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Culture vultures! A sorry state of affairs
- Padmaja Suresh, Bangalore

April 3, 2009
The following is a letter to regarding one artiste's personal experience.
This is the personal view and experience of the artiste. Her views and experiences in no way reflect those of this website and the editorial team.
If any artistes would like to add or contribute to this subject, please do so under your own name and not under aliases.
Thank you
The editorial team

The Ministry of Culture puts forward advertisements every year for production and salary grant proposals from artistes. Although I had heard about limited chances of luck from Government quarters, I thought why not give a trial. After all, good luck cannot always attach itself to a privileged few. I got the entire proposal well prepared to become unique and presentable, taking good time and efforts for the same, especially being a 'sincere fresher.' The submission for the application was forwarded through the local Karnataka Department of Culture, the handling and processing agency as every state's Culture Departments are authorized for this purpose. I was however admonished by them that I need not follow this up with them as they have neither any say nor power in this regard at all and all further communication had to be addressed to the Center alone.

Lo and behold! There was a positive response that I have been sanctioned a grant and my joy knew no bounds as this was a recognition for me although the amount granted would be hardly one-fifth of the requested grant.

As per the mandatory rules, I immediately sent all the signed bond papers, affidavit, stamped receipt for 75% of the amount, in this case Rs.22,500 as these are required by all Government Departments and Commissions, including the local Culture Department before the first installment or the fee for programs would be remitted by them. After this formality, there was yet another letter from the Ministry, asking for another set of papers, most of them extra copies of the previous documents.

All these added on to my keen following of the envelopes from postal department, courier offices etc. hoping that my cheque would soon reach in order to kick off my production project. My repeated phone calls added to my bills; on every visit to Delhi for a program, I would also go to the Ministry of Culture to ask the 'Babus.' I got a hint that I was far from receiving my grant.

'Aap ko istaraha se aapka paisa to nahin milne wala', 'aap thoda sa samjiye ki hamara arrears bahut zyada hain ...' meaning that I cannot get my money this way and they have to settle arrears, backlogs and they lack time. The god-forsaken files piled up in the large room were enough proof that many were hardly seen with any interest or respect or the least consideration. My heart literally cried for the many rural artistes who strive to get an additional earning to sustain. I reckoned that THERE WAS NO PLACE FOR ART AND CULTURE HERE. I asked the whereabouts of my file and no one gave a straight answer. I was asked to meet others who have received grants regularly to take better 'tips.' I spoke to my artiste friends in other cities and was shocked at the well planned network for 'maska-polishing' and kickbacks involved.

I never met the concerned signatory of my grant documents as he absented himself at office after I spoke over the phone. Instead, I could meet one of the top officials there and this was when I performed that year at the President's invitation at Rashtrapati Bhavan. This commanding official promised to take action, albeit issuing a warning that the history of the second installment to be remitted is perhaps negligent or even none.

He even regretted that crores of money under schemes do not get channelised properly, eg. Ancient arts that are dying forms have patronage indeed but what to do... there were no appropriate disbursements. My heart beat fast, wishing that my father (Chakyar Koothu Rajan) could get Government recognition and support! My follow ups then, with the official over long distance phone about my grant's first installment included another new application for salary grants for my father's propagation of Chakyar Koothu in Mumbai and my ongoing charitable project Kalachaitanya for lesser privileged slum children and village kids. But this seemed useless and very soon, he had retired as well. Well, my father is in heaven now, happily continuing his art without these artificialities!

I had been selected to lead a delegation as Cultural Ambassador of the Government of India and I wondered if all these track records of my career would help in enforcing my grant which was still only on a paper. Sending papers after papers told me that I am wasting my time and should go ahead with my other projects and forget about this one. Yet, somewhere, there was the beginning of a new kind of anger and humiliation as to why does the Ministry create such a farce through advertising if it does not intend to pay or intends to only pay some artistes, even repeatedly, to endorse their skills and experience? Why take the common artistes for a joke?

However, it is now five years and can you all (my fellow artistes from all over the world and my dear countrymen) believe that I have not got even one 'naya paisa'/ 'single anna' from them towards my grant!

Gone are those days when the Kings patronized arts and treated them as precious gems. Our present kings are not even aware of names of arts, leave alone meaning. But certainly the present rulers are aware of few artistes, mostly those who are themselves experts at politicizing and have vested interests. I started wondering, why should artistes get 'lost' anywhere except into the depths of their own art in order to discover their real self as in a spiritual journey? Have we forgotten why this (natya) was started? Isn't art the quest for truth? Is it worth betraying the essence of this divine art of Bharatanatyam, the hallmark of pristine purity and devotion?

A true artiste never wants to gain anything without rightful and conscientious means. If and whenever a great opportunity to dance comes my way, I only thank my gurus, my stars and divine grace and work towards living up to the honour. Instead of belittling God's gift of art and years of dedicated worship of / through dance, I would rather give up taking this sadhana to the outside world and be content with my spiritual practices, my own space at my own time, declaring my freedom!

Hearing the grant story, my students were irate. They want to share their thoughts, whether this art may get extinct, whether they will be able to survive with dance alone.

The Voice of Kalpataru
- Compiled by Janani Rajkumar

April 3, 2009

Art in the present age has become commercialized through government and politics. For us, art is equivalent to God. It has a certain decorum attached to it. Why should artistes have to bend rules and stoop to the level of politics and bribes to promote what they believe in? Politicians cannot or rather, should not, control the fate of culture. Grants should be provided to all who excel to promote the field in which they specialize. We require a system, a procedure to ensure that these government schemes are implemented. Only then will the arts survive in a country like ours.

Says Sheila, a lecturer, "Though I am a lecturer, I would willingly take up dance as a profession. However, there is absolutely no financial security associated with this field. I don't want to have to lose my self respect or my respect for my art in order to propagate it. I know that I'm a dancer; I dance for divinity, for God and myself. That's enough for me."

Sandhya, an engineering student says, "I'm an engineering student and an avid dancer. I'd love to take it up as a career. The only thing stopping me is lack of financial support. Every human needs a certain standard of living and I expect that too. It's sad that an art form is fading away due to lack of financial support. The government has the money. It has the schemes. Poor implementation is the main problem faced."

Kritika expresses her view by saying, "The heads of department controlling the funding related activities often have no real background or love for the arts. As a result there exists no passion, no responsibility towards their betterment. Several people have the talent, interest and dream to become great dancers. The only thing stopping them is funds."

Vineeta says, "I have taken up dance as my career. It's something that I love doing and find joy in. The problem is that dance is not even considered a profession here. It is thought of as a leisure pursuit. The present generation is often not willing to sacrifice itself to the arts for monetary reasons."

Personally, having lived and learnt dance in the USA, I've been exposed to the arts in several ways. I've generally noticed that in the US, grants are easier to obtain and are more widely available. As a result, artistes find it easier to create a platform for themselves even if they are not as talented as their Indian counterparts. The arts have a certain esteem attributed to them and are widely respected by society as a whole. It's not like we don't have the talent. Ironically, Bharatanatyam is an Indian dance form. However it seems to be doing better in foreign countries rather than our own. It's a serious issue. A bunch of selfish politicians could just perhaps cause the extinction of our own unique culture.

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