interview Himanshu Srivastava paints stories from the Puranas but his vision is of today

Many people learn a number of art forms and follow them, but not everyone correlates the different forms. Himanshu Srivastava, a young Bharatanatyam dancer, is also a painter who says his dance, apart from allowing him to give expression to his creativity, “is also a medium for me to connect to all animate and inanimate objects around me.” In the post modern world of art, it is not common for young artists to be recreating images of gods and goddesses and tales from the Puranas. However, even if Himanshu’s stock of inspiration might be sourced in the hoary past, he brings to it his contemporary sensibilities, looking for the “shades of grey” to which he gives form and colour of his own.

“I was born into a family where tales of gods and goddesses were common,” relates Himanshu. He started to make images that rose in his mind from these tales. They had begun stirring his imagination before he knew better than to scribble on the walls, and it was initially with a lump of coal that he gave vent to his imagination. But in a traditional UP household, he laughs, it is considered bad luck to write with coal. “They say the family will go into debt,” he explains. So by the time he was eight or nine, Himanshu was drawing using a more acceptable pencil.

The black shadow of coal gone, the shades of grey remained, thanks to his erudite grandfather Hanuman Prasad Srivastava, a Sanskrit lecturer at Allahabad University, who inspired Himanshu with his interpretations — “the taana baana” — that took in the varying perspectives of human experience.

Take Himanshu’s “Trivikrama” painting. He points out that he has depicted Bhumi Devi standing in awe, watching the humility and generosity of King Bali as he offers himself to Vamana to take his third step. “This is the thing about Bali,” says the artist. “No matter how good or bad he may have been, he was generous.”

While his visual arts training has been largely self-guided, aided by mentoring by some elders in Allahabad, Himanshu’s dance journey was different. Starting with Odissi, by chance, since he just followed a cousin to her classes, he later switched to Bharatanatyam on the suggestion of the same guru, Chitrangada Jain of Allahabad, who suggested he should explore all aspects of his personality.

But, he notes, “It is a difficult job for a guy to keep up with dance.” It was when he went to college in Lucknow, says Himanshu, that he “did a lot of experimenting” and came into his own, taking the stage for the first time.

Afterwards, he got a job in Delhi as a software engineer. For the past one-and-a-half years, he has been under the tutelage of Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan. Himanshu will appear for his first solo programme, his arangetram this coming Monday in New Delhi.

Meanwhile, his painting journey continues. He is in the process of creating a series on the 10 incarnations of Vishnu, the Dashavatar, and bringing together elements of the different dance forms on the canvas. How so? “I see each and every dance has its own structure; it resembles some element of the world,” he says. If Odissi flows like water, Kathak is like the wind, he feels, while Bharatanatyam is fiery. “So I want to incorporate each of these elements in the paintings.”

In these too, he will adhere to his personal perspective instead of idolising or hero worshipping. “To know about a river you have to know about its tributaries. Isn’t every tributary of the Ganga also a Ganga? That is what I believe.”

(Himanshu’s Bharatanatyam arangetram takes place on November 26 at Alliance Francaise, Lodhi Estate, New Delhi, 6.30 p.m.)