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U..... = You: The reader

August 25, 2020

U. Last of the vowels before I throw in the towel (I'm just rhyming.... Though towels and tissues are very relevant these days of being extra sanitised and sensitised to personal hygiene)...

U= You, the reader. The audience. The recipient of all that is done in the arts, say, our dance field specifically. Are you a rasika? Are you a patron? Are you a viewer or reviewer willing to surrender to art more than the artiste? Are you willing to support the arts? Are you willing to buy a ticketed show? Are you really interested (enough to leave 10% in your will, to cause of art and artistes)? Are you ready to suffer "bad" shows? Are there any bad shows or philosophically speaking, nothing is good or bad, it just is?

U as audience are today empowered in more ways than one in the digital world. U have a say. What you say is as per your ability, education, exposure and culture (or often today, the lack of it). Your comments are there for all to see. Earlier, if you wanted to say anything it depended on your language skill or stylised English or the editor. S/he liked your two bit 4 line rejoinder or review of the published review, then your missive got printed. Else, dustbined. Trash bucket then is the trash button now. Tb to tb! TTB, of Bergamo, Italy, where the pandemic took maximum casualties when Wuhan spread its batty wings (because Bergamo is an hour from Milan, the fashion capital of Italy, where most brands are manufactured in China and where else, in Wuhan mostly so all the trade brought in first lot of Corona from China) was the first group out in streets entertaining a depressed populace, proving once again how arts can heal. To be or not to be, the bard said. I'm sure many under age of 25 will now go wondering who the bard is! Search seek and you will be answered. It's bard, not hard to find.

You - the second you - as a giver, creator of art, thought, deed; as an artiste keeping the flame alive of that ancient link with our past. U represent continuity. U form the eco system. U contribute to India's cultural identity. What other do we have that's any worth? Steel, space, society? But now you stage artistes have tough competition from films, TV, even yoga palmed off as health fad. Classical Indian dance is getting more marginalised today than ever before, with just 500 max audience in each metro. Small town India is small town India. Only royal towns Baroda, Mysore, Patiala have some old connect with cultural activity left, even rundown royal museums, others hardly have.

The internet and digital world are leveling things out, slowly. Lockdown months showcased that a cell phone is your window to the world, wherever you may be.

You as a reader have power to comment. Counter comment. Attack. Motivate. Activate. Articulate. Pontificate. Hyperventilate! These lockdown months saw much activity on FB, Zoom, doom, gloom it ended up in. Much of the quality (or total lack of it, was for all to see which is a good thing). Many dancers are doing what no enemy camp of theirs could do for them: killing their own art and audience. If one saw the drivel on drive, woe betide the field. Anything went. Even on religious, festive occasions like Janmashtami or Ganesh Chaturthi, some are dressing up as Krishna and posing and one Bangalore beauty pontificated on Ganesha dissolving in the end in water (then why do saguna bhakti and not shift to nirguna, asked an intelligent Delhi-based dance observer, privately, since this video was sent to many). I watch FB and other streaming under an official ID because I want distance from the subject. I see much. No one knows I'm watching. That's the role of an assessor, a professional critic. Read, not seen. In New York, London, Paris, Rome or Tokyo, KL, even Seoul, critics don't come to be seen or sit in front rows to be seen or want importance, they want to be read. Their work reaches all, if, if, if they have content and credibility. In India, we being such a great culture we have added feet-touching and gifting, including taxi fare, to the list of dos dancers must do! Actually, we are today the most mixed-up race. That's what colonial experience of 500 years does; add 500 more since the Ghori-Ghazni invasions. So for a 1000 years we have not been us. We are layered and complex. And now, 99% corrupt. Corruption is not only material; it can be and is now, of mind too. We are full of complexes and mixed up feelings. Think. Real historians do. That's our role. We are trained in process of history writing. That's why we often make it!

So what's happening today? In post lockdown era of Covid Times, sub-standard FB live (and zoom, doom, gloom) posts (can't call them shows) forced fan club (students and parents) to sit and diligently send thumbs up or hearts at FB live or write in to mark their attendance and presence. At a real icon's dance broadcast from archives of the NCPA last month, I saw this comment: Ma'am are you singing? This was a virtual Valli being shown from a past recording - well filmed sharp and all - but one busybody shot off this question! She must be used to TV serials and films where actresses 'sing' and dance. Poor Valli must have stopped watching FB herself that very day! In another instance, Padma Vibhushan no less, and an MP of Rajya Sabha since last 2 years in August, Sonal Mansingh was interacting with the JNU lot and comments on side screen mis-spelt most common things: artist, bharta natam, die (for hair dye)! Since it was JNU, many watchers, wrote in their two bit PR: Im so and so from Bhopal. Im Asst. Professor from Punjab. 90% didn't know what the diva was talking about or from where. Sonal Mansingh was the most active and visible artiste-guru in these months of lockdown. Every other day she was doing some talk, intervention or presentation. At 75, if one has so much energy, you must be a superwoman. Nari shakti to fore.

Then there were quiet ones who have a quest. Guru Shama Bhate today is among the few thinking dancers in Kathak. I've never liked the term which means only some can think, others can't but in dance it implies such folks have grey matter and see beyond their nose (or noise!). Not that others can't think or don't but she thinks of the form, not self. She thinks of others, not herself. There's an academic spirit and search in her and high aesthetics. She mounted meaningful FB zoom boom dialogues with other like-minded spirits, the Malay star of Orissi Ramli Ibrahim and Mumbai's Vaibhav Arekar and more. Guru Shama Bhate is next to Kumudini Lakhia in Kathak choreography and aesthetics. She is refined and cultured. Very few dancers are these days. Most talk of culture but don't reflect it, intrinsically.

And the org. Or govt bodies? Some work, some don't: Kalakshetra was kept alive by Revathi Ramachandran and IGNCA by Dr.Sachidanand Joshi. DD slept through and SNA showcased old recordings with new patina. Young India would benefit from seeing real masters and gurus of yore like Shambhu Maharaj, Balasaraswati, Ram Gopal, Uday Shankar, Shanta Rao, Indrani Rahman, Sitara Devi, Yamini Krishnamurthy...So many greats. It must be in the archives of DD and SNA. Maybe achhe din ayenge!

Dr. Sachidanand Joshi, Amit Shah, ICCR President Vinay Shahasrabuddhe

U the audience. What are you really looking for in Indian dance today? Are you looking for glamour (then go to fashion or TV shows or events), excitement (go to cabaret or cricket), or food for soul? As Picasso said, "Art removes the dirt from our souls of everyday living." Are you looking for substance, poetry, beauty and meaningful time spent where you forget the traffic you came through or problems in office or at home you left behind?

Diva and MP Sonal Mansingh made a very important point I've harped on too in the past decade, as the fundamental point of major change in Indian classical dance art. The art of the soloist. She was speaking at JLF (Jaipur Lit Fest) and she brought up the issue of the solo dancer. That's almost gone. There are hardly any dancers under 30 who can do an hour or two of only solo program. Ok, let me think hard and I'd come up ikka dukka in each form: Kathak has Tribhuwan Maharaj and Laxminarayan Jena. They can dance an hour plus, without break and with enough content - Vishwanath Mangaraj and Lipsa in Orissi, Mahati Kannan, Anagha Gauri, Himanshu in BN, Rachita Ravi in Mohiniattam, Avijit Das in Kuchipudi.

Under 35 or 40 solo talents of depth who can dance solo for 2 hours and one name that comes to mind is Aishwarya Nityananda in BN. Add Rukmini Vijayakumar. Fire in yogic belly, ah! so professional. Kuchipudi's Prateeksha Kashi or Rashmi Menon, Mythili Anoop in Mohiniattam. In Kathak, Tushar -Pooja Bhatt as a couple. This list is not comprehensive, no list can be. Why not more? Many reasons and factors: Their gurus are not real gurus, who have enough material to give. They are not gurus with depth and substance but mere tutors or teachers who taught them basic, then some item and mostly fit them in group works. Two, the students pursue dance with some other occupation since dance doesn't pay. Three, there are too many learning dance now, thus the competition is tough. Four, support systems from society missing totally. No one buys ticket for a dance show (except in Madras December season or Bombay private clubs). For theatre people buy tickets, for films and fashion shows too. Told you F matters!

The art of the soloist has been replaced by groups which have become the vogue. It covers stage, covers weak ones with strong ones, stamina ones without stamina, plain bad ones with plain passable ones. There, India has a perfect recipe for everything. Jugad Culture has come to dance too and FB and social media will be death knell for, without brakes or any quality checks, ANYTHING will be broadcast.

Vyjayanthimala blessing the dancer

Some dancers of Delhi made news even with Covid19, like Geeta Chandran. So now that she has recovered, many may ask her to donate plasma. In Paris, young Sabine died in sleep and no one knows of what. Her arangetram in Madras many decades ago had superstar Vyjayanthimala blessing her, no less. She was a disciple of Vidya Passard, who is main shishya of veteran 90 year old guru M.K. Saroja. When she stopped teaching as her bones ached and asthma didn't help, she sent students such as Sabine to Savitri Jagannatha Rao. Real gurus do not just take fee to teach. Solo dancers did this most. Protima Bedi died on August 22 years ago. No one remembered her but when Pt Jasraj died in August now, I remembered their close connection. Protima gifted me many of her personal letters as she trusted me (to add to MKDC, which she was keen to host at Nrityagram). She was an exceptional dancer and a soloist.

Solo dance was our main stay. No wonder even today a Birju Maharaj, Sonal Mansingh, Padma Subrahmanyam, Alarmel Valli, Astad Deboo, Malavika Sarukkai get a full hall and are reference points. Add even the next generation of Sujata Mohapatra, Rama Vaidyanathan, Rukmini Vijayakumar, Rajendra Gangani, Anuj Mishra who rule the roost today. They have learnt hard, worked hard and played hard to struggle and survive in this field, where a lifetime of tapasya and tyaag - family life often, self comfort and hardships - shape a career. Gold comes from extreme melting point. Copper has little value; plastic none.

Ranjana Gauhar is consistent in what she does. Her annual festival on occasion of Independence Day, 'Saare Jahan Se Achcha' in its 14th year, showcased some solid artistes like herself in Chandrabhaga; an adroit Avijit Das in Kuchipudi, a strong foundation showcased by Divya Goswami, Odissi dancer Debashish Patnaik; a committed choreographer like Santosh Nair, who is beginning to look now like his guru Narendra Sharma and the senior Odissi artiste from Cuttack, Meera Das, whose Keshi madana was fetching. Why did she wear no gungroos? Why do most Orissi singers pronounce all wrong: Keshi madana MUdaram instead of udaram? What was nice about the 3 day offering was first rate conducting and linking by Sadhna Shrivastav, Delhi's ace stage talent. A unique addition this year was showcasing those "extras but critical components of dance presentation, who help document and enhance dance" like lights man, photographer, makeup man or video man. So this festival featured a mumbling sardar, who calls himself Innie Singh (Inderpal Singh is too ordinary sounding!) - which is soo Delhi - and this new kid on the block sounded mostly clueless about dance and even lights, by his own admission! Then there was senior and sincere and always smiling, technical genius called Sandeep Dutta, whose experience showed as a seasoned lights designer, and a young, handsome Sid (dharth) Daniels, who shared his thoughts on videography. German discipline and disposition marks his whole persona. Ranjana Gauhar was beaming herself and professionally turned out, in introductions. So 15th August came and we felt proud of our inheritance and culture. Dancers and musicians are India's best ID. Soft power ought to be soft. India has always had that. The dynamic Dr. Joshi of IGNCA with veteran Vinay Sahasrabuddhe of ICCR are planning a tome on the subject that is need of the hour.

In this negative environment, Neo Narthaki made a quiet entry. One day in the inbox, there was a "U got mail" and I wondered if someone somewhere had copied this portal? After all, copying is the best form of flattery! But trust Anita Ratnam to be ahead of the creative enterprise curve, exposed as she is to world trends and news and views and come up with this novel platform. Nearly 25 years ago she pioneered Narthaki directory when there was no address data book of dancers even. And then, before internet really took hold of us, she created this portal (for which I've written 19 of its 20 years!) and now in 2020, she offers an exclusive platform for new trends, new thoughts on dance in India - even if the first edition features real oldie 90 year old Kumudini Lakhia. Kathak senior Sanjukta Wagh is the guest editor for this issue. Bangalore talent Masoom Parmar is the content editor. The mast head looks akin to NEEMRANA group's new eco-friendly blue green design. Refreshing. Good luck! U readers benefit.

You, you, you the reader, the audience, the purveyor, the patron, the press, the power brokers, the purse holders decide where Indian art is headed. Support this identity of India. Take it up as a cause, as a mission. No U turn allowed!
Iti sri vowel movement samaptam swaha!

Humour and history form twin stylistic feature of critic, author and historian Ashish Mohan Khokar, whose 40 years of work and worth in art field can be seen in detail on

Ashish ji, this is an exhaustive and incisive analysis of the dance scene today. Written with your hallmark humour and intimate knowledge of our dance world, it was a most enjoyable and insightful piece. Thank you! 
- Alarmel Valli (Sept 1, 2020)

I love the way you write everything with so much reality and truth. In this write-up you have covered  the entire lockdown & its reality in the art field. My heartfelt thanks to you for your service to the art community & raising up its issues in so much detail.
- Abdul Khalid (Aug 26, 2020)

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