Interview with Kumkum Lal
Duration: 01:07:18; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 36.800; Saturation: 0.166; Lightness: 0.426; Volume: 0.124; Cuts per Minute: 2.110; Words per Minute: 108.015
Summary: 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.
Kumkum's family loves music and dance; at 4, she was packed off to dance classes in the style of Uday Shankar. Later, she learnt Bharatanatyam in Delhi and creative dance at Modern School - she still fondly recalls her teacher Narendra Sharma, who was an important influence in her early years in dance. She has been witness to a creative period in Odissi - the dance had just been classicised and new choreography served to establish its identity and style.
In the first part of a two-part interview, she recounts her early life and paints a picture of the Odissi of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, beginning with his visits to Delhi in the 1960s, and touching on the time he spent in Bombay, working with independent artists, and later teaching at the NCPA. She speaks of his choreographic process - how she watched the dance take shape, and how she began she understand the deeper meanings behind each composition.
Ranjana: You could start with your early life, again. In Patna.
Indian contemporary dance
Kumkum: Patna is where my father was posted. My father was very interested in all the arts. My father would do plays, and he was very interested in indigenous art forms. And, naturally his daughter was put into the dance class which was available, which was Shri Hari Uppal's, who had studied with Uday Shankar and at Shantiniketan. So those days the only two classical forms which were prevalent and widespread - one was Manipuri, because Shantiniketan was promoting it; and the other was Kathakali, which Uday Shankar had also picked up and got a teacher there (Almora - Uday Shankar's dream school of Indian dances).
And these two forms were not 'tainted' by women dancers of 'disrepute'. So that was girls were taught. And that is what I was taught at the age of four, when I started dancing. Subsequently, we moved to Delhi, and in Delhi the classical style which was being taught at various places or which was very well-known was Bharatanatyam, so there were several teachers of Bharatanatyam, and Guru Ramaswamy Pillai, who was from the Vazhuvoor style, which is the more graceful style, not the Pandanallur style. He used to teach that and he was employed by Triveni Kala Sangam, which used to be on the fourth floor in one of the flats in Connaught Place at that time.
Triveni Kala Sangam
And of course, Guru Ramaswamy Pillai never knew any Hindi or English. So he would talk to me in Tamil. So that is how I started learning Bharatanatyam. Triveni moved to its present premises subsequently and I learnt uptil the Varnam over there.
But after seeing Indrani Rahman do Odissi, one fell in love with that style because it was so charming and the music was so sweet.
Ranjana: When did you see her dance?
Kumkum: This must have been around...maybe, '57-58? But there was no teacher in Delhi. Then, later on, I heard that there was a student of Guruji's who had come on a scholarship to learn Kathak from Birju Maharaj. That was Guru Harekrishna Behera.
So, he was contacted. Meanwhile, of course, I was in Modern School. So I was regularly doing creative dance, and learning from Shri Narendra Sharma, who was one of the outstanding disciples of Uday Shankar, having been trained in Almora. So, in Modern School we had that, and I was always dancing that. Anyway...
Ranjana: No, you should talk about that, about Modern School.
Kumkum: (laughs, then continues) Well, Modern School, it was a very interesting experience to learn dance from Narendra Sharma because we had eight houses, no, twelve houses; so every House had a little dance performance on the House Day. And so he used to create small dance pieces - maybe a rainy day - and then you were a cloud or the rain or something like that. Another thing was mirrors; so then there would be two dancers opposite each other and they would be...(demonstrates mirror image movement).
Every time, a new idea had to be done. It wasn't like Devi, or a puja dance, nothing like that. Very creative dancing, Sharmaji. And of course, during the annual day we would have dance dramas based on Tagore - Tasher Desh, Muktadhara. So I kept up my dancing with that, and Bharatanatyam...
Ranjana: And, going back to what you said about Indrani Rahman, could you describe the performance, if you remember some of it?
Kumkum: See, in those days, several dancers were doing more than one style in their performance. In fact, some people, Yamini (Krishnamurti) also; they would one-third Bharatanatyam, one-third Kuchipudi and one-third Odissi. This was the fashion those days. Indrani Rahman used to do Bharatanatyam and then she would do the Manduka-shabdam from Kuchipudi, and then she would do two or three Odissi items. I remember there was this Ganapati dance that she would do and then some very simple abhinaya.
stylistic conventions in Odissi
But, you know, it was so sweet and it was so charmingly done that everybody used to love it and be completely charmed by it when she danced. And she, of course, was very revolutionary because she had shed the chunni. Because the Odissi dancer those days used to be dressed up in a very musty kind of way. She would be wearing a full-length velvet blouse, and then she would have a thick chunni coming down (down her breasts) and then some salma-sitare ka belt (along her waist), and then very heavily painted on the face.
So the expression wouldn't show. So she (Indrani) did away with all that. She simplified it. She did away with the chunni altogether, and she was tying the sari in a very simple way, without the natawari. And she started wearing silver jewellery.
Ranjana: Natawari is the...?
Kumkum: The cloth that covers the bottom. Because the bottom, from the back, might look very untidy and all. So, they cover it up with that. Earlier they used to tie a cloth. And now we have (tailored hip-pieces). She was fortunately very slim. She used to be Miss India, you know.
So, that, and she changed the jewellery to silver jewellery. Because the belt used to be silver. She of course, changed the belt and everything. She took some very artistic pieces. Which was absolutely a no-no. Because, earlier, the rule was that above the neck you always wore gold, and below the neck, you could silver, and on the feet, of course, you must wear silver. And she changed this whole thing. So for the purists of that time, it was quite shocking.
I remember that when I started, I was told very strictly to wear gold above the neck. But then everybody was influenced by Yamini Krishnamurti. And most people said - how can this be - gold and silver worn together?
Ranjana: This was Harekrushna Behera who told you to wear gold?
Who told you to wear gold?
Kumkum: We were wearing gold; conventionally, everybody wore gold.
Ranjana: But you said that you were told...
Kumkum: Guruji (Kelucharan Mohapatra) was very particular. He was particular. Until he couldn't stem the tide of opinion and people wanted to wear silver...
You see all the old photographs of Sanjukta - you will find only gold jewellery. All the old photographs.
But at some point, I think in the mid-1960s or something. Sonal (Mansingh) also used to wear gold. But at some point in the late 1960s, it changed over to silver. Because the understanding was that only lower-caste people wore silver on top (above the waist). And the reasonable classes wore gold above but they could never wear gold on the feet. That, only royalty could do.
So these are the commonplace rules. Indrani Rahman had brought about this revolution and she simplified the fussy kind of Odissi that was there. And it was very nice to watch. And then I started learning from Harekrushna Behera, who used to live in the premises of Bharatiya Kala Kendra, where Kathak Kendra was based.
Ranjana: Today is your Tuesday fast.
Ranjana: You were talking about the gold jewellery.
Kumkum: So, in those days, when we started, we were wearing gold jewellery on top and silver below. And we would always wear chita (sandal paste). That was also compulsory. Initially, we always used to tie (drape) our dress.
Ranjana: What is the kind of dress you would wear?
Kumkum: Earlier, people would wear Banarasi sarees also. By the time I started learning, they were wearing sambalpuri sarees. And the chunni was not made out of the sari. It was usually made of Banarasi material or...I was also wearing a chunni. Because I was very slim at that time and I wanted, like Indrani Rahman...chunni mat pehno (not to wear a chunni), so I had this very thing chunni. So we used to wear this very thin nylon or net chunni.
Then what Harebabu did was - he said, the chunni will have to be worn, so he stuck the chunni on my blouse. So my midriff was not covered. In those days, I was so slim, it was okay. In my earliest photographs, I have got chunnis like that (v-shaped). Subsequently, I started wearing the same thing (the one-shouldered drape). And finally, it was made out of a sari, which is very comfortable if your midriff is not that slim.
So Guru Harekrushna Behera who is commonly known as Harebabu. He was one of Guruji's favourite students because he was so sincere. He had come from Balasore to learn from him. He was very meticulous; he used to write down everything that he learned. And whenever we used to forget anything, we would go to him because we had it all written down.
But, lately, when I went to him, he said that there was a time when there was some rain and flood in his house and everything got spoiled. He used to come home three times a week - the room that had removable beds, that's where he used to play the tabla in the house. And Odissi - I loved it, because it was so graceful - in those days, the mudras were also not fixed. Like when we do this thing (a stance in mayura). In those days, we would just do it like this (katakamukha to alapadma).
All this was done in the early 60s or mid 60s when Guruji started polishing the style. In that time, we used to do mangalacharan and do batu in the same item. We would do mangalacharan - the bhumi pranam, and then we went to touch all the instruments - on the stage during the performance, and then we did batu, which was much shorter, much simpler, more charming. Just now, it is a proper exercise to do it, very tough. But at that time it was not like that.
So that was one item...
And, as you know, the system of teaching, the methodology of teaching, was different from what it is today. The steppings are ten in chowka and ten in tribhanga. Earlier, we had six groups of steppings, four in each, so twenty-four steps. But they were mixed-up. Some of the steps now look very antiquated, or in many ways, new. Because nobody does those steppings now. But I think that they are very useful and it is also like a lexicon of steppings, because you always refer to - do the second step of the fourth group, and so on. So it is also like a reference point.
Whereas today's steppings are very good for exercise and for learning. These steppings also, I may tell you, were created by Guruji because when he started teaching outside Orissa and he could not teach for a longish period of time; he had to teach then in a short time. And they were already dancers. Then through these steppings, they could get into the mould of Odissi. And then, straightaway, an item was taught to them.
So, within a restricted period of one or two months, he could train a dancer, and it would be very intensive. Because it would be every day. And at that time, he realised he couldn't teach all the twenty-four steps. So he created this. Initially it used to be only till 6. I remember; I think it was about the time he started going to Bombay, which was when I moved there, from 1980, when these chowka-tribhangi steppings came up. And uptil then, when he was teaching us - all of us were already dancers and he didn't need to teach steppings when he would come to Delhi for his workshops.
Anyway, this is about stepping. As far as I am concerned, Guru Harekrushna Behera taught me very regularly and very meticulously everything that Guruji had learnt. And then in the summers he would come back to Orissa and pick up whatever Guruji had done during the rest of the year and then come back and teach me. And then around 1963-64, Guruji changed the batu, the mangalacharan and the moksha. In fact, for one or two years, it was in a state of flux. And I found some things which I had learnt in mangalacharan had gone to the moksha and what was in the moksha had come here - till it completely settled down to what it was - today.
The other thing that Guruji did at that time was that he became true to the bols, and he tried to make the tala interpretation more perfect. And the extreme example of that is batu, where every syllable is brought out by the foot. You can't do kada-taka, you have to do ka-da-ta-ka. So that was something he did with the batu - it's an exercise over there. This happened in the early 60s. He was in a very creative mood and he redid whatever he had - older items which he himself had created - he polished it and made them like this.
I have learnt the old batu as well; some of it I still remember. I know how simple it used to be. I have performed that batu and then subsequently this new batu come. And the repertoire was also built up - the mangalacharan and batu became separate, the touching of the instruments vanished.
Ranjana: Were there pallavis already being composed?
Kumkum: There were two pallavis - Kalyan and Vasant. These were the only two pallavis that were being done in those days, in the early days. Then, in the early 60s, it was a creative period of his - he created Shankarabharanam with Kumkum (Mohanty), Saveri - maybe with Sonal, I am not sure, and Mohana. These three were the mixed group of pallavis created by him. And also the Vasant Pallavi underwent some change. Ranjana: Did all the initial pallavis have a sloka to go with them?
Kumkum: No, the most initial ones - Kalyan and Vasant had them. And we always performed them with the sloka.
Ranjana: And what was the logic of the sloka - it was a sloka about the raga?
Kumkum: Yes, absolutely. You know that in music, they have visualised every raga. And the visualisation of the raga has nothing to do with any god and goddess. And it is just the visualisation of the ambience that the raga creates. It was like that. The Kalyan raga has got a more energetic spirit, so there was a warrior involved in that. And Vasant raga is a more free-spirited raga, so it has this very 'mast' person with peacock feathers in his hair. Actually, people think it is Krishna but it is not Krishna.
But at some stage, Guruji decided to do away with that. So then people started performing Kalyan and Vasant without the sloka. And subsequent pallavis never had any sloka. But they had - you see, Guruji and Bhubaneswar Mishra became a team around that time. And a lot of Gita Govinda songs...Guruji's intellectual guide was Kalicharan Pattnaik. So for every song, he would get his meanings very clear from him, and the music was done by Bhubaneswar Mishra, who was such a nice man and so kind and he was so generous with his giving. We owe so much to him but I think the world never gave him back anything. He was just...
Ranjana: Can you say more about how they composed...as a team?
Kumkum:Well, at that time I was a very young person. Later on, I can jump then, because...
Ranjana: No, don't jump, you can come to it later.
Kumkum: When I was learning from Harekrushna Behera, he had opened a little school called Nritya Niketan in this marketplace called Bhagat Singh Market, which is near Gol Market in Delhi. And so in the first floor flat, of one Mr. Khosla - Mr. Khosla's daughter used to learn and his granddaughter used to learn, and he was a widower, so he just gave his flat and in his drawing room was the so-called school and when Guruji started coming he would be given one bedroom. We used to go there...Guruji started coming, Harekrushna Behera first got Surendranath Jena to help him.
Bharatiya Kala Kendra
But Surendranath Jena...Harekrushna Behera never used to be there during the day because he was a student; he'd just come late in the evening. So then you know how it is - students and gurus - they got together...then Surendranath Jena was planted at Triveni by some of his students. Namely Frederique (Appfel-Marglin), who has written a book on maharis and Usha Chettur, who was Radhika Jha's mother. So, he went away.
Then, Harekrushna Behera brought Mayadhar Rout, who was very well-known for his abhinaya. His abhinaya was very good. And he had been to Kalakshetra - I mean, there were many people who had been to Kalakshetra. So the viniyogas and all have all come from there. He did some abhinayas, he taught us - I also learnt from him. We were learning from both the gurus. But then he also separated and he went off to Bharatiya Kala Kendra. And then, finally, Guruji came.
Guruji came - he used to stay for two to three months. We used to all go for class. We used to have one-to-one classes in those days. I mean, I have learnt yahi madhava and all that...there was one other girl with me; she was a professional dancer from Bharatiya Kala Kendra. And she found Guruji's teaching very slow, because he used to enjoy himself. He would explain everything very well. Something that was later on not done at all. Each word, each thing, each sanchari was...he used to take time.
One week passed, but we would still be on the first stanza. She left in the middle, because she said - this guru takes too long to teach. But I remember his words - how he taught Yahi madhava. Each of the comparisons that he gave.
He also did a ballet. Dance drama. He did Kanchi Vijay (Kanchi Abhijan). In that, the heroine was Sonal Mansingh. Sonal was also learning. At that time, Rani Karnaa was also coming there regularly. These people were proper students of Guruji's. And Yamini also came to learn a few items, so she would also come there. And then any other person; Kumkum (Mohanty) would come when she came to Delhi. So that little flat in Bhagat Singh market had all these luminaries coming to learn from Guruji.
Kanchi Vijay - the raja was Harekrushna Behera and Sonal was the Padmavati. And Rani Karnaa was the curd seller. I was doing Krishna's role or something like that. I was a kid at that time - not kid, but a younger dancer. So, in that Kanchi Vijay - for the dance drama, Guruji had composed Harir iha mugdha vadhunikare. It was part of that. The music had been composed by...just now, my memory is not working too well, but I can let you know.
Harir iha was composed as a puja dance. I remember we used to all enter with a thali and do the puja - ringing the temple bells and all that, and then harir iha directly to the idol. Then, Dasavatara was also part of it but Guruji composed vedanudharate, which is a sloka before the Dasavatara, in which all the avatars are listed. Beautiful music - Bhubaneswar Mishra's music. It was a lovely piece. I have unfortunately not performed it. It can easily be done as a mangalacharan.
And then there were many other songs which were there. So Guruji started coming and we were introduced to him. I had seen Guruji for the first time when he got the award - the SNA award. In those days, we were very enamoured of Indrani Rahman, so when I saw him - you know, he has a small face and he was playing the pakhawaj, and Balakrishna Dash was sitting imposingly, so I thought he must be Kelucharan Mohapatra. Guruji's face was pockmarked and his hair was receding. That was my first introduction to him. After that, he mesmerised all of us with his personality and his dance.
I mean, he was not dancing in those days at all, but he was very involved as a teacher. So, and then he used to...he was a freelancer. He never joined the Utkal (Sangeet) Mahavidyalaya where Pankaj babu and Deba babu had joined as teachers. And they were regulars over there. Guruji did not join them. He was with Kala Vikash Kendra for some time; he was committed to KVK because Babulal Doshi was so dedicated to the art. But he did not want to...he was there as a staff member for some time, but the n he freed himself of that position also. And then he used to only teach in the summertime. He would take what was known as the 'condensed course' in those days. We used to all go for condensed course.
Kala Vikash Kendra
Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya
And for three months, he would be teaching there.
Ranjana: At Kala Vikash Kendra?
Kumkum: At Kala Vikash Kendra. And people would come from outside to learn. That was the holiday time, so all the Utkal Mahavidyalaya students would come to learn from him at that time. That is why all these boys...men who are teachers - they always claim to have learnt from all three teachers.
But the other teachers had a handful of items...because they used to teach what was in the syllabus - that is all you will see amongst all these people, except some who were their private students. Then from Guruji they would get this whole bhandar of items.
In 1970 or 71, I came and stayed at the KVK hostel and we were here - some two-three girls from Delhi had come. Nalini and Veena and Darshana - who was the tailor's daughter - underneath Khosla's flat there was a tailor and that was Darshana - she is now teaching in a school.
So we had come from Delhi. It was a big thing - Delhi girls have come to Cuttack! That first year, Guruji decided to do 'vibhushana pushpe' in the style of a varnam. At that time, Bhubaneswar Mishra was there and he was doing the music. Varnam style means one stanza of abhinaya and then a dance. And then, like that, he built it up. It was a chhanda, anyway; there was no dhruva - refrain, and towards the end, in the last stanza, the speed picked up. It was a big construction; it was a 30 minute item. And very beautifully done. Guruji was in his prime at that time. And he put in a lot of poses from Konark. Now this item was a very heavy item. Thirty minutes.
I did it for my manchapravesh, which was soon after. Of course, after I had learnt it and gone back to Delhi, everybody was waiting - what did you learn, they wanted to know. Sonal took the item and learnt it and then Harebabu also learnt it. So I performed it once in my manchapravesh and I think Sonal performed it once. And subsequently nobody has performed it and the item seems to have been lost.
Ranjana: Do you still remember it?
Kumkum: I remember part of it but there are gaps because I have never performed it afterwards. So I went to Harebabu and said - you had written the whole thing down. And that's when he hunted down all his papers and said that it seems to have been thrown away when...whatever happened.
I am now just going to try one more person. Because it was such a beautiful item. Guruji did so many compositions and because they were not performed, and in those days we were not in the habit of writing it down because our memories were so good, many things have been lost I think. So, at that time, we were all staying in the hostel and Guruji would come dot (sic) on time in the mornings. At ten. Till 2, in the sweaty weather of May and June, we would be practising. So then it was very methodically done. Exercises were done. Stepping was not done. There were exercises, then items, and then he would go away at 2 in the blazing heat. He had a Vicky that he used to drive. He would go home, he would have his lunch and rest and 5 he was back here.
And we would go to sleep and just about be able to open our eyes and come. Guruji was full of energy and his memory was sharp in those days. Then we would be practising and then this item would be composed. Bhubaneswar Mishra was also there. And I remember classes used to continue till 2 o' clock and then we would make omelette for him in our rooms, and tea, and take it up.
When he was composing an item, he would usually take one dancer who could pick up fast and the others would then follow behind. So I think, in the nights, we used to stay back, or the boys would stay. Ramani Babu was there, Lingaraj was there, and one year, Gangabhai was there.
Ranjana: This is Lingaraj Swain?
Kumkum: There are many Lingaraj-es, I'm not sure. Ramani Babu used to live on the campus too.
So that was a very good period for us - to be dancing from morning to evening. Pura badan jo hain woh charara (?) hota hain - khub badiya...it makes a lot of difference.
So this is how it continued - Guruji would come to Delhi for a few months and the rest of the time we would practise with Harekrushna Behera and in the summers we would come here. In the second year, we again stayed at KVK, because he said he didn't have a proper bathroom in his house. That is the time I think he composed 'malli mala'. Because when I was walking by the music class, they were practising malli mala in that class. I said - this is such a sweet item, why don't you compose it? That is when malli mala was composed.
He had composed Arabhi Pallavi with Kumkum earlier. But he got the music and he recomposed it with me. I can't remember where we were practising for that. After he recomposed it with me, I don't know how - he used to take me on his Vicky and we would go to Sanjukta's house and Sanjukta then learnt...
Now Arabhi Pallavi then became a new pallavi. And Guruji said, "Don't teach it to anybody. Not even Harebabu." When I came back to Delhi, everybody was waiting to hear what I had learnt. I said that Guruji had said not to teach it. This made Harebabu really feel bad. He was so dedicated to Guruji but at this he was very hurt. And it was like a falling-out at that time.
ahe nila saila
to lagi gopa danda
Khosla's place...he died or whatever, so that packed up. So by that time, my parents had also gone off to Bangkok. I had taken a room in Bengali Market. I used to live there with my dog. And then I called Guruji to Triveni Kala Sangam. So, for two years or more than two years...you want to stop?
Kumkum: So he came to Triveni Kala Sangam and taught there for a month or two. And Harebabu, in the meantime, because this place had packed up - he was taken in by Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. And Madhavi (Mudgal) was a Kathak dancer till then. And Madhavi started learning Odissi from Harekrishna Behera. I also started going there for my practice.
This was in 1974 - Guruji started coming to Triveni Kala Sangam. And that was when Madhavi first came to Guruji. She started learning from him in that workshop in Triveni Kala Sangam. Sharon (Lowen) used to learn Manipuri from Guru Singhajit Singh in the next room. So she also was lured into learning Odissi. Guruji's personality and the beauty of the style. And even Charu Mathur, who is now a very well-known Manipuri dancer, Singhajit's wife, she also started learning Odissi.
Ranjana: Any relation to you?
Kumkum: Mathurs are all interrelated. But she is not my direct relation.
Who else started learning at that time? Kavita Sridharani, Mrs. Sridharani's (founder of Triveni Kala Sangam) daughter.
And there we had a very good time. At that place, Guruji again resurrected To lagi. Because these items were done by Kumkum (Mohanty) earlier and Kumkum, for about 8 - 9 years, because of her marriage and postings elsewhere and family - she had two sons, she had stopped dancing. So all the items that we had learnt from Guruji or the ones composed with her - they were not being transferred to other students. Then Guruji picked up 'To lagi' and that is when he reconstructed it the way it is today. I was learning - he taught it to me, and then everybody else learnt.
To lagi, then ahe nila saila, that was composed there. And kanto bina rajani sajani. That is another Oriya song - again not done much. Guruji taught it later in 2000 (?) also.
Where are you going to have lunch?
(A discussion ensues)
Triveni was also quite a creative period. All these things that people are doing today are composed over there. Guruji had a performance over there and...till now, he was only a guru and an accompanist. Nobody ever thought of him as a dancer. But here we had a little dance performance - they had an open air stage. And Guruji did mangalacharan.
After that - Madhavi came in 1974 or '75, I can't remember.
Ranjana: At this time, Surendranath Jena was still teaching (at Triveni)?
Kumkum: He was teaching next door. In fact, in the first year, Guruji had a house there; so in the first year, Guruji was eating in his (Jena's) house. In the second year, his food was done from the canteen.
In fact, even his daughter came to Guruji and she learnt a few items which she subsequently was teaching to her own students. That is Pratibha Jena.
By that time, Surendranath Jena had started doing his own version of Odissi. And it was born not so much out of (?) but because of limitations, because he was not so...I don't know whether I should go into it.
Ranjana: Only if you want to...
Kumkum: He was not so strong on tala, so he was doing his own interpretation of Odissi, which was very much liked by a lot of people. And he was a simple soul, and creative in his own way.
Triveni Kala Sangam
He sent his daughter to learn from Guruji. Guruji's tala, constructions and all were very good. So for two years, Guruji was there and all this happened. Then Madhavi invited him to Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. So then, whenever he came to Delhi, he taught at Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. And we used to have our practice there. In the summers, we started coming...by that time he had started living in his own house. And we used to learn many things there. 1979 was another period when he was very very creative. He created Khamaj Pallavi. I remember I was staying in his house at that time and Sanju (Sanjukta Panigrahi) had brought the music. And she and Raghu bhai (Raghunath Panigrahi) would come every evening and they would stay till late in the night or even stay overnight. And the basic lehera of khamaj was done by Bhubaneswar Mishra. It was built up by Raghu Bhai.
Sanju, that year - her brother had committed suicide; one of her brothers. So she was very disturbed. And so she was not so...her memory was not working so well. I was learning behind her. I then had the privilege of learning the whole thing with her and the pallavi...Khamaj Pallavi was composed there. Then during the daytime Priyambada Mohanty was coming. She wanted to do badhila jani khyama, which is a well known chhanda/ bhajan; lament, rather, in Orissa. She wanted her daughter to learn it.
badhila jani kshyama
Priyambada Hejmadi Mohanty
Now you know how it is with dancers - they will say it is my item, you can't learn it - that sort of thing. So this was Priyambada's item and I couldn't learn...Sanju was very generous that way; you could stand behind her and learn. But with her (Priyambada), I used to just sit down there. What was happening was that - I think Guruji made me stand up because he would make me do it and her daughter - I think Lavanya (her name is Ahalya) is her name - she would do it and Priyambada would just write it down, whereas I was doing it properly. And Guruji said you better learn it and keep it in your head - remember it - or the item will be...once Priyambada goes away, it will be lost.
So I learnt the whole of badhila jani khyama, which is again a very unusual and very beautiful item and nobody else knows it. The history of that item is that when I came to Delhi, there was one program and Guruji said you must do badhila. I said, "No, it's done for Priyambada and she might mind it." He insisted and I did it and it was a big...I remember Kapila Vatysyayan and her mother came and hugged me because it was a bhakti item...very nicely done. But I was told that Priyambada didn't like that very much.
That year he composed this. For me, he composed 'Phulwari Leela', which is from Ramcharitamanas. He had already done Phulwari Leela once with Sonal; then he redid it with me. And when he came to Delhi, he did Yamihe. Yamihe; one very significant thing is that Jivan Pani had done the explanation, had made him understand the song and he used to come there every day, when the composition was going on. Rani Karnaa, Madhavi and I - the three of us learnt this item as it was being composed. At that time, the music was done by Madhup Mudgal. And he used Shree raga because it is an early morning raga. I think so...though, is it an early morning raga?
Raga Misra Khamaj
But actually this is late night (the time of night portrayed in Yamihe).
Ranjana: Shree or Lalit?
Kumkum: It was a very deep raga; it had a lot of gravity. But it was not so bright...
So, then when Guruji and Bhubaneswar Mishra came to Japan, then they recomposed the music of yamihe. That has gone into the CD, and now it is everywhere. I don't think though...people are using it; there is a traditional music of it also.
Ranjana: And the recomposed one is in which raga?
Kumkum: It's in misra khamaj. Very sweet.
Ranjana: What about you during the 70s? You've talked about Guruji, you've talked about Odissi...
Kumkum: I'm supposed to talk about myself? Or my dance life only?
Kumkum: During the Triveni days, the 1970s, my parents naturally wanted me to get married because I was getting older. I used to teach at a college. I was teaching English literature. I lived with my dog in a single room and spending all my time in Triveni, dancing.
I remember, Bhaujo had come one year. Bhaujo, Guruji's wife, and Shibu (Ratikant), had also come with Guruji one year. And Shibu was a very naughty boy at that time. Very fond of icecream and no interest in dance at all. Bhaujo was also making her efforts to get me married. At one dance class, I found one Oriya boy, some judge's son...all that was also happening. Ashok was also staying as a PG...renting a room somewhere. I used to act in plays a lot. Must have been a shortage of women...actresses, because I was acting in plays quite a lot. So we acted together - he had come from back-of-beyond Saharanpur and I was a city woman. I was a well-known actress by then.
Ranjana: This is real-life? Or in the play?
Kumkum: Real-life! Because you asked me, so I'm telling you.
We acted in Andha Yug which is a well-known play by Dharamveer Bharati - a very powerful play about the last days of the Mahabharata. And we did a show in Triveni also, where Guruji, Bhaujo and others were there. Subsequently, Ashok used to take me out for dinner - he would come in a small Bobby motorcycle. Guruji and Bhaujo got familiar with this boy. I remember Bhaujo's expression once, as she was watching me sit on the back of the motorcycle with him. So they know him since then and in 1975 I got married to him.
Many people were saying - don't get married; you will ruin your dance! But the fact of the matter is because he was also an artist, I have been dancing quite a lot after marriage. And then, after marriage, by that time, Guruji had started coming to Gandharva Mahavidyalaya or rather we had started going to Orissa. In 1978 I performed in Khajuraho but I remember, in those days we never had any cellphones. Guruji did not have a phone in his house. You had to send him a telegram; he couldn't read English. So communicating with Guruji in the Cuttack house was a big problem. Send him a letter, wait for the reply. Send a telegram. There used to be one person called Srinivas who used to stay in Guruji's house. And he would do all the elaborate writing, with a lot of flourish - he would write letters on his behalf and we would get the reply.
So when I danced in Khajuraho; unfortunately, the coordination didn't work out and I had to take Trinath Maharana for the performance. It is difficult to imagine those days when communication was so difficult. That is how it was. Guruji's house didn't have running water; we had to take out water from the well. Sleep on the floor, eat on the floor. But it was a pretty little house made with his own hands. Guruji seemed to be very fond of masonry and electrical gadgets. So in the afternoon, when it would be sleeping time, I would often find him perched up on some ledge, cementing some area. He was a workaholic. Not only that - he could focus on several things, give them his complete attention. He would often open up a cassette player and try to understand what it was like. Then put it back. You could ask him about plumbing. He was such a brilliant man, that wherever he applied his mind, he would acquire all the knowledge from there and be able to keep it in his mind.
Talking about gadgetry and all that...we went to...ah, I haven't spoke about Bombay yet.
When Ashok got posted to Bombay, in 1980, I moved to Bombay. By that time, some people had tried to get Guruji there. Jaya Dheer was his student. She had come to Orissa and learnt from him. And she had tried to get him over. They would do dance dramas, she and her husband. And they would get Guruji to do some of the choreography. Protima (Gauri Bedi) knew Jaya, and that is how she got introduced to Guruji. In '76 or '77, Pt. Jasraj's wife, Madhuraji, along with Mukund Lat - Mukund Lat had translated Gita Govinda into Hindi - the lyrics. Jasrajji gave the music for it, and a dance drama was created.
Gita Govinda dance drama
Protima Gauri Bedi
Madhavi was deeply involved. She was playing Krishna, and Radha's role was being done by Shantaram's granddaughter Tejashree, who was not a dancer. But Guruji managed with her initially. One of the performances which was being specially done for Ravi Shankar, Tejashree got chickenpox, and she could not dance. So Guruji said, "You have to come and dance." So I was flown to Bombay, and in three days I had to learn that whole character's - all the songs of Gita Govinda - the whole of Gita Govinda was done.
That is when I got introduced to Protima. That was the first time she started dancing Odissi. Then she became a dedicated Odissi dancer. Another time, Madhavi couldn't go, so I was flown in and I had to do Krishna's role. So I was that spare tyre who was fitting everywhere.
When Ashok and I came on a posting to Bombay in 1980, they had started making efforts and there was this Bhulabhai Desai place where they used to have classes for a year. But the building was going to be broken down - that's the time Jhelum, Anandi, Debi started coming. Some other people too.
When I came, I knew Narayan Menon who was heading NCPA at that time. So I spoke to him and we were able to get the dance room over there for Guruji.
It was very nice because Guruji could stay in their guest house. He would be paid by NCPA. The students could learn free. And the room was airconditioned. So that is when it became a regular feature. Subsequently, Guruji came every year, sometimes, twice a year to Bombay. I was there for three years and I used to move to the guesthouse during that period mostly. At night, Guruji would do compositions with me. Bilahari was composed there; as it happened, Bhubaneswar Mishra had been posted to Bombay. He used to work for AIR. Again the same team used to get together and he would do the sargams...Bilahari and Bihag (pallavis) were composed in Bombay. NCPA gave him a lof of freedom. He could do whatever he wanted.
One year, he composed the champus. All this - khela lola, ki hela re, lila nidhi - everything was composed over there, which we did as a dance drama at that time. The idea was to get all the dancers there - the other dancers, and we would all work together. Kumkum (Mohanty) came, she was doing Krishna's role, and for Radha's role, we had Komal Mahuvarkar, a very pretty girl, very beautiful dancer, but her eyes were on films. But as Radha she did very well. I was doing the sakhi's role. The sakhi had a lot of songs too. Kha-champu was my champu.
Ranjana: Oh, you know khela lola!
Kumkum: It was composed for me only!
Ka was Komal's and josa bara he Kumkum did. I did atasi kusuma and muha nata - very nice songs - they are all the sakhi's songs. Later on, Guruji picked them out from here and made them into full items. In the dance drama also, they were almost full items.
That was done, and the Ramayana was also done. Jatayu moksha and all that.
I haven't told you how Guruji became a performer. In 1979, Gandharva Mahavidyalaya had a performance, and Guruji, in yamihe, for the first time, he did the panchabana. The five flowers which are part of cupid's arrow; each one of them creates a different sentiment in the one affected.
That he was showing in class - how each one came out different. And we said, "Guruji, you are performing so well. Why can't you do it on stage?" And that is the time...for the first time, in 1979, he got on for the programme. He did Priye charusheele, because that was the man's song, and in that he inserted this panchabana. Then they saw him and everybody said - Oh, here's a great performer! That was when he started getting invitations to be a performer.
Later on, he was known as a performer...
Ranjana: Perhaps we should wrap up here...(or I'd miss my train). But complete what you were saying. I don't want to interrupt you.
Kumkum: I had gone back; in Bombay, when we did Ramayana, in that Ramayana, Guruji played Kewat. Kewat Prasang he had done for Sankat Mochan temple. All the rolling on the floor...that was created for that time. I think...for Sankat Mochan...I think this was there.
At that time, Protima said, "Please give me a role!" So Guruji said, "Will you play Ravan?" So she played Ravan...
(To be continued)