The teacher and the taught

Dance guru Munna Shukla with his students during an interview at Saraswati Music College, in New Delhi on June 18, 2010. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

Dance guru Munna Shukla with his students during an interview at Saraswati Music College, in New Delhi on June 18, 2010. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

Is our ‘guru-sishya parampara’ being increasingly burdened with commercial compulsions? A concern that needs to be addressed for the survival of arts.

HYDERABAD: Performing arts are no longer the domain of a preferred few. Call it talent surfeit or easy exposure or alternate skill development avenues vis-a-vis tough academics, classical performing arts are being pursued by more people. Today, there is a mushrooming of qualified musicians/dancers — post graduates and doctorates too — who treat their art as an income-generating profession. On the other hand there are also performers, armed with degree certificates, wanting to turn professionals with a passion for name, fame and eventually sustainable payment.

The Indian guru-sishya parampara (master-disciple heritage) is arterial to our classical arts since we used to consider arts as a spiritually uplifting experience.

The guru-sishya parampara still exists in Hindustani music though not as distinctly pure as it was ages ago. The guru of ancient ages did not make a living out of teaching. Yet the disciples would cater to the guru’s livelihood in their own simple way. There was a sense of contentment both ways.

In the field of performing arts, this system worked successfully, with rare exceptions of course, up to the beginning of the 20th century. It had its positive and negative aspects: there was the touch of authenticity in the art form handed over through the generations. The pupils imbibed the codified and credible training and emerged with uniform perfection bearing the stamp of the guru and his style (gharana). The pride in one’s own gharana often created a snug attitude that acted as a deterrent to assimilation or appreciation of any other school (style). A uni-polar mindset developed in most cases, not conducive to change in any way. Yet perfection outwitted these minor gaps.

As of now, a qualified post-graduate in music or dance becomes eligible to teach to aspirants. Teaching is a mode of earning livelihood and higher the fee charged, more the accountability to the student. The parents reserve the right to question the teacher on all aspects possible. The teachers in turn are tempted to woo the wealthier pupils for patronage and other ‘services’. It is more or less like a trade where both parties expect to benefit. There are artistes, disciples and teachers who still nurture a sincere passion to enlighten themselves spiritually through art, but they constitute a miniscule.

In principle, this does not augur a dilution of classicality of art forms but definitely it cannot brook an unending process of learning without immediate returns by way of performances on stage. Added to this is the pressure to showcase what little one learns, by way of contests, small social gatherings like marriages, inaugurations, conferences and so on. It is difficult for young aspirants and young teachers to be oblivious to the temptation of putting up a show irrespective of experience and training period. “We perfect as we go along with the shows. We needn’t wait for years till we are declared mature enough in the art to be able to perform on stage,” say the new crop of teachers. The end result is simple: we will not be able to produce legends anymore; at the most we will be creative enough to gratify ourselves. Economic viability being a major force, artistes are bound to opt for package deals to keep themselves going.

In this scenario it is difficult to gauge a piece of performance as there are no yardsticks either for the teacher or the taught. Then who would help establish the benchmark of classicality in a particular presentation? A knowledgeable art critic who can objectively assess and analyse an art production can provide valuable insights and help the art form to establish a firm foothold. Indian art forms were always held in high esteem across the world. In order to keep up the reputation, young aspirants, their parents and teachers should take a look at the consumerist course that is being charted by themselves.

The meteoric rise of an inexperienced artiste might also contribute to a quick evaporation. It’s time to take stock of the situation and brace up to enrich our arts, come what may by way of compulsions.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 6:38:04 PM |

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