It was a rude shock getting back the heat of the plains after a weekend in Shimla and Mashobra. It rained quite a bit while we were there and though it cramped our sightseeing attempts a little, we weren’t complaining about the cold at all! A couple of us had to acquire more clothing, a jacket here, a pair of pajamas there, a small matter in the joy of being in the Queen of the Hills, Shimla.
I’d only been to the famed hill station as a very small child and had no memories of it at all. It seemed strange to me to have lived for so many years in the environs of Delhi and never having been to the most popular holiday destination of my fellow citywallas! So I grabbed the chance.
What struck me most getting into Shimla is the sheer density of the city and how precariously positioned it is on the massive mountains. As my friend Henri said in his comment on my Instagram pics from Shimla, it is a “disaster waiting to happen”! Certainly, it is a city run wild, with its older cramped parts intermingled with the recent multistorey additions, hotels and government offices all crowding together helter skelter.
The sheer density of Shimla hits you as you drive in
Much of the building stock is old and diaplidated
The city rests helter skelter in the midst of the most stunning hillside scenery
We stayed at the Club Mahindra property in Mashobra, which is a quiet village ahead of Shimla. When in town, we parked and took the elevator up to the Mall, which is the only sensible thing to do! Because is it entirely predestrianized, the Mall in Shimla (despite the summer crowds) has a certain old world charm. I enjoyed the old colonial buildings and the ‘sense of place’ in the city. The weather, which turned from rainy and windy to sunny and bright in the few hours we were there, showed us the city in many different lights. I don’t want to crowd this post with too much info and I’d rather highlight some of our experiences separately. But here are a few glimpses!
It’s hard to reconcile the incongruity of the crowded city against the magnificent backdrop of the majestic Himalayas beyond
People like me, those who read a lot and write a lot and talk a lot, tend to be armchair activists. Especially when you work in the development sector, it’s hard to actually wear the hat of the citizen activist. I’ve put the tips of my fingers into several pies and then pulled out, feeling confused, under confident and sometimes just disillusioned.
Mine isn’t a novel story, I know. But last week, I had the opportunity to take off my thinking & analysis cap and became a do-er. Inspired by Aparna, who lives in my community and believes in taking the bull by its horns, I joined a group approaching the Traffic Police to engage in a constructive conversation about specific traffic-related issues in our neighborhood.
To offer a background, I live in a housing condominium on Sohna Road. It is a significant six-lane highway that connects Gurgaon to the Sohna town and then further to Palwal, which lies on National Highway 2. The road sees huge amounts of traffic. In addition to inter-city traffic, Sohna Road has some of the densest residential developments in the city and the volume of local traffic generated is also a lot. Gurgaon’s infrastructure is patchy and constantly under development. After a painful few years in which the road was being upgraded, widened, dug for sewer lines and so on and so forth, we now more or less have the 6 lanes in place with service lanes on both sides. However, erroneous placement of cuts, wrong parking on service lanes, intersections without traffic lights and many such niggling issues make this stretch of the Gurgaon-Sohna road very dangerous for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.
No traffic lights at this very busy junction. Result: Chaos and a huge strain on traffic police personnel
Video credit: Siddharth Chopra
We (Aparna, Siddharth and me, who all live in the same condo) went in with a letter that Aparna had drafted to the Traffic Police asking for:
1-More effective traffic management at Subhash Chowk, a major intersection where a flyover is being constructed. The construction will go on for many months and there has been no temporary solution provided for managing traffic with the roads in very poor condition.
2-An erroneously designed pair of cuts on the divider and the opposite service lane on this stretch because of which vehicles cut across and drive on the wrond side of the highway!
3-A solution for a poorly managed T-junction right outside our condo that is a traffic nightmare. The picture and video depict that point.
4-Removal of vehicles parked along the service lane that also causes traffic blockages at entry and exit points for residential and commercial complexes
The officer we were to meet wasn’t available when we landed up at the Traffic Police office, but a junior policeman was kind enough to hear us out and advise us to catch hold of the Deputy Commissioner Police (DCP) for Traffic who was just about to head out with a pair of smug and smart looking men driving an expensive car! The DCP, upon learning we were residents of the city with a list of concerns, retreated into his office and heard us out. He was a bit high handed, but he did instruct the concerned Assistant Commissioner Police (ACP) to attend to our needs. This gentleman, who was newly posted to Gurgaon and barely familiar with its roads, called in the Traffic Inspector (TI) for our stretch and opened up his duty roster to us in a very transparent manner to discuss how we could delegate people more efficiently for smoother management of the traffic. Unfortunately, the police can’t do much to improve infrastructure and it has to petition the development authorities (HUDA- Haryana Urban Development Authority) or the local government (MCG- Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon) for making any physical improvements including improved street lights, traffic signals, road condition, speed breakers and even for cranes to carry away wrongly parked vehicles!
What we learnt OR Things to remember while making requests to government departments
Government departments are restricted in terms of their jurisdiction, so we need to have a clear knowledge of who can do what
Writing letters is not in vain. Officers do get concerned when complaints come in, but follow up meetings and phone calls are important to drive home the points being made
A tone of consultation and partnership works better than one of confrontation; we do need to remember that officers are stressed and overworked. In this case, we felt bad pushing the TI Mr Jai Singh further because we all know how hard working and helpful he usually is. But we were upset by the casual attitude of the DCP, who seemed to want to deflect the blame for accidents rather than addressing the problems
Persistence is key. We now need to follow through on our requests and join forces with more concerned residents to place relentless pressure on the authorities till the important problems find solution
The real issue is one of poor road sense and attitude
While we pushed the police for solutions and while we are pushing the authorities for infrastructure, the real problem lies in the horrible way people drive in our city. There is a certain culture of driving each city has and in Gurgaon, that culture is aggression and a blatant flouting of traffic rules. We’re all in a blame game about who the offenders are, but the fact is everyone does- executives in big sedans, taxi drivers, young people, local villagers, drivers of public transportation, we are all to blame. We were, on our way back, talking about how we can change this in Gurgaon. How can we change the conversation from They drive badly to Let me not drive badly. Road attitude and etiquette, following traffic rules and thinking about safety for pedestrians and cyclists are important and it would be great to begin an awareness drive towards this.
Do write back if you have innovative ideas about such an awareness campaign or have seen something like this being done in your community, or elsewhere. Would love to hear from you.
I saw a tweet this morning that wondered: Will the politicians who had built their social media presence because of the elections would stick around to continue to engage with their constituents post-elections. A valid point! We all laugh at but believe in the caricature of the politician who comes around once in five years to beg for votes, but never shows his face otherwise!
This time round though, the political fervor has given birth to a new breed of social media enthusiasts who form a sort of bridge between the politicians/political parties and the voter base. Call them trolls or mobilizers, they have been the virtual foot soldiers of political parties this election season.
I’m unsure about how organized these things are, but I am wondering if we might see some sort of consolidation and institutionalization happening in this space. I’m also thinking ahead about what sort of roles these social media groups that support specific political alignments, or are specialized in specific sectors (like industry, health, employment, finance, agriculture, rural development, urbanisation, etc) could play in influencing government policy and thinking. Would we see the emergence of influential online think tanks, consolidation of individuals who find synergies online and work together to think through the changes they would like to see or critique existing policy to offer constructive suggestions? Would we see, or are we already seeing, lobbies forming (like in the US) that aggressively push certain agendas and argue against others.
The middle-class urban voter has engaged politically in this election, perhaps far more than before. The data will show, but that’s what the sense is. At least in terms of thought, there is increased engagement that could well drive the above sort of groups. But will the decision makers engage with online groups and heed them? Or will these online groups have to create offline persona to physically to rounds of the ministries and petition the concerned people?
And so runs my overactive brain this morning, trying to contemplate how best citizens can engage with their elected leaders. Coming up: My first hand experience of teaming up with fellow citizens to approach the Gurgaon Traffic Police to ask for safer roads
You know you aren’t so young any more when you are too tired to sleep at night after a few hours of intense dancing during the day. But you know you are young at heart when you wake up the next morning eager to begin again!
This sums up my experience of a 2-day kathak workshop held in Gurgaon at my guruji’s home. Shrimati Roshan Datye, eminent and senior disciple of renowned guru Late Smt Rohini Bhate came from Pune to teach us, bringing into my consciousness a whole new level of nuance and detail, enhanced attention abhinaya and an awareness of the theoretical aspects of natya that bind kathak to the great performing art forms across India. It is this sort of exchange promoted by the guru shishya parampara that, in my view, demarcates the mundane from the truly meaningful in the world of the classical arts. My sincere gratitude to my guru Jayashree Acharya and to my daughter Aadyaa’s kathak guru Sushmitaji for giving us such a wonderful opportunity.
So much to learn, so little time! So thankful for the opportunity…Pt. Birju Maharaj, showing us the nuances of kathak and how we can relate it to our lives. 14th Oct 2013
Smt. Roshan Datye who taught us for 2 days this past weekend. A lady full of grace and energy
Mere ghungroo…earnestly trying to learn, but a long long way to go…
Over two days, Roshanji taught three batches of students, ranging in age from about seven all the way up to 40! And at least 80 in number. She taught all three batches distinct stage-appropriate compositions. But beyond the compositions themselves, I was impressed by her own energy levels, her attention to detail and her innate ability to be a good teacher- a robust communicator who knows when to pick up the pace and when to slow down and her instinctive use of humor to highlight concepts or lighten awkward moments! Kathak thrives on analogies from our daily lives. A few days ago, we were blessed by the presence of Pandit Birju Maharajji (also at my guruji’s home) who also presented numerous examples of how kathak is drawn from simple everyday actions and emotions. Roshanji took forward that line of thought for me, helping me form many links inside my head, never mind that the body will take many more years of riyaaz to actually translate that understanding into graceful movements!
The two-day workshop set in motion a week of celebration of the arts by the Aakriti Foundation, run by a group of erudite artists including my guruji. This is an annual festival called Tasmai and is dedicated each year to a great artist this year Smt Rohini Bhate, Smt Datye’s guru. On the 22nd at the Habitat Centre at new Delhi, we look forward to none other than Pt. Birju Maharajji grace our festival with his presence on stage, preceded by a performance from the students of Nritya Bharati, Pune. On the 23rd, Pt. Sarathi Chatterjee and the Kedia Brothers will take the stage also at the Habiat Centre. The festival draws to a close on the 25th with dance performances by Maharajji’s children- for the first time, we will get to see both Deepakji and Mamtaji on stage and I really look forward to this. Students of Jayashreeji and Sushmitaji will also be on stage at Epicentre, Gurgaon on Friday the 25th. For those of you in Delhi and Gurgaon, there is plenty on offer. Do come forward to support the arts, for the love of beauty but also for the sake of the continuity of parampara (traditions) that are, as Roshanji reminded us yesterday, at least 3000 years old!
It is a running joke between me and my husband Rahul that I’m not really interested in travel destinations that do not involve foraging around among ruins. I vehemently denied this the last time we discussed a possible vacation. I love the beaches and the cruise ships, the road trips and the backpacking just as much as everything else, I said. But I can tell you I was delighted and amused in equal parts when Sumant mentioned a visit to the abandoned ruins of the original Dhanachuli village during the first evening of our weekend getaway to Te Aroha earlier this month!
Our planned excursion was delayed by a day thanks to nightly precipitation that left the path wet and slippery, but we were determined to go. Sunday morning found an enthusiastic group (comprising Vijay, Vibha, Aaditya and me guided by Sumant and a kind and generous staffer from Te Aroha) making its way down into the beautiful valley. Shortly after we had crossed the existing settlement that hugs the road, we got a taste of what was in store for us. An abandoned home, colonial in its proportions and bearing, but with the wooden carved doors and windows characteristic of the original homes in these parts. The stop vetted my appetite for more. I could see from Sumant’s expressions that this was the tip of the iceberg and an excitement gripped me for what was in store further below.
Carved door with typical colonial arch
Facade. I find the fusion charming, though the intricate carving doesn’t quite fit the robust proportions of this house, do they?
Detail. I would surmise this is a relatively newer home and the carvings aren’t as intricate as the older ones. Perhaps the type of wood available changed, perhaps the better craftsmen were no longer available…
Wood structure, slate tile roofing and then lots of grass drying on top…great pic to make a section of the roofing huh, architect friends?
A glimpse into the valley we were descending into….
After maybe twenty minutes of walking alongside fields of corn, cabbage and peas, we started seeing the first homes in the settlement below. I was struck by the play of light on the beautiful stone masonry on these homes. Some roofs were caved in and the roofs were overgrown with grass. Hindu symbols like the trishul were clearly visible. Our sense of anticipation heightened and soon we were rewarded with the beautiful sight of the little cluster of original village homes that we had trekked all the way to see.
Delightful glimpse of the cozy original settlement
The story goes that upper caste Hindus from the plains, from areas as far as Rajasthan and Gujarat, escaped forced conversion to Islam and moved into hilly terrain. The homes in the village therefore date back to anywhere between 150 and 200 years. Here, they settled down, amassing large land holdings and building these beautiful homes using local materials and the skills of local wood craftsmen from the Jhonsari community. However, they influenced the craftsmen substantially in the motifs they would use, typically snakes, fish, elephant and various other revered Hindu symbols with hints of Islam-influenced motifs as well. And in the shape of the niches, which are exactly like Rajasthani jharokhas. We could see Islamic influences in the types of arches used as well as in the typical geometric patterns of the carvings on some of the doors and windows. We stared, stitching the narrative of this fascinating time in history in our heads, imagining what it must be like for families who made this drastic move and how they must have hankered for small motifs and icons that served as reminders to what they left behind, that became a fragile but intensely beautiful link to their shared history and identity.
First glimpses of these spectacular houses
I found the elevation interesting. The bottom floor is for animals, so you ascend the dwelling itself through a single flight of stairs entered through that tall arch. This row of homes are perfectly symmetrical too!
The carvings on these older homes are more intricate and diverse in terms of patterns and motifs.
Love this pic! Thanks Aaditya 🙂
Bare and simple interiors as you would expect in a rural home
Many of the homes are already completely ruined
This particular house took my breath away with the detailing
Notice the geometric patterns like the floor patterns in Mughal architecture
And this arch….
Delightful nuances of life
There would have been an archaeologist’s pleasure in walking through these ruined homes, but it wasn’t just history we were looking at. We found occupied homes as well in this little hamlet. Cows tied in the lower level under the exquisitely carved windows. A dish antenna screwed onto one of of the carved panels. This is living heritage, a cultural landscape that deserves attention. The contrast of the abandoned homes, to the ones that were used only for storage and the few that were still lived in told a story of economic change and loss of patience. Families had migrated up the valley towards the road, where livelihoods could be found catering to the tourists that passed by on their way to Mukteshwar as well as to the locals who lived in the village still. These homes still stood because they mean something to these people. Some are even propped up by new wooden pillars in a bid to save the roofs from caving in, but clearly no new investments are being made here.
The pictures clearly show that there is value in this heritage–the value of craft, architecture, a slice of history, a way of life. One way to conserve this heritage is to buy these beautifully carved frames and doors from these owners and cart them off, to be lovingly restored and installed in a swank, elegant and even opulent residence or heritage hotel in Delhi, or Mumbai. The other option is to find a way to conserve these homes in their original location, involving the local community in an effort that would not only augment revenue through targeted tourism and a renewable of the crafts, but also renew their bond with their rapidly disappearing material culture. A culture that spoke the language of wood and stone rather than brick and reinforced cement concrete and one that had space in it for art.
Sumant mentioned he would be happy to support, in part, a group of enthusiasts who could get together to showcase this delightful slice of heritage. Filmmakers, conservationists, artists and people engaged with the concept of responsible and sustainable tourism can join hands to save this hamlet from destruction. I think it is a fantastic seed of an idea that we could develop into a more meaningful pursuit.
My links with Kumaon go back to my school days, when my parents were associated with an NGO called Kassar Trust near Bageshwar and would make frequent trips to hold health camps and plan health-related interventions for mountain villages that had unique problems. In my teen years and into my early twenties, I gathered that life in Kumaon’s charming landscape was hard, especially for women who were often left coping as single parents as the menfolk migrated to the plains in search if employment. In our visits, we observed that Kassar Trust focused on empowering women to be able to take decisions in a stringent hierarchy of both caste and gender; decisions that could impact their lives hugely like signing up for better hand pumps and improve water access or build toilets in their homes. Further, they emphasized that the village people demand accountability from servants of the State and demand access to healthcare, education, etc. My parents and the NGO they worked with were convinced that this is the route to long-term and sustainable progress.
It’s like watching a gigantic water colour, being up in the hills! View from Te Aroha, Dhanachuli
Graced by a glimpse of the mighty Himalayan range on the one clear day among many misty, cloudy ones. View from Te Aroha, Dhanachuli
In the aftermath of the recent floods that devastated parts of Uttarakhand, especially the Garwal region, I read articles by several notable experts that suggested that the state of Uttarakhand was born out of pressure from grassroots movements, many led by women. The editorials suggested that the ecological nightmare created by rampant and negligent development and construction and the apathetic and corrupt governance of the State was a betrayal of the local people who fought for and believed in a vision of a smaller, better governed, more productive State that would prioritize the happiness of its people, ecological balance and equitable growth over large investments that might be less sensitive. Knowing what I know of Kumaonis, I could well imagine the determination and perseverance of these shy but tenacious people in wanting more for themselves.
My recent trips to Kumaon have left me with a curiosity to know more about the development of the region and how it is perceived by locals. On one hand, this fruit growing belt appears enchantingly prosperous. You do not see, on the face of it, huge signs of poverty. However, there is more to it than meets the eye. I gleaned some insights from Deepa, who with her husband Ashish runs an enchanting resort called the Himalayan Village, Sonapani tucked away into the hills near the village of Satoli a little beyond Ramgarh and Nathuakhan. Deepa and Ashish have been running The Himalayan Village for a decade now. Cut off from the hordes (you have to trek to get there), they have made their life there and have fantastic insights into the lives of the Kumaoni people. Sitting there amid the beautiful wild flowers with a breathtaking view of the pine scented slopes, I was disheartened to hear about the caste biases that still prevail, the corruption that prevents government schemes from reaching the villagers. Deepa runs a small sewing centre from her property where local women learn to make bags and other small handicraft items that are then marketed and sold by Deepa through various channels. We heard of an upper caste woman, who was freshly widowed but faced criticism from her family when she joined the centre in a bid to be financially independent. We heard about low caste women who politely declined to participate in savings schemes, preferring to focus on ensuring their family gets decent nutrition. Lower caste families usually have very small land holdings and are subsistence farmers. Eloquent and honest, Deepa’s stories painted alive the conditions of women here, still leading tough lives, still tenacious and persevering. I know I will return to Sonapani, the history of which goes back over 100 years and which is the site of an ancient and therapeutic spring, to experience more, hear more, learn more and perhaps even do more…
The breathtaking view from The Himalayan Village Sonapani, a manicured wilderness…could imagine my children here, running free and wild!
The resort is as much about the people as the place. Deepa in here element, making us feel so at home!
Caught our fancy…these large colourful spiders all over the property…click, click, click is all we heard for a while!
Bringing up children here…the mommy in me was impressed, charmed, worried…all at once. But so reassured to see people practice a philosophy so few of us have the courage to..inspired, Deepa!
As we drove back from Satoli to Dhanachuli, we observed other contradictions worth thinking about. While this region is not exactly overrun by tourists, many from the plains are beginning to populate these hillsides with second homes. Corrupting village pradhans to acquire land and using insensitive construction practices to build gigantic structures that are barely occupied for a few weeks a year seems like a recipe for disaster to me. As we drove through a protected forest on the way, I could see that year’s abundant monsoon has left the region greener and more thickly forested than before. Sumant Batra who kindly invited us to Te Aroha in Dhanachuli pointed out to us that the monsoons had other impacts too. Nature has had its way with irresponsible developments and we saw more than one spectacular collapse among properties that had been built in concrete using massive retaining wall structures, that had involved large scale and illegal felling of trees and in general been built with scant respect to the local conditions. It angered me, this sort of greed that not only disregards the ecology and culture of the region but actively endangers the lives and property of local villagers!
Clearly, the future of the region lies in empowering local communities with knowledge and power. It is a long road ahead, but I do know that if local governance is possible anywhere, it is in the hills where people are deeply connected to their roots and understand the devastating impact of pushing Mother Nature to the brink. We mustn’t lose hope, perhaps.
There are many ways by which you and me can contribute. By visiting regions like Kumaon in a responsible way, realizing full well that tourism if done rightly can be a strong economic backbone to address issues of poverty and inequity. By ensuring that as corporates and individuals we give back to the society and support genuine not for profits that work to empower local communities in the area. By falling in love with the mountains, again and again!
I find it curious that Orhan Pamuk features as sixth in a list of authors young Indian urban readers intend to read in the near future, after Chetan Bhagat, Jhumpa Lahiri, Amish Tripathi, Charles Dickens and JK Rowling, in that order. I do not know what that aberration means (I see Dickens as one too, but can still be explained by a classic hangover!) and whatever little Indrajit Hazra’s article in August 4th’s Hindustan Times (the survey is conducted by partner C-Fore) publishes is not offering clues either.
The events of the past few months have made me change my views of how I see the world around me. Like the Chandravanshis in Amish’s Shiva trilogy, I now accept that each human lives in his or her alternate reality. The reading preferences of the youth are an alternate reality that we snobbish literature enthusiasts may scoff at, but it is a reality nevertheless. Hazra offers explanations even as he looks down on these reading choices, telling us that the Indian market is going through a phase before it inevitable matures into a more evolved market that presumably will prefer more refined literature. He implies that it is important to be able to consume more thought-provoking literature, for “we are what we read”.
Sure, we are. But then, we are a young nation of wannabes. We are in a constant flux of identity–developing or undeveloped, rural or urban, lower middle class or upper, young or mature, traditional or modern, confident or uncertain, and so on and so forth. Young people have to negotiate complex relationships with themselves, peers, family and society. Young people are fundamentally different in the way they consume, process and engage with information and remarkably astute about the way they see the world around them. Yet, as has been so effectively put forth in the recently published ‘The Ocean in a Drop: Inside-out Youth Leadership’ authored by Ashraf Patel, Meenu Venkateswaran, Kamini Prakash and Arjun Shekhar, the opinions of the youth apparently don’t really matter in the overall scheme of things. We are not interested in understanding young people and their aspirations and worse, we are seriously afraid of placing decision-making in their hands. We prefer to see them as consumers and part of the workforce. We forget that they can be effective change-makers as well. We, the elders, hold the reigns. We expect too little from young people.
Then how can we blame them if their reading preferences are not up to snuff? It is unfair, isn’t it, to provide measured inputs, to box the thoughts of young people into regimented education systems, to prepare for a life whose purpose is to produce and consume, and then to judge them about their lack of interest in art and literature? Or indeed, about their lack of values or disinterest in serving society, accusations that I have heard often enough!
I observe a curious mixture of over-confidence and under-confidence among young people. On one hand, they can conquer the world, being confident of aspects like new technology that fall squarely in their domain. On the other hand, they are constantly searching for identity and trying to grasp the soft skills and the right attitudes that they instinctively know will serve as the icing on the cake in their pursuit for material success. The latter explains why genres like self-improvement, health and spiritual are so popular.
I am, however, heartened to read that 37% respondents read authors other than those six listed in the beginning of the article, showing variety. Entertainment (38%) features as the most significant reason to read, followed my ‘Material that makes me think’ (27%), ‘Easy reading’ and ‘Material I can talk about with friends and colleagues’ come in 3rd and 4th (23% and 12%). The motivations are still the good-old ones and that should tell us that things have not changed as drastically for the worse (ouch, there is judgement there!).
Clearly, given the right exposure and guidance, young people can be encouraged to read a wider selection of fiction and non-fiction. We have diversity in genre and language to offer in this country. New technologies have made reading material more accessible than ever before. Perhaps the most fundamental changes we can make is to allow young people more ‘free’ time to read and engage with cultural and creative aspects of life, to expand their minds, so to speak. Also, we must invest in cultural resources to do so- libraries, accessible and affordable spaces and opportunities for the arts to save us from going under the intellectual poverty line Nilanjana Roy so eloquently blogged about recently. I’m sure experts have many more suggestions, but as a parent of two kids aged 9 and 5, these are the two principles that I am actively trying to follow- allow them time and space, and expose them to culture and creativity. Let’s see how it goes!
I am slowly beginning to realize just how traumatic urban living is getting to be. Oh, we would not give up this life easily, those of us who have lived in a city for long. We value our ‘freedom’ just as we bemoan the lack of safety. We love the anonymity, but worry about loneliness. We wonder how long the water will last, just after we’ve taken that refreshing shower!
I am certainly very much the strange urban creature, a powerhouse of contrast and confusion. I notice that we all find our own survival strategies to endure the strange confused nature of our city lives. Social networks have certainly begun to close some gaps for those of us who find it hard to have the energy to keep up with a ‘real’ social life; or we combine the two in some way to remain afloat on the tide of anonymous humanity that surrounds us. But this wasn’t enough for me and I found myself turning towards cultural stimulation to fulfill some of the void inside.
I took up kathak a year and a half ago and entered the world of the classical arts, slowly slipping into it and letting it seep into me. Soon after, I resumed training in Hindustani classical vocal music. My life- work, family, home, friends- all the things that I think and do find anchor in these two weekend time slots-one for dance and another for music.
The weekend gone by, it felt like one branch of me was bearing fruit when my friend Shruti and me performed on stage at Epicentre, Gurgaon. Minutes before the show, standing in the wings, I found myself calm and eager, and completely satisfied. A short while earlier, I had spontaneously touched my guruji’s feet, probably surprising her a bit, but really needing her to put her faith in me. I think the transfer of energy worked some little magic. I told myself that a few months of intense riyaaz and real desire to do well should be enough. And it was!
Shruti and me taking a pose as the alaap starts… photo credit: Nupur
After completing our piece, a superbly choreographed Shiv Stuti ‘Damroo har kar baaje…‘ set in Raag Gunakali, Taal Roopak, I felt a level of achievement I do not remember reaching in the past few years through my many other pursuits. This had been a hard, personal battle. A battle to re-prioritize, to push myself, a test of self-confidence, a desire to fulfill a lifelong dream of being a classical dancer….all of that!
Of course, the credit goes largely to our guru Jayashree Acharya, for reposing her faith in us. For not questioning us, but simply taking our decisions for us at a time when we did not know what our own capabilities were. To offer us the experience of preparing a stage-ready dance piece, to learn to dance to live music of high caliber (Shiv Shankar Ray on the tabla, vocals by Anirban Bhattacharya and Pritam Ghoshal on the Sarod), to learn to focus, take criticism and be graceful about it. To be a student of an able guru, a hugely valuable experience. I have written about this before (on my experiences as a student, and as an observer), but in the past year and a half I have been gladly re-acquainted with the best aspects of the guru-shishya parampara, where the relationship between teacher and disciple is a continuously evolving one, bringing in aspects of spirituality, respect, devotion and commitment and moving beyond mere instruction and obedience.
This sort of training has a lot to do with why I feel a greater sense of satisfaction after this performance as compared to the many times I danced on stage through the past few years, as a student with Shiamak Davar’s group. That also involved practise and dedication, a lot of technical training too. But this involved a spiritual awakening that only the classical arts can invoke. It’s something I will remember all my life. Of course, there is much more to learn and it is an endless journey, but I’m grateful and proud to be able to be in this place, at this time…..