Text & pics: Veejay Sai
August 23, 2014
It could have been just another weekend in a monsoon-starved Bangalore. One too many events and functions going on around, especially this time commemorating several festivals. The most enterprising and highly underrated community of dwindling Parsees across the country was celebrating their new year’s day of Navroze. The devout Hindus across the nation were celebrating Krishna Janmashtami. The Hindustani classical music world was celebrating the combined birthdays of the legendary sitar maestro Ustad Vilayat Khan saab and the tabla wizard Pt Kishan Maharaj. A far cry from all this cultural chaos was another event that most of the city’s mainstream media chose to keep silent on. 18th of August commemorated sixteen years of the Odissi diva Protima Gauri’s entry into the world of gods. Twenty-four years after she established the world famous Nrityagram, a space dedicated to the growth and nourishment of dance, the world got to welcome their second ensemble.
In a short and sweet ceremony held at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Kincha auditorium in Bangalore, a large gathering of rasikas, lucky Bangaloreans, anxious parents and dear friends of Protima witnessed and warmly embraced the Nrityagram Ensemble Too, like they did ages ago with the first batch. What a magnificent offering to make!
Surupa Sen took on the role of announcing the events as they went by as Bijayini Satpathy joined the orchestra and gave music to the dancers. The evening opened with the youngest batch of dancers, aged four to fourteen, exhibiting hastas, hasta viniyogas, charis and the basics of Odissi vocabulary. The five girls of the second ensemble Akshiti Roy-Choudhary, Prabha P, Prithvi Nayak, Shravasti Ingle and Urmila Mallick came, danced and dazzled. In their short pieces, they presented ‘Muroli Pani,’ a composition on lord Krishna’s leelas. They concluded their performance with the Dashavatara Stotram taken from Jayadeva’s Gita Govindam. What better way to celebrate Janmashtami than watch this new batch of extremely promising brigade of dancers! Everyone wished and blessed the new ensemble succeeds like their gurus did.
As the evening concluded, a few senior dance students, across ages and professions, spoke their hearts in brief testimonies. They spoke of how their lives were highly enriched as students of super-star and super-strict (as a student Dhruva put it, “cool and badass!”) gurus Bijayini Satpathy, Surupa Sen and Pavithra Reddy. They described their meticulous training, their soaring confidence levels and much more they gained from the holistic teaching methods that Nrityagram believes in. After the performances, a sumptuous dinner hosted by one of Bangalore’s eternally generous patron of arts, Biren Das of K C Das Sweets, had Protima’s favourite aloo dum, choler dal and luchis. If the rasikas didn’t have their fill with the performances, here was more on the menu!
A long drive into Nrityagram saw a gathering of Protima’s old friends and fans. Dance critics Dr. Sunil Kothari, Leela Venkataraman, theatre personalities Dolly Thakore (who specially flew down from Bombay only for this event), Arundhati Nag – the fairy godmother who gave the world Ranga Shankara traveled in spite of her recent leg injury, Upeka, Thaji and their family from the Chitrasena-Vajira Dance Foundation in Sri Lanka (half a dozen of them specially flew down for this occasion!) and this writer gathered at Kula in Nrityagram. As the cool breezes of saawan brought in a slight drizzle that matured into a fantastic downpour, conversations with long adventurous anecdotes filled the air with laughter and bonhomie. From these conversations one could see how Protima Gauri was not just another Odissi dancer. She was a visionary who embraced the world with her selfless love and her undying passion for the arts.
An excerpt from Haruki Murakami’s famous ‘Kafka On The Shore’ came to my mind. Murakami writes, “Most things are forgotten over time. Even the war itself, the life-and-death struggle people went through is now like something from the distant past. We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past are no longer in orbit around our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about everyday, too many new things we have to learn. But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us forever, like a touchstone.” It was these rich eternal reminiscences that kept Protima with us that evening. It was her good karma that brought so many of her dear friends under her roof to keep her memory live.
Before we all knew, the night flew by and the chirping birds brought in the morning and sunshine. We were amidst nature, art and beauty celebrating the vision and dreams of a diva who lives on in everyone’s hearts. For those of you who want to understand what Nrityagram does to dance, a simple trip there would refresh your mind and thoughts.
Nrityagram celebrates their 25th birthday next year and we wish them the very best for all their efforts in creating magic through their passion for dance and spreading cheer to make the world a better place to live in. More power to them!
Veejay Sai is a writer, editor and culture critic.