118 years of trust
Chandigarh, Friday, August 21, 1998

From ballet to Odissi — Sharon’s journey
By Nonika Singh
“Sharon’s portrayal of Uttam Nayika will perhaps be regarded as one of the best.” “In the devotional pieces, the dancer appeared to have delved deep into her psyche to produce such a trance-like state of being.”

Maker of exquisite Himachali dolls
By Jyoti Mahajan
HER bewitching, colourful and eye-catching dolls adorn the showroom of Himachal Emporium at Shimla and drawing rooms of numerous art lovers of India and abroad. She is the 55-year-old India’s renowned doll-maker, Sharda Thakur, who has carved a niche for herself in creating exquisite Himachali dolls for the past two decades.


Cultural feast in city
By Sanjay Manchanda
ART lovers of Chandigarh and its surrounding areas saw some epochal productions and effervescent cultural performances during a fortnight-long celebrations organised by the local Administration as a prelude to the conclusion of the 50th anniversary year of India’s Independence.

Audioscan by ASC
Music of the year



From ballet to Odissi — Sharon’s journey
By Nonika Singh

“Sharon’s portrayal of Uttam Nayika will perhaps be regarded as one of the best.”

“In the devotional pieces, the dancer appeared to have delved deep into her psyche to produce such a trance-like state of being.”

“The intensity with which she delineated (omkara) brought out an inner radiance.”

Such gushing words of praise, rave reviews, are perhaps the order of the day if the danseuse in question happens to be a disciple of Padambhushan awardee Kelucharan Mohapatra, the undisputed master and architect of the contemporary Odissi repertoire. However, what comes as a mind-boggling surprise is that Detriot-born Sharon Lowen who grew up in Michigan singing “Sugar Plum” poems not only entered the realm of Odissi at a rather mature age, judging by the parameters of the dancing world that is, but also comes from outside the Indian tradition.

However, half an hour prior to her performance at Tagore Theatre, as she puts finishing touches to her make-up in the green room, she is the quintessential Odissi dancer. The only non-Indian feature in her arrestingly beautiful face are the cesspools of melting brown eyes. Come to think of it, the first time Sharon stepped on the Indian soil was when she earned a Fulbright scholarship after acquiring a postgraduate degree in music from Michigan University. Of course, her dalliance with dance like most dancers, began in childhood. Only her formative years were spent mastering the nuances of the western ballet.

In India she spent two years learning Manipuri before embarking upon Odissi. Enroling for Mohapatra’s workshop out of “sheer academic interest” she was soon entranced by its lyrical movements and sculpture-like poses. Spurred on by her guru’s encouraging response “You are learning faster than anyone else I have known,” she herself reflects, “In the good old days the guru-shishya parampara called for a highly insulated ambience where the disciple learnt only within the confines of a gurukul.

But today, an artist brings in his/her experiences, a wide gamut of emotions from the outside world to his/her artistic vocation.” So, in Odissi Sharon might have been a novice, but her 17 years of experience spawning many a performances held her in good stead.

Soon Odissi which provided her an opportunity to delve deeply into abhinay became the fountainhead from which her creativity sprang forth. During her metaphysical journey over the past two decades, she has picked up a number of awards — Acharya Narendra Dev Sarokar Samajik Samman presented by the Prime Minister of India in 1991 and Sahitya Kala Parishad Samman ‘92.

If K. Viswanath was inspired to make a Telugu film “Swarna Kamalam” featuring her, her own odyssey in Odissi has resulted in at least two dozen choreographed compositions, including challenging projects like “Mahadevi Upasana” which brings out the multifaceted persona of the Goddess, both benign and forceful. Needless to say, working in different languages — Sanskrit, Telugu, Hindi, Malayalam — over which she doesn’t have command or control means that much extra effort.

She remarks, “In poetry first there is the denotation. But beyond that there is a subtext, a deeper connotation, the historical text, what and why the poet intended to say what he did. In order to grasp the essence of poetry undeniably I have to work harder on the text so that I can make it reflect in my dance and be able to communicate with the audiences.”

As for the dance form having a limited reach she agrees that despite the universality dimension, dance is culture specific. Nevertheless she was fascinated by the performing Indian arts because of its inherent potential to communicate, cutting across barriers of religion and language. Small wonder, the communication gap has never haunted her performances be it in the USA, England, Spain or Africa.

“Artistes”, she asserts strongly, “have enjoyed a special place in society. Since time immemorial they have influenced the mindset and societal attitudes as artistes are not passive performers but active catalysts of change.”

Though she herself has a great admiration for creative groups that create with a social commitment, she admits that dance form can’t always be the platform for drawing people’s attention to burning issues. For instance, she says Odissi most certainly is not the right medium to vent out one’s anguish over, say, nuclear holocaust.

So, often to encapsulate certain moods and expressions, she draws upon her expertise as modern dancer for “classical dance forms do not grant you an open licence and you can’t always take liberties with its purity of expression.”

About the fusion of different forms, the innovation and experimentation chapter which seems to have become the hallmark of all modern dancers, she reflects, “If amalgamation is just for shock value or newness, the end-product would be an unpalatable ‘khichdi’. However, if there is seriousness of purpose and intention, the form doesn’t matter. Only the content does, which would then serve as a link between two diametrically opposite cultures.”

Sharon has not only transcended cultures but also contributed to improving the appreciation and understanding of Indian dance traditions, across the seven seas through her scholarly articles, lecture and demonstrations.

Then in her avtar as the convener of Delhi Sahitya Kala Parishad’s Videshi Kalakar Utsav, an annual festival, she has been closely associated with artistes from outside India.

In future, apart from continuing her role as the cultural ambassador, she would like to sponsor upcoming talent. As someone whose achievements grew independent of community support, for none of her relatives had the ‘right’ connections here, whose career graph moved upwards by virtue of talent and determination alone, she knows only too well what it means to move forwards sans patrons or godfather.Top


Maker of exquisite Himachali dolls
By Jyoti Mahajan

HER bewitching, colourful and eye-catching dolls adorn the showroom of Himachal Emporium at Shimla and drawing rooms of numerous art lovers of India and abroad. She is the 55-year-old India’s renowned doll-maker, Sharda Thakur, who has carved a niche for herself in creating exquisite Himachali dolls for the past two decades. Sharda has displayed her expertise at the Festival of Himachal in London and Germany.

Employed as an Assistant Technician in the HP Handicrafts and Handloom Department for the past more than two decades, Sharda is dedicated to her unique world at the doll-making centre at Sanjauli, a suburb of Shimla. It is a wonderful experience visiting the centre and interviewing the humble artiste who is engaged in imparting training to the six workers there. Sharda’s adept fingers are busy carving exquisite dolls with tremendous ease. One encounters a display of numerous colourful, beautifully decorated dolls at the centre.

Coming in sizes 12, 15 and 31 inches, these dolls leave an everlasting impact in the mind of the beholder. The dolls are made in pairs, the popular ones being the Gaddi-Gaddan of Chamba and Pangi, and dolls from Lahaul-Spiti, Kinnaur, Kulu, Kotgarh and Kangra areas. The Gaddi-Gaddan pair is shown wearing their traditional dress comprising the “chola” (gown), “dora” and the peaked cap.

The female counterpart, the Gaddin wears a similar dress but her “chola” comes to the ankle with a colourful “dupatta” over her head. The multi-coloured Kotgarh doll with a basket on her back too makes a wonderful picture.

Sharda’s speciality is the Kangra bride which has fetched her numerous accolades. The bride is attired in bright costumes and glittering ornaments, made to perfection. The Kulu dolls in checked costumes and “dhatu” too are worth mentioning.

Hailing from Chaddhiar village in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, Sharda was fascinated by the art of doll-making since the tender age of 10 when she would view her grandmother making exquisite creations from rags. Young Sharda too started with this art just for fun simultaneously with her hobby of knitting, shawl-making and other handicrafts of Himachal. Sharda’s father, who hailed from a conservative middle-class family, got her removed from school after her middle standard examination as he felt that a girl’s place was at home only.

Sharda’s marriage to a police personnel, Thakur Lekh Raj, was a blessing in disguise as he encouraged her to pursue with her hobby of creating magnificent handicrafts. When the doll museum was opened in Shimla in 1974, Sharda was offered the post of Assistant Technician which she readily accepted. Sharda was formally trained in doll-making by an officer, Mr Gambhir Singh, the then Research and Development Officer at HP Handloom Corporation. It was only after the setting up of the museum that sincere efforts were made to commercialise the traditional dolls of Himachal. Since then there has been no looking back for Sharda Devi.

Sharda’s creativity was further enhanced when she got an opportunity to undergo training from a Japanese doll-maker at the training centre run by the Government of India. A creative person, Sharda kept on making innovations and experiments and deftly introduced Himachali features and characteristics in her dolls. Her husband, an arts enthusiast, too helped and guided her in her endeavour by telling her about the colourful dresses of the dolls hailing from the different areas of Himachal. Sharda reveals that her husband is her best critic and a constant source so encouragement for her.

The energetic artist is widely travelled and has given numerous demonstrations in various festivals of Himachal, both in India and abroad. She cherishes the memories of her demonstrations in London when the curious spectators would watch her at work for hours together and would even request her to remain in London and impart training to enthusiastic learners.

Sharda enjoys immense popularity by art lovers of Japan, Germany, London and North Korea. Sharda herself procures the raw material from Delhi and then involves the laborious process of getting work done from the six workers who are very cooperative. Says Sharda, “The dolls have 40 components and I do numerous hits and trials to bring out the best results. Moreover, I am very particular about the dresses for the dolls as a lot of expertise is required to depict the typical colourful attires of Lahaul-Spiti, Kinnauri, Chamba, Kotgarh and Kulu dolls”.

Till date, she has trained more than 100 workers in this art and is ever willing to work for the promotion of handicrafts of Himachal Pradesh. So sincere is she towards her work that at times she is unable to devote the time even to her household chores, but for the support of her husband. Sharda laments that her art gets a lot of appreciation but the sale is less compared to the expertise involved in it.

Sharda has also trained her only daughter, Kiran, in this art. Kiran who holds a masters in history, too is adept in doll-making, but has never thought of making it a profession.

Sharda laments that a major problem she is facing is the shortage of space at the dolls centre. There are only two rooms which are not enough to accommodate the six workers along with the raw material and the dolls.

Sharda’s dolls adorn Himachal emporia in Shimla, Delhi and other places, and also at Surajkund Museum at Surajkund and Himachal Bhavan in Delhi. About her future plans Sharda quips. “My long-cherished dream is to work to the best of my ability for the promotion of handicrafts of Himachal Pradesh”.Top


Cultural feast in city
By Sanjay Manchanda

ART lovers of Chandigarh and its surrounding areas saw some epochal productions and effervescent cultural performances during a fortnight-long celebrations organised by the local Administration as a prelude to the conclusion of the 50th anniversary year of India’s Independence.

Mrs Anuradha Gupta, city’s Home Secretary-cum-Secretary, Culture, had designed the events carefully so as to combine various forms of contemporary visual and performing arts — dance, drama, music, cinema, theatre and painting. Taking cue from previous festivals when the city audiences had remonstrated about packing too many programmes in a tight schedule, this time only one choice programme was held every day.

The city came alive on the evening of August 1 with Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt’s performance at Tagore Theatre. Elegantly dressed in “churidar-kurta”, as he always is, Pandit Bhatt struck captivating notes on his self-invented musical instrument — the Mohan Veena — with the poise that only he could. He clearly lived up to his reputation of being only the second Indian to have won the Grammy in 1994 for his album “A Meeting by the River” (he shared it with Ry Cooder). Born in a traditionally musical family, he showed ample glimpses of his training under Pandit Ravi Shanker, the famous sitar maestro who was the first Indian to have won a Grammy.

The second evening at the same venue belonged to Shovana Narayan, the Kathak danseuse of international repute, whose presentations befittingly revolved around the “spirit of freedom”. Her mastery over the intricate footwork had the packed Sunday audience spellbound.

Suchitra Mitra’s Bharatnatyam on the third day was no less invigorating. The Bengali artiste, who is now settled in Chandigarh, aptly titled her performance as “Unity in Diversity”.

Next day, Tagore Theatre saw a lyrical and sensuous Odissi dance from Sharon Lowen, a disciple of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. The following two evenings brought Shubha Mudgal and Ketaki Narayan on the stage for their evocative dance recitals to mark the closure of the first half of the fortnight titled — Nritya, Sangeet, Vadya Utsav that was coordinated by Dr Alka Pandey, chairperson, Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi.

That paved the way for the start of Neelam Mansingh Chowdhury’s chairperson, Chandigarh Sangeet Natak Akademi, “Freedom 50 Festival,” which commenced on August 7 with the inauguration of Emma Tarlo’s exhibition “From Empire to Emporium” khadi and the robes of Independence at the museum. The second exhibition curated by Patricia Oberoi, “From Goddess to Pin-up”, icons of feminity in the Indian calendar opened the following day.

Govind Nihalani’s masterpieces “Hazaar Chaurasi ki Maa” and “Drishiti” catered to the more popular tastes the next two days. Open discussions with the director of the movies and their main protagonist, Jaya Bachchan were quite enlightening for the city audiences. What stunned everyone from Chandigarh was the fact that the legendary thespian, Amitabh’s better-half had lived here for some time in Sector 16 nearly 30 years back.

Three scintillating plays by renowned personalities, Mallika Sarabhai, Maya Rao and Anuradha Kapur of August 12, 13 and 14, respectively, provided a grand finale to the countrywide celebrations that actually become more memorable in Chandigarh than anywhere else, primarily because of the fortnight-long cultural feast that we got to see here both at the commencement as well as the culmination.Top


Audioscan by ASC
Music of the year

DIL SE … (Venus; Rs 40): He was panned for pedestrian lyrics. So, this time A.R. Rahman has brought in Gulzar. Some singers that he employed too came in for criticism. So, Rahman has joined hands with no less than Lata herself. The result is a cassette which is light years ahead of average film music. Jiya jale, jaan jale… that Lata has rendered under his baton is one of her best songs ever. One can easily put it in the same bracket as the immortal Yaara sili sili… from “Lekin”. I am usually for listening to the music at the lowest possible volume. But while relishing this one, try raising the knob to the highest and see how the drums do the talking. The background music complements Lata’s voice famously.

One cannot help noticing how well Lata has brought this song to a close. It seems she is paying a tribute to K.L.Saigal and his Dil jalta hai to jalne de....

She is currently at the stage where she can turn into gold whatever she touches. Rahman’s genius lies in the fact that he has extracted performances from even lesser singers which are so brilliant that all of them would love to put these songs on top of their curriculum vitae. The finest effort is by Udit Narayan. So accomplished is his Aiye Ajnabi … that even the legendary Mohammad Rafi of Tu kahan ye bata is nasheeli raat mein … vintage would have approved of it.

Then there is Sukhwinder Singh singing Tejpal Kaur’s Punjabi lyrics with remixing by Yak Bondy. If this one does not make you go Thaiyya thaiyya… , the duet version (Chaiyya chaiyya …) where he has Sapna Awasthy with him definitely will.

Rahman himself sings the title song. The imagery of Gulzar’s poetry is simply superb. Sonu Nigam and Kavita Krishnamurthy are not in the same league while doing Satrangee re… but even this song is quite an experience.

BAROOD (Venus): Back to the hardcore film music where Anand-Milind rule the roost with the kind of stuff which spells mediocrity. Sameer combines four chalu songs with two of some merit to fill the cassette.

In the latter category are Hum to tujhse mohabbat karte the.… (Alka Yagnik, Kumar Sanu) and Meri sanson mein garmi.… (Abhijeet and chorus). The passengers include Razi razi mein hoon razi… (Alka Yagnik, Udit Narayan), Ek ladki-ek ladka… (Alka Yagnik, Kumar Sanu), Sana sana sannana… (Poornima and Abhijeet) and Mach gaya shor… (Poornima).

MAHI (Archies Music; Rs 55): Ali Haider is the Pakistani singer who like our Baba Sahgal has been transforming traditional folk music with the help of western orchestration.

Twentynine-year-old Haider is Karachi based and has earlier come up with cassettes like “Chahat”, “Qarar and Tumse Kehna Tha”. Now he has joined hands with Jawahar Wattal, who has moved from Magnasound to Archies, to come up with this cassette of Indi-pop.

One advantage of re-doing old folk songs is that lyrics are already on the lips of the listeners. All that you have to do is to make them hum the new tunes. Songs like Kala doria.… and Aaar pajama… have been with us for decades. But it is Ali Haider who takes credit for all melodies and lyrics. The title song too is a Punjabi number composed by Jawahar Wattal. Music in the rest of the songs has been composed by Faizi.

Purani jeans… is in a remix form. All 10 songs are easy to sing and should have a fairly decent run, especially in North India. Top

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