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July 30, 2023

While many learn dance as an art form, practice it for long to become adept or skilful - even famous - a very few are mad about it. Some are born to it, others often cajoled by their mothers or others around to acquire some art. Some with means and money even make a career out of it. Some succeed big time, others don't. Some talk of dance being a passion (when they were young) but when passion runs out, then what's left? No one talks of that. It is only when madness remains that it remains for long and good. Mad About Dance = M.A.D.

For long (and good measures), I've been observing dance from childhood. That's like 60 years now! I have seen 5 generation of dancers first hand. A generation is 12 years. Not twenty as we used to think forty years ago! I've seen arangetrams and antims. Start of careers and end of careers. Awards and awards wapsi (return). Padma Shris and Shrimatis! The struggle and the surrender. Joy and sorrow. Sparkle and stars and their downfall too, like star dust. So when I see possessed people, who carry on regardless and have this keedda (bug) of dance in their being, then even I sit up from my Bangalore boredom and take notice. I grit my teeth for the first mad about dance (M.A.D) is a dentist.

Dr.Varun Khanna
Dr.Varun Khanna

I don't know when he works on others' teeth but I've seen him digging his teeth in terrains no one would go to. Dusty towns of Haryana. Treacherous terrains of Jammu and Kashmir where there is no WhatsApp even. No stage, just a cement floor. No curtain. No sound system. No nothing. Just a school room. And this M.A.D. man - a dentist by day and dancer by night - daily performs here, there, everywhere. Odd villages, with no clue or connection to Bharatanatyam. They don't know its language or content but watch him for they know when he will knock them off their teeth, he can repair them too! He takes buses, trains, metro to go wherever dance is. Routes2Roots has arranged this month long trip for him from his base camp in Chandigarh. He attends even the NKC (now if you don't know what its full form is, then you are not in dance field) in Madras. And how old is he? Just 25 going on 27 types. His name: Dr. Varun Khanna, student of Rama Vaidyanathan and equally professional. Varun is M.A.D.

Abdul Khalid
Abdul Khalid

Abdul Khalid is his name. Dance is his game. He was born in badlands of U.P in the then no-man's land called Gorakhpur. Today it is Yogi land. Transformed, he tells me. Assorted goons and goondas are in hiding or jail or dead. Crime down by more than half. Abdul tells me how he ran away from home decades ago to learn dance in Delhi. How his mansik guru is Yamini Krishnamurthy, the first superstar of dance, prima ballerina and prima donna. He worships Sridevi too. His DP alters, not between yin and yang, but between Yam and Sri. He has learnt Kuchipudi from RRR (that's Raja-Radha Reddy) and K (for Kaushalya) and loves the Kuchipudi stree vesham act, which I tell him may not always work well with parents of outer Delhi, if he wants more students but does he listen? M.A.D. men don't listen to anyone. Abdul carries on. A kind pandit of Delhi has allowed him to stay at a modest rent, reinstating secularism or humanism abounds? Abdul roams the streets of Delhi hungry for dance. He attends any show anywhere and is generous to a fault. Will a Tata fund or Ambani culture centre employ him to teach the dance he loves? Or he gets a CCRT scholarship to survive?

Laxminarayan Jena
Laxminarayan Jena

Third is from Odisha, living in Bangalore when not working in Bombay. Cultured fellow, Ph.D in Sanskrit no less and going in circles because he also dances Kathak. Knowledgeable about art and technology, well-mannered, even diplomatic and bright, he is mad about dance and devoted to his guru. He doesn't have a fortune but wants to build a dance institution. His name: Laxminarayan Jena. Saraswati he has, Laxmi is built in his name. He is in his mid-thirties. He is aware of the field and many have used his goodness and he continues with mission impossible. Dr. no less. A genial, helpful fellow. Give him any task and he somehow manages. An all-rounder.

All three, one from Punjab that's headquartered in Chandigarh; other from Central India, Gorakhpur, and the third from east, Odisha to be precise are certified M.A.D. No support, no family background and no nothing. Still they are in dance. That's what needs celebration when those well-off complain about this or that. Next time, I will think and feature three female talents who are M.A.D just to maintain gender equality!

Cultural arms of the government must notice and award these deserving talents. Income of families and candidates must be taken into account before handing out scholarships. Is CCRT listening? Award the truly deserving. Young India needs avenues and channels of support. ACCHE DIN ought to come for those marginalised by the system and not to those whose stomachs are full. A nation's branding comes from its culture. Arise! Awake and make India truly shine!

Ashish Mohan Khokar
Critic, connoisseur, historian, author, artivist, archivist, administrator and more - editor, columnist and mentor Ashish Khokar remains true to his muse.
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I am deeply grateful & thankful to respected Ashish Khokar ji for sharing our stories. He always encourages, supports & promotes struggling artists like me. He is a true Sevaka of Indian arts & artistes & always appreciates real Arts.
Best Regards
Abdul Khalid (Aug 1, 2023)

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