Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Age of Irreverence!

The 'New Indian Express' in its editorial comment of July 19,2007 refers to the Presidential poll campaign of July, 2007 as marked by unprecedented acrimony witnessed in no earlier election for that office. The nomination of UPA candidate Prathbha Patil led to media exposure of the illegal and criminal activities indulged in by her close relatives and in which her connivance is difficult to disprove. There may be exaggerations but most of the details revealed by Indian Express and other print and visual media will stand the test of scrutiny. The Congress and UPA constituents remain silent about the blemished record of their candidate and Indian Express cautions that Prathiba's elevation to the highest office of the country will not lead to allegations being discarded on that count alone . It's reason, the editorial says, is because what is being demonstrated as the temper of these times is 'that the relationship between the people and power, or the people and their institutions is changing in dramatic ways.... The change is not all due to coming of new technologies and wider access to them. The new ways of seeing have also to do with a waning of deference and the establishment of a more intimate -- and a more irreverent -- equation with our institutions'.
This is a radical, even revolutionary departure from time and tradition worn practices. Indians always genuflect before authority; political,hierarchichal, social, religious or cultural. They seldom dare to challenge individuals or institutions which demand their implicit obedience. .One reason for this, pointed out by Dr.B.R. Ambedkar in many of his writings, is that our society has evolved in ways which show scant regard for the individual, for his rights and his autonomy. The individual was destined to fit into a collective unit, be it of the village or joint family or caste or occupation. The transformation, placing the individual at the centre, has been slow in arriving but is now an inevitability from which there is no return. In India, social change doesn't come in the Western manner through revolutions that shake the earth but at snail's pace,unfolding so slowly, one never knows it is there. Could this be because our concept of Time is different, not the Western linear time, advancing irreversibly in a straight line and against which man races but a cyclical movement where everything repeats itself?
The signs of the current change could be discerned by any one who read V.S. Naipaul's 'India - A Million Mutinies Now'(1990), which graphically pointed out new trends being initialized by individuals in this land of continental proportions and now acquiring a momentum and strength of their own that cannot be supressed. The individual, transcending caste,religion,language,gender,position is beginning to assert his self. In this assertion the awe for persons in power will decline. His Excellency, The President of India will become Mr.President of the Americans. Mr. Prime Minister will have to rise from his Honourable seat and get ready to be questioned by the commoner.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Dance till the stars come down from the rafters!
Dance,dance,dance till you drop! - W.H.Auden.
India is a country with diverse physical traditions and dance forms. You can number them by the hundreds. But most of us feel threatened by movement. Trapped in rigid body attitudes we rarely use our bodies to create, express or communicate. The body has a language and a wisdom of its own and those who never discover or apply them are the poorer for it. This is the message, Tripura Kashyap, an accomplished dancer, choreographer and trainer, conveys in her book 'My Body,My Wisdom' published by Penguin Books, India. Reading the book brought realisation of my limited patterns of movement and deep inhibitions in moving the body beyond its functional requirements. It dawned on me that the doors had been closed tight to a whole universe of experience and drastic action should be taken to to kick it open. An email to Tripura wailing of my situation was promptly replied to and some time later she wrote suggesting I attend one of her movement training sessions in Hyderabad, where she lives. The sessions were organised by Rainbow Inc. and its Secretary, the indomitable Vaneeta Bhattacharya who was a significant presence through out the programme . The sessions were spread over two days and held in the pleasant surroundings of the Vidyaranya School, more of a garden than a school, in Saifabad, the heart of Hyderabad. Reaching there, I longed to go back to childhood, only to study in Vidyaranya.
The participants were a diverse lot and included quite a few educators for special needs children who had prior exposure to dance and movement. Nithin, a radiologist, Nirupam, a farmer from Haryana as he chose to describe himself, Sherin, a software engineer, Alina who works for the Nandi Foundation, Aparna, an architect and interior designer, Priti Anand, an editor for Penguin and myself were among those who were in it for the movement experience. But there was perfect rapport between these distinct groups. Nalini Praksh, an accomplished dancer in her own right had come down from Coonoor to understand Tripura's ideas.
It was pure dance that we practiced, creating and choreographing our own movements, individually and in groups, based on themes of our choice in place of traditional dance instruction where one is taught movements structured by others with performance as the goal. In the initial period of body preparation we were made to sit, stand, balance and lie down, to paint brush which is exploring space with hands and fingers and exercise legs by moving it in various positions in space. We expressed our names through a movement sequence. This was my first brief experience of choreography and dancing. Every participant had to go solo from one end of the hall to the other, moving the body in any sequence of movements of his choice. We had to imagine an animal or bird of our choice and then imitate its movements. We were divided into two groups and each group had to carry its members from one end of the hall to the other, one by one till only two remained, and one of them had to carry the other. So, the strongest and the tiniest amongst us had to be the last two to remain for the entire exercise to end in a success. The intensive sessions, spread over two days, helped us in sqarely facing our inhibitions on body movement and body expression and gave us the courage and confidence to explore and understand the world using our bodies and our senses.
In well-written and convincing passages of her book, Tripura destroys the myth that only dancers can dance. She states that the natural instinct for movement that all of us had as children became task-oriented and restricted as we grew up. Dance was a communal activity in ancient societies and denoted social interaction without distinction between the audience and performers.They knew no forms or styles of dancing and it was the natural movements of the body in its many daily activities like hunting, fishing, cooking, that were their source. Today, dancing is a formalized, technique bound and performance oriented activity requiring years of specialized training. Four elements combine in any dance - bodies, space, time and force.
Creative dance therapy on which Tripura devotes a few chapters removes our misapprehensions on the subject. Dance therapy is not meant for the physcially disabled or the mentally ill. It deals with the intimate connections between our bodies, our movements and the workings of our mind. The body can and does influence the mind and reflect the mind. An heightened awareness of the body, eye contact and spatial awareness are the qualities that this therapy can impart to us. Her collaboration with Santha Kumar, a psychotherapist in Bangalore and their successful efforts to conduct programmes that help normal functioning adults to explore the body and its potential and experience an unstructured, personalized form of movement expression make interesting reading.
Tripura writes of her collaboration with Aanand Chabukeshwar, a drama therapist and Zubin Balsara who uses music as therapy and how they combined dance, drama and music as therapeutic intervention in mentally challenged children at Sadhana Village in Pune.. What was of significance to me was Zubin's idea that music is not to be merely listened to but a process in which we should actively participate. Sounds being the vocabulary of music, Zubin helps us to discover and vocalize our personal vocabulary of sounds. To feel one's music physically pulsate through one's body is energizing, notes Tripura.
The days spend with Tripura and the other participants were wonderful. We shared a lot of ideas, overcame the inhibitions of our bodies and delighted ourselves in the joy of unrestrained movement. It is an experience I cherish and which I hope will recur many more times in this life.