International Odissi Festival 2011: In conversation with Sunil Kothari and Leela Venkataraman
Duration: 00:40:30; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 22.708; Saturation: 0.153; Lightness: 0.331; Volume: 0.080; Words per Minute: 172.103
Summary: The 4th International Odissi Dance Festival in 2011 was held from December 23 to 30, 2011, at Rabindra Mandap Bhubaneswar. The festival was preceded by an attempt to create a world record by having around 550 dancers perform together at Kalinga Stadium. It saw the participation of most major Odissi ensembles in Orissa and a few from outside the state. With performances for over twelve hours each day, the festival featured several hundred performers in solo, duet and group works over eight days. In its scale, the festival offered a bird's eye view of the landscape of contemporary Odissi and its ever-changing nature. It foregrounded new trends in choreography, music and costuming. The seminars during the festival sparked lively debates on issues and concerns in Odissi. One such concern, voiced repeatedly, questioned the definition of tradition within the space of the dance form and the limits it could be stretched to. This raised parallel questions about innovation and experimentation in Odissi - a debate that found itself mirrored in the performances during the festival.
Sunil Kothari: It was sometime in 1980 that I was in Delhi at the India International Sector and this charming, gorgeous, beautiful lady (addressing Leela Venkataraman), she was giving commentary so well, without paper in her hand; and I was in Bombay, doing also a similar job, in terms of introducing dancers and all. Of course, I was very struck. So, I told her that, "Who are you?" She said, "I am Leela Venkataraman" We had not met but that was a very pleasant memory of mine that here is a distinguished lady standing there, good looking, no paper in hand and rattling off beautifully introducing paper. So I said, we don't have somebody like you in Bombay and that is how our friendship began.
Now, going back, I came to learn that Mrs. Venkataraman was in Orissa for many years. Her husband was the Chief Secretary and they had moved in many places of Orissa. they were also in Bhubaneshwar. They very hotel in which we are staying, Mathew, the owner, they used to be together. So, I came to know the history of this. But, that is my memory part. I often go back to several memories which give me a context in which I want to get a continuity.
Whereas, Leelaji, as you say, the prolific writing that she does everyday; we all marvel, that this sort of prolific writing, day after day, after day, is an amazing process of looking at this. So, mine, as you would say, would be something from a memory bank and hers a very experiential bank...
Leela Venkataraman: But, you know yours, Sunil, in a way is something that you, sort of, prepared yourself for. This is what you wanted to do. You chose it as a career, you gave up something else that you were doing; because you like dance so much and you said, "Well, I am going to be in this because I am really concerned about whats happening in dance."
But, mine was not like that. It was something I just wandered into, without realizing it was happening. In school and college, you know, we all learn dance, we were dancers, of a sort. And my grand-father, you know, he was one of those persons who always said, "Just as you learn the harmony of words in poetry or the harmony of numbers in arithmatic, that's how he called it, or the harmony of notes in music; you must learn about the harmony of movement in dance."
Sunil Kothari: Ah. yes.
Leela Venkataraman: Every type of harmony should be a part of education when a child is growing up. I said, "What happens out of that? Does he become a poet? Or does he become a writer? Or does he become a dancer?" He said, "No, not necessary. But, it is this feel for harmony which become a part of the personality and that unconsiously is expressed in everything the person does, in his relationship with fellow human beings and the way he is in society. And there is an aesthetic side, which is there all the time, which is colouring the personality; but which you don't know is really there for a particular reason. So, I think all children should learn music and dance. It doesn't matter whether they really take to it later or not. And now I think, 'My God! What a wonderful man he was'.
Leela Venkataraman: So, when I came to Orissa in 1955, after marriage, strangely, that was the time when great things were beginning to show up (Sunil Kothari nodding in affirmation) in Odissi, because till then, nobody even knew there was a dance form like this and certainly, not outside Orissa. And, these great people like Debaprasad Das, Pankaj Charan Das, like Kelucharan Mohapatra; I mean, they were all working together. The theatre movement was very strong; my husband happened to be Secretary in the Cultural Affairs Ministry. So, I happened to go to a few plays, Annapoorna plays. But you know, I was very young. At twenty, I didn't realize that I was seeing history being (Sunil Kothari laughing) repeated...I mean history being made in front of me because I was totally oblivious of what was happeneing.
But, now, after all these years, when I look back, I say - My God, I was there right in the thick of it and I didn't know this was happening. How sad! But, maybe in a way, it is good because in retrospect, you know, I was innocent of what was happening and yet it had a kind of had an impression on me. And now, when I look back, I have images which keep coming in front of my eyes and a very innocent-looking, wonderful, you know, Kelucharan. The way these youngsters used to dance and he would go around applying alta
on the feet, tying their anklet bells and beating somebody with a stick and saying "ei, emti karibo, semiti karibo
" (do it like this, do it like that). (Sunil Kothari laughing)
And then, Pandit Nehru coming for one of these dance dramas and P.V. Krishnamurthy, and he says, "You know, I don't like all these kind of things. I am going to be there only for fifteen minutes and then I am going to leave" (Sunil Kothari laughing) So, P.V.K. says, "That's alright, Sir. If you can come, it will be great." He comes and he sits through the entire dance-drama and then he comes on to the stage and he says, "Where is the choreographer? I want to meet him." (Sunil Kothari: Wow!) and where is Kelu Babu? He has gone to roll up his paan
(Sunil Kothari and Leela Venkataraman laughing) Nobody could find him. So, P.V.K. was in a flap. He says, "Go and find Kelu Babu and bring him back."
So, you know, these little memories when you think of...(Sunil Kothari: Wonderful they are) You know, this Gujarati gentleman going around (Babulal Doshi) without slippers, taking an oath saying that 'I am not going to wear, have any footwear till an institution for teaching dance comes up in Cuttack.'
Sunil Kothari: You see, it happened so, that in 1958, I went to All India Dance Seminar. There are few now who had attended with us and it was there that Babulal Joshi...it was Debaprasad Das who performed tribhangi
and Kalicharan Pattanaik who edited the paper. Before coming to Delhi for Sangeet Natak Akademi Conference, thanks to Mohan Khokar. He was my mentor. He said, "Read as many books on dance as possible in the Bombay University Library." I went there and I began to find out from the racks which are the books (sic). There was one little booklet called Odissi
and there was a picture of Priyambada Mohanty with the tile floor, you know in those years how it was being done...
...And I wrote to Mohan, "Odissi? What is this? I don't understand. Most people know Orissa, but it's very funny. But, the booklet gave some palm leaf manuscripts, then utha, baitha, bhasa, chaali
all these things are given in this dance form?" So, he wrote back to me saying, "When you come to Delhi we will see, in a part of the seminar, where they will demonstrate this dance form for you." And when I came, I met Babulal Joshi, as you said, the man was Gujarati, didn't put on chappals
and he found out that I was Gujarati..
So, Mrinalini Sarabhai came from here and Kapila Vatsyayan came from here, and talked in Gujarati. So, Mrinalini Sarabhai knows Gujarati very well. Then, he said, (in Gujarati) 'You are a Gujarati man and also a Vaishnav, then, you must come for darshan
to the Jagannath Puri Temple'. So, I told my mother, (in Gujarati) 'Ba, he is a Vaishnav and is calling me to Jagannath Puri Temple. If you permit it, I would like to go'. And, in those days, as you said, I was doing chartered accountancy, study of chartered accounting and where is chartered accounting, where is dancing and all?
And then, I was fascinated, so she said, (in Gujarati) "If he goes for darshan
to Jagannath Puri, its a good thing. He is a good boy. Let him go and have darshan
." So, when I came to Jagannath Puri and when I stayed with Babulal Joshi, he said, "This is Kala Vikas Kendra and I want young people to learn Odissi. This is God's work and this dance is only puja
(worship)." So, Kumkum Mohanty was a very little girl and Sanjukta (Panigrahi) came from somewhere and I met Sanjukta in Delhi doing Kuttrala Kuravanji
of Rukmini (Devi) Arundale. She came to meet Kalicharan Pattanaik and she said (in Oriya) 'Give me paan
' He looked at me saying 'My second wife.Paan
is my second wife' (Leela Venkataraman laughing)
I still remember that beautiful conversation we had, where Sanjukta said (in Oriya), "Who are you? So my name was given. At that time, she was not Sanjukta Panigrahi, she was Sanjukta Mishra. So, I had come back to Bhubaneshwar and Cuttack. So, Babulal Doshi said, "Why don't you stay, I am going to call this girl called Sanjukta. She will demonstrate for you all these hastas
and movement et cetera." That is how, the interest started. More than that, I had to go to Jagannath Puri Temple. Then I, a Gujarati, met the panda
(temple priest). The panda
said, (in Gujarati) "Where are you from?" I said, "I am from Bombay"
"No. No. No. Which village?"
I said, "Matar."
"Okay. So, you are from Matar. Which jaat
? What is your gothra
I said, "Vaishana."
Believe me, in five minutes, the guy went and brought out all those khatas
and opened the page and he said, "What is your father's name?"
"Father's father's name?"
And he opened a page and to my complete surprise, I saw the names of my family, my mother, my father, grandfather, great grand father, and Sunil and my date of birth was given and in-between I found that my second brother and the third brother, there were two sisters, one was Subhadra and one was Hira. Between my fifth and sixth brother were my other sister called Kanak. I was counting the tenth child. I said, 'My God!' All this history, in our country is kept by this pandas
, in this part of the world. Marvellous history, it was.
Came very happily to Ba (mother), to say that I went to Jagannath Puri. I have brought you the prasad
She was very happy. In the evening, Kumkum Mohanty came. As guruji would say, "Hey Makada(monkey)"- Hey monkey, come here! But, what a beautiful monkey she was. Lovely monkey doing jhena ki ta jhena ki ta
(rhythmic patterns of dance). But, there was Prabatanalini (?). What a lovely name. (Leela Venkataraman: She was a very beautiful lady) What a beautiful woman. No wonder, Kumkum is so beautiful.
And they said, "What will you eat?" I said, "I don't know. I like Oriya food." Pakhala Bhaat
I never knew what is pakhala bhaat
. First time I took pakhala bhaat
et cetera. I believe, those sanskar
(values) of pakhala bhaat
, going to the temple. Prabhatnalini, what a beautiful lady. Her, other sister, Vandana. Kelu Babu coming, putting little-little, you know, chandana
(gesturing over the eyebrows). And, from there, Odissi dance was, as you (Leela) rightly said, it was just emerging.
I still marvel, that all this, since I came. I came fifty years ago to Orissa, to Sanjukta, to Kumkum, to Minati, Babulal Doshi. We came, some time again and went to see champu
, performed at the boat, chandan jatra
. And Dhiraj Chawla was a very famous photographer of the Times of India. So, Babulal Doshi commissioned him and we came by air and we went to Puri. Pankaj Charan Das. So, he said, "First, you get me a glass of lassi
. What dakshina
will you give me?"
Now, I am not used to all this. Dhiraj also said, "What is this fellow wanting?" I said, "Don't worry. We will get him first lassi
" and then I said, 'Guruji, we are giving you a hundred and one rupees. Please take this and do the puja in the temple."
We got one little boy called Ravi Panda, Ravi Narayan Panda. He dressed up as a lovely young girl and we went on taking photographs. We got pictures. But, then we said, "We can't photograph when he is dancing on the boat." So, they got another boat for us, specially. Times of India, Illustrated Weekly, Dhiraj Chawla. Another boat came. So, from another boat, we took photographs of the boy dancing dhena ki ta dhena ki ta
(rhythmic patterns of dance) on champu
(boat). And the beautiful song, that we saw this time with five hundred and fifty-five dancers performing, that same song Dekho go ago sakhi radha madhava chali...
Leela Venkataraman: You never went to see Ashokashtami?
Sunil Kothari: No, not Ashokashtami.
Leela Venkataraman: When this, I think it is Mausima's - Parvati decides to come out of Lingaraj and then she goes to stay at her aunt's house, you see for about a week or a fortnight. And then, when she is coming back, there is another jatra
. Then, she comes back , there is a kind of a byplay; because the temple of the mandir
is closed and there is one group of pandas
which stands for Shiva and the other side stands for Parvati. And Shiva says, "Well, you left your husband's house and went, so you go and stay there. You don't have to come back." (Sunil Kothari and Leela Venkataraman laughing)
And this person says, "Please, please. I only went for a visit, I returned back." (Both laughing) And there is this bi-play and all kinds of songs, and then, you know little couplets and things thrown in and this drama goes on for about forty-five minutes. And then, you know, Shiva relents and the door is thrown open and then Parvati goes inside. I used to go with Dr. Ayyappan to see all this. And he used to say this, you know, the sociological aspect of all this, and the fact that you have an old town of Bhubaneshwar, with so many temples. Built so many years, thousands of years ago. And, just by its side, the new township - the capital thats coming up...he says, you know, this is contrast, you can see how life has changed from there to now.
And, this is a kind of a study, side by side, which you don't get in many places and very often...Yesterday, when Ramli (Ibrahim) was performing, I was thinking you know, the two sides; you know, he did that old Dashavatar
Sunil Kothari: Of Vijay Senapati of Puri..
Leela Venkataraman: That minimalism, the simplicity (Sunil Kothari: Beautifully he did that) And the music was so different. The declamatory kind of percussion. (Sunil Kothari: Absolutely. Making sounds. Laughing) And then, you see something so modern today, which is being done. I think, "Where has, I mean, where did Odissi begin? Where has it come?" - the whole thing has changed beyond recognition.
Sunil Kothari: You see, when Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay was there, Rukmini Devi, Dr. V. Raghavan, then, (?), Manju Kurup, Devika Rani, Charles Fabri, Mulk Raj Anand, , Lacchu Maharaj, Shambhu Maharaj, Birju Maharaj, Maya Rao, Kumudini, Padmini, Lalita, Ragini, those three actresses and all. And, this man performs Odissi. And we see, where did...and Kamala Devi, as Sarojini Naidu used to say, "That they opened our eyes to new delights, to new sounds, to new music" and that wonder has still not stopped.
I often say, I question myself, what is this that I have got into dance, in between. Why did Mulk Raj Anand come to my mother and say, "You have seven sons, give me one of your sons. i will make a man out of him. he will become a great man."
Ba said, "He is my youngest child, you know, the apple of my eye. he should eat well. i don't mind what he does. I know he is in good company. His sisters, Sonal, they are very disciplined. Dance is not bad, because you do Radha and Krishna."
When I was very very young, in Shrinathdwara Temple, my mother had taken me, a five-year old and said, "If you learn Sanskrit, I will give you one paisa
In those years, paisa
was like mint, peppermint. So, she gave me a little box of Dena bank.
She said, "One shloka
and I will give you one paisa
" and I said, "Ba! How many shlokas
I have to learn?"
I said, "Wow! Eight shlokas
makes eight paisa
She said, "Ayyo Rama. Baniya ka beta!
"Thinks of the money, he doesn't understand what I am giving him. Vidya
God bless my mom wherever she is. She taught me Sanskrit. Namani Yamuna Maham, Sakala Siddhi Hetum Muda, Murarai Padah Pankajah, Sfuradamanda Renurkatam, Tathastanam Nav Kanaka. Prakata Mod Pushpambuna....
(from Shri Yamunashtakam). I am now seventy-eight. Imagine, I was only five, i learnt this shloka
. This shloka
is still with me.
Now, that love for, as Leelaji said so beautifully, that harmony, he taught you. Your grandfather said...this harmony. I went by the onomatopoeia. The words, manikya veena
. I would say, "My God! Rubies. The veena
The poet in the South India is called Manikya Vachakar (one of the four famous Shaivite saint-poets). I said, "God! His speech has the effulgence of rubies?"
I must say, it goes to the beauty of the words, I like the texture. Indriya goccha
, that is the sensu***** the poetry. I said, "Ba. You can't go on saying (reciting fast) Namani Yamuna Maham, Sakala Siddhi Hetum Muda.....
' She said, "Now, he is teaching me." I said, "Pada Pankaja...
, the feet which are like lotus. Namami Yamuna Maham...
." She said, "Listen. Bahut ho gaya (Enough). You know, I have a direct dialogue with my God. God understands what I am talking." That's bhakti
Let alone that, one needs to understand what is bhakti
. You don't go on by saying correct slokas. But, it was important also to know the correct pronounciation. Like yesterday, in the discussion.
Leela Venkataraman: But, you know, you were talking about Sanskrit and the correct pronounciation. The thing that I first remember about Orissa is the flavour of Orissa, which is so different...you know, for instance, you would listen to music and you would...(sings) Ganesho aja...
, you know. (Both smiling). I said, "What is this? Why does he sing Ganesho aja...
like this?" And then, every where you went, you would listen to these tunes and the particular way of reciting things. And...the kind of speech, the kind of um...dress. I mean, everything had a kind of a flavour which was very special. (Sunil Kothari nodding in agreement) I mean that is (Sunil Kothari: Still) what I remember of Orissa so strongly and which is still there to me and that is what I used to find in the dance in those days. (Sunil Kothari: Yes)
Leela Venkataraman: And now, when it is going all over the world, um..sometimes, sometimes I wonder if somewhere...that flavour will be lost.
Sunil Kothari: But, I still believe that the way you and I have been watching dance for forty years and more; when you see Shankarabharanam Pallavi
and you see Arabhi Pallavi
and you see this To Lagi Gopa Danda...
(Oriya Song), I think strikes very collective memory. The entire Oriya community has this fantastic collective memory.
Leela Venkataraman: Imagine Kelu Babu looking at Kumkum's (Mohanty) mother. She sitting with her legs spread out like this, cutting the areca nut....and - "Ai. Paan khaibo? Eithi aso...seithi jaunu..pani anunu..." (Hey. Will you have paan
? Hey come here, go there and fetch some water...) She would keep on giving instructions sitting like this. And Kelu Babu would just be drumming his little...his mardala
and then watching her. Lo and behold, that pose would come into his Gita Govinda
. He would say, "You saw the way your mother was sitting yesterday, how graceful it was...how natural it was. You stylize it and that becomes the dance." (Sunil Kothari: Absolutely)
Leela Venkataraman: So, you know this, this ability to observe nature; to look at things and take from here and there and to gradually build the bricks of Odissi. I mean, what was Odissi? It used to be...When I first started seeing, it used to get over in literally twelve minutes. Everything was finished, from beginning to end. And then, the way it was built up and it's come to this vast thing today where you see....
Sunil Kothari: See, Kelu Babu, he would take us to the Mukteshwar Temple. He would take us to Konark and he would say, "The spokes of the wheel, you find this amorous couple sitting over there...". And he would sit like that and Kumkum Mohanty is sitting or Dhira Sameere, Yamuna Tire, Vasativane Vanamali...
(an Ashtapadi). As you said, it gets cascades into the dance so beautifully. You go to these cultures, you go to these temples and then, as when I did my book on Odissi, and this is becoming cliched...'Sculpture is frozen dance and dance is mobile sculpture.' It became a rage because at that time the words came to me and I was talking to Dr. Mulk Raj Anand, Dr. Mayadhar Mansingh and he was saying...He has translated beautifully.
In English translation, the poems of Bhangi chahan from the champus
and it was a world reached up to me. As her grandfather said, I love the poetic harmony . The moment I go Malli mala Shyama....
(an Ashtapadi). My hands go like that (gesturing). Malli mala Shyama ku debi
or Dekhiba para asa re...
, Prano sangini...
. One was not knowing that this is a genius Kelu babu (Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra), one didn't know that Hariprasad Chaurasia is playing flute, one didn't know Balakrishna Das was...Rajini
Sunil Kothari: ...you know the thumri
...(Leela Venkataraman interjecting: Oh! But Balakrishna Das' voice, the trance....) The thumri
singing...All this conglomeration came over fifteen-twenty years that I came to Orissa, ever after year, because of Jagannath Puri. Ba said, 'Jao...'('Go...')
Leela Venkataraman: And in all that a P. V. Krishnamurthy (Sunil Kothari: Ya. Ya.) You know. (Both laughing) All India Radio gets a man who is so interested in Odissi culture. he sends people to all the villages and the first documentation of all the folk forms, folk traditions of Orissa, was done by P.V. Krishnamurthy. And the early dance dramas, he worked with Kelucharan...and you know, he used to give those little ideas, because he is so well up in music and dance and rhythm. And um...Kelu babu, of course, had this genius for being able to translate everything into images. And the two of them sitting together, with Surendra Mohanty there - you have that...Now, when I go back and I think of it, 'My God! This is a conglomeration of circumstances which just came together. It had to happen'.
Leela Venkataraman: There was this Annapurna theatre, there were these three Gurus...Mind you, they were not Gurus. They were all just people who were trained as gotipuas
, who had been with the Raas
tradition and so on. They were fond of dancing, they had all ran away from home, some of them lost their parents at very young ages, some of them; and they just got into dance because they loved it. And then how it came into theatre...Theatre first started dance because they wanted to have a ten minute show to attract people, because the theatre audiences were going down. (Sunil Kothari: 'Naach laga do...
' (Put up a dance...)
Leela Venkataraman: Toh, pehele pehele Pankaj Charan ne kuch kiya...
( So, first Pankaj Charan (Das) did something) He couldn't get anybody to play the role of Shiva
, so he said, "Ai. Kelu, tome koruno...
("Hey. Kelu, you do it...) and then, Kelu babu had been taken in as the mardala
player and he played and he said, "Wow. This man can really dance". So, you see, how this...(Sunil Kothari: Then this man called Bhubaneshwar Mishra, from you know...) All of them coming together...
Sunil Kothari: You know, from Andhra (Pradesh)...how great this master was...And that man, when he would play violin, you forget the flute. And today, those pallavis
of his are those from violins. What a genius he was! Unbelievable! So, these are the very rich memories for us, in terms of the music. Today, over breakfast, Mr. Pratap Das, who organized this International Festival of Odissi, was saying that, "There are twenty eight dance notations of the pallavis
by (Pandit) Bhubaneswar Mishra with the Odissi Research Centre. Is it possible ever, my dream is that if they can be put into symphony, then the whole world will know."
Sunil Kothari: He is right. Even today, the way music is going...A. R. Rehman has got something in his own band, and he puts it over there and it is global. And he said, "This marvellous music of Orissa, can it become global?"
Leela Venkataraman: He died such a...a simple man you know, Bhubaneswar Mishra. He was one of the great geniuses. The kind of music he produced. Today, Odissi is what it is because of his music. And how many people know it? And his wife is still living in pretty pathetic circumstances. But, what I am saying is, here are these very ordinary people, who contributed so much to an art form and gave so much to the world and really got very little recognition.
Sunil Kothari: Leela tell us now, what is it that drives you to sit for hours together to watch dance. Honestly, let me tell you
Leela Venkataraman: I dont know!
Ranjana: Even I wanted to know...
Sunil: I felt restless. I want to go to bathroom, I want to go here and there, but you take in...that immense capacity to...
Leela Venkataraman: I don't know. You know, there is something in me that sings and dances when I watch dance and when I listen to music. I mean, it is, I don't know, and I keep telling myself. People ask me, "My God, you see the same pallavi
twenty thousand times and the same vandana
which is done by, I don't know, how many people and the same varnam
which is done countless times...how do you sit and watch it?" I say, "That is one...capacity that God has given me. That I see it, I enjoy it, then I wipe it off my mind when I'm watching the next performance. That...the rest, everything I have seen before, does not exist. Now, I am watching something for the first time. Can I watch it with eyes of wonder?"
Leela Venkataraman: The day, I am not able to do it, I hope...I sincerely hope and pray, I will have the honesty to say, 'I should stop writing'. Because ultimately, you have to have a sense of wonderment. If that is not there, you cannot appreciate it and write about it...
Sunil Kothari: See, Kalidasa
says so beautifully what you say, "Kshane kshane yam navatamupeta, tadeva rupa ramaniyataha
". Every moment invests itself with the newness, that is the secret of Indian art. It becomes ramaniya.It becomes so enjoyable.
Leela Ventaraman: The item is only an excuse. You have to bring it to life. You enliven it on the stage, with your spirit, your innovative power, your presence and what you give it, otherwise its only an item.
Sunil Kothari: The rhetoricians say that the number is the same. How you present it, that is what is Indian aesthetics. It is not what you present but how you present it. For instance, when you see Krishna is putting flowers on Radha. Kuru yadu nandana, candana sisiratarenakarena
(Song twenty four of Gita Govinda
) Radha sits there and lets her beautiful hair flow and Krishna comes over there and then Radha looks like that..Now, there is a ring in the finger of this lady, there is a mirror and in the mirror she captures the image of Krishna.
Sunil Kothari: I told Mulk Uncle(Mulk Raj Anand), "Mulk Uncle, you read to me the poetry (of) Eliot, who gave dreams to the women and who gave mirrors to the dreams, that Eliot said. But, this man doesn't know who is Eliot. He sees over there himself as Radha and he looks into the mirror and reflection is caught and they are again in love." I said, "Wow. Mulk Uncle, if this art is so great..." We feel tremendous humility to surrender to these geniuses.
Leela Venkataraman: You know, very often you get a feeling of tremendous inadequacy (Sunil Kothari agreeing) When you are writing you feel, 'My God. This is an ocean. It's an ocean. How do I...?' It's like catching the sea in a teacup or something. It's so ridiculous. I mean, what is that I am trying to write? What is it that I am trying to convey?
Sunil Kothari: There was a critic by the name Edwin (?). He was in New York. He was, like what you said...He said, "Sunil, there are no two ways. One is to recreate poetry of what you capture. So, when you write something, you should write in a manner that what took place last night has been conveyed through your words and audience is reading it, maybe over a cup of coffee or tea." I said, but, they want to know what you have seen. They always try to ask me....People ask me, "Leelaji ne kya likha hai?
"(What has Leela written?) They want to tally their impression , whether it tallies with her impression or not.
Sunil Kothari: Now, that's so beautiful. I really liked it that if there is a poetry coming out; that is what Shavya kavya
or Drushya kavya
. Kalidasa, in the fourth act of Shakuntalam
) says that, " Kavyeshu natakam ramyam, tatra ramya kavita
" That is what...kavya
is important. So, it becomes Drushya kavya
, it becomes a visual poetry.
Sunil Kothari: Possibly, through the poetry part, that we relieve or we share it again and again. Then, it also says that, " Kaveh antargatam bhavam
". You go again and again to the poem, that poem again and again will get back more and more with it...
Leela Venkataraman: It's...it's like the petals of a lotus, you know. You have a bud, and then it's opening out; petal by petal by petal...The more you look into it, the more petals seem to come out, you know, more layers seem to expose themselves to you. So, you go to the pollen ultimately, to the absolute centre. Now, what worries me Sunil is this. Now, we were talking about an item just being an item and it's the question of what you put into it and how you do it. Today, the modern mind doesn't always agree with this.
Leela Venkataraman: Because now they say, 'No. Its not how you say it, but what you say that is important.'
What you say is important. It has to be relevant to society. It has to mean something to the young people. What is all this Krishna and Rama business? What is all this old stuff? It doesn't mean anything today. All this devotion has no meaning whatsoever. You take something which is of relevance to society and you say something which is very important in today's world. Take up issues.
Now, this is where there is this big difference that has come in. And how...classical dance is going to deal with it?
Sunil Kothari: Leela, my personal experience. I started doing the dance appreciation courses with the great masters, Kelu Babu, Pankaj Babu, Kalyanasundaram Sir, all this, Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, Kalanidhi Narayanan, Birju Maharaj. Now, that became my school because I wanted to share the joy. ' Goonge ko sapan bhayo...' One who is dumb, he got a dream and he wants to say the dream. But, then goonga(a dumb person) how will he say the dream? So I used to tell, "Kelu saab, ye goonge ko sapan bhayo...woh kaise dikhayenge?" (" Kelu sir, this dumb person (I) has got a dream...how will we show it?") He said, "Koi baat nahi, mein karoonga dance aap ke liye" ("Don't worry, I will dance for you") So, that is the way one had an enty point into the dance form.
Sunil Kothari: Chandralekha, as you know, a very dear friend. She said, "You have an ability, Sunil. Very interestingly, you say, ' When the lotus will bloom, through the sun, you make a line (demonstrating) like that."
"You can connect the sun and the moon with one finger"
What a fantastic poetry of this (gesturing). What a beautiful way...So, its true that the hands speak. When the hands speak, when the eyes speak, when the face speaks with the face's registered emotions et cetera; it gives to me very parallel poetry.
Leela Venkataraman: You know, Birju Maharaj used to talk about this. One day he said, " Yeh hamara sharir hai. Mein sharir ke saath yun (gesturing) karoonga. Toh yun karnese mere anguli jo hai (gesturing) yahan tak jata hai. Lekin agar mere dance sirf wahan tak rehe jaye, jo drushya main logon ko de raha hun, woh yahan tak reh jaye, toh kuch nahi hai. Jab mein aise karoonga...
" ("This is my body. I will do this with my body (gesturing). When I do this (gesturing), my finger goes till here. But, if my dance stays till here (finger), then what I want to portray to the audience if it is limited till here, then it's nothing. When I do this...") "...the whole...It has to be a broader movement which covers everything there. If I..if my body can not convey that, then there is no use in my trying to be a dancer."
Leela Venkataraman: Now, this is what once Kelu babu was showing, you know, sitting in a chouka
and he was going round and he was asking people to do it. This was in a demonstration during the Angika
seminar. And, everybody was doing it with varying degrees of proficiency. They were all youngsters after all. Not doing it very well. Then, Kelu babu got up from...he was sitting besides the mardala
. He got up and he squatted in the chouka
and he went round. You believe it or not Sunil, I felt that that whole space was moving.
Leela Venkataraman: What was it? What was the energy in that movement that made it go so much beyond itself, that the micro became the macro? You see, that is dance.
Sunil Kothari: This is a parallel. I was watching one day Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, in Bombay. K. Bharath Nair was sitting there next to me and then he just raised two eyebrows - up. And before us, though I don't know Malayalam et cetera, he scaled the height of the Himalayas. With two eyebrows, this power of creating space...Even now when I am talking, my hair is standing on its roots. Because this is an amazing power..
Leela Venkataraman: But, that is from the inner energy. Inner energy you put into it and it has nothing to do with, you know, other things. And that is why, I ...I value this art so much. If the body can do that...the body which is (Sunil Kothari: Yes, become one with body...) wonderful instrument. But, also the most vulnerable instrument. (Sunil Kothari: Very vulnerable) If with this, you can convey like that, what greater thing can you need? And I hope, my interest in it will last till the end.
Sunil Kothari: Chandra used to say...
Ranjana: Leelaji, I just want to go back to a point you were making previously about...we were talking about relevance. But, at the same time, don't you feel that there is this valuable strand of...someone used the term moral policing yesterday, but there are a lot of things being said about what the dance should be. So that is something that goes on...
Leela venkataraman: Ya. That is one of the things I am going to talk about today. You see, we all have to develop a lot of...a much more open mind. We want this dance to go everywhere. But, then ultimately, we want it to remain what it remained in the village in Orissa and in this little place. It's not going to be like that. (Sunil Kothari: Correct.)
Leela Venkataraman: You see. Because, its going to find space to live and to be practised, to evolve, to grow, in so...I mean, in so many cultures. So, all those influences are going to come in. And you must have an open mind. You can have your own opinions. Nobody says no. But, you must have an open mind to be able to look at each thing as something for itself and then say, 'Is this aesthetic or not aesthetic?' Now, suppose when somebody says he is doing Odissi and it doesn't have a single feature. The music is different, the movements are a mish-mash, the percussion is not the same, the language of course is totally different; and then you say, this is Odissi. Sorry. That is a little difficult...you can say, that you were inspired by Odissi in the first place by watching it, and its a take off from there and you have done something of your own and which is completely different. I am willing to accept that.
Leela Venkataraman: But, when you say it is Odissi, some elements of Odissi which give it that identity, will have to be there. But, above that...
Sunil Kothari: See, what we watch in the west...both of us face this problem many times. We are honest people. That why it is that we are lost while watching contemporary dance? So, our friend by the name Anusha Lall would say, "Sunil, on the spot what I want to do I do and I am doing it as a person. Whether it reaches to (?) is not very important.' So, there is a different point of view that 'I will do what I want to do. You may interpret the way you want to interpret.' Now, this is another approach. Now, we don't say that.
Sunil Kothari: When we say , "Madana manohara vesham...
" We know, how beautifully the way she comes, and "Sakachagraha chumbana danam...
" 'Yesterday', she says, "Sakhi he. Kesi mathanam udhaaram...
" She says that "Krishna came and (?). Guruji turned around and he was bald. There was no hair.
Leela Venkataraman: When he did mama ruchire chikure...
and he would show this, you know. You saw Radha in lustrous hair. Where did that come from?
Sunil Kothari: Like yesterday Kedar said very beautifully. Kedar said, "There was one man, some ordinary fellow. And then he was dark, and he was eating paan
and he had put on one dhoti
, yellow coloured and...said 'Chandana charchita, neela kalevara, peeta vasana Vanamali....
' (Song four of Jayadeva's Gita Govinda) ('His blue body sandal-smeared, a garland on his breast, in golden garments dressed...') He saw Krishna! And it was Jayadeva. So, we do not know where these miracles come...these mysteries come from where? Therefore, I think, for me or Leela or our generation, the dance will not stop for us.
Sunil Kothari: As she said that, "I can watch that pallavi
again and again; and I often say that body can fall into hundreds of shapes. That miracle, I am always curious to know...how does this body fall into so many shapes? One body. What do you come with...Chandralekha said, "Sunil, we come with one body." How does this body evoke...I mean.
In our Indian aesthetics, ultimately, 'Natya Shastra'...is the dancer whose bhava
which evokes rasa
into us, and that ultimately is the final criteria of a rasa
. Otherwise, Indian aesthetics cannot stand on its own. Today there is Plato, Aristotle...how is Indian aesthetics? So, that rasanubhava
(experience of rasa
) is the ultimate...that you and I have the rasa
. If you enjoy the rasa
, you made it...
Leela Venkataraman: You know, ultimately also, you know, we have to have...an open mind - interaction. We have to have people who discuss and write; people who are in the know of things, you know. There are too many people who, I am afraid, are ill-informed today, who are writing. It's not enough to have a good pen, in the sense that you have a good language, you must know something, otherwise its difficult.
Sunil Kothari: I think it's a very nice way to stop.
(All laughing) Sunil Kothari: We both are in...a very good mood (Leela Venkataraman laughing) to talk. We have never spoken that, both of us. Never sat like that and so we would like to have a copy of this also.
Ranjana: Yes, it's going to be online.
Sunil Kothari: But, how do we get a copy of...because online won't work for us. We will need a CD.
Ranjana: Okay. We could send you a CD.
Leela Venkataraman: That's very sweet of you. That would be lovely.
Sunil Kothari: We would like to have...because this...this will never happen with me and Leela. We have many hundreds of things that need our attention. Sometimes I am restless, I want to go out. I say, "Leelaji, I want to go."
"Okay. You go."
But still, I like to be with her. I don't want to go away. Even, I want to see what is happening there. As I say, the curiosity has not ended with us still...
Leela Venkataraman: You know, one of the reasons I...people ask me, "What is it that you find so much in common with Sunil?"
I say, "One of the things is our passion for the dance."
(Sunil Kothari: Yes. Both of us have this tremendous passion)
We share this passion and people do writing and reading as a kind of, a duty. With us, I think, it is much more than that. It is something which we love. You see, writing is 'by the way' and I hope that continues.
Sunil Kothari: Of course, we produce tomes, we produce books and all, but still the passion...