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Married to music

Bharatnatyam exponent V.P Dhananjayan and his wife Shanta feel that art and culture is the responsibility of the government

THE COUPLE is `made-for-each-other' in more than one sense. Viewed physically they make a lovely pair, - both are dedicated to Bharatanatyam, share the same platform and are a name to reckon with individually. Together they love simplicity, share the same views on life and have similar interests. What more, they share a mutual love and respect for each other that has withstood the test of time.

"We are both products of the same dance school - the Kalakshetra," says V.P Dhananjayan, the reputed Bharatanatyam dancer and guru. He met, and later married Shanta at Rukmini Devi Arundale's Kalakshetra, where she was a student.

Though Shanta and Dhananjayan have long quit Kalakshetra they still consider themselves biologically bound to the dance institution. "We were a part and parcel of Kalakshetra during the golden period of its glory when Rukmini Devi had composed her best repertoire in dance dramas. This was in the post 50s. She had the cream of disciples as we had the gems of gurus from all walks of art," Shanta turns nostalgic. "Teachers those days were inspiring especially in an art like, dance that requires total dedication and diligent practice. Today teachers anywhere are more perspiration than inspiration," quips in Dhananjayan.

Talking of teachers he has a point to make: A guru in the real sense of the term evolves only after the age of 60 by which time he has imbibed the most of art and experience and is able enough to impart it to others. This is especially true in the realm of art. "It was with great pain that we watched all those veterans, who Rukmini Devi brought into Kalakshetra with immense fondness and regard, leaving the institution simply because they were aged. They had attained superannuation by government standards. It is my innate belief that as far as art institutions like Kalakshetra is concerned - the government should come out with a different policy. It is not age that matters here but experience of a unique type," he states vehemently. "Academic degrees in art are not the sine qua non of expertise," adds his better half.

Having come out of Kalakshetra in 1968 with no ill-feelings whatsoever except "disillusionment" over their gurus going home forlorn, it was not an easy decision as they couldn't imagine a life away and apart from Kalakshetra.

"Shanta stayed on a year longer unable to break her bond with her alma mater," he says ruefully. Then `Bharata Kalanjali' (a dance school) was born in Chennai (Adyar) and both got busy training young pupils, performing, administering and running a home.

What inspired them to start another school in the remote region of northern Kerala, near Cannanore (Kannur)? Is it part of their eventual retirement plan? "Well, in a way it is but it is also not easy to close our Chennai headquarters. `Bhaaskara' (Bharatiya Saamskaarika Kalaa Rangam) was conceived and concretised, five years ago (1999) with the idea of taking art to its roots, to our roots too, as we hail from this place. We have established teachers there and our own presence is as visiting faculty. Once a year we have an intensive `gurukulam' camp," explain the duo.

As dance gurus who have moulded hundreds of young pupils into able dancers, they find a waning in interest among young and old in general to classical art forms, like music and dance. Dhananjayan comes out strongly against the older generation - those parents in particular, who nurture the view that dance and music are not viable professions and are very reluctant to allow their children to pursue these arts seriously and at the most relent to it as a hobby (provided they have the financial muscle to take up an expensive hobby!).

"We are aping the West and trying to defend our totally commercial attitude in the name of western concept of life. My exposure to European and American countries makes me observe that even in the West, public is not interested in commercial art or literature. They patronise their classical arts with fervour, which is astonishing. And here we are right now in a transition society where the real value of classical dance and music is not being realised. True, making it a profession has its own ups and downs. Parents discourage children who want to make dance a full-time career. It is for the government and the society to assume responsibility and reassure artistes of patronage and encouragement, which will naturally bring in monetary benefits. Art and tradition is the nation's responsibility," he feels.

Both view the media as an effective tool to influence public opinion, and inspire artistes.

Reacting to the literacy campaigns across many states, the couple quoting Rabindranath Tagore say, "Education without character is body without a head. We need to redefine and revaluate our educational system and literacy drives. Mere numbers in literacy does not speak of a developed state. Character moulding is the most important part of education. And for this, academic studies should be supplemented and supported by a study of arts. A whole experience of life is given not by mere ageing but by classical dance or music. That speaks for itself."


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