Art and Kalakshetra seem to have taken a back seat with the focus on ousting an individual.
The recent developments in Kalakshetra have saddened art lovers deeply, making one wonder if we as a people are capable of allowing art institutions to flourish. There is something crucially amiss with the Indian psyche, making it miss the wood for the trees.
From the day Leela Samson took over as Director of Kalakshetra, she has battled against a conglomeration of forces determined to push her out. Fighting obstacles all the way and braving sallies, she has soldiered on and those who have seen her work from 7. 30 a.m. to even 11 p.m. for the sake of Kalakshetra, know the toll on her mental and physical energies. And all, it would seem, for the thankless job of getting, what was by all arguments, an institution on the downward trend back on its feet.
Where were all these detractors, so vociferous now, when the aged, extremely well meaning, Rajaram, the then Director, was in despair, unable to cope with strikes and total unrest? Nobody seemed deeply concerned about ‘Athai's' philosophy and what was happening to the Kalakshetran identity.
The litany of complaints began with the absurd story of the statue of Ganapati near the students' hostel being taken away by the director, with more than broad hints through print and e-mails, of her trying to strip Kalakshetra of its spiritual identity.
In fact, every little artefact of Rukmini Devi in Kalakshetra has been safely and aesthetically housed in the artistically laid out Rukmini Devi museum, even as there are future plans on for a proper building to house the founder's personal belongings.
Professor and scholar Bharat Gupt, in Kalakshetra recently for a week's lecture tour on the Natya Sastra, was telling me about the kind of vicious letters he received from a ‘group,' as he called it, of critics of Kalakshetra: that since the place was now stripped of the Rukmini Devi stamp, he would be well advised to call off his visit for the Natya Sastra talks here as it would be a travesty. Replying that he was one to find out facts for himself, the professor stuck to his plans, and spent some ‘glorious days' there. Thrilled with the entire ambience of the campus and the way activities were being conducted amidst the throb of a ‘happening' place, he was delighted with his interactions with the informed and very eager students asking him intelligent questions. He wondered about the letters sent to him, painting a picture far from the truth.
Leela's deeply researched, eminently readable, moving book on Rukmini Devi is certainly not that of a person who does not understand Kalakshetra. The recent dance event I happened to watch in the Rukmini Arangam of students presenting Rukmini Devi's repertoire of items composed for solo dancing, projected the most impeccable Bharatanatyam which ‘Athai' would have been proud of.
Aim to keep legacy intact
Getting all of Rukmini Devi's dance-drama compositions documented and filmed as a permanent legacy, hardly sounds like the attempts of someone wanting to erase the base structure provided by the founder. All the old articles of Rukmini Devi — students and teachers of today are not familiar with them — are being brought out in aesthetically produced small books, for people to read.
By introducing several courses such as visits to temples in South India for detailed historical research, and scouting around for families (many with old manuscripts) with years of connection with the temple rituals, literature and music, the student's integrated understanding of Bharatanatyam has been strengthened, and the research work being done by them is beyond what was ever envisaged earlier.
The research section today has so much material that the building has had to be expanded to house everything. The music department is blossoming like never before. While deepening student convictions about their own art form, their minds have been opened through exposure to so much of art and philosophy from outside that they can interact with all art forms while being anchored in their own art identity.
The Koothambalam (auditorium) is a heritage building. Managing to procure much needed funds for its repair, Leela, through a careful adherence to Athai's old blueprint, has been supervising the renovations. Unfortunately, the gargantuan efforts have only earned her more salvoes in terms of strict procedural formalities not being adhered to.
I have watched her as a fine teacher interacting with children of all ages, giving them an awareness of concepts such as Siva, Ganesha or Krishna in a manner which few devotees can, I know Leela as a spiritual person with unimpeachable integrity. And passing moral judgment on such a person ill behoves anybody. Happily, a few artists such as Alarmel Valli and Malavika Sarukkai have made statements in support of Leela. While fully appreciative of the need for public relations with the powers that be for the Padma awards, grants, fellowships, memberships of boards and government committees, dancers should know that not showing a united front at this point is tantamount to allowing themselves to be used by political forces for their own game.
And when we are touting procedural drawbacks, it is strange that the Kalakshetra Board came to know of Leela's resignation as fait accompli. Should procedural niceties take precedence over the needs of an institution? But then this will not be the first time that a whole edifice has been torpedoed in order to crush an individual.