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Teach India

August 28, 2021

'Each one teach one' ran a popular slogan, some years ago. As we approach Teacher's Day (5 Sept, so named in India because when the scholar President of India Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, a fine teacher himself, was asked how his birthday ought to be celebrated, he said he is what he was because of his teachers. Honour them; make it Teachers Day and celebrate all teachers), I fondly remember many of our teachers, who actually made us what we are today.

Kelucharan Mohapatra at M.K.Saroja's show
Guru's greatness and humility:
Kelucharan Mohapatra at M.K.Saroja's show
Prof. Mohan Khokar
Prof. Mohan Khokar

Our first and natural teachers are our parents, our mothers above all else. They are our first, closest teacher. From the minute we are born. How to react, touch, feel. What they teach by inference or example, remain etched in our inner beings for ever. Mine is also a star, senior-most professional teacher/guru of BN dance at 90+. So, she is double or triple dose of TEACHING niyam/discipline; karuna/ concern; vaani/speech; maryada/propriety (not property!); auchitya/ appropriateness in karma and dharma. Add, add, add. She still teaches me indirectly.

Fathers are next. Mine, whose 20th death anniversary falls in September (17; PM Modi's birthday too) was not just my father but hailed as a pioneering father-figure of the Indian dance world, its academics, scholarship and history. He was exemplary in teaching principles, ethics, kernel truths. Add hard work, research, archiving, documenting, photography, film-making, scripting, books and lateral thinking. Honesty, humanity, humility. As a Delhi friend joked: All wrong things in India today and especially in kaliyuga!

Dr. Mandlik P Chhaya
Dr. Mandlik P Chhaya

Then my third but a real teacher was Dr. Mandlik Prahladray Chhaya, our school principal at BVB (Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan) Delhi Kendra. Born in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, on Jan 27, 1929, how he became a nationally renowned figure in education shows his inborn talent and acumen. Add leadership qualities with a sharp mind. A popular though strict man, he brooked no nonsense. A hands-on man, he was sent to Delhi by Bombay HQ to shape a shapeless branch of BVB that has 400 centres worldwide, from London to New York, Dubai to Delhi, Chandigarh to Chennai. Dr. Chhaya was the most dynamic educationist in BVB family - a role model human being, with leadership qualities like Modi (also hailing from his Gujarat and died on August 24 in PM's ex-constituency Baroda, where Dr. Chhaya lived for most of his retired life) and charisma like Vivekananda. Dr. Chhaya touched so many lives that reams would get filled. His students are spread the world over, in every field and discipline. To single a few out would be unfair and Dr Chhaya would not like it. That's what he taught. Be firm but fair to all. After shaping up BVB Delhi Kendra, he took up the challenge of Navodaya schools and still later, of Chinmaya Mission schools. Did the nation honor him with a Padma award, all and sundry used to get those days? No. He ought to get a Padma Bhushan because he was indeed a rare gem. Abhushan.

Baroda being my birth city, I often returned to it as my spiritual guru also hailed from there and I'm in-charge of her little ashram set up as a lifelong managing trustee. So, every year, I'd meet Chhaya ji too, at least twice. He never seemed to age - forever young looking. He launched all my books there in the last 2 decades. Once he even told the VC of MS University attending one such function, that I ought to be given an honorary second doctorate just for my books on dance and Indian culture because how many world reputed authors had Baroda produced? Painters many. Few Kathak dancers too. Regional level quasi BN artistes also. But art books and authors in English? The VC was a science guy, not used to such creative suggestions, so smiled and slinked away. Chhaya ji was also a father figure when not being a principal: loving, supportive and caring. Always patting my back. At school I was weak in all science subjects, getting single digit marks in ALL the science subjects. Single digits out of 100! Never he berated me or put me down in class or said anything negative to my parents but since I loved the arts, he made me Krishna in Krishnaleela, the annual day school production, for which I was allowed to keep long hair (much to chagrin of many other envious boys who got a Dalda cut, so called because an empty ghee tin of Dalda was inverted on head and any hair coming out of its rims was vanquished forever!). He let me be and said, "No loss to science; If you love the arts, you do arts." That one line changed my life. I'm today doing what I love to do thanks to one enlightened teacher, Dr. Chhaya.

Can you imagine how many lives a teacher can touch? Lakhs. Every year 1000 students those days. That was 45 years ago. Today, my nephew in Chennai, Vishwanathan Loganathan (of SBOA schools and college) tells me, "Uncle, we have sections from A to P! (40 students in each class, that's 20x40 = 800!), that's just one class. 10000 students every year. A good teacher can make or mar a student. My maths teacher was secretly an Olympic boxer material. Alas! Those days in 1960s, he wasn't sent anywhere but to inflict pain on some of us unsuspecting students. Till date, I'm not calculative. My chemistry teacher had chemicals stored in his mouth and a rabid tongue made him froth at the sides. Physics teacher looked like Rajesh Khanna and taught Physics in a sing song manner, so we gravitated towards him. History teacher told us stories. Till today, I can recall each king and queen easily. Dates stick in my mind. As do the 16 Mahajanapadas. English teacher was a pahadan (mountain girl) with an anglicized speech. Bio teacher put us to sleep. Geography teacher kindled in me a desire to go around the world, which I've been thrice. Almost. How our teachers shape us. Let's salute them.

Same in dance. How each teacher shapes a style or shishya. How a teacher can instill love for a demanding art like dance. Painting or fine arts one can self teach and even leave a canvas blank and say this is ABSTRACT art! Music today is mostly technology. One can't sing but one can program music today. Dance one has to DO. Classical, more so, needs training. BN ought to have an araimandi position of knees bent sideways, half sitting position. Odishi needs chaukha and Kathak needs mathematical prowess. Kathakali needs stamina; Manipuri, grace and so on. All these aspects form bedrock of a style. I've given a very broad stroke for those NOT from the dance field. And painting and other fine arts even learnt properly has different results.

Okay, the ideal guru is no more or in very short supply today. Ideal, meaning one who is not after name, fame, awards, empires and more. Most teachers today have taken the title of guru without its concomitant maryada or responsibility. Once, in Pune, an angry youngster asked me from the audience, haughtily: WHAT'S the difference between a guru and a teacher? I said, SPIRIT. Soul. A Guru is not necessarily in the market. A Guru need not even charge fees. A Guru gives, not takes. A Guru is genuine about knowledge and sharing. A Guru is a state of being, next to Godliness. Not just a title. To answer such people, who have made dance a business (no harm, but then say it's a shop; don't go mouthing higher, altruistic value addition or branding to it) I put together a whole special issue of attenDance, the yearbook with this cover. It said all.

special issue of attenDance
Teacher and gurus, cover says all

Today teachers are also on the net. They are teaching many through the medium. One gets a palette or plate full of possibilities. It's like pick and choose. Sometimes seriousness can be a casualty. Or quality. Covid has opened up new necessities on outreach through the virtual world. Many have used it to their advantage. Some have taken creative license too far. Occasionally one comes across exceptional creative writing feats and bio-data (more, bio-gas) that can be hilarious, like these: I'm the pillar of Kathak/my guru's legacy rests on me/I'm the saviour! Hallelujah! Yet another reads: BN begins with me (Subtext: And in all likelihood, it will end with me too!).

Empty vessels make most noise. Of late, titles galore: Natya Saraswati, Gyan Sagar, Kala Samrat. Vidhushi and Vidwan are commonly used by 20 year olds. Where would it lead to? Shunya. Ennui. No one would take any title seriously in future.

What matters in the end? Truth. It will not change and no amount of covering up can or will alter it. If you can't dance, it will finally show on stage. No award or title will help boost falsifications. That's the nature of being. Satyameva Jayate!

Ashish Mohan Khokar
Khokar is a senior, seasoned dance commentator with 40 years solid work in art field as a pioneer arts administrator, archivist, critic, curator, author, academician and more. Detailed bio on

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