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Dancing doctors!

October 28, 2019

And one thought doctors were these noble but boring people who had no time for anything else leave alone the arts. Well, just as there are a few really good dancers who can cure bad evenings, likewise there are a few good doctors who can dance too!

Dr. K.K. Agarwal - he of the TV fame - with a stethoscope on his shoulder! When asked why he wears it all the time, he said, "Just as Sikhs wear turban, married women sport sindoor, dancers wear ghungroos, why not we doctors show who we are, so those in an emergency can be helped?" One passenger in a flight was having a seizure and when airplane staff looked for a doctor in-flight they couldn't spot one. This is before computer era and there were hand written or typed passenger lists. In the passenger manifest there were 5: One was a violinist whose playing could've killed the patient! One had PhD in agriculture; two were leftists, best left alone and one was a real doc, Dr. K.K. Agarwal. His stethoscope saved this passenger as he could check her heart beat and give CPR. Today they do humane service to society by undertaking many philanthropic works. He set up the Heart Care Foundation of India, with free operations done for the needy. He headed the MCI - Medical Council of India. He runs the Sameer Heart Foundation for a Dubai-based family trust, whose son Sameer succumbed to heart illness, so in his memory the family created a fund. Like this, Dr. K.K. Agarwal has created and helped many causes. Indefatigable. Possessed. On the go. Swachh Bharat or Plogging, Fit India or hit illness. He was rightly honoured with a Padma Shri few years ago. Above all else, give him a painting, and he will decode its DNA. Tell him about shastras and he will give you a scientific, medical link. I call him brahmagyani.

His dance work is what's more inspiring. He raised lakhs for Pt. Jwala Prasad's liver transplant. The star Kathak dancing duo Nalini Kamalini swear by his goodness, as do Uma Sharma, Sonal Mansingh, and Anita Singh. Many in dance community help him because he helps all. Wonder man, this dancing doctor is. His Team HCFI organized the Perfect Health Mela in prestigious Nehru Stadium with lot of Garba dancing to singer Shibani Kashyap's dynamic singing. It was so heartening to see hundreds of doctors dancing and enjoying the moment.

Dr. K.K. Agarwal watches his creation, at Nehru Stadium,
every October Health Mela, inaugurated by CM of Delhi

Rachana Yadav
(Pic: Bharat Tiwari)

Dance is about enjoying the moment and movement. Rachana Yadav tried to do that at SNA's Meghadootam studio hall that reminds one of SBKK's Jhankar Chamber Theatre behind Kamani built some 35 years ago. Rachana has participated for long in Aditi Mangaldas's group works but dancing solo calls for different set of skills: strength of conviction, stamina to smile on stage endlessly even when no real need (!) and for an hour or more show skill or artistic foundation. Her show wasn't helped much by nasal and besura singing by one in her orchestra and too loud a padhant ucharan (why do Kathak musicians suffer from increasing their volume, each one outdoing the other, creating an intolerable cacophony in the end?). Rachana has firm, sharp footwork but needs to enjoy the dance more, relax the facial muscles. Just dance for herself, not the audience. Loosen up, in simple terms. Not many come to shows today to see mere technique, especially in metro cities. Lay audiences don't care or even know what that is and the connoisseur or the knowledgeable ones look more for overall finish or foundation. Rachana chose her items well, with literary depth but then not for nothing is she litterateur and novelist Manu Bhandari's daughter and fathered by redoubtable veteran editor scholar late Rajendra Yadav. Rachana trained under Aditi Mangaldas, so high class and aesthetics were assured but strangely, the costumes were singularly drab coloured. On the whole, Rachana Yadav showed potential provided she gets under the skin of the dance. It comes with experience and she can only go ahead from here. There was a neatness about the show, an understated elegance.

Watching senior Bharatanatyam dancer and guru B.Bhanumati do just three abhinaya items was fulfilling. Here is a serious talent, who lay hidden in the depths of ocean, now surfaced in the last few years. The last student of vidwan Dandayudhapani Pillai, the jati genius (in normal life he stuttered but once on stage, he stunned all with his chiseled jati delivery), Guru Bhanumati, nearing 70, has got no national award. Does that deter her? No. She showed Varugulamo, an all time favorite so effectively that it took one down memory lane. Her Jagadhodharana... on Yashoda - Krishna too was fetching in an uneven evening where Sujoy Shanbag, the upcoming Mysore Bharatanatyam dancer, did the lokadharmi aspect of dancing, with too much in-the-face histrionics and playing to the gallery. He was a welcome change though and tried to lift the evening after an insipid Kathak performance. Dancers need to be good organizers and this evening at Seva Sadan proved it, with late start, syrupy, shrieky compering and overall appeal of being at a college or mofusil function. Guru Bhanumati salvaged and saved the evening, proving once again there's no substitute for real talent.

Guru B. Bhanumati

Mangalore talent Manasa won the first place. Guru Minal Prabhu gave the award.

Talent search can be done in many ways. Mangalore's Dr. Aarty Shetty organized a national level talent hunt as homage to her mother, Guru Jayalakshmi Alva. 15 finalists showcased their artistry. Some came from as far as Kolkata. Some came for fun, others for a lark. Many were "item" girls: They knew only the item their teacher had taught them, nothing more. Most didn't know basics of the form, its history or heritage. Young India has smart answers but are they really smart or only possess smart phones became the moot point for me. Only one was exceptional - Manasa. Total personality for dance. Understated depth of art. Deep elegance. Two others who qualified didn't even stay to collect their trophies! Such commitment young people have to art. The occasion saw next day, the arangetram of Amruthavalli V.V, who took baby steps in the dance world. She has had assorted gurus and it showed. Her journey in dance has begun in right earnest, though she has a long way to go.

Long way back on a rickety bus (since flights from Mangalore to Bangalore were all cancelled due to cyclone red alert) back at night, with heavy rains on worst sections of Ghat roads, I wondered why we spend thousands of tax payers' monies to send failed missions to moon, since we have craters here itself on many roads? I chided myself for trying to reach on time for a show next evening committed to long ago. That too just for an arangetram but what an arangetram it was!

Amruthavalli V.V

Anagha Gauri
Arangetram it was slated to be but what was seen on stage was the most professional dancer. Just 23, this youth is future of best that Bangalore has to offer, other things being equal. Other things meaning life and where it takes her. In each department of the art form, the debutante daughter of gurus Anuradha and Shridhar of Bangalore was first rate. In last 10 years I've not seen such a gifted debutante. Each position, each hasta, each item of the margam was clearly enunciated and properly finished. There was no need to impress or shine. That happened anyways, such is the training of this talent by the most sabhya couple, the Shridhars. Imagine too the pressure on the ward, as daughter and disciple to deliver and perform well. Even after one hour of dancing, she took a full 45 minutes to showcase a varnam, which was so effortless that one was amazed at the stamina and strength. This is no ordinary talent but a fine cut gemstone, that's what Anagha Gauri is. It is most happy making for the Bharatanatyam field.

A guru gives equally to all students. How much a student can take, what patrata it has, decides how much water or gangajal of guru's art can be poured into it. Anagha proved to be the most worthy patra. She is also a very centered dancer one has seen in a long, long time. For 2 hours of performance, she rarely breathed heavily, or panted. She was in total sync with laya, tala, sangeetam, shastra of each item in the margam. Music was of the highest quality. Why such musicians and gurus don't get the SNA award which often goes to unheard names beats logic. But award came from audience: seems all of Bangalore turned up to see and bless the child. Many senior gurus and young stars of the form like Lakshmi Gopalaswamy, Praveen Kumar, Nirupama - Rajendra, Satyanarayana Raju were there. There was no standing space left in the hall. The standing ovation in the end said it all. Being Deepavali evening, it seemed Saraswati came down to specially bless abundantly, in addition to grace of ashtalakshmi she had started the evening out with. Mangalam bhava, indeed.

Ashish Mohan Khokar is a reputed author, arts administrator, historian, critic with many published books and edits India's only yearbook attenDance. He is now helping the IGNCA, Delhi, set up the Mohan Khokar Dance Archives-cum-Museum.

What I really liked about the write up as a whole is that the critic/ writer has packed so many topics seamlessly. And I'm one to particularly look for and appreciate good English which is turning into an 'endangered species' with present generation writers!
- Ranee Kumar (Nov 4, 2019)

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