Leela Samson who recently stepped down as the director of Kalakshetra, tells Meera Srinivasan how she had to put up with “lies, allegations and games people play”
Your decision to step down as the director of Kalakshetra has shocked many, including senior dancers and students at the institution. Was it a sudden decision?
Yes it was. We had a board meeting on April 10. I resigned on April 12 and the Ministry [of Culture] accepted [it] on the 20th. I had no opportunity to confide in the staff or teachers as the college closed on the 11th and the staff left on the 17th for the summer break. Through a PIL, an ex-Kalakshetra teacher had challenged my continuance as director after I turned sixty. This came up at the meeting. If I do not have the support of the ministry, chairman and the board in this matter, I see no reason to stay on.
Was there any pressure that came in the way of your autonomy as director?
Pressure in these jobs comes in various forms. There is the pressure of running the place with a sense of confidence that everyone enjoys — staff, students and workers. There is the pressure of knowing and following all government procedures, of doing things in a manner expected of one.
There is the pressure of ex-Kalakshetrians, some of whom are supportive and encouraging and of others who are critical and constantly complain about the way things are run.
There is the pressure of those who eye the land. There is the pressure of being a woman, a dancer, etc.
You trained under Rukmini Devi Arundale and have seen the institution grow over the years. What was the single biggest challenge you faced as its director in the past seven years?
Handling the lies, the allegations, the games individuals play.
What, in your opinion, are the challenges facing Kalakshetra today? Is it well-equipped to handle them?
The challenges of growth. But the Kalakshetra board is an exemplary one — a dream team — and I know that it will handle the challenge.
Didn't the Board members or the chairman try to persuade you into changing your mind?
Several members were not present at the last board meeting.
They only heard of my resignation through the press today. None of the staff of Kalakshetra knew either, as they were on leave. This is unfortunate. No one tried to convince me to do otherwise.
To what degree does this change/decision alter your involvement with the institution?
I will always be anxious about Kalakshetra's development and the preservation of its ideals. And I will fight for it if the need arises.
You currently hold the position of chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification and the Sangeet Natak Akademi. Do you plan to deepen your engagement with them? What are your plans now?
I did not ask for these positions. I have given them my complete attention.
Now I can spend even more time on them. I have no plans for the future. I am a bit dazed and beaten. I will try through my dance to find myself again.