I look back on my childhood days, when exams notwithstanding, attendance at the December season's concerts was mandatory. Every day was a glorious feast of music and dance to be savoured, says dancer Alarmel Valli
December is a month when there is always music and rain in the Chennai air. The city is possessed by dance and music mania and for many, it is a time when life revolves around concert schedules. For most school students however, December is a month of examination stress. Weighed down by what seems to be an increasingly draconian educational system, my students often lament their inability to attend performances.
I look back on my childhood days, when exams notwithstanding, attendance at the December season's concerts was mandatory. Every day was a glorious feast of music and dance to be savoured. It gave us invaluable reference points and the highest artistic and aesthetic ideals to aspire for. I can think of no happier way to foster discernment, good taste and sensitivity in the young than to consistently expose them to great art.
This process of cultural and creative enrichment is vital, particularly in our age of info-technology and easy communication, when the internet and television offer all-too-easy access to limitless information, not to mention, a plethora of entertainment choices, much of which is mediocre, trite and often vulgar. It is difficult in these circumstances, for the young to glean wheat from the chaff, to look beyond mere packaging to the content, to gauge the intrinsic merit of a work of art.
I often wish children could be spared exams in December and instead, as a part of their curriculum, attend the best of performances during the December season — improbable and impractical perhaps, in an age when society and education place the emphasis squarely on subjects with obvious economic scope and value, like technology and science. The arts sadly, tend to be marginalised. Yet, a healthy, vibrant society is synonymous with one that is also culturally rich.
Some time ago, I attended a matinee performance of Macbeth by The Royal Shakespeare Company, in Stratford upon Avon. The theatre hall was packed with boisterous school children and my heart sank as I resigned myself to a noisy evening. But then, the lights dimmed, the curtain went up on the ominous opening scene.. “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble…” As the three witches began their eerie chant, there was a sudden hush. The children were riveted, gripped as we all were by the magic of the play and they remained spellbound throughout the evening. I gathered later that schools regularly took students to the theatre, to experience their great literary heritage — as a live performance. What an ideal way of sensitising children to the arts!
I have idyllic memories of summer holidays in Kodaikanal, watching the mist rise in tendrils from the lake, listening to tales from the puranas, the stories and characters coming alive in the shadowy twilight, redolent with the fragrance of wood-fires, of eucalyptus and pine.
My grandfather gave me the key to the magic world of literature — Sangam literature, the songs of the Alvars and the Nayanmars, Shakespeare and the classics — an endlessly fascinating process of enrichment, so vital to creative growth. How many children have the luxury of leisure these days, time for enrichment, time to absorb what is beautiful and abiding? Should we not be asking ourselves this?
(Alarmel Valli is a leading Bharatanatyam dancer and choreographer)