RUPA SRIKANTH

The Banyan's Basant Utsav '07 had a purpose behind the multi-cultural fiesta of music and dance.

"My world had no rules!" declares one woman, while another confesses, "When I get angry, I bite. No home, no appa, no amma, I'm scared to be alone." These statements are not works of fiction, but quotes from inmates at The Banyan, an organisation that cares for and rehabilitates mentally ill, destitute women. Through the ninth annual fund raiser, Basant Utsav, an evening of aesthetically packaged music and dance set in Dakshinachitra's beautiful amphitheatre, one was treated as a revered guest but never allowed to forget the purpose behind the event. Actors and social activists Suhasini Maniratnam and Revathi Menon got `into the skin' of these unfortunate women during the show to demystify their very being. The Basant Utsavs feature the best on the cultural scene, and this year had multi-cultural percussionist Pete Lockett, Kathak dancer Aditi Mangaldas, Carnatic vocalist Bombay Jayashri Ramnath and Hindustani vocalist Shubha Mudgal.

Sounds and sights

While one waited for the event to begin, the unusual sets by art director Rajeevan made for good conversation. Could the long, curved installations be serpent tails? Or horns? My neighbour got a brainwave midway through the programme, "Could they represent the mythical Loch Ness Monsters from Scotland?" The mystery remained unsolved. As a warm up to the main show, Assamese musicians and dancers from Samannay Khetra performed lively Bihu Festival dances. Clad in traditional beige and red Mekhala Chaddars, the women swayed gracefully to the vibrant sounds of the dhol, and the Pepa, a buffalo hornpipe. It was actually a fitting warm up for Pete's dramatic percussive segment that was featured next. More than dexterity, Pete's forte is his familiarity with a medley of sounds and rhythms. It did not matter whether they were percussive instruments or not, he made do with the flair of a conjurer or maybe a physicist. Pete began with a large drum that was suspended from a tree branch abetting the stage, and as he created rhythmic patterns, he used the branch itself for tonal relief! In another instance, he sat on the instrument this time a deal wood box! And strangely enough, the sounds he produced were hollow... Strong footwork and adept drumming continued the emphasis on rhythm in Aditi 's Kathak. Meerabai's words, given musical form in Bagesri raag, teentaal, by Aneesh Pradhan and Shubha Mudgal, was a play of bols and swaras that ebbed and flowed seamlessly. Though this Meerabai was a rather vibrant one, the superb control over laya and the humility that it was served with, felt like a spiritual homage. It was rhythm all the way for the artist dressed in a stunning black and bronze costume.Jugalbandi is tricky business; there has to be an equal give from both sides, however great the artists. Sadly, the give factor was not in balance here The highlight of the brief concert was the Misra Kapi treatments contrasted in the Ashtapadi `Raase Hari Miha' and in the tumri, `Kaun Tarah Se Tum Khelata Hori' where there were tentative forays by both artists to blend their styles. Courtesy was the watchword that evening. Smiling volunteers were always there at your elbow waiting to escort you. A casual conversation with one of them, Lionel Fernando, a psychiatrist, proved enlightening. He explained the rationale behind the logo and one could see the passion within. The efficacy of any dream depends on such dedication.