The virus licks my torn soul, guilt tripping me
I sing a love song to it, tempting the faint thump,
Causing my heart to fissure its fatty lumps; pretend
I live on a moon of my own landing, turn my flesh
Inside out, listen to the chirping of birds, amazed
That so much beauty could still exist, amid club-like
Spikes that crush the breathing soul...
A pestilence that asks for enormous surcharges, lethal
As the protean cry of daggers, stabbing me yet again.
Quietly slithering out, a warlike stratagem, as
Birds orchestrate their cheerful songs to one another...
Gone, I struggle with myself, umpteen times more
By Nishi Chawla
From the anthology SINGING IN THE DARK
Global poetry under lockdown
Publisher Penguin Vintage
#HAVE YOU VAXXED YET?
Well... have you?
Have you become bored with watching online dance?
Are you ready to SCREAM with frustration as another lockdown looms large?
Are you ready to vote for your next State Chief Minister? (this for those citizens of certain Indian states)
I am saying YES to all the above.
Meanwhile, DANCE has been pushed to the margins of conversations while most of the activity was focused on getting the first dose of the COVID vaccine and waiting for the second. Having taken my first jab in early March, I could not move my left arm and certainly could not lift it to the ideal "NATYARAMBHA" position. The pain subsided while the drowsiness persisted for days. I got off easy it seems. My friends had more severe reactions.
As all age groups are now taking the vaccine, at least in Tamilnadu, it looks like that activity may be the only outing that many will be making in the near future. With infections on the rise and India leading globally with 50,000 infected daily, we seem to be facing another 6 months of digital dreariness. All live events in several states have been cancelled and curfew has been imposed from 7pm in many cities.
Even though some festivals did continue, patronised by the State and Central governments, the regular "Rasika" was absent. Gab fests continued to attract less and less eyeballs as Indian citizens continued to flout all norms (mainly out of frustration and boredom) and conduct or attend weddings and large parties without masks!!!
With HOLI and other important temple festivals occurring in March, we brace for another spike in infections while many Indians firmly believe that they are immune once they enter the portals of faith!!!
# TAMIL SONG GOES GLOBAL
All eyes and talk centres around a video from Tamil country that has gone viral and has little to do with classical or contemporary dance. I am speaking about the independent, non film tune and video sensation titled ENJOY ENJAAMI. It has been created by Tamil Sri Lankan ARIVU, in memory of his ancestors and his Sri Lankan grandmother, Valliammai, who was a bonded labourer in the tea plantations. This global super hit contains poignant lyrics that has been largely ignored in favour of the eye grabbing visuals. Its creator has insisted that it is a political song and not just entertainment, with the lyrics being about ancestry, land, wealth and joy. As an anti caste hip hop artiste, Arivu is among a new generation of culture creators. He himself is a rapper, given that rap - a Black political tool of freedom - has become an elite mainstream art.
If ENJOY ENJAAMI is an example of Dalit art, lyrics and performance, then DHEE the female lead has attracted criticism from the "woke" gang. She wears the "addigai" (necklace) and a "rakkodi" hair jewellery as shirt buttons. Both are representative of the upper castes who could afford these ornaments. Arivu also comes in for some barbs. He holds an African-ish sceptre and does a kind of an African dance. Was he trying to align with the dark skinned race whom the colour conscious Indians look down on?
A portion of the lyrics in translation says
"I planted five trees, nurtured a beautiful garden
Though the garden flourished
Yet my throat remains dry.
My sea, my bank, my forest, my people"
The song has become the focus of endless essays and discussions.
Just goes to show that anything and everything will be viewed and sifted through the caste lens in the near future.
This past year has seen the astonishing rise of some super divas on Instagram. Two of my own dancers - all who were part of the NAACHIYAR NEXT team - are now well on their way to becoming social media influencers. Check out @simransivakumar and you will be gobsmacked at her following and at how she has cracked the algorithms of likes and followers.
Also on the rise is @archanarajadance who is using REELS and a savvy mix of photos and live footage to create interesting content.
Of course, @bijayinisatpathy is growing her fan base with her daily practice in her home terrace.
And @savithasastry is baring her no makeup chiseled face with daily posts of workouts and classes.
Those dancers who are conducting teaching and item based intensives are also seeing a steady rise in followers.
Issue based ideas and interesting LONGER conversations are not attracting the viewers as they should.
Divas, who are getting a late start onto these platforms, are discovering that unless they post regularly- almost daily- their brand cannot grow. An older generation of performers is less nimble and sluggish with content curation. So they have delegated these tasks to younger family members or students who upload photos or videos on a regular basis.
Instagram in particular is like a cannibal. It constantly needs feeding.
Last year TEAM NARTHAKI ideated and delivered BOXED which contained 2 minute sequences in domestic lockdown scenarios. Now, even those 2 minutes seem long. Just take a look at the rise of REELS and its 30 second BLINK AND YOU MISS IT presence! Everything is getting compressed, quicker, faster... SWIPE... that is the most used MUDRA of the lockdown!
This past year of the COVID lockdown has proven that there is a parallel universe in the digital galaxy. With us locked in a forced operatic style slow embrace for at least another 6 to 8 months, it is now up to content creators to come up with more innovative and original ideas to keep the momentum and sparks of inspiration going.
Yes, we are already into our second year of COVID craziness. March 25th marked one full year since the lockdown was announced. We have already started year #2. Or maybe we can say this is the 5th quarter! That does sound better.
#INDIA AT 75
Wait! It is not yet August but the Government machinery operates their own timeline. With the financial year ending and much of the culture budget still unspent, the Sangeet Natak Akademi launched a hasty outdoor festival at the PURANA QUILA in Delhi featuring several group dances. Opening day was a tragi-comedy of errors. The dancers were all dressed and kept waiting while the various Government departments sorted out communication gaffes. Finally, the mosquitoes formed the largest audience, although the setting against the silent ramparts was spectacular, even on my hand held phone.
75 years of Indian independence is a landmark moment. It arrives on August 15th 2021.
Watch for many digital and ground events through the year as embassies and foreign offices use the moment to further India's "soft power". Watch how dance will be used but serious issues around dance will be ignored.
So, once again. The onus of survival and success depends on each of us. Let us look to dance beyond solace, comfort and healing. Let us refocus the optics to consider dance as a START UP BUSINESS. Unless we do that, we have little hope of GEN Z taking to and staying in the field. As performers.
#BAPU AND HIS WORLD
While the dance festival I mentioned in the above paragraph sought to keep Mahatma Gandhi as the theme, there is little light thrown on his assassin Nathuram Godse. It is sheer coincidence that I am acting in an English play that has been adapted from a novella by Malayalam writer Paul Zacharia called THIS IS MY NAME (Ithenenda Peru). The play voices Godse's defense against his assassination of Gandhi. His reasons rest largely on the ideology that he was tutored in and the principles he imbibed against secularism. While Godse's words rests on facts, Zacharia expands the discourse to include other historical incidents about other faiths, including Christianity, as parallels. Directed by the inventive and creative Prasanna Ramaswamy, my interest in participating was both the script and my own cameo which has been woven as an inter-text.
Questioning the hijacking of tradition, motifs and metaphors by politics and how the cultural output has been hydrated by faith through generations.
It has been a joy to return to rehearsal, discuss script, movement, blocking, choreography and ideas in a democratic manner that theatre creates. To revisit some of my earlier works and have an impatient younger woman journalist in the play dismiss my long held beliefs on tradition and metaphor seems almost prophetic.
Meanwhile, the election campaign in Tamilnadu continues to harness the RAMAYANA as a political tool. Ravana and Soorpanakha continue to represent Dravidian dignity in several speeches and are used as symbols of how North Indian (BJP) outsiders are misunderstanding difference! The LOTUS is being touted as a suspicious symbol and a corrupting intruder. More worrying is the shrill tone of a mounting hate campaign against women and gender based insults which have become shocking and unacceptable. If only women will rise as a bloc and vote against such vile men who utter these words, then we would have shown our might.
#DANCING WITH PULSE
On a dreary January evening in grim London, Sanjeevini Dutta, editor of PULSE, considered options to raise dipping spirits and dark moods. Then came the spark of #DANCINGINTHEKITCHEN. On one Friday every month, celebrated DJ Ritu was invited to curate her dance mix of global sounds including Bollywood. These evenings turned out to be super hits with the UK crowd, with larger and larger attendance who found a great option to staring at their computer or TV screens on a Friday night. Dancing and grooving in their homes, this monthly event has grown in popularity and continues. If only the timing suited India, but we are fast asleep by then!
#NARTHAKI TURNS 21
We have arrived at a milestone moment. If not for COVID being a party pooper, there were several national and international celebrations for this portal turning 21. Whew!
Who knew what we were getting into when we began the adventure on April 15, 2000.
It is also the 30th year since the first phone book NARTHAKI was released and that avatar along with the online portal represents an important part of modern Indian dance history. Our archives, articles and content are a rich resource and we hope that current and future students of dance history will access them.
We also have some exciting plans that will slowly unfurl throughout this year and the next.
For now, we close by saying THANK YOU to all who have embraced our idea and our daily efforts in keeping you in touch with the dance world through your digital devices. Stay connected and stay engaged in the dance discourse. Listen to many ideas and opinions. We hope to stay current and relevant as newer and younger dancers step onto the stage. The world has changed and the old order is crumbling. We at TEAM NARTHAKI are prepared to pivot, pirouette and do whatever it takes to keep you abreast of events and ideas that will keep your creative juices flowing.
In gratitude to my team both old and new. Lalitha, Sumathi, Raksha, Subhasri, Ramya, Masoom and Surya. We represent generations across ages and decades!
The adventure continues...
- Anita R Ratnam
Chennai and Coonoor
PS: A tip from writer and syndicated columnist Ariana Huffington. Each time you wash your hands, think of 3 things to be grateful for. The brain automatically veers towards its negative side, and worry takes over. Instead, if we can focus on GRATITUDE during the 30 seconds of hand washing, it will calm us. I have started this and it works!
Facebook: Anita R Ratnam
Blog: THE A LIST / anita-ratnam.blogspot.in
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