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I for...
Indian dance in times of Covid-19

April 26, 2020

I for innovate. The post-Corona lockdown made many dancers think anew and some came up with innovative ideas to keep busy meaningfully and reach out. Karona became karo-na! (Please do)!

Hyderabad's ASJ - that's the ever smiling Joy as in Ananda, Shankar as in Shiva and Jayant as in her best half, who posted cartoons sketches drawn by Vishnu Amaresan and designed by budding talents.

Bangalore's Lourd Vijay and Attakkalari offered virtual classes, the former even at a discount, which kept many on their toes. Bangalore learnt to keep its cool, no playing the fool on internet just to remain relevant or visible. Most frequent travelers were grounded and rested at home.

I didn't mind the lockdown one bit if it helped the nation contain the contagion. PM Modi took some bold decisions and is the most proactive PM, ever. He had a complete handle on the situation. He consulted all, especially other stake and state holders. His team had a clear mandate. Daily briefings to press made info reach out. Look at India's population, density and levels of evolution in society, call it education. Anything anyone with authority will do will attract brick brats. Majority in the country were happy we had a dynamic leadership in charge and on top of the situation. This is as good as it gets. Covid19 has destroyed countries and economies. Time alone will tell how it will alter our lives, forever.

In last 40 years, I've never been in one place, one house with just one person for 40 days! 60 actually (29 February to 29 April). I'm always on the move, max one week in any city. My work is Delhi centric, my wife is in Bangalore (used to absences and manages valiantly and ever smilingly) and my mother in Madras. Luckily, in this lockdown period I could be in hot and not so happening Madras, with my mother, who entered her 90th birthday on 7th April (shares with Pt. Ravi Shankar) without fanfare, as no relative or dance field friends and fans, students and well wishers could even drop in and wish her or give extra attention. Fortunately, mother (Guru M.K. Saroja) has never sought attention as an artiste, all her life.

Alas, many dancers suffer anyways from ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) even in normal times, so imagine the scale to which some, not all, would have suffered in this period of 40 days lockdown!

Chennai's diva (and diya) Padma Subrahmanyam was cajoled by grand nephew Shyam, a budding photographer and documentationist and grand niece Mahati, an up-coming star material of BN, to record her thoughts on arts and these were put on YouTube. Students went gaga because they saw an icon at home, wearing eye-glasses and all and not being pretentious, like most mega stars become on stage and often off stage too.

Padma Subrahmanyam

Hrishikesh Pawar

Pune's Hrishikesh Pawar (he of jet black kesh hinting closeness to Patanjali's black kesh kanti and his eyebrows meet too, forming a bridge between tradition and modernity!) teamed up with the Morrison model no less and showcased new talents. He is lone post for contemporary work in Peshwa land.

Baroda didn't lag behind with the MSU Dance Dept mustering up some recycled work but what worked was seeing a young Parul Shah in dance sequences in Ramanand Sagar's mega hit serial Ramayana. She was very good in BN. Pity a good dancer got wasted last 30 years in the petty politics of a dance department of which she was an integral part. She should have just danced. Her anga shudhi in BN came through in Sagar's Ramayana sequences, shot 35 years ago.

This raises the q: have our universities' dance departments produced a single dancer of national repute or calibre? In Hyderabad or Madras, Delhi or Kolkata? Nor have they produced first-rate dance academicians who have any great research or original paper or a body of books to show in 30 years (of comfortable jobs). So what's the purpose of university dance depts? Time to rethink and assess? What purpose are they really serving? At what expense to exchequer? Permanent jobs with hefty salaries, perks and not much work. Add max holidays a University job affords, 4 months in a year of paid holiday (52 Sundays, 50 national holidays plus summer, Diwali, Xmas, Eid break and then the mandatory students strike before exams!). By way of output, one sees mostly unemployable students, or some who copied mediocre PhDs that then became a road to more sub-standard people getting teaching jobs or more mediocre teaching so no real dancing talents come out. Thus the same cycle of mediocrity continues.

It is more than 35 years since Ramayana serial by Sagar was made. University life is over, but an artist's life never gets over. Who remembers a university head or professor after a generation, while generations remember an artist/e. We are still talking of a Van Gogh or a Picasso, a Ram Gopal or an Uday Shankar or MS Subbulakshmi. Add many, many more. Does anyone recall who headed even a govt then, forget a university or a dance dept? Even PM and presidents get forgotten. An artist/e lives on forever.

Continuing my vowel movement (that's A.E.I.O.U), last two months we covered the first two: A and E. I is the only alphabet that needs no qualifying. It is complete in itself. Try A for apple, atom, atta. B for bat (oops, bad word of late), buffalo, box. C for cat or Corona! I for? It's complete in itself. Often in nursery books, 'I for Igloo' was used. Idiots who planned those books for kids who live in tropical countries, with no clue to what snow is, leave alone ice. I for ice! Nice.

Covid-19 cancelled, one by one, most planned events in March and April. It made one wonder how transient was all art activity. Yet listening to music in such times can be peaceful. Seeing a good film can be meaningful. And watching a great dancer can be inspiring. The arts and literature, architecture and design, peg the level of a society.

Corona is the wrong use medicos tell us. Corona is also a common cold virus. This one now playing havoc is a special MADE IN CHINA one! Made in China things died easily, that was its reputation - toys, thermos, appliances, machines, clothes. Why not this?

Delhi being the capital of I for India, what got most hits on FB and attention this past month in the dance field were the Sonal Mansingh Series of talks on varied subjects of life in arts, from proverbs to performing arts. Sonal Mansingh is not one to sit idle on her Parliamentary seat; she took up the cause of many languishing artistes who were put to hardships due to lockdown. She extended the debate beyond metro India and included folk artistes, making the Culture minister no less take cognizance and order support through the (mostly) useless zonal cultural centres. In this birthday month of hers (30th April), she celebrated it by reaching out and inclusivity.

Sonal Mansingh

The Dancing God

An inclusive book on dance hit the shelves. Australian dancing history was recaptured by Fiji-based scholar Amit Sarwal, whose book 'The Dancing God, Staging Hindu Dance in Australia' (the Louise Lightfoot story) became fodder for a dark period in history of those uncultured islands, struggling with British prisoners and indentured labour. No wonder the cover is a dark and depressing black!

Black or white, brown or red - Indians everywhere are at it, dancing in virtual world. London lot posted a well made montage featuring Payal Ramchandani, Anupama, Sukanya, Marjorie and more. Each shot at home, meeting SD (social distancing) norms in mind. What a turn of events; social media for social distancing. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

Doing dance on internet was then the lockdown period's biggest gift. New audiences were won by some and the art had a level playing field. Many tech savvy people had a field day. Problem is quality control. Just anything goes. Ultimate tool for self indulgence too. One enterprising artiste hired the entire Bolshoi and danced and telecast, the show going viral!

Viral fever was an often used word before. Now we will learn to use the word virus with fear and respect. Summer brings hope. I hope some good news comes our way. For if winter comes, can spring be far behind?

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.


Ashish's statement is absolutely commendable!! Is anyone hearing THIS?
Corona is the wrong use medicos tell us. Corona is also a common cold virus. This one now playing havoc is a special MADE IN CHINA one! Made in China things died easily, that was its reputation - toys, thermos, appliances, machines, clothes. Why not this?
- V.P. Dhananjayan, Chennai (May 23, 2020)

Very well written, the activities created through SM by artists around the world. Looking forward to visit dance archive museum of Mohan Khokarji when will visit Delhi in future. I totally agree with you, that dance & music universities in India are not producing national dancers or even good dance & music academics. This struck me when I left India to live in the West dedicating my dance artistic work at various levels.
I have also done my Masters in Kathak & felt the same about MSU's faculty of performing arts.
Please keep me posted about your dance academic work in India. It will be good for me to keep in touch with your work as a dance writer & educationalist.
- Nilima Devi (May 18, 2020)

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