Dr. Sucheta Bhide Chapekar: 60th birthday celebrations at Pune  
- Sunil Kothari  
e-mail: sunilkothari1933@gmail.com  
Photos courtesy: Kalavardhini 

January 5, 2009 
 
Titled 'Parikrama: a journey that never ends,' Sucheta Chapekar's (nee Bhide) disciples and her Kalavardhini Trust organized a three day event (Dec 4 6, 2008) consisting of performances of few select students of hers, a seminar, performances by her contemporaries like Darshana Jhaveri (Manipuri), Sonal Mansingh (Odissi), Deepti Omcheri Bhalla (Mohini Attam) and senior guru and Bharatanatyam exponent CV Chandrasekhar and one evening devoted to her felicitations, her performance including her seminal work on Nritya Ganga with Hindustani music and screening of 'Vyomagami,' a film on her life and career.  
 

Industrialist Madhur Bajaj of Bajaj Autos, Sucheta Chapekar, CV Chandrashekar
It was sheer bliss to be a part of these events held at Pune. The major reason was the faithful, music and dance loving audience, and a large turn out of her admirers who from 6.30pm till 11pm at night, watched performances and displayed commendable respect for the visiting artists, for Sucheta and the proceedings. 

Outstation artists were bowled over by the response. Living as I do in Delhi, the capital, (veteran critic late Subbudu used to say, "To live in the Capital is a capital punishment!") and most of us who came from Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai realized how major metropolitan cities have been treating culture. CV Chandrasekhar said before starting his performance after three dancers' presentations, at 10pm to a full house audience, "We are overwhelmed by the presence of the rasikas, connoisseurs, with their love for dance and watching us even when it is getting late. If it were Delhi, by 8.30 people would leave the auditorium, if it were Chennai, few would be present, maybe ten or twelve, and if it were Mumbai no one would wait to watch classical dances for more than an hour! And to see you all tonight we are astonished and also reassured of your genuine love for dance and music and the courtesy you have shown us!" 
 

CV Chandrashekar
Sonal Mansingh
Indeed it was a refreshing experience. Pune has won that special qualification. 'Punya nagari,' Pune has a great tradition of all night Sawai Gandharva, an all classical Hindustani music festival, ending in the wee hours of the morning.  On account of trying times and terrorist threats, the music sessions now end by midnight. Ten thousand strong audiences feasting their ears on classical music for four nights, listening to the great musicians is a rare event. The day we arrived, the tickets for Sawai Gandharva music festival were on sale and we were told that by the evening tickets, were sold out! Such love for music made those of us staying in the Capital feel 'blasé!'  

I am writing this from Chennai. It is the 'mad, mad, mad, mad Madras season' as it is known. I am attending it for the past more than 30 years and am aghast at the number of events organized throughout the two month long period. Barring the senior and well established musicians and dancers, this proliferation of events, dancers and musicians is becoming counter productive, as the audiences in the hall are so few, and it seems in spite of that, the artists go on performing, to near empty halls. 

The contrast in Pune therefore was soothing. Sonal Mansingh (nee Pakvasa), Sucheta Chapekar (nee Bhide), Darshana Jhaveri, Kanak Rele (nee Divecha), Maya Kulkarni (now settled in New York) are all contemporaries. Forty years ago we all sprung on the dance scene and by sheer dint of hard work, talent and persistence have made a mark on the dance scene, nationally and internationally. I, as an young up-and-coming critic / scholar, honed my skills watching their performances, attending their practice lessons,  and was groomed by Dr. Mulk Raj Anand, K Bharata Iyer, the scholar and author of that amazing book 'Kathakali: The sacred dance-drama of Malabar,' Dr. Moti Chandra, the scholar and  Director of Prince of Wales Museum, senior dancers like the Jhaveri sisters, their guru Bipin Singh,  Sitara Devi,  gurus like  Kathak maestro Lachhu Maharaj,  Bharatanatyam gurus like Mahalingam Pillai, Govindaraj Pillai, Kalyanasundaram Pillai - Mumbai was the seat of culture and Brijnarain-ji's Sur Singar Samsad was our launching pad. Annual Swami Haridas and Kal Ke Kalakar Sammelans were our forum, as was  Bhulabhai Desai Memorial Institute, where Soli Batliwala (Solimama) offered us opportunites to display our art.  
 

Sunil Kothari
Parikrama theme dance
Dr. Mulk Raj Anand called us 'the Bloomsbury crowd of Bombay' and used to indulge us. His wife Kathak dancer Shirin Vajifdar and Bharatanatyam dancer Ritha Devi used to review performances as dance critics for The Times of India. Later on, I was graduated to their company and started writing for The Times of India publications and through media, we drew attention of the cognoscenti and became well known. 

Sucheta studied under Acharya Parvati Kumar and later on under Tanjore Kitappa Pillai.  
These dancers were not only beautiful but all had a serious attitude, desire for acquiring knowledge, research, dedication, grit and substance. Sucheta moved to Pune after marriage. Sonal moved to Delhi, Kanak and Darshana stayed back in Mumbai, I moved to Kolkata, but we all remained in touch. When I received an invitation to moderate the seminar in the morning session on 5th December, I was skeptical and worried. With six persons speaking each for even 20 minutes, who will stay back? But to our utter surprise and delight the auditorium was full and none left. 
 

Darshana Jhaveri
Deepti Bhalla
The symposium, held at S M Joshi Foundation Hall, was given the name 'Samvaad.' Prof. C V Chandrasekhar spoke on how relevant classical dance is today. Darshana Jhaveri explained and demonstrated Manipuri items, and screened slides of Imphal, Manipur, dances performed in the temple for her topic 'From Temple to Theatre.'  Sonal Mansingh dwelt upon abhinaya as a means of communication; Deepti Bhalla demonstrated salient features of Mohini Attam which were appreciated with spontaneous applause. Shama Bhate explained with demonstration, how Kathak has retained its essential core as a dance form with changing times. I had to summarize at the end and reiterated faith in classical dances, emphasizing that they will not lose their relevance come what may.   
 
Smita Mahajan
Pauline Reibell
Since I arrived late on 4th December night, I missed the performances titled 'Arghya,' offerings by Parimal Phadke and Smita Mahajan (Bharatanatyam), Nritya Ganga (Pauline Reibell, Rama Kuknur and Yashoda Patankar, all disciples of Sucheta. Those known for their critical appreciation told us that they all did Sucheta proud.  A unique Vadya-Laya ensemble 'Soundarya Laya' brought together two different dimensions of Indian classical music using dozen string and percussion instruments, a brain child of S. Shankar Narayan and B Anantharaman alias Ravi. Kathak exponent Shama Bhate was the chief guest. The venue was Balgandharva Rangamandir which I was told, with a maximum capacity for more than 1,000 people, was full. Alas, I missed this well designed event.  
 
Soundarya Laya
Rama Kuknur and Yashoda Patankar
'Abhivyakti,' a creative resurgence, consisted of the performances by veteran dancers Sonal Mansingh (Odissi), Darshana Jhaveri and her disciple Gyaneshwari Devi (Manipuri), Deepti Omcheri Bhalla (Mohini Attam), and Prof CV Chandrasekhar at Chandrasekhar Sabhagriha IUCAA, University of Pune. To individually compliment each seasoned dancer would be like 'gilding the lily.' They gave their best and the audience showed their appreciation watching till 11pm. In particular Mohini Attam as it is rarely seen in Pune and the item of  mridang vadan, playing upon Pung (Manipuri drums) in a sitting position on the stage, by Darshana Jhaveri and Gyaneshwari Devi were received enthusiastically for the element of novelty and surprise, as women are not generally seen playing upon Manipuri drums. Deepti Bhalla's own creative composition based on talas was outstanding. 
 
Abhivyakti
Sucheta Chapekar
Sucheta's performance of traditional Margam with Marathi padams and few numbers from Nritya Ganga evoked a sense of wonder. In physical form she has retained the freshness of her youth. It looks like she has not aged. Her inner self and outer self appear balanced. There is a certain quiet, vishranti, and there are neither demands nor complaints. All this adulation, praise et al, sits lightly on her. She does not make any fuss, accepts encomiums gracefully. She has earned it and if the rewards have come, she is happy.  

A book in Marathi of her reflections on life and dance, mirrors her philosophy for life. A galaxy of leading personalities from dance, music, education, disciples, sponsors, promoters, admirers, some elders, some contemporaries spoke warmly about her contribution, single minded dedication, devotion and giving, sharing knowledge liberally.  

The film Vyomagami captures her in the role of a housewife, dancer, teacher, researcher, choreographer, a mature artist who speaks about life and art in clear terms without making it profound. There is an enviable simplicity in Sucheta's life. Multi-tasking, carrying her mission without any noise or seeking publicity, she has as one saw, inculcated values in her students. Interacting with her  married daughter Arundhati Patwardhan and disciple Juee, I could see how Sucheta has succeeded in achieving her goal and has tremendous inner strength and peace. 

May she continue her work and transmit the values which she cherishes to her innumerable disciples and live long. 
 

Dr. Sunil Kothari, dance historian, scholar, author, is a renowned dance critic, having written for The Times of India group of publications for more than 40 years. He is a regular contributor to Dance Magazine, New York. Dr. Kothari is a globetrotter, attending several national, international dance conferences and dance festivals. He has to his credit more than 14 definitive works on Indian classical dance forms. Kothari was a Fulbright Professor and has taught at the Dance Department, New York University; has lectured at several Universities in USA, UK, France, Australia, Indonesia and Japan. He has been Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific (2000-2008) and is Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific India chapter, based in New Delhi. A regular contributor to www.narthaki.com, Dr Kothari is honored by the President of India with the civil honor of Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Akademi award.