Musings of a Dance Devotee

My name is Joanna de Souza, and I have been a disciple of Pandit Chitresh Das since 1978. Although now based back in my home country Canada, and teaching kathak on a full time basis here, I still really enjoy reading India Currents.

My Guruji is an artist who has spent a lifetime developing his own art, selflessly training, educating, building awareness, and community and most importantly teaching artists their place in the ocean of art forms.

In reading through the article by Sri V.P. Dhananjayan (Musings of a Maestro, India Currents, September 2013), I was quite surprised at it’s superficial nature and content. As a learned teacher who obviously spends regular time teaching in the United States, I  wonder if he is aware of how South Asian artistry and teachings have influenced American culture?

I disagree with  idea of “naatya.” The rich heritage of India has given us numerous dance styles, all individual, and all unique, and they should be known by their individual names. If one is truly seeking to establish these forms in North America, the term “dance,”  instead of “naatya” is  much clearer, and more inclusive. As a non South Asian myself, I would never have responded to any tag line referring to the dance as naatya, simply because at that time I would have had no idea what it meant. What one gains through the study of these arts is enormous, and should not in any way be limited to a racial or cultural heritage.

Certainly arangetrams have been part of the South Indian tradition for some time. The concept of them becoming social affairs is not specific to North America by any stretch.  The same thing is happening in India as well.  It is a sign of the times, of contemporary society, placing importance on exterior impressions. Rather than Dhananjayan-ji stating there has been a lack of education, perhaps as a bharatanatyam artist, he should look at the archaic formality of the arangetram itself. Maybe that needs to change.

There have been many dedicated artists who have chosen to make North America their home. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan was responsible for so many students having access to incredible artists and teachers, through his school. My Guruji himself started the kathak dance department there in 1972. Those who teach with deep integrity of spirit and knowledge are “Gurus.” They embody the meaning of the name. The title “Guru” can only be given, it is impossible for one to become a “self appointed Guru.” Similarly, it is ridiculous to appeal that the title be stricken from a great master teacher. It is tradition, it is contemporary, it is the future, and most of all it is truth. It has nothing to do with money, or paying for the opportunities, but about artistic practice, with payment being only through sweat, tears, blood and laughter.

Thank you for your continued work with the magazine.

Joanna de Souza, Canada

Re-writing History

Teed Rockwell does a great job of exposing the fear of the unknown “East” and the biased re-writing of its history by western cultures (Orientophobia, India Currents, October 2013).
The mighty and sophisticated Persian empires that existed for over a thousand years, stretching from the borders of Greece to the borders of China, are forgotten in the West, in preference to ancient Greece and Rome. As Rockwell points out, the elegant looking Persians are wrongly portrayed as tribal savages in the Hollywood movie 300, probably helping the U.S. government justify its “regime change” plans for Iran.

Western nations ignore the fact that the oldest known Declaration of Human Rights was inscribed on clay cylinders by the order of the Zarathushti (Zoroastrian) king, Cyrus the Great, who established the first Persian empire around 539 B.C., and who did not pillage, massacre, rape or focibly convert his conquered subjects, but instead, allowed them to freely practice their own religion and customs. The original Clay Cylinder of Cyrus is on a tour of the world on loan from the British Museum, and is currently on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles until December 2, 2013.

In the same vein, we find the West ignorant of one of the oldest monotheistic religions founded by Prophet Zarathustra (known as Zoroaster by Greek philosophers who studied his teachings) of Iran, over 4,500 years ago, introducing original concepts of one supreme God, heaven and hell, rational thinking, moral accountability of individuals, and resurrection at the end of time, some of which were later incorporated into Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

 Maneck Bhujwala, Huntington Beach, CA

Gratitude and Grievances

Have we lost our real “hunger” for Indian classical music? We love music, we “always like to attend concerts” but we are too busy plan ahead. How can people in Los Angeles have an all-day festival of music and manage to fill their auditorium, whereas patrons in the Bay Area don’t have the patience  to sit and enjoy  even a “mini” festival like the one Bay Area Performing Arts (BAPA) presented on Oct 13th at India Community Center? Despite advertising the event five months in advance, people waited till the very last minute to confirm.

What is the matter with our Bay Area music lovers? Music seems to play second fiddle to ticket price (we attend only if it’s free) and proximity to home. The audience shows up to hear artists like the talented Mahesh Kale, who is popularizing classical music. But we also want to encourage  some brilliant, not so well-known, musicians from India. We request music lovers to mark these events on their calendars and give the artists a chance.

Prabha Gopal, Walnut Creek, CA

Liabilities of Language

It was interesting to read Kalpana Mohan’s article (Who Took the Tamarind Out?, India Currents, October 2013). From my early childhood, I have had plenty of exposure to ayurvedic remedies, especially the oils used as purgatives. My dad, with roots in Kerala, was a regular user of dhanvantharam kuzhambu (an oil variety).  So once while serving lunch, my wife, who came from Delhi, announced that she would be serving kuzhambu, and she meant the Tamil word for sambar. My father who was used to a different form ofkuzhambu was puzzled as to why this was being served for lunch!

K.N. Ganesh, Fremont, CA

Changing Culture

Living in a community that holds many of the same values, I found the article by Viveka Kymal (A Yen for the Arts, India Currents, October 2013) really hit home and brought up several points I’d not considered. It was a fascinating introspection into the changing culture.

Ess Kay, website

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