.

Dr. Bhargav had specially invited me before the conference to acquaint me with the CCMB and had screened a film on DNA. Dr. Francis Creek, one of the scientists who had discovered DNA, was to attend the conference. I must confess I did not know anything then about all these mysteries, but am grateful to Dr. Bhargav because since then I have been in touch with CCMB and have benefitted a lot, extending my horizons of knowledge. Therefore, when Dr. Lalji called two months ago asking me to accept nomination as a member of Academic Council of BHU, I was delighted and accepted it. I knew it would help me meet not only scientists but many specialists from various walks of life. It has always been a pleasure to have encounters of different kinds when one is involved with dance so deeply. The visit to Banaras was very rewarding. And I did meet a very interesting person in Mr. PC Gandhi as a nominated member of Academic Council during the first meeting at BHU on 14th July 2012 at Banaras.

Mr. Gandhi is a former Inspector General of Police and Director, Andhra Pradesh Forensic Scientific Lab at Hyderabad. He has established Truth Lab, India’s first independent Forensic Science Lab in 2007. The sole objective of the Lab is to help the victims of crime and injustice by providing Scientific Investigation and Detective Services using modern forensic tools and techniques at affordable costs with international quality. It is an NGO and affiliated to Crime Stoppers Foundation India Global Network. During his formative period, Mr. Gandhi was much  influenced by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhiji had visited his village and his mother wished her son would follow the Mahatma’s path and named him Gandhi, his full name being Purna Chandra Rao Gandhi. Mr. Gandhi was a brilliant student and studied abroad, but returned to India when NT Rama Rao, the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, called him to work in India. He never looked back and had a brilliant career. During the last decade, he resolved many cases including Noida Nithari murder case, Tehelka Tapes, Godhra riots aftermath etc. Mr. Gandhi was closely associated with CCMB and was a close friend of Dr. PM Bhargav and Dr. Lalji Singh. Joining Academic Council, Dr. Gandhi explained how he would like to have interdisciplinary work with forensic studies, drug abuses and other related matters at BHU. During conversation with him, I learnt a lot about real crimes. Till then my familiarity with crime was through reading of detective novels of Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler. I told him so. He was quite amused. Hearing about some real cases, I was fascinated and shocked to learn how criminals murder victims. I told Mr. Gandhi that he must write creative fiction which would be most interesting on account of the vast real experience he has.

We travelled together as he was to go to Bangalore via Delhi and I to Ahmedabad. He shared with me his need to meet some ten people for a think tank who would support Truth Lab. I suggested Aamir Khan, the film actor, now much in news with his TV program of Satyameva Jayate, the dancer and cultural activist Mallika Sarabhai, Elaben Bhatt of SEWA, historian Ramchandra Guha and promised to put him in touch with them through email. Mr. Gandhi appeared a genuine, devout man, offering prayers at Vishvanath Temple. I was much impressed by him.

Electrical Engg Dept, BHU

SS Hospital, BHU

It was after 15 years that I was visiting Banaras again. Earlier, when I was Professor and Head, Dept of Dance, Rabindra Bharati University, I was invited to American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) for a residency of fifteen days to study the sculptures of medieval temples of North Gujarat. Dr. Madhusudan Dhaky is an architectural historian and author of several authoritative works including Encyclopedia of Indian Temple Architecture (with Michael Meister). He was Director Emeritus, of AIIS, and was held in great respect. I sought his guidance for my research work. He invited me to stay with him at his residence and arranged for transport to visit BHU whenever I wanted to go there. That fortnight was a memorable one, as Dr. Dhaky with his interest in several fields would regale us with value and beauty of jewels, effect of music on plants, in particular orchids. With his mastery over classical Hindustani and Carnatic music, he could establish insightful relationship between sculpture and dance. His knowledge of Sanskrit, Prakrit and Apabhransha languages is deep and sound. He is also a voracious reader.

I was received by Mr. Krishnan, from Admission Section of BHU at the new, svelte airport named after Lal Bahadur Shastri, our former Prime Minister. Krishnan was born and brought up in Banaras, originally a Keralite, but now a pucca Banarasi, fond of classical Hindustani and Carnatic music. When he heard about my connection with JNU, he asked me if I knew Prof. CV Chandrasekhar, who had taught Bharatanatyam at Mahila College. In those years it was introduced as a hobby class. So we both clicked. Chandrasekhar joined as a Professor in the Dance Dept, MS University, Baroda in 1980 and I as a Professor in the Dance Department, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata. I had completed my Ph.D under the guidance of Anjali Merh, at MS University, Baroda. She was Chandrasekhar’s classmate when he was studying Bharatanatyam at Kalakshetra. We had known each other for a long time. Dr. George Arundale, Rukmini Devi’s husband, was at Banaras. He had laid a strong foundation for education and he and Rukmini Devi had a close association with BHU. She sent Chandrasekhar to Banaras to teach Bharatanatyam at Mahila College. Chandrasekhar is not only a dancer, but also a gifted vocalist with equal mastery in both the classical music traditions of Hindustani and Carnatic music. Music has always been in air in Banaras. Chandrasekhar had earned enviable reputation among the musicians in Banaras. Dr. Dhaky was also a great admirer of Chandrasekhar as was Chandrasekhar of Dr. Dhaky.

Krishnan had worked under Dr. Dhaky at AIIS, before joining BHU, therefore all the way from the airport we caught up with all those days and remembered people we knew. Krishnan’s love for music and dance indeed is admirable. Rarely would he miss Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s performance at Sankat Mochan celebrations and continues to attend performances of guruji’s son Ratikant and his wife Sujata Mohapatra, as well as Pandit Jasraj’s vocal recital which starts after 2am in the morning and concludes at 5 or 6am! Ah, what ambience and what performances. However, Krishnan lamented that now Chaiti songs, Kajari songs are not being sung or celebrated as in early times. Western music has taken over, the adverse impact of Bollywood music and dance, he said, has caused this loss of interest in traditional songs and there are now few exponents specializing in Kajris, Chaitis and Thumris. I told him that Purab ang ki thumri is not lost. Recently in Kolkata and elsewhere, three-day sammelans were held focusing on thumris. The legendary Girija Devi had presided over those sammelans and honoured young generation exponents. No wonder when you land in Banaras, and meet someone like Krishnan, you feel lucky for the conversation. I was delighted that Krishnan was asked to look after the new members visiting Banaras from outstation.

Prem Chand Hombal and Mala
Before arriving in Banaras from Ahmedabad, I had asked Deputy Registrar to let me have cell number of Prem Chand Hombal, Head of the Dance Department, who has been teaching Bharatanatyam there for past more than 30 years. Trained by his father Guru Shankar Hombal, Prem Chand also studied at Kalakshetra like his father, whom I had known when he was at Bhopal. Shankar Hombal was happy that his son, whom he had named after the renowned Hindi novelist Prem Chand, had taken to dance and was appointed as a lecturer at the Dance Department of BHU.

After I got settled, I got in touch with Kamala Dutt Tripathi, great Sanskrit scholar and a member of General Council of Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA) looking after branch of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) at Banaras. Prem Chand Hombal came with his wife Mala to the LD Guest House to see me. Well known Bharatanatyam exponent Geeta Chandran from Delhi was member of Academic Council of BHU. I had spoken to her and wanted to know about the latest development at BHU for Performing Arts Faculty and also meet the Dean. I have   known Dr. Ranjana Srivastav, a Kathak exponent, who was Head of the Dance Department. The position is by rotation. She was away at Gwalior for selection of dancers at the University. So, I missed meeting her.  The last we had met was many years ago when Dr. Purnima Pande, Kathak exponent and Vice Chancellor of Khairagarh University, had invited some of us for a meeting. Kathak exponent and former Secretary of Sangeet Natak Akademi, Jayant Kastuar, Ranjana Srivastav and I had spent some time together discussing various issues of Kathak. Since BHU is a Central University, they have arrangements for invit