Friday Review

A cross-border pursuit of passion

Leena Malakar  

When New Delhi-based Nepalese Kathak dancer Leena Malakar was conferred the India International Dance Festival Award last year, she said, “I am a devotee of Lord Shiva and the popular dance composition Ardhanariswara, based on Him, has always been my favourite. Like the composition that describes the Lord as half-male and half-female, I have been a half-Nepalese and half Indian. Nepal was my janmabhumi and India, my karmabhoomi. But today, I belong to both the lands and cultures as an Indian classical dancer”.

Twenty-three years ago, Leena landed in India as a teenager to learn Kathak, availing a scholarship from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). Little did she imagine then that she will never be back in Nepal. Happily settled in New Delhi as the wife of acclaimed sculptor Gagan Vij and mother to a 13-year-old son, she is an established Kathak dancer and trainer, besides being an ambassador of culture for both the countries.

She recalls, “I came from a family from the business community called Newers. However, I was lucky to have parents who always encouraged me to follow my passion for dance. My mother recollects that I used to watch and imitate the dances being aired on television. Born and brought up in Kathmandu, I had my schooling there. After schooling, when I joined Padma Kanya College, I discovered that the college had a department of dance and music. My older sister insisted that I take up dance as one of my subjects. Thus commenced my training in dance with three styles – Charya classical dance of Nepal, Indian classical dance of Kathak and Nepalese folk dances.”

“My dance professor Honey Shrestha guided me to apply for the ICCR scholarship offered by the Indian Government to learn dance in India. I was fortunate enough to be selected. I was so passionate about Kathak that I left my family and country behind and left for India. I joined Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra in New Delhi to have advance training in Kathak. I have never looked back since then,” says the dancer who specializes in the highly energetic Jaipur gharana of Kathak and emerged as a brilliant soloist under the guidance of her Guru Nandini Singh, the well-known Kathak exponent.

How challenging was it for her to get established in India as an Indian classical dancer? “Neither my Guru and nor my friends in New Delhi ever made me feel that I was a foreigner. Rather, many of them loved Nepal and Nepali people a lot. And that love for Nepal also came to this Nepalese girl. Moreover, India and Nepal are so similar in terms of religion and culture that I could never feel that I didn’t belong to this country. In fact, it was Doordarshan that we used to watch at home in Nepal a lot. This had given me enough exposure and love for Indian dance, music, lifestyle and culture much before I made India my home,” she explains.

Before she thought of returning to Nepal, Leena met her future husband Gagan. “I was always fond of visual art, books, music and nature. Gagan shared similar interests. So, it was our meeting of minds that ended up in our marriage. Our final dream has been to set up an artists’ village somewhere in India,” she revealed.

Leena feels that India’s vibrant culture that never let her return to Nepal. “I feel blessed to live and grow as an artiste and as a human being in India. Here I got the dance I loved as my profession, a great Guru who always lays new hopes and challenges before you as the guide, a life partner who shares and cares for my artistic journey and finally a great culture that teaches you a lot about art and life. The more I understand Indian art and mythology, the more I fall in love with India”, acknowledges the dancer.

Does she not miss Nepal? “Yes I do. I have lots of beautiful childhood memories. Nepal is a small but beautiful county with strong cultural heritage. People are warm and I have my family, friends and relatives there. But Delhi is not that far from Kathmandu. It just takes a flight of 90 minutes to be reunited with them there. And it is time for me to do something for Nepal. I have planned to host a series of cultural events in Nepal that will benefit the artistes while highlighting Indian artistes there”, she signed off.

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Printable version | Mar 1, 2021 12:26:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/A-cross-border-pursuit-of-passion/article14591165.ece

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