Turning Point- inspiration in challenging times
- Ashwini Naik
June 12, 2021
Aano bhadraha krtavo yantu vishwata: Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides.
Turning Point, an online series of 13 days, was conceived and curated by Guru Vyjayanthi Kashi under the banner of Shambhavi School of Dance. The main objective of the webinar was to inspire the audience with positive thoughts in these challenging times.
Considering the saturation created by the innumerable performances which are flooding the different social media, most of them with less viewership, Vyjayanthi Kashi thought otherwise. She brilliantly used the webinar as a medium, to bring accomplished artists and achievers from across walks of life, to share their inspirations. Kashi believes that the webinar is an impactful medium more for seminars and talks, rather than performances. And no wonder, she has used the same medium last year, during the first lockdown, to successfully host the First International Kuchipudi Seminar online, running for 18 days.
The highlight of the Turning Point series was inspirations weren't limited to arts alone. On the other hand, though the achievers came from across different fields, their views on how art could be used meaningfully, to heal from all the negativity during these difficult times, was a welcome change.
Day 1 kicked off with a wonderful discussion with the learned scholar Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh from Karnataka. According to him, a "turning point" is an influence on one's life that can come from any direction, any person or situation that one encounters, and can enhance one's learning. He strongly believes an exposure to Poetry-Music-Dance from childhood had a huge influence on his life and his art. Added to this, his studies in engineering brought clarity to his way of thinking. It came to his help in his art of Avadhanam, which follows the same principles.
He quoted that the simple things in life are the most beautiful. The simple pleasures of life like reading classics, watching classic movies, listening to music, enjoying nature, and even observing our own life can help us increase our imagination. This imagination is what helps an artist achieve rasotpatti in art which otherwise seems difficult to achieve. As stressed by him repeatedly, "To live in the present is to be in the state of enjoyment".
The speaker on day 2 was Praveen D Rao, music director, composer, lyricist, percussionist, singer, and actor. Even as a child, accompanying his mother regularly to Ramakrishna Ashram where music, bhajans were an integral part, laid the foundation for his music career. A turning curve, as he likes to call it, began when he started accompanying Swami Purushottamanand on tabla for his concerts. Even at a very young age, Swamiji initiated him to create lyrics, compose music, and direct skits for the ashram boys, and this is where he learnt most of what he is today. A second bend in the curve came when he got introduced to dance-music by Udayraj Karpur who was closely associated with Dr. Maya Rao. Encouraged by Guru Maya Rao, he started composing music for her dance productions. His first international travel along with Dr.Maya Rao to Canada opened new doorways for him. Ever since, he has been composing music for many established dancers. He later got to compose music for TV serials and venture into contemporary music and there was no looking back.
Education is the manifestation of the perfection already in man (Swami Vivekananda). Quoting this, he explained that every being has music latent in him and can be brought out with sadhana and with guru krupa. Exposure to different arts is very important to inculcate interest in children, and exposure should start very early. Our Indian culture and epics say that learning starts from the womb, and hence expose the child very early, especially to music since a child can hear even when in womb.
On day 3 being Thursday, which is dedicated to the Gurus, the organizers rightly chose revered Gurumatha Amma of Shridhargudda, Bangalore. It would be no exaggeration to say that her talk was probably a turning point for many viewers. Amma expressed that one could have multiple events in life that prepares one for the future. But a real turning point in one's life is when one reaches that stage, where one starts looking inward and the mind becomes stable and more focused. When one's mind moves from conflict to stability, one becomes a seeker of true knowledge.
In her own life's experience, the knowledge she gained with her sadhana and learning of Geeta, helped her to see the Supreme in everything. To achieve that stage, one needs to let go of ego. Only when his or her wisdom is free from ego, the intelligence which is inherent in everyone can sprout. This helps one to learn the art of detachment, which in turn brings freedom and ananda. Amma too strongly emphasized on living in the present. She concluded with a quote, "Turn inwards - towards silence and peace. This will help you to expand your mind and your consciousness."
The inspiring speaker on day 4 was Narthaki Nataraj. Right from her childhood she was ridiculed and had to face a lot of societal hurdles. Her struggle with her personal identity as a woman, as against the identity by society as a man, culminated when she found dance. Dance helped her to break the mental barriers and deeply connect with her femininity. Her turning point was when she was neglected by her parents and thrown out of the house at the tender age of eleven. Natarajan, as she was called then, was lucky to find as her friend Shakthi, who supported her at every stage in her life, giving her the courage, confidence, and helping her to transform as Narthaki, the dancer.
Her journey in dance started as a young child, playfully dancing to movie songs on the streets of her village and in rural theaters. She was fascinated by watching several dancers in movies like Padmini, Kumari Kamala, Vyjanthimala Bali. On reading an article and learning about Guru Kittappa Pillai, she travelled from Madurai to Tanjavur and approached him expressing her eagerness to be trained in the classical dance. Her beautiful story of how she met her guru and how he recognized her passion by watching her eyes was touching. Her joy knew no bounds when he accepted to teach her and provided her shelter in his own house. Nevertheless, she had to wait for one long year to learn her first step. Since then, she was fortunate to live and learn under the legendary guru for 14 long years. She also worked as an assistant to him in Tanjavur Tamil University.
Her life itself is a huge learning experience for many of us. She has always believed in success achieved by merit and has worked hard to hone her skills to achieve the same. The hardships that she faced, her grit, determination and courage in the face of every adversity, is truly admirable.
The talk on day 5 by Dr. Kanak Rele, scholar, dancer, choreographer and an academic, was an experience in itself. Dr. Rele has been heavily influenced by Shantiniketan, the peaceful abode, where she spent her childhood days with her mother and uncle. The seed of art was sown in her during this time. She learnt to appreciate arts, be compassionate towards nature and animals and most importantly, really appreciate the value of time. Later, she got introduced to Kathakali in an uncanny way. Her uncle and his artist friends had invited a teacher Raghavan Nair from Kerala to teach Kathakali at Mumbai. Since there were no students, who came forward to learn this form as they considered it as dance of the demons, Kanak Rele was thrown in to be the first student. Her first lessons being all about facial expressions, Kanak enjoyed it and thought it was playful. Later, when Raghavan Nair's guru, Guru Panchali Karunakar Pannicker as he was popular known, happened to see and recognize the talent of this young child, he insisted that Kanak should be his student. And that was Kanak Rele's turning point. Several years of learning under this great guru and spending time with him, learning the nuances of the form made her a prominent dancer of the art form. The respect and gratitude for her gurus she has even to this day is a learning for the younger generation. She was the first woman to learn Kathakali and later, she also stood out as one of the prominent dancers of Mohiniattam.
She continues to spread the deep knowledge that she has acquired over years to many students through her Nalanda Dance and Research University. Even to this today, she continues learning, understanding, and teaching new aspects that can help dancers like body kinetics. Not wanting to lose any minute during the lockdown times, she spends her time in continuing to further her studies in the text of Natya Shastra, practice and compose new dance pieces.She stressed that one needs to dance because it gives pleasure and ananda is the ultimate rasa.
The next invitee of the series, on day 6 was a doyen from the corporate world, V R Ferose, Senior Vice President of SAP Academy of Engineering, Palo Alto. Ferose was among the selected "India's Top 40 under 40". Being the youngest MD of a multinational in India, he later in life went on to make a strong impact, not just in India but in the world by initiating "inclusiveness" for the Disabled community. Ferose's take on turning point, or as he calls it as "Defining moments" in his life, was that each of us could have different such moments, and it is up to us what we make of it. Do we identify it and make a change, or just let it pass? Professionally, his turning point was, when he went on to work with one of the Executive Board Members of SAP, which got him access to network, leadership and a strong mentor.
But his biggest turning point came from his personal life when his son was diagnosed with Autism. This moment went on to define the impact he made and continues to make to the disabled community. He said history shows us that major turning points of people across the globe have been moments of pain. But it does not always have to be a personal pain. You could learn from other's pains and raise your own consciousness. He further quoted that "Pain is related to Purpose, and Purpose is related to Progress."
His initiative of "Autism at Work" in SAP, or starting the NGO - India Inclusion Foundation and the many initiatives conducted under its banner for the disabled world, has brought him many accolades from across the world including an invite from United Nations and award from the World Economic Forum. But he chose to downplay these materialistic achievements, and his emphasis was to judge oneself based on the simple mathematical equation of Seva/Ahankaar or External Impact/Inner transformation, meaning the number of lives that you have touched. As he quotes, "Success is hugely overrated, and significance you have created is hugely underrated". It is important to amplify the goodness in people, surround yourself with people who are better than you, have a great team of individuals who trust in you, accept that you don't have all the answers in the world and work towards the progress.
Inspiration continued to pour from different directions with Soorya Krishnamoorthy joining in on day 7. Listening to him, one will be left wondering how could someone who has the prowess to run an organization across 40 countries, driven completely by motivated volunteers, funded by volunteers and cultural impresarios, supporting a huge number of artistes, can still be so down-to-earth and compassionate. Every human being has a purpose in life and the inner voice always directs us towards this purpose. Listening to his inner voice which told him to make a difference to the art world was Soorya Krishnamoorthy's turning point in life. He then quit his job as a scientist in ISRO to obey his inner voice.
Krishnamoorthy quoted an incident where he had managed to raise a significant financial fund to support one of the senior artists from Kerala, who was struggling to make a living despite his prowess in art. When he phoned him personally to inform about the news, the artist humbly rejected the financial help and instead requested Krishnamoorthy to provide him with a platform to perform. This was indeed an emotional moment which showed the preference of opportunities for true artists over mere financial assistance. Krishnamoorthy has ensured to keep his connect with artistes across time, providing opportunities to them. He continues to provide support to multiple artists, organize events to encourage the younger generation towards arts, all with the support of a motivated volunteer team, which runs purely by empowerment and no hierarchies. A lesson for corporates too.
There is no other beauty than simplicity in life, a lesson that he learnt from 2 close people in his life - one, his father and second, none other than APJ Abdul Kalam, his mentor, with whom he worked in ISRO. It was Shri Kalam who taught him the importance of leading a simple life rather than being carried away with the materialistic things. Krishnamoorthy believes that an artist can do wonders to the society through his art. That is the culture we need to build in future generations too.
As we moved on to day 8, we had the charming Bharatanatyam dancer and cultural visionary Prathibha Prahlad sharing her experiences and views with the audience. Her transformation from a dancer to a cultural visionary was filled with multiple turning points. The lack of national recognition and opportunities for artistes from Karnataka motivated her to organize dance festivals which later took on a different tangent altogether. Eventually, Prathibha went on to organize prominent cultural festivals of India like Delhi Arts Festival and Hampi Dance Utsav. She was responsible for bringing in policies like concessions for artists in train travels to benefit the art community.
Prathibha opined that when one wants to be identified as an artist and make an impact, then it is important to connect with oneself first and journey through one's own obstacles. It is very important for artists to have the humility to understand that one's learning is never complete and that there is always something more to achieve. She stressed on the importance of understanding the depth and value of words that we use, as words have a very strong impact. Her message to youngsters was not to over project oneself, rather focus on reaching great heights and then proclaim as is. It is then that we can create art that stays in the memory of the audience.
We had a spell binding session on day 9 with Bombay Jayashri, an epitome of humility and simplicity. Though her initial training in music started with her parents, Jayashri's turning point came when she found her Gurus Pandit Vishwaprakash Jaipurwale and Lalgudi Jayaraman under unexpected circumstances. She learnt the importance of discipline from her mother and that of hard work and sincerity from her gurus.
Jayashri's words showed us how her experiences and learnings, be it from her mother or gurus, have instilled a deep sense of bhakti in her for art. She shared instances of how her mother would talk about every little beauty she came across, how she would make her listen to a wide range of musical genres there by ensuring that her children would learn to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of differing arts. This has laid the foundation for Jayashri's personality and has made her the versatile and revered singer that she is. Jayashri's greatness was evident when she never tried to take credit for the work she does for children in the villages, but rather emphasized on the learning she gets from them.
She touched on complex topics like spirituality or sadhana in very simple terms. To her, spirituality is when you forget yourself in the art, sometimes so much that the emotions manifest themselves physically. Sadhana is a repeated practice of the same song/varnam/item, until it becomes an integral part of you. The art of sadhana comes via a disciplined approach that needs to be instilled in children very early in life.
Day 10 of the series was dedicated to Vyjayanthi Kashi's guru in theater, T S Nagabharana. Being a revered theatre and film personality, Nagabharana has made an impact in every form of cinema or theater he has created, winning many prestigious awards. Nagabharana's first turning point came in life when he was invited to join the dramatics training happening in Ravindra Kalakshetra, where he got introduced to multiple other doyens of theater, It was there that he met his guru Karanth and went on to work with him for 45 years, learning immensely from him. There he formed his foundation years as a director. The second turning point was when Nagabharana met Girish Karnad from the cinema world and started working with him, which introduced him to the wonderful world of visual medium. One opportunity led to another and Nagabharana also got the opportunity to learn editing from P Bhatavathsala in the process.
His continued zeal to learn and experiment, meant that each film of his was different from his previous, which have left an indelible mark in the field of cinema and theater. Character is more important than the actor or the artist, and this humility is very important in art to excel, said Nagabharana. According to him, acceptance of arts is a must for a healthy society, and art brings that heightened conscious in humans. Art brings focus, opens our mind to good culture, and helps us keep ourselves away from negative thoughts or activities. Art is a healing medium, which brings calmness in mind, especially during these turbulent times. Art can inculcate teamwork or empathy towards fellow beings. In simple words, art is very much relevant for today's world and needs to be a part of learning from a young age.
The invitee for day 11 was one of the foremost Bharatanatyam dancers of the current generation, Priyadarsini Govind. She has been an artiste par excellence, performing across India and the world, and has also served as the Director of Kalakshetra Foundation, Chennai. Priyadarsini expressed that her turning points in life were also her big learning experiences. Her first learning of "letting go" came when her young teacher Usha suggested to her to move on to more experienced teachers for further growth.
She then started learning with Kalanidhi Narayanan, lovingly known as Maami, which was her next turning point. Since Maami had just then started teaching, they both grew together as a guru and shishya, continuously evolving and mutually adapting. During this process, Priyadarsini learnt that a guru's belief in a student makes him or her feel confident about becoming an artist. It is this belief that inspires the student to continuously work hard to excel and keep that belief entrusted in them. Also, Maami inspired her to have generosity towards students, to bring out the best in them and accept their growth.
Another major turning point came when Dr. Sunil Kothari offered her a chance to dance in Khajuraho Festival. This came at an unexpectedly surprising juncture, when she had almost decided to quit dancing as a profession and focus on her studies instead. A philosophy that she has followed in her choreography is that art should outshine the artist. When we create an art piece, it needs to stand out and be remembered. The art identifies the artiste, and not other way around. Keeping in line with this philosophy, an important aspect we all should remember in these days is not to just clone others' art, but to learn to see the details of the art, internalize it and then execute it with your own voice, said Priyadarsini. By cloning you would only imitate the external movements of the artiste and not the internal depth, which is most essential to bring out beauty of the art itself.
On day 12, Anand Kuchibhotla, founder of Silicon Andhra, shared his turning points and life's efforts towards making Indian art a global phenomenon. Kuchibhotla started with a very interesting quote from one of his teachers, who said, "An ambition or goal should never be reached, else it marks the end of life". He has lived by this quote all his life. His first turning point was when he was sent to Vedic school in childhood instead of regular schooling, which set his base strongly in Indian culture. His decision to start Silicon Andhra in order to ensure the continuance of Telugu language and culture amongst Indian youth settled in USA was yet another major turning point in his life. Founding the first ever Government recognized university in USA to promote Indian Arts defined his commitment to take Indian art forward, not just among Indians but non-Indians too. Kuchibhotla insists that creating a demand for languages or art is a more sustainable way of keeping it alive than creating a temporary interest in it.
Art feeds the artist as well as the ecosystem, and hence innovation and use of technology is very important to propagate art. He has always strived to bring in new methodologies to encourage more and more young people to take up Indian arts and to bring the art into focus. His proactiveness was evident when he immediately understood the concern raised by Vyjayanthi Kashi where artists struggle with promotion, and he was already thinking of a way to help out.
He has always followed his motto, "perception is reality". He makes it a point to listen to everyone's criticism or praise with equal importance and makes necessary changes to create happiness. Mutual respect and trust among his team has been very important to build such a global family that has made Silicon Andhra an international success.
Before we realized, we were on day 13, the final day of Turning Point series! What better way than to conclude with the young and dynamic Parshwanath Upadhye, one of the most sought after male Bharatanatyam dancers, who shared his life journey and learnings in his inimitable style. Parshwanath's journey in Bharatanatyam started when Guru Ravindra Sharma moved from Mysore to Belgaum as his dance teacher. This was the first turning point, which set course to his life. And the second turning point was when Parshwanath himself came down to Bangalore to participate in productions of Padmini Rao. He also learnt from other eminent gurus like Kiran Subramanyam, Sudharani Raghupathy and others.
His wonderful expression of how his different teachers have influenced in different ways at different points in his learning shows his depth of understanding and maturity. His honest opinion of his life and financial struggles as a student, performer, and his decision to focus on teaching and start his dance school is something that all upcoming artistes could resonate with and learn from. Learning art cannot happen with merely some sessions. It happens by staying with the guru, spending time, observing and imbibing the details.
Create something because you love to create it, and not for making money or impressing someone, as it would then fall flat, opines Parshwanath. Dance is about communicating the thought process, which itself is a profound learning to take forward for young artists wanting to present new ideas through the medium of classical dance. As a young dancer, he was very much receptive to the experiments of the younger generation and felt that if guided well, they can really take the art forward in a promising manner.
The 2 weeks of spending an hour or more each day, listening to the wonderful speakers and achievers was truly an enriching experience. Apart from the questions asked by Vyjayanthi Kashi, the innumerable questions that came from an engaged audience enriched the content. The sessions continue to gather many more views daily, coming from across borders. There were some common aspects that I could hear the speakers emphasize on - very importantly, humility and the fact that learning never ends. Art is as important to life as science is, and the skew of balance towards science should end.
"Speak from silence" or "Dance is in the stillness". The silence or stillness should let your mind think or body respond to the environment. It is important to have that peace around, than creating a cacophony of thoughts or movements. Everyone saw life as having multiple turning points or defining moments that help you become what you are. For some it came as opportunities, for some it was an influence from seniors, and for some it was a personal setback. It is up to us how we react to those moments. Do we identify the purpose from these moments and make a change or impact? Or do we just let go and succumb to the pain?
To inspire more and more people, the sessions will continue to stay available on the YouTube and Facebook page of Shambhavi School of Dance. Let us stay inspired, identify our Turning Points in life and never cease to make an impact in our own possible ways!
Ashwini Naik is a corporate leader, dance enthusiast and an amateur writer. Vice President in a Multinational, Ashwini tries to intertwine her vocation and avocation by driving cultural initiatives in the corporate world. Having trained in Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi, Ashwini shares her learnings in dance and language with her corporate friends.