Odissi dancer Kumkum Mohanty remembers the immortal contribution of her guru but minces no words about falling standards today.

One of the senior-most disciples of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, for whom the guru composed the maximum number of pieces, Kumkum Mohanty is credited to be inextricably linked with the evolution and codification of Odissi. Also a bureaucrat, her greatest contribution to Odissi was the establishment of the Odissi Research Centre in 1984, now known as the Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Odissi Research Centre, and publication of the Odissi Dance Pathfinder, an alphabet primer for the dance form in two volumes. She was the organisation’s first chief executive. The Konark Dance Festival was the brainchild of Kumkum when she was serving as a Special Secretary to the Odisha Government in the Department of Culture. After retirement from the administrative services in 2004, she is busy teaching in her dance school “Geetagovinda”, set up in 2006. On the occasion of the recently observed 10th death anniversary of her beloved guru, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Awardee paid tribute to the maestro through dance and reminiscences. On the sidelines, she shared her views about the present-day situation of the dance form. Excerpts...

What is dance to you?

In my life dance is a side-effect! Guruji liked me because I was good in studies. I learnt both music and dance but Guruji picked me up for dance. For 45 years, till his death I was ‘hand-in-glove’ with him. While I teach now, all technicalities that Guruji taught me, that were stored in my head, come back. There were also humorous interactions between us during dance dramas like Ramayan where I was Sita and Sanju (Sanjukta Panigrahi) Ram that few know. I used to bombard him with questions — to understand a particular thing — for which at times he would get very angry and would neither talk to me for hours nor teach me. I was stubborn too. But finally he gave in. Ours was a love-angry relationship! He used to caricature the foreign students and the “chali’ of his students. His greatest quality was that he was a great observer. He had a tremendous weakness for studies because he himself could not go to school! Another thing I realised was that he didn’t like a long nose! He was a connoisseur of beauty, but beauty with brains!

As a bureaucrat, how did you manage to carry on with dance?

As a bureaucrat I had to stop dancing for 12-13 years. It was only God who brought me back. I made a scheme and gave it to Government of Odisha to start the Odissi Research Centre. So D.D. Patnaik got me under protection and after I published a book, he was so impressed with it that he wrote to the Prime Minister to extend my deputation, but the Government of India didn’t leave me. So he requested me to leave that job and join The Odisha Government. So I joined, it was God’s will. That’s how I started dancing again.

You have started teaching again...How do you find the present generation different from yours?

Tremendous difference, tremendous. I will not blame the girls. It’s the parents who are impatient. Nowadays Bollywood dancing is more popular than classical. Very few are coming to learn classical, and the parents want them to be on the stage within one year, which is impossible. Those who come to learn from me, I tell them straightaway that before 5-6 years I cannot allow them to come on stage.

In these times what do you think is the scope for Odissi ?

As a performing artist it is very difficult. You can only become a teacher and pass it on to those who need it. I always encourage the students to do something else and keep dancing side-by-side so that purity will be maintained. Once you make it commercial you will lose the purity. The future of Odissi or in fact any classical dance that way is bleak. Even the critics do not have space in the papers. For sports the whole page is given but for classical dance and music no review comes out. There is also a problem. People editing the dance or music review are often not properly qualified to do so. Very few are there who understand dance correctly. In our times it was only reviews that made us famous. Now it’s marketing, email, communication. Quality of dance has also gone down. There are lots of sub-standard performances. From three gurus now there are 3000 gurus and each one is a choreographer! I must say most of the teachers do not understand music, do not understand rhythm — nothing they understand. They have just learnt two-three items and are passing it on. That is how dance is getting degenerated because they don’t know the original composition, they don’t know the music composition. As a result the Gotipua standard is going down too.