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When gurus trip the students!

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LEELA VENKATARAMAN

All is not well with the guru-shishya relationship especially when it comes to desi gurus and NRI shishyas, despite pots of money being exchanged.

The dance world is inclined to think of the NRI student as privileged, for his dollars can always lure the guru in India, and inspire from him the kind of teaching the home-based disciples cannot. But nothing in the dance scene is that simple or straightforward, and least of all the guru/shishya relationship which at the best of times is fragile and vulnerable.

Often mothers of Indian dance students living abroad have expressed their travails to this critic, wanting to know if there are any solutions to the drawbacks in the present situation. One mother even talked of a sum of 10000 dollars for a Bharatanatyam margam, and added, “Those of us earning in dollars abroad know that we can certainly pay much more than what people here can. And gone are the days of the gurukul system when students staying with the guru had to fall in line with a teaching schedule pace set by the guru. You ask someone like Nartaki Nataraj who while in gurukulavasa with the great Guru Kittappa Pillai had to just watch others dance for months and months before being taught anything at all. But today when we pay, surely we expect our child to be taught in a time-bound schedule.

“We do not expect the gurus today to live like poor church mice or to lead a hermit’s existence. After all, life is getting to be more and more difficult and expensive and when all services are getting dearer, how can the dance teacher alone be compensated poorly? No, our plaint is that even though we pay, the teaching is not what it should be.”

When one mentions specific cases of gifted young dancers who come on learning sojourns and are full of gratitude for what they are able to learn from teachers in India, pat comes the answer, “Those cases are different. Gurus depend on their senior disciples abroad who are well settled and are able to arrange regular workshops and events in which the gurus are very handsomely compensated. This becomes the annual bread and butter for many of the senior gurus, and of course they never do anything to hurt their ties with the said disciples. When their children come to India, they are taught with dedication. The problem arises with the first generation young students, in their early teens. They find it very difficult to get teachers who teach them sincerely. You ask a child what jatiswaram she is learning and she does not know the raga. ‘I will ask teacher and let you know,’ she says. Adavus do not get corrected.”

Another hapless mother complained, “I came with such hopes. My young daughter is capable of very hard work and extremely dedicated. She has the talent too. But when the teacher after a few minutes disappears, asking my daughter to take the class and that session is counted as one of the lessons for my daughter, it is very annoying. And the understanding was for separate one-to-one classes. One finds that the child is bunched with other students.”

Try elsewhere

One hapless parent complained, “When we mention our disappointments hesitatingly and quietly ask if some more attention cannot be given to the child, some gurus are testy — particularly the older ones — and say, ‘Well you can go and try elsewhere if you are not satisfied with my teaching’.”

Clearly, the guru who is putting up with bulging classrooms is as commercially motivated as any other professional, and he alone cannot be expected to form the one island of rectitude unmindful of prosperity. And the NRI who used his money to command the services of the teacher, at times out of turn, now finds that even he is not the only one commanding these facilities. With ever burgeoning demand for dance teachers, our gurus today have less need to take on students with little talent, merely because they bring in the money. But is greed taking the place of need? It is true that the standard of teaching classical dance today in institutions leaves much to be desired. Is it not time to have an organisation to look into such grey areas and act as a go-between in disputes?


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