The Emperor wears new clothes at Silicon Andhra's 2nd International Kuchipudi Convention
- Ranjana Dave, Mumbai

May 30, 2011

I was reading 'Roses and Thorns' when I came across Ramaa Bharadvaj's article 'An experience that never was California's Kuchipudi Convention'. Having had the misfortune of attending Silicon Andhra's 2nd International Convention in Hyderabad, I empathise with her!

In December 2010, I travelled to Hyderabad with the express intention of attending the convention. I was looking forward to what I thought would be a glut of high-quality Kuchipudi. I was sadly mistaken. I should have known, for the warning signs were there even before I sent a demand draft to Silicon Andhra and registered for the conference. A month in advance, the complete food menu had been posted on their website, intricately detailing each pulusu and pappu and pachadi. I remember searching for a schedule of the performances and the conference that came up a few days before the convention began and its appalling lack of detail indicated that there might be more thokkus than tarangams on display.

Since the venue was one of those horrible concrete structures near the IT district, I was surprised to see the sheer number of people who had managed to get there, all dressed to the hilt. The organisers had arranged for buses that ferried people to and from the convention. The 2nd International Kuchipudi Dance Convention was probably the biggest human mass of bodies I have ever seen in one place, apart from Churchgate station at rush hour.

The main auditorium was huge. Huge! The stage was clearly an auxiliary object, for no seat could give you a perfect view of the stage, blocked as it was by the swinging camera on a crane, among other pointless objects like flowerpots or some other pots that were accorded more importance than the audience. Footwork, diligent or lazy, went unnoticed in the melee, despite the presence of something that seemed to serve as a foot mic. The real stages were the giant screens that towered over us, giving us subjective portraits of what was happening on stage. Sometimes, it focused on the dancer's face, sometimes, it chose a mid-length view and sometimes, it hovered over the dancers, making you feel you were watching the dance sitting in mid-air, in your pushpaka vimana. I didn't know what to make of this strange mode of watching dance where the dance can only be comprehensible through the intervention of technology that takes us closer to it.

Finally, I gave up trying to watch and went to have lunch. It was a consolation where the dance did not deliver, the food did!
After that, I tried to make sense of the various seminars going on in different rooms. Given that they're expecting an 'international' audience, when lecture demonstrations are in Telugu, it would be good to indicate that on your schedule. I failed to make head or tail of the timings, and reached Yamini Krishnamoorthy's lecture demonstration when they were giving her a final bouquet.

By now, I had a splitting headache. So, like I had seen all the other enterprising audience members 'reserve' seats in the mammoth auditorium, I draped my dupatta over a chair and went to drug myself with coffee and all manner of deep-fried condiments. After that, I returned to occupy a seat and began a long vigil. When the organisers had finally finished dealing with the insurmountable problems that lay on their path to punctuality, they started a round of speeches. They were so loud I couldn't even go to sleep.

This time, I thought I had a very good seat; later, I decided that the dupatta-flinging reservation was pointless because the dancers were so bad. I have never understood how dancers dare to get on stage when they're less than perfect. Doesn't it reflect on their reputation or destroy chances of getting one if they don't have one already? And when dancer after dancer in the evening line-up competed to be the worst performers ever, I decided I had had enough. It was like a big wedding where the dancers were the nadaswaram players. No one cared about them; they could be dancing in their bathrooms for all they cared. It was even as boring as a big wedding. I stared jealously at a child sleeping comfortably in the silk and jewellery and false plaits she was wearing.

Then I walked out and drowned disappointment in dinner, inflicting much misery on the violent orange aloo 65 (or did I have that for lunch?), found a bus back to Hyderabad, returned to my friend's house, gossiped about Kuchipudi with his mother, and went to sleep on the sofa.

The next day was Christmas. I didn't want to ruin it. So my convention experience lasted exactly one day. Seriously, Hyderabad has nice food too. Meanwhile, I'd rather watch Kuchipudi on YouTube. Less indigestion, more choice.