Rebellion as a dance
WOULD Beethoven have used a synthesiser? Would he have given his symphonies a techno beat? At what stage does progress stop and dissidence begin?
Aditi Mangaldas has been dancing up a storm with Footprints On Water, her strongest contribution to her own unique dance form, for which experiment Shubha Mudgal has joined her as a composer and singer. The purists, Aditi says, refuse to see her work as Kathak, and the modernists say that she is too traditional. She calls it contemporary Kathak, and continues experimenting, unfazed by either the brickbats or the bouquets which come her way.
Aditi is careful not
to give any one aspect of her life priority over another. "One
has to organise oneís life," she explains. "I never think
about what comes first ó itís all part of my life ó my dance, my
family. Dance is all-consuming, yes, but I have very strong family
ties. Weíre a very close family. But my dancing is not an issue.
This is me. This is what I do. You canít turn around and tell
someone not to eat, can you? Besides," she continues confidently,
"I think I am a much better daughter, mother and wife if I am
satisfied with what Iím doing."
She started learning dance at the age of five, and says that she cannot remember a time when she was not dancing. "It became a part of me." Her first stage performance was when she was seven years old. "Our entire family would get together in the evenings, and apparently Iíd climb up onto this small table and insist that everyone watch while I jumped around. Mine is not an artistic family, theyíre all into business or academics.
"My father is a businessman and my mother is a psychoanalyst. I guess they figured there was some talent in me." Where that talent lay however, was not immediately seen; Aditi was sent to dance, music and art classes. "The other things dropped off along the way, but dance remained," she reminisces. Dance as a way of life was not a conscious choice. "I was too young to know, and since then itís always been a part of me." Her first dance teacher, Kumudini Lakhia, evoked an interest in the subject by combining it with play, making it fun. Later, she travelled to Delhi to study with Pandit Birju Maharaj. All
along, throughout her growing years, both at home and in her dance, there was curiosity, a questioning of why things, were the way they were. Especially in the context of women. "Ever since I was little, Iíd pester my father. Iíd see the differences between my brother and me and I wanted to know why. My parents always encouraged free-flowing talk, they never imposed anything on us. Well," she smiles after a momentís pause "they tried to occasionally, but one rebelled. So this thing of questioning was part of my personality; why this, why
that? In my dance, too, there was a rebellion, initially just with my mind."
She realised that though she loved Kathak for itself, she didnít like its approach towards women. "The heroines that were portrayed in Kathak ó at least in what I was exposed to ó were satellites. Itís beautiful, I like to do it even today, but there are problems. For instance, youíre constantly
dressing up for a man, youíre sad because he has not come, youíre angry because he is with another woman. Your entire focus is on the man. He may not be the main character, but he is the hidden focal point, and you are circumambulating that particular point constantly. I said to myself that there is a lot more to women ó in whichever field. Yes, I do dress
up for a man and all that, but there are a lot of emotions that are mine, that have nothing in particular to do with a man." ĎHer rebellioní, as she laughingly refers to it now, grew in her mind. Her first chance to give it a physical form came
when she was asked to perform a contemporary poem. She hunted till she found a piece called Claustrophobia. "There was nothing I had learned which could really show the feeling of dry claustrobia," she exclaims, clutching herself expressively. No matter what she says, a special emphasis is bestowed upon her words by the accompanying expressions and gestures. Constantly moving hands, twitching eyebrows, movements of the head, all conspire to make every sentence a statement of deep emotion. "I am an emotional dancer," she offers by way of explanation, "Not an intellectual one. Everything I have choreographed has had something to do with my life at the time, some personal experience or emotion."
It didnít take her very long to discover that this wasnít entirely possible within the bounds of classical Kathak. "In the traditional dance, even the pain has a kind of shingar rasa itís basically the rasa of beauty and love," she tries to explain in what
sounds like a foreign language. "For instance, the way you feel when you lose a child, like your insides are being torn apart." This is accompanied by a visual description so graphic it evokes a wince, which makes her smile in satisfaction. "You canít do that in a traditional way, it doesnít lend to it. At least not in the Kathak repertoire that I had been exposed to."
However, she insists that her dance is always recognisable as Kathak. " I wanted to grow out of Kathak and extend beyond it. But Iíve learnt Kathak for so many years that I want the base, the feel, the spirit, the vitality of it to remain. I want it to stay recognisable as Kathak. I think it always will be," she stressed.
Aditi says that she regrets not being able to get involved in the womenís movement in a more mainstream way. "Whenever I do a performance I always include at least one work which has something to do with a womanís awareness, in whatever form," she says, but then shrugs. "But the number of people you are reaching is very small," Her life, however, is a very convincing statement all by itself. A Kathak dancer, married with a child is unusual enough. But thatís not it ó she then got divorced and is now living with her husband. Confusing? "Itís perfectly simple. Itís not that we wanted to separate or anything like that ó weíre very happy. I just didnít like this whole thing about all the various things associated with being married, all the laws governing marriage. All these different ways in which you can get married are very discriminating. So we thought it was better to get divorced. My husband didnít want to get married in court, and we tried to find a way, some ceremony which would not be derogatory to women, but we couldnít. So we figured, since weíd already been married, we may as well live together." She laughs then. "My son goes to the Shriram school, heís eight. His name is Karma Vivan, so the school calls me Mrs Vivan, and I say, ĎNo, IĎm Aditi Mangaldasí. So they call my husband Mr Mangaldas, and he says, "No, my name is Iqbal Kumar."
Not long after, she has to leave ó her son is waiting for her to pick him up from school, after which sheís off to dance. Then home to the family. Exactly as though she hadnít spent the day shaking the roots of a very solid tradition.