I’ve only been learning kathak for some three years, a very small amount of time when I compare it to those who have been immersed in the dance form throughout their lives. As my guru Jayashree Acharya tells us, this is a journey of constant, lifelong learning. Once you embark on it, it has to be with an attitude of submission and determination.
There are also times in your learning when you are asked to make a leap of faith, as we were this past weekend when Deepak Maharajji, eminent kathak exponent and son of the illustrious Birju Maharajji, spent some time with us in workshop mode. I’ve watched him perform at various points in time and have always been struck by his energetic style, an interpretation of his guru’s taleem (broadly, teachings, but far more..). He is a very masculine dancer, but watching him up close helped me appreciate other aspects of his dance, notably abhinaya (experession) and his effortless relationship with sur and taal (melody and rhythm).
Before getting onto the floor myself, I watched Deepakji teach young children (among them my little one Aadyaa), who were completely engrossed in what he was saying and demonstrating to them. It was wonderful to see them pick up little nuances, one imitated the flick of his wrist, another copied the guru’s stance for the sam! When I was in the workshop, however, I found myself struggling quite a bit. One part of my brain was trying to understand the sequence and details, another was recognizing patterns to imitate. I remember thinking about how much more instinctive younger students were while they learnt and I willed myself to dance by instinct, let myself go and, at the guru’s instance, simply enjoy the experience! For the entire hour we learnt from him, I was ecstatically happy.
Perhaps I can recall only snatches of what we were taught. Those students who had learnt for longer and those who had better grasp of kathak, would be able to reproduce more of course. What I did take away was an enhanced involvement with kathak as an art form, a deeper sense of understanding, a certain attitude and the importance of linking movements with a narrative, a story. And a feeling of being blessed with a higher, almost sacred knowledge.
I saw the face of my guru Jayashreeji’s light up many times through the day, delighting in the moments of joy created by, not just the dance, but the interactions of artistic minds. I’m nowhere in that league, but I was privileged to observe and participate in such an atmosphere of unbridled creativity. For that chance, I have to thank my guru and my destiny….I can only hope this experience seeps into the way I dance! Let us see…
Aadyaa has been learning kathak for a year now. It’s been a fun ride, but not easy by a long shot, for her and her friends. Learning a classical art form takes discipline and rigour, both don’t come easy for little children. In the initial months, novelty carried her through. But as her guru (well-known kathak exponent Sushmita Ghosh who is also the current Director of Kathak Kendra in New Delhi) pushed them more, I saw Aadyaa’s enthusiasm wane a few times. A few weekends she came back saying: Guruji daant-thi hain- she scolds us! As a mother and a kathak dancer myself, I had to make the right sympathetic noises while also conveying that the discipline is part of the game.
Slowly and painstakingly, the rights and lefts fell in place, her habitual attention seeking faded away and was replaced by a deep sense of enjoyment in her dance, an appreciation of nuances and the development of focus. She started at the age of five, now she is six. And I amazed by the progress all of her friends in the kathak class have made.
The icing on the cake, though, was their stage performance last week. Sushmita guruji began to prepare them for the show way back in December, teaching them the basic piece first and embellishing it as time went on. The choreography was reasonably complex for beginners, but the little ones handled it beautifully. They had had plenty of practice and repetition, so they were all comfortable on stage and not nervous at all.
They shone resplendent in their beautifully designed off white and gold angrakha kurtas with coloured churidaars. They has identical jewelry made and similar make-up as well. All of the dressing up created a flurry of excitement among the girls. For Aadyaa and many others, it was the first time they were trying make up! She sat with a pout from the time the lipstick went on till they got off stage, some for hours!
But far more than how they looked and how well they danced, what impressed me was the confidence and sense of enjoyment that was evident in these little dancers. They are fortunate indeed to be blessed with a guru who loves them and is dedicated to her art. Little experiences like dancing to live music and sitting patiently through the pieces that other dancers performed added to their training. The entire show had an intimate and relaxed feel to it, which I think was a deliberate attempt to draw the audience (parents and well wishers of the students mostly) into the enticing world of Indian classical arts. All in all, a memorable experience for all of us and moment to take genuine pride in our children!
Check out Aadyaa’s dance video below. Credits: Rachna Khanna
And enjoy the pics below! Credits: Nupur Chaturvedi