Saturday, February 26, 2000

An innovative dancer
By Khushwant Singh

IN the many years I lived in Bombay I often ran into Saroja Kamakshi Sarukkai — a petite middle-aged woman who worked for Femina, situated in the same floor as my office. Often on Saturdays which were half-days in office, I saw her two daughters came to fetch her. The elder, Priya has journalistic ambitions; the younger Malavika was too young to dream about her future. I never met their father who I learnt was an officer in the Indian Navy. They were lyengar Brahmins.

Malavika SarukkaiAfter I returned to Delhi I lost track of the Sarukkais. All I heard from common friends was that the girls who were born and educated in Bombay had returned with their mother to their home town Chennai. The older girl achieved her ambition, became a journalist and married a Sindhi, called Chhabria and was living in Pune. Malavika and her mother faded out of my memory.

About ten years ago I read of an up-and-coming dancer named Malavika Sarukkai. Then saw her on the cover page of Sunil Kothari’s definitive book on Indian classical dancing. I wondered if it was the same girl I used to see with red ribbons in her pony tail and grey skirt holding her mother’s hand as they walked out of the office. Much praise was showered on the rising start of Bharata Natyam by the cognoscenti of Indian classical dances in Indian and foreign journals. She seemed to be invited to every dance festival in India and abroad and getting fulsome praise everywhere. I was determined to see her with my own eyes.

  I have no pretensions of being a connisseur of Indian classical dance forms but I can tell the difference between Kathakali and Kathak. Bharat Natyam and Kuchi Pudi, Odissi and Manipuri. I don’t allow myself to be bamboozled with names of Gurus under whom dancers claim to have learnt their art. My chief grievance against most of our dance styles except Manipuri is that they have become static as if frozen in time. It is a repetition of the same themes well or indifferently performed. I wanted to see if Malavika Sarukkai had something new to say.

I saw her perform first time a few months ago; I made the mistake of allowing Sunil Kothari to sit within earshot of me. Though very knowledgeable, Sunil is a chirpy little fellow who insists on telling you not so sotto voce what he thinks you should know. I did not have the nerve to tell him to shut up. What little he allowed me to see in his running commentary convinced me she was different and a cut above all her contemporaries. And I was not sure if it was the same girl I had seen in Bombay now blossomed into a ravishing beauty.

The next time she came to Delhi she was accompanied by her mother who I recognised immediately. This time I sat a good distance from Sunil Kothari. It was an electrifying experience. I was bewitched and sat spellbound from the beginning to the end. It was amazing how within the framework of the Natya Shastra Malavika had been able to inject new ideas. I made passing reference to her in one of my travelogues. The third time she came to Delhi (after having danced in Paris), she rang up to thank me. I invited the mother and daughter to come over for a cup of tea by my fire-side. I asked her if she was married. Her answer was the stock one: "Yes, I am, to my dance." She paid fulsome tribute to her mother who besides managing her business was her real tutor and the source of innovative ideas. It was her mother who fired her with zeal to strive for excellence. Malavika has achieved that excellence. It is many years after I saw Yamini Krishnamurthy at her best that I saw Bharata Natyam performed to perfection.

Salt people

A small community about which very little is known are Lubanas of the Punjab. The name is derived from Laban — salt. Apparently they brought rock salt from the Khewra mines on camels and oxen and sold it in different parts of northern India. Like the Banjaras, Lambadis and other nomadic tribes, they were ever on the move with their entire families, cattle and dogs to guard their encampments. They claimed to be of Rajput descent and their dialect Lubanki has many words found in Bagri of Rajasthan. As they changed from being nomadic carriers to settling down on land and taking to agriculture, they named many of their villages Tandas. They were largely Hindus and animists. They worshipped trees, mostly peepals (ficus religiosa) and snakes. Among their revered deities was Gugga Peer who changed his form

from a human to a serpent and went underground. A small percentage of Lubanas were Muslims. They were found in all parts of undivided Punjab, from Bahawalpur to Kangra and Chamba. With the advent of Sikhism, a predominant majority converted to the faith of Guru Nanak and later the Khalsa Panth of Guru Gobind Singh. By the time the British established themselves as rulers of the Punjab, the Lubanas were mostly engaged in agriculture. They were recognised as an agricultural and martial class. Companies of Lubana Sikhs fought in the two World Wars (some joined Netaji’s INA). They were active in the Akali agitation as well as the Congress-led satyagraha. They set up gurdwaras and schools of their own.

Bibi Jagir Kaur, erstwhile minister in Prakash Singh Badal’s government and now the first woman to become President of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee is head of the most important Dera of the Lubanas and the most outstanding person of this Sikh sub-community.

Professor Jaswant Singh of the Department of History of NNSA Government College, Kapurthala has compiled a history of his community: The Lubanas in the Punjab: Social, Economic and Political Change (1849-1947) (Murabia Publishers). His work is largely bases on writings of earlier Lubanas, Census Reports and District Gazetteers. To the best of my knowledge it is the first account of this enterprising community to be written in English.

Ulta-pulta definitions

Contraceptive: A device which should be worn on every ‘conceivable’ occasion.

Neighbours: The only people who listen to both sides of an argument.

Genius: A guy who can do anything but make a living!

Marriage: A ceremony in which rings are put on the finger of the lady and through the nose of the gentleman.

Bachelor: A guy who never quite gets over the idea that he is a thing of beauty and a boy forever!

(Contributed by Shashank Shekhar, Mumbai)

From Ulhasnagar

What do you call a Sindhi Communist? Lalwani.

What do you call a Sindhi who falls from the third floor? Thadani.

What do you call a Sindhi who falls from the 6th floor ? Kripplani.

What do you call a Sindhi who falls from the 20th floor? Marjani.

What do you call a corrupt Sindhi ? Chaipani.

Why are a Sindhi’s nostrils big? Because the air is free.

What do you call a Sindhi who is forgetful? Bulchandani

What do you call a Sindhi electrician? Bijlani

What do you call a Sindhi Postman? Mailwani

What do you call a Sindhi who is fashionable? Primlani

What do you call a Sindhi cook? Kukreja.

(Contributed by Amir Tuteja, Washington)