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Ruminations during lockdown
#PandemicPonderings (Part 1)

- Dr. Anita Ratnam

April 29, 2020

With the current pandemic sweeping our globe and with our lives forever changed in the foreseeable future, artistes share about how the month of March/April was for them. What they did that was different… what new hobbies they have started...

REGINA RESS
(Story teller, New York)

Amazing storyteller, teacher at NYU and an empath. She is no stranger to mythic events, having seen the fall of the Twin Towers from her Greenwich Village window in 2001. She divides her time between her beloved NYC and Santa Fe, New Mexico where she continues to inspire generations with her shamanic wisdom and knowledge.

Though spread across the world, brought face to face only in our separate thumb-nail boxes on a distance-demanded internet platform, my students and I have been exploring the uses of storytelling for teaching, healing, and for the sheer delight of a good tale. While we cannot touch each other physically, I prioritize holding out our hands to each other metaphorically, with compassion and caring along with curiosity and humor. They know I've been sprinting to get up to speed with the technology of long distance learning; I know they are in a state of disorientation and even shock. I have made it my business to bring image and metaphor through which, via story, we can address and calm our mutual fears.


MADHU NATARAJ
(Director, STEM Dance Kampni, Natya Institute of Kathak & Choreography, Bengaluru)

Madhu Nataraj is my "little sis" embodying style, grace, gravitas and chutzpah. Dancer, writer, speaker, teacher, fashionista - Madhu has so many dimensions and, although many years apart, we share much in common. Including eating vegan cuisine! I adored her mother, the iconic Guru Maya Rao, and we shared many an evening, laughing over Gin & Tonic, at their Malleswaram home.

Like most others out there, I too was standing at the threshold of launching very promising, "definite" projects. Bang came the shut down and definiteness as a concept went flying out the door!
We collectively felt like we were watching a surreal, Dali-esque movie. Except, we were all in it!

There was the imminent need to check on loved ones, join action- oriented communities, finish pending work and realize the import of that one thing we overlook in the cacophony of our chaotic lives - Connecting!
The virtual world became our most potent source for connecting, information, workplace continuum, & philanthrophy!

This time, despite the initial sense of despair, apocalyptic prophecies, atrophy, has me feeling immensely humbled and grateful for what I have.
Some thoughts bludgeoning me:
- This scenario is a great leveler. We are ALL a bunch of atoms of various compositions.
- How can I be a better version of myself?
- "Upskill" myself in my personal and professional realms.
- I am a possibility that creates in this space, at this time.
And to remember what that certain Salvador, I mentioned before said: "Have no fear of perfection. You will never reach it."

The good news is that the world is learning something we dancers excel at - 'Living in the moment!'


PRABHA NARASIMHAN
(Designer, Amrita Creations, Chennai)

We played competitive sports against each other while in college. Being the tallest in our respective classes, we were guarding our netball baskets!
Prabha has emerged like a butterfly from a cocoon. This ageless beauty launched her passion for textiles and embroidery 20 years ago from her modest apartment. Today she is Chennai's GO TO person for saris and cholis that suggest "lavish", "unique" and "glamorous".

As a small business owner, I am certainly affected very badly by this current situation. My job took me every day to the workshop where 25 craftsmen of embroiderey and tailors worked long hours to create gorgeous wedding and festive wear for discerning women. Now my atelier is silent but I am still responsible for my loyal workforce who are in touch with me on a regular basis.

It has been a long time since my apartment has seen my son and my husband spend 24 hours in such close proximity. Housework, cooking, washing, ironing are being done as the hours slowly tick along.

What will happen to the entire scenario when we return to a "new normal?" What will the future of my business be when extravagant weddings and celebrations are all toned down or reduced to simple affairs? My work cannot function via technology. ZOOM cannot be used as a substitute for my presence and minute quality checks.

This lockdown has forced me to rethink my entire business future. Should I scale down? Should I shrink my client base? Should I diversify? What is the way forward?

Women will always want to look beautiful and the SARI has been the scaffolding for my creative art. Lavish embroideries were my trademark and the antique textiles I would source from across India.
Will fashion and tastes change as I have certainly changed?

Uncertain but determined...


RAMA VAIDYANATHAN & DAKSHINA VAIDYANATHAN BAGHEL
(Dancers, Ganesa Natyalaya, New Delhi)

We listen to the "conversation" between mother and daughter. Living in the same geographical area (New Delhi and Gurugram) but miles apart, this dynamic duo share a snatch of what they talk about during the lockdown period in India. Besides online classes and rehearsals, what do Rama and Dakshina Vaidyanathan do with their 24 hours?

Telephonic conversation between Rama and Dakshina
Dakshina: Hi Mom!

Rama: Hi Daku! What's happening?

Daku: I have been experimenting with my cooking, slowly gaining expertise in an art I hadn't given much time to.

Rama: Super! This is the right time to engage in something that you had neglected...like I am spending a lot of time improving my reading and writings skills in Tamil. Unfortunately since I grew up in Delhi, I did not have Tamil as a subject, but you know what, I am changing that by making myself proficient in the language. Totally enjoying it!

Dakshina: And I am really enjoying spending time with Aditya. Literally in the last year, we haven't spent one whole week together without one of us travelling.

Rama: And guess what, it is super fun doing adavus in various speeds, in various gatis with Sannidhi playing the mridangam. And online classes with my students are not as bad as I thought they would be.

Dakshina: Without the frenetic pace of rehearsals and tours, I have so much mind space and leisure to look deeply into my dance, and spend hours choreographing a new piece without a deadline...I am discovering my weaknesses which I think is a positive thing, as I can now work on them.

Rama: That is the right spirit. Yes, we have lost money, programs and tours, but we have gained unexpected things that will enrich our lives and our art. Do you know I am closely working with Kamesh on his pet project "Waste to Energy" brain storming with him.... something which I would not have been able to do with my regular life of living out of a suitcase.

Dakshina: True Mom, is this nature's way of showing man his place? I'm still trying to wrap my head over why this happened. Oops!! Something's burning in the kitchen. Bye, talk to you later!


SARA MATHEW
(Chair, Freddie Mac, Director State Street and Reckitt Benckiser, USA)

Who could have ever thought that the quiet "little sister" of my convent school chum Bablu Verghese would actually morph into a corporate superstar in the US firmament. That is exactly what Siloo/ aka SARA MATTHEW became. Quiet determination saw her rise to the top of the business ladder, whilst maintaining her stellar reputation and her love of family and global cuisine. Now, isolated in Florida with her two sons in different US cities, this BIZ WHIZ is reflecting on these strange times via POETRY!

What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare…
-W H Davies

No time to be thankful for the gifts we have
Our family, friends, freedom and fresh air
All taken away by an enemy unseen
That parlays our fear into catastrophes unseen

Can I go out? Do I stay home?
If I get infected, will I die alone?
When will this end? Will my old life return?
The news keeps on rolling, fueling my concern.

I have been humbled, as I take stock of my life.
I am just a mother, sister and a wife
Inexplicably linked to others like me.
Those who have lost, and those set free

Stop and smell the roses, our lives are so short
Fragile to the core, life cannot be bought
Hold your family close, and promise to change
Our planet is broken, and cannot be shortchanged


APSARA REDDY
(Activist, writer, influencer, Chennai)

I have known Apsara from her school days in a different avatar. I have watched the inner tussle, the silent confusion, the social sniggers, the brave decision to "transition" and the subsequent battles with hormones and a changed physical form. Through it all Apsara Reddy has remained rock solid in her mission. Often called brash, it is her searing sword that has cut through all the naysayers (and she has plenty of those all around!) and pettiness to emerge as an individual who is seen as a spokesperson across communities. Society, politics, gender issues, animal concerns - Apsara's keen eye misses little.

This lock-down has taught me to be thankful and learn about the power of the human mind. Never have I in my entire life been able to stay indoors and practice restraint of all forms. The way I look at life has dramatically changed. I believe we cannot take even our freedom for granted as nature can overpower you.

Amma Amma (my maternal grandmother) and I have begun writing a cookbook in which I talk about growing up in my grandmother's village till I was 3 years old and visiting every summer holidays post that.

I've lost a lot of public speaking opportunities and leadership workshop commitments across India. It's been a hard time especially to bring out newspapers by working from home. Payments too are being withheld by many organisations that need to pay consultation and creative fees. Then I look around and see nature is blooming in full glory with my beautiful vegetable garden and the blazing sun nourishing the mango flowers on my Himampasand tree in the courtyard.

I have learned some important facts during this lock-down.

1. Religion is an ugly way of keeping score. Hindu-Muslim tussles serve nobody.
2. Hunger is humiliating. Those who know nothing about this or about hardships and feeling claustrophobic are complaining the most.
3. Attacking people with Corona and assaulting police officers is abysmal behavior.
4. We seem to rely on fake news and circulate it. It is juicy. Stop it.
5. While we can blame the media for grabbing TRP ratings, they are doing a wonderful job by just turning up and putting their lives at risk. We are learning about this pandemic from every angle possible.
6. Governments are not geniuses. They also falter. In the general fear of panic and paranoia, everyone has become an expert.
7. We can wear masks for hygiene and wash our hands. But we have to also cleanse our hearts.


SABERA SHAIK
(Actor, founder and theatre director, Masakini Theatre, Kuala Lumpur)

"You must meet Sabera Shaikh!" This was a phrase I heard a decade ago when I visited my dear friend and "Guru Bhai", the celebrated Malaysian dance icon Ramli Ibrahim. When I finally met Sabera, I was gobsmacked by the range of her talent. Her infectious smile, her global 'savoir faire', her superb cuisine art (she ran a restaurant for several years) and her on stage charisma were aspects that slowly revealed themselves to me. When she announced her plans to build a theatre as part of her new home, there was a celebratory smile among her fans and friends in Malaysia. Sabera is not only one of her country's most celebrated actors but also a champion for the indigenous communities in her land.

When our government announced a lockdown and then extended it by another two weeks, I did not panic or wonder how I will cope. I have the luxury of working from home, so it is a daily routine to wake up before dawn, train and complete all my tasks and emails by nine.

When all our scheduled works got cancelled one by one as early as January this year, I thought this whole quarter would be lost. Little did I realise this blight may drag on till year end. I began to think of my colleagues, how will they cope, what the next course of action should be. I scheduled three Hangout sessions and it was a relief to know that most in the performing arts industry were getting to be savvy about alternative means of "being out there".

Malaysians are a laid back people and eating out and staying out till late in a wayside stall is a way of life. Staying indoors at home is a new thing here.

I miss the freedom of working with actors in a space, of going to a performance or just out on a whim. Will theatre survive this pandemic? Will attitudes towards it change? I believe a new positive energy will emerge from too long being cooped up. Already there are so many ideas floating around, of collaborations etc.

The air is so much cleaner these days and walking my dogs around the neighburhood is a joy. It is quieter at night and eerie. But what I miss most is having family and friends in my kitchen, talking and laughing over a glass of wine or a plate of biryani.

I could be philosophical and talk about what Man has done to Earth and how it is payback time. But there is too much of it out there so let me just tell you that I view this shutdown with much positivity—because I know even if small changes occur, here or anywhere, they will be positive ones.


RAMAA BHARADVAJ
(Dancer, story teller)

Why did she add an extra A to her first name? I remember having an e-mail to and fro exchange with Ramaa Bharadvaj decades ago about numerology. She had suggested that I too make a small change in my name to remove any negative "gremlins" in my aura. I listened but did not act upon it. With me in New York and she on the other coast, we just kept gentle tabs on each other. A prestigious DANCE MAGAZINE cover with her daughter appeared alongside news about her love of trekking. Ramaa always seemed to rise to the front of my mind screen ever so often.

Ramaa has had many avatars. First as a dancer, then as the founder of her own dance company in California. Later, a career and geographical switch saw her as the Cultural Director of the CHINMAYA NAADA BINDU initiative at the verdant ashram in Kolwan, near Pune. Modern yet traditional, serious yet hilarious - this woman, artiste, friend is never short of a pithy response or a witty reply.

Changed Itineraries - Continued Travels
The first sign of the pandemic came on March 7th at a concert in Bengaluru. Instead of handing out program books, face-masked and latex-gloved ushers squeezed hand sanitizers in our palms! In just a few days, the chuckles of that evening turned into gasps, as the state and then the nation went into lockdown, and the worst dread knocked on doors! No, not the virus! BOREDOM!

For me, however, it has been 'business as usual'. A few years ago, I made a conscious decision to not actively seek Bharatanatyam performances in Indian sabhas. This opened up myriad ways of going deeper into my art and into myself - to read, write, guide/mentor, travel (externally and internally), explore my cultural roots and grow fresh shoots. When confronted with that snooty query "so, what do you DO all day", I sighed and wished people could gift themselves 21days to find out for themselves (for it takes 21days for a practice to become a habit). Ahaa! What is it they say about "be careful what you wish for?!"

Personally, what has been the hardest is carrying my concerns for two nations - India where I live now, and the US which was 'home' for three decades, and where my children and friends live. Yet, I energetically hold hands (after sanitizing of course!) with both, conscious that I must not add to the trauma in the air with my own fears.

Professionally, I too face disappointments. The new versions of my folk-story performance had to be shelved as performances got shelved, and a planned collaborative project might be lost forever. But I continue to watch, study, script, and hone my sense of humor.

Self-development speaker Wayne Dyer said, "When you squeeze an orange, you'll always get orange juice. What comes out is what's inside." Now, as we are being squeezed, it is interesting to watch what comes out - opinionated rants, restlessness and phobias OR tolerance, patience, and tranquility. This imposed distancing has created a social solidarity, and each is now the other's witness! As Mother Nature rejuvenates herself, the Cauvery waters run clearer and the air is cleaner over Los Angeles. That same Mother has sent us humans to our rooms - without dinner - to rejuvenate ourselves. Can we change our life by changing what's inside?

My wish for all is my favorite Rumi quote: "Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment"! It is that bewilderment that can allow us to discover our new avatars, as well as to applaud those who are trying to discover theirs. Let us remember that only our itinerary has changed; Our travels continue!

Oh! And just one last thing! Never ask me again, "What do you DO all day", because now you know, that just "Being" is a lot harder than "Doing"!
Happy Travels...


YUMI UMIUMARE
(Butoh artiste, Melbourne, Australia)

This Japanese post modern art form has always fascinated me. BUTOH, the flip side of everything Indian dance is about - Beauty, Ornamentation, Symmetry, Music, Rhythm. I have watched and learnt from many a master BUTOH artiste during my NYC days. I tend to gravitate towards the female performers who embrace this type of stillness in body and mind.

Yumi Umiumare and I met in Melbourne less than 2 years ago when she took a workshop that I had conducted. Her presence was very special. She seemed to clear the air around her. Her body was all water and air - intense yet gentle. I was, of course, fascinated. Her performances are both shocking and playful while inducing a deep sense of meditative inquiry into ourselves.

Photo: Mathew Lynn

Last few years, I've been reading and hearing a lot about 'earth's ascension' through many Japanese spiritual articles and podcasts. They were simply saying that the earth is now ascending and transforming into higher vibration, so we as human beings on the earth also have to awaken from the old patterns - unbalanced, destructed, ego-driven ways of living. Even though there would be more challenging times ahead of us, it made so much sense for me to go through hopefully positive transformations.

Somebody told me that the key words during these uncertain times are 'Peace, Patience and Meditation'.

I am focusing on my daily routines as:

1. Going to nature everyday - gardening, walking, standing barefoot on the river or grass.(Nature is our best teacher for reminding us of our gentle being!)

2. Doing something I have never done before or haven't done for a while - like drawing pictures, colouring books, and writing dreams with my left hand (non-key hands) etc.

3. Sorting my files and administering works I have put aside quite some time (but with time limits like 'pomodoro technique'!)

4. Trying not to see much news and social media in visuals about COVID19 but making sure to get accurate information.

5. Doing daily exercise and creating silence & meditating before going to bed.

In Japanese we call human as 人間 (ningen: nin means humans, gen means in between). I have a good exercise in Butoh- connecting our gravity towards the earth and suspension from the sky to be 'in between'.

I plan to conduct my own 'retreat' at home for 3-4 days during Easter, sitting still, half fasting, without touching any digital devices. See how I go…


VIDYA GAJAPATI RAJU SINGH
(Wedding Planner- Fitness Enthusiast, Chennai)

In school she flouted authority in surprising and unexpected ways. In ways that many of us would not dare! Her school uniform at Church Park Convent would be hemmed in 6" to become a mini skirt and show off her long legs! Chided for her "indecent" appearance by the Irish Catholic nuns, Vidya would just grin and sashay on! We would collect gooseberries and tamarind in our pockets during sports hour and in our later college years, we competed in tennis against one another. Vidya is literally someone I can call a CHADDI BUDDY - we have known one another from our diaper days! When life dealt her brutal cards, she never lost her smile or her grace. There is no vestige of bitterness on her regal face. If anyone has really seen LIFE in all its colours - it is Vidya!

The Lockdown and Corona are the words uppermost in all our minds!
My thoughts went initially to my two children and my 87 year old mother! Are they safe? My daughter gave us palpitations being on the very last Ethiopian Airlines flight to Mumbai before India closed the borders. Never in our living memory has there been a time when the entire world has been affected like this!

I inhabit two very different worlds. Picture perfect glamour and gritty, sweaty physicality. As co-founder and partner of the 12 year old wedding business, SUMYOG has seen several grand event cancellations and the subsequent loss of revenue. We are also concerned about the 40 plus workers who have been loyal to us for so many years. The garland maker, the tent maker, the carpenters, food specialists - all the cogs in the EVENT WHEEL. I know of flower gardens rotting in the hills of Coonoor. Daily wage earners who are in fear of their families starving. Our business is facing a grim forecast.

If I am not in elegant designer wear at one of the glamorous events we create, I am in my exercise togs. I am honestly, a fitness fiend. That is the best way to describe me. Walking, swimming, stairs, stepper - you name it, I have done it! I miss this daily workout that my body has become used to. Now, I have my terrace at home to go round and round in. It is not the same! Most of all, I miss the 50km Sunday morning bicycling trips that my girlfriends would do early morning. I am waiting for the first Sunday post this lockdown to resume this ritual.

During this lockdown I have rediscovered locally grown vegetables, Indian Himachal apples, and all the joys of small farmers and their lovingly cultivated foods. What will the new normal be like?

I live in hope that we have found a way to go within ourselves and that the world will be a better place as John Lennon dreamed in his beautiful ballad "Imagine "!


GEETA CHANDRAN
(Bharatanatyam dancer, President - Natya Vriksha, New Delhi)

Rarely do artistes have the luxury AND the talent to choose two career paths - DANCE and/or MUSIC. Geeta Chandran stood at that very fork 3 decades ago. DANCE beckoned, stirred perhaps by her arresting personality and mobile face. It has been a nonstop story of accolades and success, building upon her amazingly supportive family structure and her innate love of the form she chose to express herself in - BHARATANATYAM. I have known and observed Geeta over the last 25 years. She unpeels in a measured manner - her layered persona slowly rising to the surface. We have laughed over our ageing skin issues, our ample Ajanta hips, our difficult daughters, and delighted over the common and endless "bhoga" for saris and textiles.

Pic: Pranita C

This lockdown has given me time to process the grief of losing my mother this January. She was a major force in my creative journey and so my loss is at several levels. This downtime gave me the great luxury of memory-time.

Yet, how grief and joys can coexist is a wonderful realization. Through the daily growing of my grandson, I see the linkages between a generation past and a future generation!

The first few days of the lockdown were terrifying. My Natya Vriksha family was at a loss as to how to manage the dis-connectedness. Technology came to our rescue as I began "zoom"ing with my students. And strangely enjoying this remote teaching, which is completely a novel experience for me. The Zoom classes brought regularity during this tough period. But beyond the students, their families - parents and grandparents - feel included and inspired as they listen or see the classes happening on their screens and in their rooms.

This time has also allowed Rajiv and me to revisit our cherished collection of Indian art and enjoy it all over again. Ditto for our collection of books which I am revisiting like meeting old friends.

I also feel that the word social-distancing is wrong! We need to be physically distanced to prevent the virus going viral. But we need social connectedness. And, in fact, are probably being more connected in these lockdown days. Lockdown need not be lock-up!


PRASANNA RAMASWAMY
(Theatre director & writer, Chennai)

One has to surrender all pre-conceived notions of both acting and dancing if you work with Prasanna Ramaswamy. An original thinker who braids her many loves of Tamizh, classical and folk music, subaltern literature, dance and theatre in a myriad ways, this theatre director is very demanding. Once you commit, you better have stamina of body and mind. Her work is not for the faint hearted. I know. I have been part of 6 plays and have watched her shape scenes and challenge her actors during many a rehearsal.
Her visual sense and love of world cinema combined with her ferocious intelligence makes her a remarkable voice in Indian theatre.

As many other 'freelance' directors in theatre, I too am not always busy down on the floor rehearsing every day of the year. Since my production for the NSD Bengaluru in November, of Kuvempu's Ekalavya, I could say I have been pretty much jobless but for preparing a paper for the International Seminar at Delhi NSD in Feb.

Apart from hoarding groceries and what not, I started making special meals for several stray cats and a few dogs that roam around, devising menu for breakfast and maybe one more meal for the people who come to work and their families and that business turned the light to my obsession with one production that has been hounding me since years and yet to be realized -Manimekhalai. Two major questions I was engaging with were about 'what is it to give up sensual desire and what is special about giving/feeding those who need ...what happens in the process?' There hasn't emerged any remarkable clarity. Though I do donate for causes, this physical and direct activity and connectedness has shifted some understanding and therefore one step closer to realizing that work.

What I have learnt these past few years is to cherish people around and everything that one is blessed with as one is reminded of the fragility of life; these times has made it even more acute.


GURU HERAMBANATHAN & HARI HERAMBANATHAN
(Traditional Bharatanatyam gurus, Bavu Pillai School of Bharatanatyam, Tanjavur, Tamilnadu)

Place: Tanjavur
Year: 1986
Project: KAISIKA NATAKAM reconstruction
Project Guide: Professor S Ramanajum

This now celebrated annual festival could not have been rebuilt without the cooperation and continuous presence of Guru Herambanathan and his family of traditional dance and music savants.

Guru Herambanathan's cultural roots are deep - hooked into generations of great Natyacharyas who have served temples and courts in the storied kingdom of Tanjavur. His approach to his art as well as to the revival of KAISIKA NATAKAM was as meticulous. He questioned every aspect of the process - and collided with the experts group on many occasions. As I watched his students in class, I realised the enormous wealth of traditional repertoire that he possessed - like osmosis. His knowledge of the 'mridangam' and other musical instruments were outstanding.

Hari, as the proud inheritor of this Tanjavur tradition, is the whip smart son, obsessed with independence and on making it on his own. Enormously talented in poly rhythms, he carries the legacy of his illustrious ancestors lightly on his restless shoulders.

An abridged version of a telephone conversation in Tamil with Hari Herambanathan.

This is the very first Tamil New Year's Day that we will observe quietly from home. Our prayers in our puja room and blessings to our students will be via phone or WhatsApp video.

As traditional artistes living in a large town, we are also badly affected by the current Corona virus and the government lockdown. Classes, performances and income have evaporated. Everything seems suspended in the air. My father, Guru Herambanathan, is a pensioner and so does not feel the brunt of the economic downturn that so many of the traditional folk and rural artistes around us are facing. With weddings and celebrations cancelled, the Nagaswaram and Tavil artistes are languishing. It is a terrible time for so many.

The upside is that many traditional artistes have buckled down and are now practising at home for 4 to 5 hours daily, something many busy performers never had the time for. I have learned 3 traditional varnams from my father, and have also composed some new 'jathis' since I am very fond of playing with rhythms.

My father, who is 76 years old, has immersed himself in writing COMPANION NOTES for dancers. Taking the traditional Tamizh epics like Silappadikaram and other texts,, he has compiled a list of common questions that dancers ask as a concise "ready reckoner". His time has also been absorbed by his desire to write down his teaching methods. Today academics call it DANCE PEDAGOGY, but we learned in a very different way - through watching, absorbing, listening and learning 24/7.
Impatient dance students want everything handed to them as quick "bites". My father recognises this trend even with his students and so wants them to "taste" these "snacks" laden with cultural nutrition!

I have moved my residence from Tanjavur to Chennai because I wanted to prove myself as a teacher in the tumultuous and competitive world of Bharatanatyam. My father sincerely believes that we are at a point where the discussion of caste and class should be put aside in favour of dedication, hard work and talent. "Prove yourself. Let your Art speak. Not your mouth!" is his constant mantra to his students and to me in particular!


MARGIT KUFFEMANN (Madhavi)
(Bharatanatyam dancer, Spain)

Sometimes it is necessary for us to be reminded of the gifts we take for granted. One of those moments was when I met Margit in Köln, Germany. Invited to present my solo work on SITA for the museum's RAMAYANA festival, Margit spent long hours with me, showing me her beautiful city and reminding me of the dance tradition I had grown up with. We stopped at a small area that was cordoned off and she explained that the KÖLN Symphony Orchestra was rehearsing in their underground studio and that pedestrian footsteps would disturb their concentration! Margit and I took a winding path as she narrated how her love affair with Bharatanatyam began in the 1980s when she watched Malaysia's Ramli Ibrahim on stage. Her dance journey took her to Malaysia, India and then onto Germany, Malta and now southern Spain where she lives.

For 40 years, her love and faith in India's most sophisticated classical dance form has never flagged. It was her Chennai based guru Savitri Jagannatha Rao who chose her name "Madhavi" inspired by the dancer from the Tamil epic SILAPPADIKARAM. I met Margit/Madhavi many years later in Malta where she had put down roots with the local Indian and Sri Lankan community as a generous teacher and performer. This dedicated artiste is but one among the thousands across the world of many nationalities and faiths who have embraced Indian dance as a way of life. They remind us of what we often devalue and ignore.

My partner Nina and I had just recently moved from Malta to Ciudad Quesada, a small place in the Alicante region of southern Spain. It is now over 1 month since our nationwide lockdown.
Like a bolt of lightning my life has changed.

We were just getting settled, still busy with bureaucratic necessities in our new country of residence. Spain is one of the world's most affected countries with an alarming number of cases and deaths due to the Covid 19 virus. We are extremely lucky and grateful to live near the ocean in a not so badly hit area. But we see the unfolding tragedy on the daily news. Since this town is occupied mostly by expats who come here during the winter, the atmosphere here is very relaxed. Neighbours greet each other and also have little chats from a distance, only wearing masks and gloves for shopping.

My partner Nina is a professional concert photographer. Well, all concerts are cancelled right now in Spain! And for me as a Bharatanatyam dancer, most planned performances and workshops for 2020 are either cancelled or postponed. Now I am planning dance performances online with fellow dancers. I miss the quality of life teaching and performing. Of course, I had completely different plans for this year! It's the first time in my life to experience a situation like this and it will change my approach to and contents of my dance.

In my personal life, this has been an unexpected way for my partner and me to spend time together. Cooking, shopping, cleaning and sharing tasks have brought us closer together. We are very different in personality and perhaps this virus crisis has been a way for us to appreciate each other more.

I continue to believe in the humanizing power of Bharatanatyam and its ability to make us see the inter-connectedness of dance, nature and life itself.


SANDHYA RAMAN
(Textile and Costume Designer, Desmania Atelier, New Delhi)

The very first costume Sandhya Raman made for me was a stunning design in yellow/orange but was not created for the Bharatanatyam bent-knee kinetic. I wore it happily, for photo shoots and public appearances. Not on stage. The cut and drape was unsuited to the movements I was experimenting with 25 years ago. Introduced by New York choreographer Jonathan Hollander, this uber talented textile "passionista" quickly understood what my curious body needed. Soon, my on stage silhouette changed. The fabrics became softer, the lines more suited to my tall and elongated frame. Sandhya used me as her "muse" for the extravagant and sometimes outrageously glamorous clothes she created. I suggested that she adapt the black stretch body-suit that I wore in New York for sari "cholis" into her costume creations.

We bonded as women, as mothers and as "voyagers" in our respective areas of culture. As she enjoys global recognition among the Indian dance diaspora today for her eye on detail, colour and fabric, Sandhya Raman remains rooted in the idea of "INDIA FIRST", working with several traditional craft clusters to re- create the beauty of wearable and ethical fashion for the modern woman.

March 14 was the last working day in my new studio in Saket. Even before the official nationwide lockdown was announced on March 25th, I had a premonition and had asked my "karigars" to stay home. I had forbidden them to return to their villages, promising to care for them during this period.

I am on the phone with them every day about their food intake. I ask them about the daily immunity builder I prescribed - ginger, turmeric and pepper. I listen to their silence over the phone - laced with doubt. They are my "family", having been with me for 25 years. My own family (daughter, son, elderly parents) is scattered. The phrase "I am just a phone call away" sounds hollow now.

I have been working with eco fabrics, talking about responsible fashions and promoting handlooms as a textile revivalist for three decades and now the challenge ahead is never like before. I am restructuring the purpose of my business, while I am articulating and planning on how will I pick up the threads for so many craftsman and weavers that I work with. Their morale will be so low. Bringing them back to work itself will be a big task. My husband is a product designer and his factory is now manufacturing masks, and face guards for all the front line workers. I am recalling some of my tailors, who, with special permits, will now start making face masks and hospital gowns for the nurses. Their skills will now be repurposed for the immediate crisis.

I hope the Indian consumer is now sensitised to support Indian crafts and craftsmen. To not bargain endlessly and to support India made products in the years ahead.


Ruminations during lockdown
#PandemicPonderings (Part 2)



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