Kathakali artiste and teacher Louba Schild, founder of Vijnana Kalavedi, bids adieu to her adopted land where she lived as a Malayali for 40 years. Her life in Aranmula was dedicated to promoting and preserving the art and culture of the land she adopted as her own.
There is very little of the French in her except for her name and accented English. Louba Schild is otherwise traditionally Malayali, in attire and attitude. Not surprising. For Louba has been in Kerala for 40 years now. Her life in Aranmula was dedicated to promoting and preserving the art and culture of the land she adopted as her own. Through Vijnana Kalavedi, which she established in 1977, Louba has been conserving the praxis of a rich heritage. She has passed on the baton to a large number of people from around the world who have been part of this enriching Vijnana Kalavedi experience.
Louba has now, quite surprisingly, decided to bring down the curtain on this cultural enterprise. Vijnana Kalavedi will be formally closed down by the end of this month. They had their final performance the other day at what looked a rather desolate venue. And in a few months’ time, Louba will be on her flight back home to Paris along with her 94-year-old mother, Nadia Schild Chipiloff.
“Don’t ask me why I’m doing this. It is a personal decision,” Louba tells you even before you try asking her this question. Prod her further and you realise that there is no rancour or ill-feeling, but it certainly appears to go beyond just ‘personal.’
Louba was drawn to Kerala’s rich culture, pulsating art and heritage. She studied Kathakali from great masters like Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, never missed a chance to perform, and dabbled in other classical and traditional arts. Through her institution she tried to pass on what she experienced to others who came from other lands. But somewhere down the line she realised the futility of all this.
“I think my biggest regret has been learning Kathakali. I should have remained a dedicated spectator rather than a practitioner. This art, like Indian culture, is so deep-rooted that anyone like me would be able to touch only the periphery. Even after all these years of learning and performing I have realised that it is still incomplete. There are certain things, simple though it might seem, that cannot be expressed by a person who is alien to this culture, this ethos. All these years I have been doing this, teaching, learning. I should have left it alone,” feels Louba.
Value-based considerations such as the quest for beauty, peace of mind, tolerance and sensitivity, which comes from an inherited culture seems to be fading away. We have been willing partners in packaging culture and exporting it. This is something that has disturbed Louba.
“Very tacitly we have aided the acceptance of Indian art and culture as marketable products. The idea is to keep it alive, preserve it. But I believe that this can be done only by Indians themselves. Opening out to global influence, what for centuries has been nurtured within protected regions, is only pushing one to the edge of the cultural precipice. If we don’t try and retrace our steps soon a time will come when the West will find this rich culture totally diluted. Then there will be nowhere to turn to.”
Louba reminds us of the rampant commercialism that has virtually changed the character and colour of our art and culture. “I think we are fast being sucked into the vortex of globalisation. I have always thought that music, art, sculpture and painting, are all spiritual endeavours. It is sad to see all this grossly commercialised. We see values like freedom, love, or something profound like meditation and even our classical arts, say Kathakali, used to sell products. There is trivialisation, which will send wrong signals to the children and the youth of the country.”
Deeply impressed by the Vedic philosophy and the Indian epics, Louba strongly believes in a divine, sacred presence in everyday life here.
When you talk about about Kathakali, Louba’s face lights up, she becomes animated. “Like any of the classical arts Kathakali involved a deep commitment from both the teacher and student. For them financial status was never a consideration. The training, especially in Kathakali, was severe. The masters went through a lifetime to hone their art. The gurus were venerated.
Right from my first guru Amabalapuzha Sekhar to the great Krishnan Nair Asan, I found this unbounded understanding. Today the relationship is tenuous at the best. Where are all the great gurus? Where are the master performers? We are faced with a conveyor-belt syndrome of turning out Kathakali artistes in large numbers and the result is a fall in standards.”
Apart from the classical arts and Kalaripayattu, Louba even took time off to act in a Malayalam film. “That was a happy accident. The makers of the film (‘Ayitham’) came here and insisted that I do the role. The shoot was mostly in a small village in Tamil Nadu. It was fun.”
Tradition of murals
Louba who functions as vice-chairman of the Vastu Vidya Gurukulam, Aranmula, the seeds of which was sown by her in 1993, is also a bit sore at the way the great tradition of mural painting is being “misused.”
“Mural painting, traditionally, has subjects drawn from religious texts. They are stylised figures of gods and goddesses. They are not imaginative representations but figures that follow the ‘Dhyana slokas.’ Painting those figures require meditation and concentration. But what I see is artists, quite casual, with cigarette in hand, mixing artificial colours to paint what they also call ‘murals.’”
Ask her if she will be able to adjust to her life in Paris and when she plans to come to Kerala, and Louba just smiles and says: “That was a life I have long forgotten. Now I must try and live it. But I’ll not give up all that Indian culture has taught me. And coming back…, maybe for short visits sometime…”