November 27, 2021
It is amazing how literate our people are about Indian culture. Or illiterate. Appalling actually. A quiz master of a popular TV show - an ageing film icon no less - didn't seem to know what Bhavai was when a participant from Gujarat spoke about it. It is folk theatre. Very popular like Nautanki of Uttar Pradesh or Therukoothu of Tamilnadu or Yakshagana of Karnataka. Unless he was joking or acting. At another forum, a babu asked, "Can you play Carnatic sarod?" Eeks! Third gem reserved for end of this opening, was the best: "When was Ali added to Kathak to make it Kathakali?" It's not just in arts; even normally 95% population knows zilch about Indian culture. Basic things. I roam all over India like a yogi or migrant person, I see it firsthand. Still, ALL south Indians are Madrasi and for them ALL north Indians are Punjabis. All Eastern folks are Bengali and West means abroad! Few know the seven sisters of North East. Their map, capitals or cuisine. Madhya land, forget it, one big blob. Even in cultural institutions they don't know Baroda had Maratha rulers who also ruled Tanjore in Tamilnadu. They don't know Kashmir except for in films. Rajasthan means camels. Epic means a TV channel.
Sonal Mansingh's Katha Siyah-Ram ki
So, when a diva of dance, an MP of the Upper House no less, takes upon herself the task of retelling the tale of Ram Sita - Katha Siyah-Ram ki - for the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, the IGNCA's 34th founder's day on 19th November (being Indira Gandhi's birthday), it is heartening to see passion meets education; beauty meets brains, Sanskrit meets Queen's English, with Awadhi Goswami Tulsidas' Ramayan chopais (couplets) as devotional base. Sonal Mansingh yet again proves what a good communicator she is. A one-man, oops woman show, the loud musicians do spoil the show and flow (each instrumentalist these days wants his pet to sound the loudest, in the end there is cacophony not sound) but she saves it with her epic performance by using montages of scenes from the epic Ramayan with a cast of four. A very small stage with musicians sitting on the side is no obstacle for her - for her presence makes the stage look large and electrified. Seeing her perform, one felt the Padma Vibhushan sits nicely on her and even if many others crave for it without having half her talent or worth, she is indeed a diva. In this production, she is not merely a diva but a devi, for she became Sita maiya on stage. We cry with her and we feel her joy at seeing Rama the first time in the bower. We even try to tolerate the asuras trying to spoil the show - the hawan sage Vishwamitra is doing - for we see such asuras in real life too. We laugh at kings who fail to lift Shiva's bow and we get agitated with Lakshman's anger. Parashuram fortunately doesn't show up but as Sonal Mansingh said, while concluding: "I'm not telling you the sad part of the rest of the story -exile, abduction, captivity in Lanka, duel and death of Ravana - because I want to leave you on a happy note, and blessed." Amen to that.
Aman, nath of arts, architecture, artisans and artists
Tijara Fort Palace, Alwar
Aman is his name. Genius ought to be his surname. Nath of art and artists. Maverick, magician, mad-man of design, architecture and art. Add, ad world, benchmark books, dozens of followers and fans in over 40 educational institutions he addresses on architecture. Intellect meets wit; art meets commerce and conservation meets class. One look at his latest "creation" Tijara , near Alwar, shows he is not merely a world class talent but out of this world. How does he visualise ruins to rein; glass to gold and mould iron to make khajur trees? What's in that mind that envisages nooks and crannies even in toilets of rooms in Neemrana? Jali tiles where there's no space for even a window. Take a poky room Mrig Mahal. Tiles transform that space and artifacts in each room justify its name. Neemrana is the only true patron of dancers the year round. Every Saturday evening for 6 months, a dance show presenting dancers from all over India selected by a team of experts regale the audiences. Coordinator Jayashree helps coordinate with Pragati looking after logistics. In Covid times, dancers had very few paying platforms; only Neemrana was consistent and gave them a chance to dance which helped them financially too. Being an amphitheatre it was a natural setting too for air circulation and for maintaining Covid protocols. Stars shine as dancers perform. It is a heavenly sight and site. Magical.
Neemrana at night
Amphitheatre by day
Neemrana being the flagship of this heritage hotel chain, Aman deserves a Bharat Ratna. He IS indeed a ratna of Bharat that is India, but only in India he hasn't even got a Padma Shri. Shame. Dancers routinely (used to) get it and still sing yeh dil mange more! But this genius hasn't and won't hustle to get when he knows many PMs of past and present and hundreds of MPs and babus. No, that's not his way or style. Nor mine.
His style carries a distinct class and his work reflects it. He carries on regardless: building, restoring, giving employment to many artisans, locals, helping village economies, do reforestation along with renovation. In America or England he would be a national treasure. India does not care for or value its gems. He creates many, all over the country. About 20 plus success stories in past 25 years or so.
Meera Das's Gunjan dance ensemble
On stage for 25 years, in back of beyond Cuttack, is Gunjan festival, mounted by low key Meera Das, whose mellifluous voice and pleasant art takes you back to innocence of Orissi, as it was first known. Mounting a 3 day festival is not easy in these times but she manages it smilingly. Her voice on phone is like a school girl's but on stage she is a mature artiste. Does art give inner poise or voice to aesthetics? Meera Das proves it can. Students have anga shudhi; music has originality and dancers have lalitya, so missing in Odishi these days.
Governor Ganeshi Lal is the most erudite governor of Odisha, one has ever heard. A scholar from Sirsa - boondocks of Haryana, he spoke words of wisdom and depth. While different age group wards of Gunjan danced with some proficiency, the Kathak of Kolkata by Ashim Bhattacharya was an amalgamation of Spanish guitar meets sitar, flamenco meets bollywood. Basic Kathak. Debiprasad Mishra's lights were excellent as was Srinibas Ghatuari's compering.
The Governor of Odisha no less inaugurates it and the diva MP concludes it. What more can Meera Das ask for? She has shown that sincere work pays, even if it is long in coming and many others will damage the path, not help but hinder. Not clap but slap. This is India, my friends, the size of Europe, in fact 3 states more than in Schengen which now has 26 while India has 29. Add 9 Union Territories. Oh wow! And we still are ONE country.
In a country this big, how many bookshops are there? The Federation of Publishers would know but only three publishers in English on art books. 3 books on music and dance gets launched in one month - all from Mother Teresa of publishing art books, Shubhi. The teddy bear look-alike owner Sanjay Arya does yeoman service to art, when bookshops are closing and people are reading Facebook mostly, not real books. Meta not beta. ‘Song to Silence' is a quiet, nice story of an unsung heroine of music by ace journo Ranee Kumar, who also has written on arts for long. Musician Kumud Mohan's ‘Classical Music' as form of divine yoga and Geet Govind reinterpreted by Jaykumar, artocrat.
Do we need courses in school on our culture? Yes. As ten year olds, then studying at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, we had a weekly class on Indian culture. We retained some of it and those desirous, added to it. Let those ache din come again. India that is Bharat needs it.
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 attendance-india.com
I read almost all your articles. You are so direct and true .... may be difficult for some to be able to digest the facts you put forward. I wish they reach the right ears and impacts where it should.
Thanks for making us travel along with you through your articles and discover marvelous works of Arts and architecture. I must say, you describe/design these works so beautifully in words that one reads it with immense pleasure. Looking forward for your next article.
- Vandana from Mauritius (Dec 5, 2021)
Your writings are very simple to read. I enjoy reading every bit of it... Very lucid too... .... As I happened to be a witness to the moments you mentioned here of Neemrana, I can see visuals in your lines! Well captured... As for Neemrana...the creator and the creation, both deserve high accolades.
- V Shukla (Dec 4, 2021)
As always, the column injects us with renewed energy to do more, read more, know more. Thank you very much, Sir, for your guidance.
- Nisha Chandwani (Dec 2, 2021)
Well written about Sonal ji, a great artist, it is always a pleasure to watch Ramayana created time & again by great people on stage. Hoping to see the show sometime. Of course looking forward to your writeups, Ashish ji, neatly conveyed views about artist & performance.
- Prashant Gopal Shastry (Nov 29, 2021)
A superbly written article that takes our consciousness to a higher level - thanks for that Mr Khokar!
- Prasad Bidappa (Nov 28, 2021)
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