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Foot in Mouth Odours!

August 19, 2013

'Master of Arts: A life in dance' by author Tulsi Badrinath was released in Delhi on April 24, 2013. In chapter 19 on page 99, Bharatanatyam dancer Charles Ma of Bangalore has commented that "In Bangalore, there are no good gurus. Everything is in bits and pieces in Bangalore."

This caused varied reactions in Bangalore and outraged dance teachers and dancers. Arts consultant Usha RK penned her thoughts in her blog on August 14, 2013.
Master in Arts - Now its not master in ARTS!!!! OR IS IT????

Charles Ma discontinued his Facebook account, and then issued a public apology on Facebook via Usha RK on August 15, 2013 that is reproduced below.

The larger question is "Why should junior dancers like Charles Ma be allowed to get away with such outrageous comments? Did he not even think that this untrue statement would find itself in print and thus be alive forever and ever?"

I have personally felt that the overall standard, attitude and outlook of Bharatanatyam dancers in Bangalore is FAR FAR BETTER than their colleagues in Chennai. The recent Natyarangam festival was proof enough. We Indians are far too meek and do not protect our turf fiercely enough. We occupy ourselves more with egos than ideas. While art has no geographical borders and Bharatanatyam has offered its glory to a worldwide following, comments like those made by Charles Ma cannot go without being contested. His comment is part of a larger malaise of upstart dancers who assault us on social media and attach themselves to the latest star wagon - accumulating a galaxy of names as their "gurus" while learning from their DVDs.

- Dr. Anita R Ratnam

CHARLES MA's apology

15th August 2013

Respected Gurus and Artistes of Bangalore,

This is an apology to all the teachers and Gurus I have hurt earlier. I'm truly sorry for what I have done in the past and said in the book "The Master Of Arts" by Tulsi Badrinath about the dancers of Bangalore. It is not what I meant and certain things have been misconstrued. But what I have said is not worthy of forgiveness. It is mean, immature and hurtful especially unbecoming of a classical dancer.

I truly did not mean to hurt anyone's sentiments, but said the truth about my life. I'm truly sorry about this and I promise never to repeat anything like this again. What I have done is ungrateful and I am ashamed of what I have done after all the love and support I have received from everyone. Please find it in your hearts to forgive me.

Charles Ma


Bangalore has always seen a different varied of artists & arts. Like being a cosmopolitan city, the city has embraced all kinds of arts & artists. Regarding this young dancer's view, it is a shame that a dancer like this is being encouraged by the art fraternity in Bangalore. He not getting a good guru is his "karma" & he being an open gay, is his issue as well as issues of the city dancers in Bangalore. Agreed he is not the only one & as he says there are many closed gays in Bangalore scene (which is true). In fact, barring few male dancers, I also agree with his statement. But his behavior towards gurus in Bangalore is totally uncalled for. He always kept changing his guru's name often (once in a year), so it is not surprising today when he says he is disciple of one of the topmost bureaucratic cum dancer's disciple.

One word on author of that book; it is such a shame she brings in an article like this in a book which is written on such a legendary guru. Hoping the Guru himself will come out with a solution for this. Also, this shows the irresponsibility of the author, as to what to feature or whom to feature in such books. Thumbs down to the author & thumbs up for the people (very few in Bangalore) who have taken this issue seriously.

Regarding Anita Ratnam's words, there are always good & bad dancers everywhere. Bangalore has also got its own groupism, especially now, maybe from past two years. People consider in Chennai there's no unity among dancers, but the younger lot seems to mix & work together. So, no place is the best for so & so, all have good & bad. Madam Anita, you are seeing from far, I am in this city for many, many years & seeing the dance scene change in Bangalore over years. It has many plus as well as .......
- Anonymous (Aug 21, 2013)

In June to August 2011, I was given the opportunity to study in Mysore when the Vivekananda Institute, and by extension,the University of Mysore, hosted a group of students from Concordia University in Montreal. We were treated to musical performances from Carnatic and Hindustani musicians, Bharatanatyam teachers and dance students, vocalists, etc. If I hadn't realised the richness of Mysore arts and culture before, I did when I had finished the semester. The artists shared their art, their talents and their gifts to us without asking anything more than an open mind.

Despite having studied dance for more than a decade, I was humbled by their openness, and the fact that classical Indian dance culture is theirs. There is a naturalness of the artists' abhinaya because the words are so ingrained in their being, as integral to them as mother's milk. I could spend the next 50 years in Mysore, and only then would I begin to feel the nuances of the understanding that came so naturally to Mysore artists. Unfortunately, I did not study with any of the dance gurus as a full semester of Indian history and religion, beginners Hindi and feminist studies was enough to occupy my time and efforts. If it is to be my fate, I will get back to the city to study dance and music.

One last thing: Whatever greatness you achieve, there is always someone who is better than you. Maybe Mr. Ma needs to remember this. The fact that many male dancers are gay, secret or not, is nobody's business but theirs. So, Mr. Ma can be openly gay. Kudos to him, but his critical attitude about how open or closed they are about their sexuality says more about him than it does about the dancers. If one chooses to include one's sexuality in the praise of gods and goddesses,that is all well and good but one must be careful to observe when ego creeps in.
- Lance Desker (Aug 22, 2013)

What exactly do we dancers mean when we use the term "guru"? I feel that this word is used rather irresponsibly. Anyone who teaches dance (or anything else, for that matter) is NOT a guru! Even someone like Shri V.P. Dhananjayan, who has a vast amount of experience and exposure in the dance field, addresses himself as "nAtyAchArya".
- Shastriya Narthanam (Aug 23, 2013)

I just got the book and I have been reading it with great interest as it is about Dhanjayan Sir. I was actually surprised to read the chapter as it did not seem to have any context with the rest of the book. I was surprised at the sudden insertion of this chapter. The switching of stories between Tulsi's classes and then Sir's life was going on fine till this aberration. It would be interesting to find out what the author was thinking when she wrote it and I am surprised how this slipped past the editors and other reviewers. Just to set the context, I am only a few pages past that chapter.
- Anon (Aug 23, 2013)

Hats off Usha Ji! I truly second your opinion word by word! Charles by making this public statement has not only shown disrespect to teachers but also to the very dance form through which he is surviving. In fact he should be thankful that he is getting the blessings and support of so many gurus that he is able to dance. Charles should speak to those thousands of people who want to continue dance but couldn't due to many issues in life. He would then feel how lucky he is. Dance is not any academic qualification where you get a degree and go on to do a job with a salary. Besides years of hard work and learning, it is the sheer blessings of gurus that can help you become a "true dancer."
- Mahesh Kedlaya (Sept 4, 2013)

There are many that say that one dance teacher is better than the other; not just as openly as he did. Is Kalakshetra better that Vazhuvoor or Pandanallur? Kalakshetra students look down upon others and vice versa from other styles.Even you Ms. Ratnam were criticized for your lyrical dance forms by the sabhas - may be even looked a bit crazy to them. However that is your personal niche as an artiste. Ma was probably taken out of context... may be he meant to say that the bhakti he was lacking or looking for was not in the guru or was not personally fulfilled by them. He was in a search for that right guru who will fulfill his personal needs as an artiste, may be he is yet to find one. All of us evolve over the ages and stages of life, he will evolve too. Everything taken in the correct context will open our eyes to a new world. Not everything needs to be controversial.
Mahesh Kedlaya - it sadly has become a business or means to earn a living without the true bhakti. May be Ma came across that a lot.
- Anonymous, March 23, 2016

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