Odissi: Kumkum Lal - Tea in the green room, Nohgaku-doh
Director: Ashok Lal
Duration: 00:09:30; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 90.941; Saturation: 0.077; Lightness: 0.330; Volume: 0.192; Cuts per Minute: 6.315; Words per Minute: 102.085
Summary: Kumkum Lal spent four years in Tokyo, Japan, teaching and performing Odissi extensively. In 1986, with her husband Ashok, she hosted Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra (Guruji) and a group of musicians including the renowned composer Pt. Bhubaneswar Mishra, from India, for a month. During his stay there, Guruji taught Kumkum and held workshops for her students. Kumkum and Guruji also travelled across Japan, holding lecture demonstrations at universities and performing in different environments.
During their tour, the group was once allowed permission to perform at a prominent Noh theatre, or Nohgakodu, in Tokyo. Performing something other than Noh at a Nohgaku-doh is a privilege that is hard to come by. The Noh stage, with its sloping roof and long walkway (hashigakari) is nothing short of awe-inspiring. This short clip was recorded backstage, before the Noh theatre performance. Kumkum makes tea for everyone as they wait for the stage to be prepared for their use. The conversation moves quickly, from the tea to the divorce rates in Japan, toy-shopping, to the Noh theatre, till the performance space is readied and they are called to look at it.
This is the only recording in the series that is completely devoid of any rehearsal footage. It is pure conversation – but indistinct in parts because of the static and other factors. The subject of the Noh stage is brought up often, because workers are making special preparations so that Kumkum and Guruji can dance barefoot, without wearing the traditional socks used in Noh spaces.
Kumkum Lal has been a disciple of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra for more than four decades. Her initial training in Odissi was under Guru Harekrishna Behera, and she has also studied and performed creative dance with Narendra Sharma, and Chhau under Guru Krishna Chandra Naik. She has taught English at Delhi University. She was a keen reviewer of dance and has acted in plays. She has worked with Sangeet Natak Akademi as the head of their dance section and was awarded a senior fellowship by the Indian government to work on a Sanskrit treatise on Odissi.
The years I spent learning from Kumkum were full of invaluable dancing, enriching conversations on all and sundry, and much relief from hostel food. Watching the preparation of tea and its subsequent drinking brought back many old memories, from my time at her home and in dance class, which was never complete without a tea-break. As Kumkum and I watch this tiny clip again, all those cups of tea come to mind.
Kumkum was surprised to find a video of their very own tea-drinking ceremony. Initially, she couldn't remember what stage of the tour this belonged to, but details in the video helped us place this episode - this happens at the Noh theatre before their performance.
Kumkum: Oh, I'm making tea! This must be before the performance. We were waiting for them to prepare the stage. There was no milk, so we had to use milk powder and hot water from those flasks. Even at home in Japan, we had a stream of houseguests. So I was constantly entertaining people - a very active social life indeed.
The troupe is seated - ostensibly in a green room at one of the performance venues. Kumkum Lal is making tea.
Kumkum: (speaking in Hindi) They haven't readied the stage yet. They're sticking all that...
Sudarshan Das interjects and she responds to him.
Then she turns her attention back to the tea.
Kumkum (in Hindi): What should I do; should I make it separately?
Sudarshan adds something to one of the cups, probably sugar.
Having let a tea bag stand in one of the cups, Kumkum dunks it a few times before discarding it. She adds milk powder to their tea.
It is impossible for me to work on this clip without recalling the countless cups of tea I shared with Kumkum and her family. Those interactions helped me understand the ways of a city I had decided to hate. Even our dance classes were not devoid of tea. If she was not using milk powder, she would carry milk to the classroom in a small pot! The tea rituals also became a source of much amusement - Kumkum refused to believe me when I pointed to a tea cosy and asked her what it was. I thought it was 'colonial-quaint', something one only read about in books set in Nainital or Shimla. I also found the idea rather amusing (though practical) - that the teapot should have its own little sweater.
Even as we worked on these videos, the Lals hosted a string of temporary and less temporary visitors. My recordings of our conversations are strewn with discussions of my culinary preferences, chocolate-sampling and constant tea-drinking. Practically everyone who passed through the house while I was there has been recorded while accepting or declining offers of tea.
Both of them stir their tea. Kumkum is simultaneously working on two cups of tea.
Bhubaneswar Mishra (speaking in Hindi): What is that girl's name?
Bhubaneswar Mishra (Hindi): What does she do...(indistinct)
Kumkum (Hindi): No, she used to do Japanese dance, of late she just stays at home, with her mother and father. Sometimes, she works part-time.
Bhubaneswar Mishra: (indistinct) All are there?
Kumkum: Father, mother, bhai...
Kumkum: Without my students in Japan, this trip would have been impossible. I think I've told you earlier, how much they helped with everything. The entire troupe stayed with me - I would be so busy between cooking and rehearsals and performances. Every day, one or two of my students would drop in to help with the chores.
Bhubaneswar Mishra (Hindi): Do they have divorce, like American society? They don't, do they?
Kumkum (Hindi): Nowadays, it is increasing, just like it is increasing in our society..that is what is happening.
Bhubaneswar Mishra: Accha.
(She gets up to serve tea.)
Bhubaneswar Mishra (Hindi): So earlier there was no divorce?
Kumkum: Very traditional, just like India. The woman is very subordinate to the man. So...(She trails off, and bends down to place a cup of tea next to the intended recipient. Speaking in Hindi now.) I'll leave it here.
Two of the men talk to each other, seemingly in Oriya. Little is heard over the rustle of the plastic bag. Manjul walks towards the room; we see her in one corner of the frame. She enters, picks up a sweater and wears it.
Kumkum (Hindi, offering sweets to everyone, possibly biscuits): Have something sweet. (The first person refuses, she turns to someone else) Will you have something sweet?
For tea cannot be had just by itself; it has to be accompanied by something to eat.
Kumkum: Are those biscuits? I can't remember now.
Kumkum asks Manjul if she wants tea. Her reply is indistinct. Kumkum says something more to Manjul, which is indistinct.
Bhubaneswar Mishra (Hindi): ...was going to come?
Kumkum (Hindi): At 3.30, she said so herself, didn't she? Now they're still sticking all that, it will take time.
She eats a sweet. She says something to Manjul (indistinct). Bhubaneswar Mishra also says something; Manjul laughs. The camera turns. We see Mishra sitting in the corner. This is probably a room in the Nohgakodu, because they discuss how sacred the space is. The stage is being prepared for their use.
Kumkum: The lady who organised our tour managed to get us this space to perform. Otherwise, the Noh theatre rarely permits others to perform there. Because of the drama surrounding this performance, we're all discussing that.
Kumkum (Hindi): How does the tea taste?
Sudarshan makes a face. He does not seem happy with the tea.
Kelucharan Mohapatra (in Hindi, to Sudarshan): Did you add sugar to it?
He doesn't respond and is asked again by Guruji, "Ei Sudarshan, shakkar dala ki nahin?"
Kumkum is preparing a second round of tea. Bhubaneswar Mishra speaks in Oriya and someone responds to him. The camera focuses on a spot outside the room, where one of Kumkum's students seems to be doing something with her costume, probably ironing it.
Kumkum: But as long as you're ready to spend money, it is alright. (in Hindi) Here, we think things like fans would be simple to procure, but even a fan costs nothing less than a thousand rupees.
They then discuss a fan with plastic blades.
The conversation turns to Japanese dolls.
Kumkum: Japanese doll is so famous (sic).
Manjul responds in Hindi.
Bhubaneswar Mishra (Hindi): I looked in four or five shops but didn't find anything that walks or moves.
Kumkum (Hindi): No, there are lots of things available...most of the products available nowadays are battery-operated.
Mishra: Haan, battery ka.
They go on discussing the price of dolls. Guruji suddenly asks Kumkum for his tea. She answers, saying she left it beside him, but he was busy and didn't notice.
Mishra (Hindi): What I purchased in the Delhi market (sic) last time was battery-operated, 'Made in Japan'. Kumkum and another person respond simultaneously. She trails off but suddenly remembers...
Kumkum: Everyone was excited about shopping in Japan. I still have some kitchen things that we purchased in Japan. They last really long. Japan was also very famous for its dolls. I think Bhubaneswar Mishra had a granddaughter - he wanted to buy her a doll.
Kumkum (Hindi): Oh there is one really novel thing one can find here - it looks like a dog; if you clap in front of it, it barks.
Mishra (Hindi): There is something like that?
Kumkum (Hindi): Hmm. There is a bird which keeps chirping. Both are (very interesting?)...you clap and it barks!
Sudarshan Das (Hindi): Is it very big?
Kumkum (Hindi): No, only this big. (indicates the size with her palms) In Ginza, there is a five-storey building which only sells toys. (Mishra responds) Do go and see it. It is as expensive as other toy stores though.
Manjul (Hindi): But, there is more...(Kumkum interjects)
Kumkum (Hindi): Variety hain.
They begin to discuss how expensive Japanese products are.
Kumkum (Hindi): Here, they earn in yen. If you had to bring rupees and convert them into yen to shop here, then it's really hard (to afford).
Guruji (Hindi): How much sugar have you added to my tea?
Kumkum and Manjul laugh. Can't you make out, Kumkum asks?
Guruji (Hindi): Nahin kitna sugar diye? (No, how much sugar did you add?)
Kumkum tells him she has added two spoons.
Guruji (Hindi): Do chamach? Do mein kya hoga? (Two spoons? What can two spoons do?)
Kumkum (Hindi): Chota cup hain (It's a small cup).
Kumkum is still making tea.
Kumkum: Guruji loved his sugar! He was so fond of sweet things; he would even mix sugar in his dal while having lunch. Two spoons of sugar is what some of us might consider excessive...for him, two spoons of sugar was too less! His tea had to be like sugar syrup.
She speaks to Ashok about one of her students. When she laughs, she covers her mouth like a Japanese woman.
The lady who has organised the tour is seen entering the room.
Kumkum: Is it ready?
Lady: Yes. Ah, it was really you know (Kumkum interjects: Difficult. Hmm)...work hard...hard work. Now they're...seven people are cleaning the floor. So we're ready.
The woman seemingly asks if they can just distribute the details of the pieces being performed instead of having verbal demonstrations, to preserve the artistic atmosphere. What she says is very indistinct. She refuses a cup of tea.
Someone speaks, ostensibly Sudarshan. He talks of how Noh performers wear tabi, traditional Japanese socks. Performing barefoot on the stage requires some preparation, it seems.
They are called to look at the stage.
Kumkum: She was the one who organised our tour - got us performances and all that.