Of legacy and lineage

Finding similarities between cooking and dance, noted Kathak exponent Deepak Maharaj says both must come from the heart

August 25, 2016 12:30 am | Updated 08:59 am IST

UPHOLDING THE TRADITION Deepak Maharaj at 52 Janpath in New Delhi Photo: V. V. Krishnan

UPHOLDING THE TRADITION Deepak Maharaj at 52 Janpath in New Delhi Photo: V. V. Krishnan

As the scion of the legendary Kathak dancer Pandit Birju Maharaj and exponent of famous Lucknow Kalka-Bindadin gharana of Kathak, Deepak Maharaj is very conscious of the legacy and its resultant responsibilities. Known for his impeccable conduct both off and on stage, this eighth generation dancer has done numerous solo shows and figured in leading roles in dance drama choreographed by Birju Maharaj including “Krishnayan”, “Kumar Sambhav”, “Katha Raghunath Ki”, “Shan-e-Awadh” among others. His “Romeo and Juliet” the Shakespearean love story in Kathak created by Saswati Sen in which he plays Romeo has been widely appreciated when it was recently staged in the US. “Aware of the legacy, I always attempt to conduct myself during performances and in public keeping in mind people’s expectations from me,” comments the artist during the luncheon interaction we have at 52 Janpath in Connaught Place. Set to fly to Japan in a few hours, Deepak is completely relaxed answering questions while readily acknowledging the greetings and best wishes of his fans. “For a performer the audience is primary. Ya toh logon ki wah lagti hai ya phir unki aah lagti hai!”

So deep is the performer’s involvement with the audience that during his shows he asks them what they would like to see. “I build a personal rapport by giving them this choice in order to emphasise their importance.” Is he always able to fulfil their wishes? “No. There have have been occasions when I have honestly accepted my inability and they have readily accepted it.” Among all the requests he has received so far, one remains etched in his memory. “Once the legendary Kathak dancer Sitara Deviji among the audience said to me, ‘Thumri dikha’. Well, she had the right and privilege to demand it. I said, ‘Buaji I will try.’ Involving myriad facial expressions and eye movements, thumri is difficult to perform. Giving it my best shot I was on cloud nine when she appreciated the item.”

As we settle down comfortably, the hotel staff requests us to try out their jasmine tea and wonders if we will try their signature dishes. Deepak readily agrees. Being Birju Maharaj’s son, Deepak must have taken to Kathak with ease. “Yes. Ever since I can remember I have always seen my father singing, dancing and choreographing. Even when free, one would see him constantly thinking about dance and music. Besides, living in Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, I was constantly exposed to dance and music. One could see someone performing a dance movement or practising vocals or playing an instrument. The entire environ both at home and outside was artistic leaving a deep impact on me. When people ask me when did I tell them: ‘Jabse ghungroo ki awaaz suni’.”

Trained by his father along with other students, Deepak has no recollection of his father ever losing temper. “Never loud, Maharaji is totally calm making one realise the mistakes and abilities subtly. With me he has always kept the role of father and guru clearly demarcated. Birjuji loves me like a father but judges me like a guru.” Being a teacher himself, does Deepak too follow the same style? “I have always held that I cannot be Birjuji either in performance or teaching or in person. Yes, I am definitely inspired by several aspects of his life but I do not try to copy him and seek to have my own identity.” Talking about his students, Deepak finds them very dedicated but severely handicapped by circumstances. “They do not have the leisure or the royal patronage of the past to learn slowly and hone their skills. Learning as fast as possible they have to seek their livelihood.”

For Deepak a keen sportsman in his younger days, fond of cricket and table tennis, the turning point in his Kathak learning phase is very interesting. Though eagerly and attentively learning from his father since the age of six, he would devote equal time to his other passion, cricket. “I was the star pace bowler for my team and just before an important show at the Sahitya Kala Parishad hurt my finger badly while batting. It swelled up making me very concerned as to how I’ll perform. Fortunately, the show went off well. The applause I received and the appreciation I saw on the faces and eyes of the audience made me decide then and there that Kathak will be my life. Audience appreciation enamoured me so much that I devoted my life and soul to Kathak,” he avers. Thanking his parents, for a tension-free childhood, Deepak says he enjoyed all activities in school, stage and field. “Unlike many, they never insisted that I should be the topper in the class allowing me liberty to pursue want I desired.”

Observing that the tea was over, the staff moves in with the dishes they have selected. Taking a bite of the signature dish European parcel a.k.a. potli made of has mushroom, zucchini and goat cheese, Deepak nods his approval moving on to the Columbian style beetroot ricotta cheese. “Not averse to meat, my first preference is vegetarian food,” he remarks noting and appreciating that all the items served were vegetarian. Revealing his inclination for simple, traditional and home cooked Vaishnavi dishes, he says, “I like arhar dal and kadhi dal, aloo mattar subzi with gravy, baigan, bhindi and karela. In fact, meals at home are balanced and healthy — rice, light roti, a dal and a subzi and lots of salad.”

Insisting on small portions, Deepak, admires the presentation and the items. “Both cooking and dancing are arts which must come from the heart. Unless infused with love and affection by the performer or the cook, the products will never turn out well and pleasing.” Citing his mother’s cooking he reveals that the taste of the dal and subzi she made has never left him. “She was an absolute veteran of the kitchen and loved to shared her knowledge and expertise with anyone wanting to learn.” Admitting his inability to cook, Deepak reveals everyone in his house, including Birju Maharaj can whip up some dish or other. Counting himself lucky, he says he never had to cook. “First it was mother, later sisters and now my wife who too is proficient in culinary art to take care of me,” he remarks laughing loudly. Despite the privileges Deepak is neither finicky nor fastidious. “I regularly perform abroad and every time it is not possible to get food of your choice. So you adjust and make good with pizzas or burgers or Chinese cuisine,” he says. “Adjustment is necessary in life.” Does it hold for everything? Clearly getting the hint, he replies: “Compromise is required to get along with people but not with your work and definitely not with one’s art. Maharaji always says, ‘Ehasas karo ki tum kya ho aur kya tumhare jeevan mein accha hai and kya bura.’ For him self-realisation and being true to oneself is indispensable and that is what he has inculcated in his children and students.”

Politely declining desserts, both of us ask for another cup of jasmine tea. On pointing out to Deepak that he will be not be around during the upcoming Janmashtami festival, he says, “I will miss the occasion because Lord Krishna is our isht dev (the family deity) and we celebrate the day with gaiety and fervour by singing bhajans, dadra and thumri. In the past we have performed the dance ballet ‘Krishnayan’ several times. Choreographed by Birjuji it depicts the entire story of the Lord. Over the years with core artists getting dispersed we are unable able to stage it. Given a chance, we would do it again,” he assures

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.