Posts Tagged ‘Chitresh Das’

It’s been a rough start to 2015, hasn’t it? I hope that wherever you are, in whatever corner of this beautiful, complex and devastating world, you are safe and well. In light of the events in Paris, the senseless violence, it feels trite to post about the other musings and reflections that caught my attention this past week. However, as always, they focus on art and writing, and while it may be difficult to believe this week that the pen is mightier than the sword, it’s important, necessary even, that we uphold this belief to be true. Because the alternative is just too terrifying.

Kathak dance

Chitresh Das

Pandit Chitresh Das. Photo by Marty Sohl.

On Sunday, January 4th, Pandit Chitresh Das, guru (in the true meaning of the word) to my own kathak dance teacher, passed away suddenly. He represented an increasingly rare combination of talent, dedication, vision and energy. That he should pass away with such suddenness, like a flame snuffed out, is a shock to all, and yet, somehow, the only fitting way, just much, much too soon. He would not have abided by a drawn-out farewell. And now, that flame burns on in the hundreds of students he has taught, in his own disciples, amazing artists in their own right, in whom he cultivated the strength and vision to continue his legacy.

Here is a collection of clips of him and of his incredible dance company performing and practicing. Do take a look, you’ll be enriched. For a brief glimpse into his history, read this lovely remembrance. Dancers from my own dance organization, Chhandika, closely affiliated with Pandit Das’ school in California, share their reactions here. And writer Sandip Roy pulls together a good audio clip here.

Indian literature: the Murty Classical Library

Harvard University Press sets about to make the vast and diverse classical literature of India accessible to the general reader. This means some 500 books over the course of the next century (imagine starting a 100-year project!) in over a dozen languages. The series “debunks the myth of a Hindu orthodoxy as being the only classicism we have,” said Arshia Sattar, an independent scholar and translator in Bangalore. (Thanks to Michael Warres for bringing this to my attention.)

Meanwhile, Columbia professor John H. McWhorter predicts that in a hundred years, “it is possible that only 600 languages will be left on the planet as opposed to today’s 6,000.”

Literary podcasts

Friend and fellow author Nayomi Munaweera, whose book, Island of a Thousand Mirrors, is a beautiful, devastating and necessary read, recently put out a call for literary podcast suggestions. The answers came pouring in, and I look forward to exploring them. They included:

OtherPpl with Brad Listi (via Neelanjana Banerjee)
Bookworm (also via Neelanjana)
A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment with Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter (via Andrea Gutierrez @AndreaGtrrz)
Rachel Cruz’s The Blood-Jet Radio (via Melissa Rae Sipin-Gabon)
New Yorker Fiction (via Miriam Leah Medow)
Selected Shorts (also via Miriam)

To which I add the BookRiot podcast, The Readers, and Books On the Nightstand. Now if only I had a little commute during which to listen to such things.

Writing and women: Why do Women Have to Abandon Their Lives to Find Themselves? In defense of civilized self-discovery.

Freelance writer Elissa Strauss wrote about her ambivalence about “Wild,” the book by Cheryl Strayed that was recently made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. It’s a thought provoking read, and the comment string on the Facebook page of a group to which I belong was long, respectful, engaged, analytical and well written. The type of online discussion that rekindles my faith in humanity. It raised issues of “finding oneself,” of the privilege of trying to do so, of women feeling they need to leave everything behind, of groundedness in nature versus “civilization,” of whether women should or do expect to find their reflections in the stories of others, of finding one’s way “through” versus “out,” and more.

 

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Raja Ravi Varma, Goddess Saraswati

The recent and horrific gang rape of a young woman in Delhi who subsequently died from the injuries inflicted during her ordeal has catapulted India’s women into the headlines of media around the world. Someone recently asked me what I thought of this. Is this good for India or bad, she asked. She went on to say that she assumes it will be terrible for tourism. She, for one, would hesitate to go now.

I found myself having several concurrent and conflicting responses. There are so many things to think, it’s difficult to untangle them. As a person of Indian heritage, I felt my hackles rise in defense of a country that has so much culture, tradition, integrity, beauty and richness. Specifically as a woman of Indian heritage, I wanted to remind my friend that India, unlike many more “developed” nations, has in the past elected female prime ministers. As a practical, realistic person, I wanted to point out that this type of thing surely happens in India, and in other countries, much more than one wants to imagine. As a woman traveler, having felt the eyes and hands of strange men in buses and crowded streets in foreign (and not so foreign) countries, I understood her visceral fear.

Indians are trying hard to make the recent tragedy count for something. To that end, the extensive media coverage is a good thing. Public scrutiny, foreign scrutiny, internal scrutiny, these are what can really shake up the status quo. Add to that powerful awareness-building movements such as last week’s Feb 14th One Billion Rising and you have a recipe for change.

But how does one untangle India’s deep, long history of treating women as both sacred and profane? Of venerating female deities—among them Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, music, arts and science whose annual celebration, Saraswati Puja, was just two days ago—while denying some female children education? Of worshiping one’s own mother while copping a feel at someone else’s in the street? Of viewing female temple dancers as auspicious vessels of the divine, yet paying those temples for their more carnal services, as experienced by the central character in Faint Promise of Rain?

Perhaps one doesn’t untangle. One just acts. One takes what is good, and beautiful, and strong, and just, and one spreads it as best one can until it pushes out the rest. In a reversal of the last juxtaposition mentioned above, the New Light Foundation in Kolkata is working with (among others) the children of sex workers to empower them to find opportunities for themselves beyond the world their mothers have inhabited, and has included kathak dance classes as a means toward this empowerment. Kathak, the very dance that originated in those Hindu temples many hundreds of years ago. Pandit Chitresh Das, master kathak dancer and teacher, and the Kolkata branch of his school, has been involved with New Light:

Five years after this clip was shot, another was made with girls from New Light dancing, on the occasion of One Billion Rising. (Thanks to my mother Sara Mitter, author of Dharma’s Daughters who has worked with the New Light founder, Urmi Basu, for calling this to my attention.)

The videos speak for themselves. There are changes to be made. There are changes being made. So yes, I say to my friend. Absolutely. Go to India.

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