Sunday, March 20, 2016

Notes from Kalakshetra

Part 1

Nostalgia is wishful thinking in reverse gear. At least that could be the worst case scenario when an old man like me settles down with a drink like Mr Mulliner at the Anglers' Bar and begins to unleash his tales of fancy from the past, always seen through rose-tinted spectacles.

At its best, however, nostalgia can make you stop and ponder a while amidst the frenetic business of life. If you happen to be honest and objective, and not a victim of syrupy sentimentality, you can actually take stock of both the past and the present, try to see where we have evolved as humans and artists or sportspersons, and where we have allowed time and technology to force shortcuts on us, thus depriving us of something precious that may never come back.

As a writer on cricket, I am invariably asked to recall the past in fascinating ways my editors conjure up. ''How would the greats of my era have fared in today's cricket?'' is a constant refrain. Every time I succumb to such pressures, I find I annoy as many people as I please. Nostalgia- lovers enjoy these stories from the past, though they often accuse me of playing favourites or forgetting to mention their own heroes. Of course, those who worship at the altar of the spectacular present have little patience with what they see as my partisan preference for the past masters. Sometimes, it can all turn out be a lose-lose situation.

Watching some Kalakshetra dancers and musicians past and present at the recent Bani Festival stitched together by the director of Kalakshetra, her staff and her students, I was curious to test my own nostalgia quotient against acceptable parameters of objectivity.  The chronologically graded format of the programme the evening the Kalakshetra bani was presented enabled me to measure the young talent on view with the remnants of the consummate artistry of the seniors, almost all of them septuagenarians today.

The performances of the youngsters who gave margam displays in groups of six gladdened the heart. I shall write about the individual artists in a later post, but it is good to see that the strong foundation laid by Rukmini Devi and strengthened by the early efforts of the likes of Sarada Hoffman and several other good teachers has resulted in a continuing vibrancy of tradition and excellent adherence to techniques. The all round good taste of the institution still pervades every aspect of the programmes offered by Kalaksetra--from the beautiful stage decor, and lovely costumes (though these have grown more ornate through the decades),  to the well-mannered courtesy and quiet dignity of the staff senior and junior as we;; as the volunteers. I can hear murmurs that chaos occasionally tends to rule, but that is preferable to efficient rudeness. Vocalist Harikrishnan was in sublime form, his raga suddham and seamless, sruti-perfect voice an object lesson to many practitioners of Carnatic music. His elaboration of the raga Sahana was easily the best I have heard in many a summer.  

Among the veteran dancers, Shanta and VP Dhananjayan and A Janardhanan gave us glimpses of the technical skill and poignant interpretation of the lyric and theme that made them special in their heyday, Balagopalan stole the show with his extraordinary abhinaya in a cameo appearance. The nattuvangam by Savithri Jagannatha Rao would have won the approval of the giants of yesteryear. It was firm, precise and dignified.

To return to the ambience that made the event so refreshing, the floor seats were, as always, occupied by studious youngsters and some superfit oldies, eagerly drinking in the action on stage. Here again I could not help remembering how 40 years and more ago, I sometimes joined my wife and children of the family as a member of the tarai ticket audience. (The first hints of our mortality were not so subtly conveyed to us when in time the ushers and usherettes started directing us to the chairs). 

It was from these vantage seats that we watched in awe as Janardhanan and Venkatachalapathy as Rama and Lakshmana, Krishnaveni  as Sita and Balagopalan as Hanuman wove magic before our eyes. That every role in the Ramayana dance drama was paid the utmost attention was illustrated for example by the diminutive Stella Uppal's hypnotic gambolling as the golden deer which made Sita's fascination so believable. The grand music by Mysore Vasudevacharya and others sung by Sitarama Sarma, Pasupathy and others often made you turn year eyes away from the stage towards the orchestra pit. It is no exaggeration to say that Hariprasad and company had a similar effect on us last week.  (To be continued).

No comments: