Holding a mirror to lifeAug 7th, 2009 | By editor | Category: City Culture, Delhiwaalah, Music & Dance, Newsmakers
Premier Kathak exponent Shovana Narayan’s dance radiates a divine spark that touches viewers. In her art, there is a resonance of heritage at its best, steeped in a deep humanism. The recent two-day Lalit Arpan festival featuring young artistes at the Habitat was in keeping with this spirit. Shovana’s disciples Shruti Gupta Chandra, Madhura Phatak and Shivani Salhotra gave virtuoso performances. Salil Bhatt was outstanding on the Satvik veena, while Mahavir and Mohit Gangani as well as Varun’s pakhawaj symphony (Nadhabrahm) and the vocal concert by Rajnish-Ritesh Mishra were eclectic. The event personified Shovana’s credo that art cannot be insulated. There was Zila Khan, Hindustani music exponent and Sufi singer — daughter of the late sitar maestro Ustad Vilayat khan — invoking Goddess Bhavani in a clarion call for gender justice.
The festival was thus a fitting celebration of the 30th anniversary of Asavari, Shovana’s cultural institution. Excerpts from an interview on the sidelines of the festival:
Asavari indicates the continued relevance of the guru-shishya tradition in the modern world.
It all began in this house (on New Delhi’s Pandara Road) in 1972-73 when I was a young dancer, and yes, it is eminently satisfying to see the difference dance has made in the lives of many young students. Like the morning raga Asavari, it is a new dawn for a fresh generation. For some, it is a matter of gaining an identity, for others, it is a profession and for still others, a complete life experience. The fact that Asavari has completed three decades, despite not being an academy in the formal sense, only shows it is a concrete, living legacy. And as much as we do not know the chief architect or main artist behind the wonderful Khajuraho temples, so also, these students will be the living legacy of this institution.
Does Gen-Next have what it takes to dedicate itself to the performing arts?
Yes, several of my students are completely dedicated to dance. Despite poor patronage for the performing arts, they are undeterred. It is a tragedy that the classical arts get such poor attention. I have used every platform to highlight this lacuna and even written to the Knowledge Commission seeking that the fine arts be made a compulsory part of the school curriculum. But, yes, these students are full of verve and zest, and that is a delight to watch!
What has been the most satisfying creation in your repertoire?
I have collaborated with dancers of national and international repute, and combined varying styles. I have choreographed works like “Moonlight Impressionism”, set to the music of Ravel, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Vivaldi and Debussy. Then, there has been “The Dawn After” with dancers from Western classical ballet and Spanish Flamenco. As for the varying themes, in the evolution of classical dance, it took 1200 years for the evolution of Lord Shiva as Nataraja. But for the Bhagavada and Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda, we would not have been aware of the celestial duo of Radha-Krishna. Hence, classical art is that which evolves from our very core. The purity of classical art will never be affected by the mere exploration of contemporary themes. There was this ballet production “Toota Vishwas Kyon”, exploring the psyche of a mother and her daughter, after the child becomes a victim of incest, prey to her father’s lust. The ballet that speaks of breach of trust by the parent was performed at the traditional Kathak Mahotsav and had congratulatory messages pouring in. There has been “Muktilekha”, a ballet on the individual’s struggle to break free of shackles, And, with various productions and performances, they have all been equally fulfilling.
As a thinking artist. what single factor moves you tremendously?
Philosophy. It is the font common to all people, speaking for that eternal quest of the soul or Atma for union with the Divine. My mother was a Sanskrit and Hindi litterateur, (and the inspiration in my life, as also the birth of Asavari). And I have been deeply influenced by the writings of Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’ and Niralaji. Dinkar once told me that along with the thali of offerings to the deity at a temple, one should carry a mirror, and there, as one looks into the mirror, the agony and ecstasy of life — the dance of life — can be seen. This has been made into a production based on his poem “Darpan”. Similarly, I shall never forget Niralaji egging me on not to stop, no matter what the difficulties. I was deeply influenced by Ramachandra Gandhi and created seven productions in collaboration with him. These surround the lives of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Vivekananda, Ramana Maharishi and Mahatma Gandhi. And I was always influenced by Sufi philosophy.
After creating a formidable body of work, what do you aim to accomplish still?
Oh, there is an ocean of knowledge to be acquired. I have just skimmed the surface.
In 1990, when I shifted to New Delhi for my higher studies, I was desperately looking for a Kathak guru who would not only encourage my academic interests but also impart higher training in Kathak, which I had learned ever since I was a kid. I was not ready to sacrifice my passion for dance nor my academic pursuits. I was brought up with a fine balance between academics, dance, sports, literature, music and the fine arts. Searching for a guru in this true sense in an unknown city was an imposing task.
Providence brought me in touch with Sonali, one of Guru Shovana’s students. Talking to Sonali, I knew instantly I was destined to be Shovana Didi’s student. On a rainy August evening, I walked into the house of Guru Shovana Narayan on Pandara Road. I walked into Asavari, never to walk out.
I had been anxious whether she would accept a small town girl from Pune as her student, but at my first class, I was taken aback. Here was a lady, without make-up, simply dressed, full of energy, surrounded by girls my own age, admiration and awe reflecting in their eyes — but she was standing firmly on the ground. I was shy and awkward, knowing I lacked the polish of the others. But the moment Didi smiled, talked to me reassuringly, I forgot everything, and realised I had found a home away from home, a mother, a guide, who in all facets of life would be there for me to talk to.
I lived in a hostel of Jawaharlal Nehru University, but come rain, winter or sun, never missed my classes with Didi. Each moment was a moment of learning from her, whether be it in the dance class, in the costume room, on stage, amongst guests, in a shoot. There were times I made mistakes, and Didi scolded me. I would break down in tears, but at the end of it, she was the guru I had chosen and she was fully aware of her role in my life. Never would she tolerate laziness, clumsiness, perfectionist as she herself is. She wished us also to be similar…professionals to the hilt. She trained me to be utterly independent, to be strong but also sensitive.
I also remember when I participated in dharnas and demonstrations, and after a physically and emotionally draining day, automatically would find myself on the way to Didi, for there I knew, under her wing, my strain would disappear, and I would receive the right guidance, right vision, love and care.
It is not only marriages, but also our guru-shishya association that is written in heaven. After almost two decades of association, I maintain that Asavari is not an institution of four walls. It is a home, a hearth and a heart, where a guru and light like Shovana Didi guides me through my creative processes and my academic interests in Kathak.
She has made me the person I am today… committed, dedicated, persevering and determined, ready to go that extra mile with dignity to achieve my dreams.
Often I find myself driven to the end of my physical and emotional energies. Then I think of how Shovana Didi would act, tell myself I am her daughter, and I get going again.