Wednesday, February 4, 2009

an article

Online edition of India's National NewspaperTuesday, Feb 03, 2009
Young World
When dreams are realised
The message and philosophy of Gandhiji and Martin Luther King have an eternal quality. January 30, the death anniversary of Gandhiji ia celebrated as Sarvodaya Day.
King emphasised that the struggle of the black people for their rights and dignity must remain non violent.
King: Drew inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi
As Barack Obama became the first Black man to live in the White House, “I have a dream…” the speech made by Dr. Martin Luther King at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 was being shown on American TV channels.
King’s delivery of the speech on August 28, 1963, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the march on Washington for jobs and freedom was a defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement. Delivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters, the speech is often considered to be one of the greatest and most notable speeches in history and was ranked the top American speech of the 20th century.
This picture shows Dr. King passionately delivering the speech.
Look again, and you will see that the people standing around him are wearing white Gandhi caps!
The video showed many in the audience were wearing it too. How did that happen?
In the speech, Dr. King emphasised that the struggle of the black people for their rights and dignity must remain non-violent. He drew his inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi.
Both M.K.Gandhi and Martin Luther King died at the hands of assassins, but their message and their philosophy have an eternal quality.
King was fatally shot April 4, 1968, on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, now on the site of the Civil Rights Museum.
Gandhiji was killed January 30, 1948, in New Delhi at Birla House, now the Gandhi Smrithi Museum housing a new multi-media exhibit called “Eternal Gandhi” using the power of information technology.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Amala udayshankar and me

another birthday

I turned 55 on 30th January. Had an extremely busy day with addressing a gethering of students at Vidyodaya school and being a guest of honour with Sarojini Varadappan, the venerable social worker at Womens' volunatry services and then at Asan Memorial school with our poster and spinning contest and the quiz. Combining too many things is always a problem so naturally the quiz got started late. Young Arvind and his team of class 11 of Asan memorial school did such a great job conducting the quiz but I just had to stop him before he concluded as the cyclists on a rally from 9 am entered the hall. The Gandhi Study circle initiative of visiting different schools and culminating at Asan were on time but we were not. So we had to conclude before the quiz was over. Arvind was naturally very upset. Bright young man who knows his mind and is very strict in his work will go a long way. What was heart warming was the way young children braved the spinning on the charkha competition. They sat with determination in their faces and worked on the Charkha. The Charkha looks simple but requires constant monitoring and a knack to work. Mahatma gandhi's great grandson (Ramdas's daughter's son) Shrikrishna Kulkarni joined us on the occassion.

Today I see my article on Amala Udayshankar in The Hindu. While I have been getting so many calls and sms congrajulating me on the article, I do miss the edited out portions. The newspaper has to necessarily cut out some text for space and clarity. Here is the link and the original article.

“I am not a dancer. My life is a dance” says Amala Uday Shankar. She had just come out of K.J.Hospital in Chennai where she addressed little children who had undergone free heart surgeries in a project called “Needy little hearts”. She talked about belief in God and that it is God that sends both misery and joy to life..

90 years old, Amala Shankar is bursting with ideas for future. She plans to visit Almora located on a ridge at the southern edge of the Kumaon Hills of the Himalaya range in the summer and says if the dance centre started there by her late husband, the legendary dancer Uday Shankar is revived, she would be happy to go teach his dance style there every summer. She recalls with affection a letter written in Bengali to her by Gopalakrishna Gandhi, the governor of West Bengal encouraging her to do. “He even signed it in Bengali” she says with a smile. Not just that “I have to write a book to dispell the many misunderstandings of the last days of Uday Shankar” she says with passion. Awe struck, I ask her to tell me about her life with Uday Shankar and dance.

“ I met him in Paris” says Amala, with stars in her eyes. She was eleven and a half in 1931. Her father had gone to Paris for the mega fair “Exposition Coloniale” and they had heard of some Indian artists who were performing there. “I was born in a small village now in Bangladesh”, says Amala. Her father, Akhoy Kumar Nandy, a nationalist following Aurobindo, had founded Economy Jewellery works and was a writer pubising a magazine called Matrimandir. He had been very keen that his children should grow up loving nature and the earth of the village and so his children did all their study in observing nature in the village. It was so beautiful in the village that the girls went to the river to wash hands after every meal. “I would go to the river to get water. As I walked back with the pot on my waist (they wore saris of about three meters long reaching down just below the knee), the wet sari would make a rhythmical noise and I thought I was dancing” says Amala. “Life in the village was beautiful. There was a custom of taking some one else as a mother for one year irrespective of caste. This lady would come and comb our hair, tell stories and we created a bond and called her ma.”

Amala knew no French or English when she accoponied her father to Paris. As she walked on the street people gazed at her and exclaimed in French that she was beautiful. “I was shocked as my mother always lamented that I was too dark and wondered which Kartikerya was doing Tapas to get me.”

In a shop in the exhibition, she saw a group of Indian boys. “They were all very handsome” she says in a whisper and very well dressed. The older of them introduced himself as Uday Shankar and invited her home. He told her that he had a little brother ( Ravi Shankar ) she might like to play with at home and their mother would give a good meal. When she went to their house with her father, Amala saw Uday Shankar wearing a Khadi kurta, pyjama and playing basket ball with his brothers. His mother Hemangini Devi saw the girl wearing a frock, took her in and dressed her up in a sari lending her own. “Soon she took me in as a daughter, taught me cooking and made me play with the young Ravi Shankar” says Amala.

“I was mesmerised when I saw Uday Shankar’s dance show. Until then I had only seen Jatra in the village . The Gandharva dance, the costumes and the musical instruments took me to another world” Amala began to spend more and more time in Uday Shankar’s house playing with Ravi Shankar. One day Uday Shankar asked her to do a movement prnouncing the syllable Dhin taki ta ta. He asked her father permission to take her along with them on a tour. Uday Shankar’s mother assured the reluctant father of Amala that she would be with her like a daughter. It was a gruelling tour of eight months with performances in two hundred cities of eighteen countries of Europe seventy five of them in Germany alone. People like Romain Rolland, Rabindranath Tagore were part of the audience. Amala kept her word to her father who insisted that she write a detailed diary on every single day of the tour. “ I had no idea of Uday Shankar’s major contribution to Indian dance then. I only saw how girls loved him and his magnetic personality. But he was never cheap..” When Amala’s father returned to India, Uday Shankar’s mother requested him to let Amala stay behind in Paris and brought her back to India later.

Father asked her to convert her diary pages into a book even as she joined the grade seven in school and was soon given a double promotion to class nine. He father encouraged her to take up matriculation examination even as she was in the ninth grade. Mother’s worry was over the non possibility of an early marriage because of Amala’s dark complexion. Her younger sister had been married already. “Which Kartikeya is doing tapas for you”was mother’s constant refrain.

In 1935 Uday Shankar brought his troupe to Calcutta. Amala stayed with his mother to attend the show. “I was shocked that the production was called Kartikeya and as soon as Uday Shankar entered as Kartikeya, I knew this was the man for me and that I was totally in love. I knew he would never marry and that there were several well qualified and rich women in love with him.”

Uday Shankar invited Amala to the Almora dance centre that he had started but her father insisted on her finishing writing the book first. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore was visiting a friend of her father and they had invited her to come and be there. Gurudev asked her to dance and then invited her to Santiniketan. “I realised Gurudev was a great man when people excaliemd and gazed at him as I travelled with him in the car”. But her father was still very reluctant to let her be a dancer. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose who saw her dance in a friend’s house asked her father to give word to him that Amala would be allowed to go to Almora for a year. That sealed her fate. She went there absolutely in love. “Uday Shankar tested me in every way possible. It was like as if he was cutting me like a vegetable. I was tested to the limits as a dancer for my skills, as a scholar for my knowledge of mythology and literature and as a woman for the limits of my jealosy and for my cooking skills etc.”

“ In 1939, we were in Madras on a dance tour, December 7th was the eve of Uday Shankar’s birthday. I had retired to my room after the cake cutting and party, while I was fast asleep, there was a knock on the door. It was Uday Shankar. I wondered if I had done something wrong. He came in and sat on a chair and said he had decided to get married. I said with a sigh very good. He asked me if I did not want to know the name of the girl. And he said it is Amala and as I began to cry, he said I had to keep that a secret. We kept it a secret and people came to know only in 1941. All through while we danced on the stage we would look at each other and smile. Our marriage happened after the marriage of Simkie, Zohra Segal and Beatrice.”

“Life was heaven with all its ups and downs. We lived in Madras for some time (They gifted their house on Boag road to the Communist Party of India). Our son was born on his father’s birthday on December 8th just as Uday Shankar had predicted. Mamta came soon after and she became the darling of her father. While we toured we met some of the greatest persons of the time.”

In 1960, Amala received an invitation from a summer school in Colorado in the US to teach Uday Shankar style of dance. The school was on a mountain and like a peaceful Ashram. Amala was inspired to start a school in Calcutta. The Uday Shankar India Culture Centre in Almora was by then closed. The West Bengal government gave space in Rabindra Sarovar. The very fist class was taken by Uday Shankar. “I began to teach while Uday Shankar produced Chandalika without me. He began to lose confidence. Then he did Shankarscope and fell for a girl in his troupe. We began to live seperately and some four or five people around him began to take advantage of him. But Mamta (daughter) and I were by his bed side for the last three days of his life and he put out his hand, cradled my face on his chest and thanked me for everything. It was a scene just like a dream that I had described to Mamta and every one else earlier.” Mamata was startled at the similarity and began to cry.

“I have seen many ups and downs in my life and I also see people giving me a lot of respect as I walk on the street in Kolkatta some come and touch my feet. What I am getting now is what Uday Shankar deserved. Our life together was not just the life of two people but revolved around forty years of rennaissance of Indian dance. In 1981, I got a letter written to me by my father in 1951. I am glad it took that long for the letter to reach me or else what was written in it would have left me with a swollen head.”

Amala Shankar recalls an occasion when she was invited to give the Tagore lecture by the Bengali association in New York city. Father had advised her not to prepare too much but to talk spontaneously what came naturally. “As I stood in front of the gathering that had some of most well known faces of the time, I became tongue tied. Not a word came out of my mouth for a few minutes. I felt like I was wrapped up like a mummy from head to toe and a gaint hand was pusing me into water. Just at the time my face was touching water, I said aloud, You are trying me are you? I will get through and come up for air. And I did. The talk became quite a hit. My life has always been like that and will always be like that.” Amala Shankar says with conviction.

“Ninety is not old is it?”