|ARTS TRIBUNE||Friday, June 22, 2001, Chandigarh, India|
Rebel dancer Chandralekha
Amjad Ali Khan honoured
by Indian Americans
Rebel dancer Chandralekha
FOR rebel dancer and choreographer Chandralekha, it might have been a nostalgic evening, but for any classical dance novice it was a day of learning.
Describing the various dance sequences in Bharatanatyam she had performed and choreographed over the past 15 years through videographics before the Asia Pacific Performing Arts Network (APPAN) delegates in New Delhi recently, Chandralekha said, "Any new work needs a different languages and vocabulary.
She infused creativity into draw Bharatanatyam although her innovative ideas drew flak from several quarters. Her "Raaga" dance form, which dwells upon femininity in the bodies of men, was criticised the most, when it was world premiered in Germany in 1999.
However, the Chennai-based dancer signified the role of a critic in the sense that "every time people questioned and criticised, I thought about it and worked on it. Now I look at aspersions in a positive manner as it helped me improve".
With her production Angika in 1985, she underlined the need for reinterpreting traditions and exploring new directions for dance in India. Chandralekha, who was trained by legendary Bharatanatyam teacher Guru Kancheepuram Ellappa Pillai, achieved critical acclaim in the dance style known for its musicality and intensity of "Abhinaya".
"Devadasi" (1961), "Navagraha" (1972), "Lilavati" (1989) and "Prana" (1990) are some of her productions.
Talking about her work, Chandralekha said, "For me, dance meant stretching the body to its fullness, stretching the spine and utilising the body’s potential".
If one works in isolation, creative juices flow through the body. "Dance is all about poetry of the human body. In Angika, I was looking for sources of Bharatanatyam, all allied physical disciplines together", she explained.
Before the dancer’s "artiste dialogue" session held the evening before the function. APPAN delegates from Nepal, Korea,China, Hong Kong and Poland had the opportunity to learn about the culture of the tribals in Madhya Pradesh in a session of "The crafts/contemporary construct as a method of creativity".
Mr Ashok Vajpeyi, poet and Vice-Chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi Antar Rashtriya Hindi Vishva Vidyalaya, said it was often seen that classical dance and music got classified into the fine art while the crafts were always "segregated or undermined".
He said many aspects of sophistication and refinement were inherent in the crafts. "The ‘adivasis’ (tribals) of Baitul create abstractions in their hutments. Their creations are based on janjati kala (anything related to human life)".
"These tribals are oblivious of the aesthetics of past and contemporary art. Their handiworks either reflect the human life cycle or manifest various deities of worship in some or the other form," he said.
He further said, "Some times these people even depict the omnipotent gods in embarrassing positions with emphasis on the sexual aspect. This art of deflating or ridiculing is also called contemporary craft".
Amjad Ali Khan honoured by Indian Americans
SAROD maestro Amjad Ali Khan, who popularised sarod among international audiences, was honoured by a special award at an impressive function by the Association of Indians in America (AIA), New York, recently for his efforts in forging cultural links between India and the USA.
Renowned nephrologist Nirmal K. Matoo, who was adjudged among the top 100 doctors in a survey by US News and World Report, was also honoured at the ceremony attended by about 300 persons.
Srinagar-born Matoo was felicitated for bringing the plight of Kashmiri Pandits to the attention of American policy-makers.
Also honoured at the 200-dollar-a-plate, black-tie gala dinner were Sanskrit scholar and Professor of Linguistics at the University of Pennysylvania, Prof George Cardona, and Buddhist scholar and activist Robert A.F. Thurman, who currently holds the Jey Tsong Khapa Chair in Indo-Tibetan studies at Columbia University.
The AIA which has chapters all over USA is one of the oldest bodies of Indian-American professionals.
Speaking at the ceremony, the AIA president, Dr Piyush Aggarwal said time had come for the community organisations to change focus from purely local issues to the wider canvas of strengthening relations between India and the USA.
Expressing gratitude, Amjad Ali Khan said the honour showed the strengthening of cultural ties between the two countries and made evident that music knew no boundaries.
WHILE our ministers get hot under the collar, or perhaps I should say the "aanchal," over censorable stuff like flying skirts and condemned prisoners kissing women jailors as a last wish, I now find that an amazing amount of third-grade stuff in the way of serials, films and short programmes are being dumped by American companies on satellite channels and no one seems to mind or notice. I consider it the real satellite invasion and sometimes it puts the South Indian channels after midnight to shame not only with their sleazy goings on, but also their repulsive and explicit violence.
If you go through the daily programmes, you will find excessive mention of witches, vampires, monsters, teenage sex, murders of call girls and general violence under various excuses than I think are good for Indian viewers, particularly younger viewers. They are usually far removed from the Indian context, very localised American and as far as sex and violence go, likely to make a strong kind of impact on young, impressionable viewers.
The obsession with porn on the Internet, I feel, is leading to neglect of the porn and violence on the small screen. I have found it interesting sometimes to sit up beyond midnight to watch what goes on. Even if I wake up at 3 a.m. for a glass of water, I briefly switch on the set to see what’s going on and am horrified. And this does not apply only to Indian channels, including Hindi, but most foreign channels. The violence on foreign channels is even more disturbing than the sleaze and some of it is so repulsive that even a hardened media watcher feels sick watching it. Most repulsive of all are attacks on women, both generally physical and sexual and one begins to wonder if the stories about Indians getting ideas for murder and sexual brutality from them do not have some basis.
Then comes the relevance of certain serials. I find it much more comforting, and this is obviously the generation gap, to watch the now less watched TCM classics — Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Garbo, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart and the rest in their classics, like Petrified Forest, the first adult film I saw as a young girl. Everybody Loves Raymond (I seem to be the solitary exception) and when my young colleagues double up with laughter with Friends, Allie Macbeal and the lot, I find them from a different culture and still prefer the olden goldies on Indian TV. Obviously the generation gap again and even if I find the Australian serials for young people more bearable I keep on wishing Indian TV had something more inspiring than cool Talk Cafe and the fast-taking mindless and boringly similar stuff one gets on the satellite channels for youth, where the similarly clad young women mouth the same sentiments to those who phone in and ask for special numbers.
The way the anchors lap up (perhaps they make them up) compliments about themselves is so silly that one is surprised anyone considers them worth listening to. A whole tribe of girl anchors who do not know how to stand, sit, dress or talk have started infesting TV channels with such obvious deterioration in presentation quality that one wonders where it will all end. These are not professionals, and we see many really fine young anchors on foreign channels, but pampered amateurs getting away with mayhem.
Perhaps I got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning, but as far as youngsters go, I am glad to find there are many of them left, with sensible parents and teachers, who watch channels like National Geographic and really make one sit up with their general knowledge and intelligence in difficult quiz programmes. They often put adults to shame. I am sorry the questions in Junior Crorepati also bring in too much pop culture like commercial films and the old diet of Hindu mythology whereas the older Cadbury quiz on Zee had always maintained quality standards in their questions. I wish some of the famous school level debates such as the inter-school Slater debate conducted annually with such finesse by Bishop Cotton School in Shimla, were telecast, because they take one’s breath away with the fine minds and the amazing debating skill of school boys and girls from our best public schools, which are often superior to even colleges and university debates.
May be there is yet hope for the
young viewer and that quality will score over programmes from abroad
which are dumped here after they have had their run abroad as if
so-called developing countries are a dust-bin.
ART & CULTURE
In the medium of art, recent times have included ceramic studio pottery as an important and highly creative form. Chandigarh is proud to be the place of residence for two well-known studio women potters, namely Ruby Singh and Zoya Reikhi. Both have acquired a status and identity as designer studio potters across the country and internationally too. These women, like many others, are enwrapped in familial responsibilities and social obligations that also demand time and energy. However, they are distinct as individuals because of the committed attitude that they have for their artistic skill. Even though Ruby Singh treats her art as primarily a hobby, a creative skill that she decided to equip herself with much later in life, she draws her identity from the very fact that as a social being she is first a potter. (i.e. an artist), and then a mother, sister and so on. "My individuality is utmost to me. I am what I do best, if it is creating items of daily use and aesthetic appreciation then so be it. A woman multi-dimensional persona can work to her advantage if she is able to make crystal clear and focus decisions and choices in her life without becoming emotional about them," says Ruby confidently.
Having uprooted herself from Delhi some years ago her arrival in a small town like Chandigarh (compared to the Capital) did initially pose its own set of problems. But this determined woman of substance showed the tenacity to deal with all possible adverse circumstances with tremendous courage of her conviction and the alternate healing power of reikhi that she says is "my real strength to fight." Ruby believes in gender equality, hence, there is no such distinction as a woman artist or man artist. He says: "An artist is just an artist and that is his/her unrestricted individuality. You cannot and must not attempt to categorise it for the sake of societal conveniences. Those women who are artists need to be sure of themselves as to how they choose to be identified."
Ruby is of the opinion that Chandigarh needs to enhance its art domain. In terms of practising and developing one’s talent into a form of art does surely require a platform, a space that would provide the desirable environment for the artist’s evolution of skill and thought. "Even though in these few years of my having come to Chandigarh, noticeable changes have occurred in the art scene of the city, but much more is desperately needed. And more than the provisions, the mindset of the people also requires change. They should acknowledge that a woman artist also undergoes the same drill of uncertainty and dilemma that her male counterpart experiences while sharpening the edges of art ambition. She and her art is not merely a time pass as is often stated by a woman artist’s family members in their fit of insecurity that she might overlook her domestic responsibilities.
As Ruby clarifies by saying: "A woman who is an artist reflects her own personality in the manner she treats her artistic pursuits and experiences both personally and publicly. If she decides to keep herself being an artist as primary to her identity then little or no statement of self-realisation is required by the individual."
Like Ruby the US-trained potter Zoya also emphasises with the need to assert one’s individuality as an artist, immaterial of the fact whether you are a woman or a man. In case of Chandigarh women artists, Zoya also subscribes to the belief that when a woman gets married, her being an artist gets completely overshadowed with domestic responsibilities, more so in a household where art is denoted in terms of a hobby for the ‘girl-at-home’. Narrating her own experience as a beginner in the art of ceramic pottery almost a decade ago Zoya exclaims: "The first time I soiled my hands into this medium, the world’s reaction came in statements like : "Oh! She is a rich man’s daughter, so can indulge herself as being arty-varty". I chose to be determined about my passion and for that I did face flak from all quarters of society, the bureaucracy, the elite and others. But I was very clear that this (ceramic pottery) is my profession whether I’m labelled a "kumhar" or whatever. So, I know what and why I’m doing this and that is what really counts at the end of the day." One must confess here that very few of the fair sex possess such grit and determination to carry out what is most dear to them.
Regarding the issue of male artists of Chandigarh having more artistic output in terms of shows and exhibitions as well as participation in art events of the city than their counterparts, Zoya comments: "The city sadly subscribes to what can be termed as the ‘boy club’ syndrome where our men artists form a sort of fraternity by themselves and this receives ample acknowledgement from the community due to the patriarchal mindset we as northerners have. And those (women) who might stand in opposition to this, stand to lose since there is a total lack of support from their own section!"
In all fairness when a woman artist
makes adjustments to suit her family’s domestic considerations, it
must be understood that she had compromised on a lot more and in the
process withdrawn her inherent skill of creativity and aesthetics so
as to do her role well as a householder. This might be a choice made
by many women who are artists, yet somewhere they do feel that such a
decision requires greater focus and self-realisation which they were
unable to provide at the appropriate time. As the famous novelist
Richard Bach’s "Jonathan Livingstone Seagull" continues
to sore high altitudes knowing no limit, so should our women artists
transcend the barriers that be and strike a harmonious balance in