Kathak – The Modern Woman’s Secret Door to a Narnia
There is an explanation to why students who truly immerse in Kathak discover a treasure-chest that is so huge and so delightful that they keep on coming to the secret cave despite every hindrance of the tread-mill of average-day lives.
Here is a dare: Listen to Kalank movie’s song that is swiftly (and irreversibly) becoming every music-lover’s favourite – ‘Tabah Ho Gaye’. Use ears not eyes. Shut everything out for 3-4 minutes, and please, oxygen-mask-seriously, listen to it.
She sprints up the stairs. There is no time to walk. No time to curse the traffic-nuisances. Not even a minute to think about the gas-stove knob or the missed call from her boss. Time is ticking.
In just 59 seconds, they will all levitate. She has to step in before it is too late.
As she enters the hallowed hall, everything about her life is suddenly a blur. All the family worries, workplace stress, to-do lists, beauty parlor gossip, kids’ homework, order-book tally, traffic nightmares and heavy-duty expectations are like a TV burbling in the background.
She is here. She is Kalpana. She is Payal. She is Shilpa. She is a woman. And she is going to slide like a fluid butterfly into a beautiful land now.
She is tying her ghungroos.
Nah, it is not Red Bull
If all this is hard to relate to, take this ladder. There are two thoughts that attack you with a never-before ferocity when you listen to Shreya Ghoshal in ‘Tabah Ho Gaye’ or ‘Ghar More Pardesiya’. The lofty strains and the soul-ripping melody pull your heart out from a forgotten place and wedge it right where it should be. Something touches you in a strange place. You suddenly realize there is an organ in your body that responds (not reacts, mind you) to music. You have never learnt dancing but your feet and head are already swaying out of your control.
This is exactly what the women mentioned above feel when they step on the revered floor of ‘Kala Ashram College of Performing Arts’, Udaipur. This strong Je Ne Sais Quoi is what sends a thunderous stroke in their minds and bodies when they touch the simple-looking feet of their venerable Guru Dr. Saroj Sharma here. Something hard-to-describe just enters their presence, like they have put their fingers on the mighty doors of a DeLorean car. The next thing they know is that they are ascending 2, 3, 5…many feet up in the air. As the beats of Tabla by Sooraj Sir join the magic, and as the palms of Indra Madam start counting Tatkaar, everything about the madness of daily lives crumbles somewhere far away.
And when Saroj Madam pulls open the bow of the intriguing box of that day’s class, it is like being Charlie in a Chocolate Factory. A flying, flourishing, elating and transforming Charlie.
This is not some preternatural event. There is a science to it. There is an explanation to why students who truly immerse in Kathak discover a treasure-chest that is so huge and so delightful that they keep on coming to the secret cave despite every hindrance of the tread-mill of average-day lives.
The Magic Wand – Explained
For Dr. Shilpa Nahar, a Doctorate in Hindi Literature, the cave appeared when she started accompanying her Kathak-loving daughter to these classes. She has never danced, never been on any stage and her life was a constant relay race between being a devoted mother and a hands-on business partner among other family responsibilities. But there were no blinkers on her eyes. She never wanted to waste time in everyday gossip, show-off battles, smartphone/selfie one-up-man ship and chewing-gum TV serials. She has always sought, and found, meaning and purpose in life. From finishing her education after marriage to being a sturdy independent business woman, she has always proven that playing the ‘victim’ card should never be any person’s, specially a woman’s, option.
So when she struggled with health issues, she tried to hold the bull by its horns again. “I was nicely encouraged by Saroj Madam to get into dancing and participate in an international competition. That sounded too overwhelming at first. But adopting a holistic-wellness lifestyle and practising arduously under her able wings, I managed to get past two hurdles simultaneously – I reduced my weight by 10 kg in just 15 days and won a lovely trophy at the Indonesia dance competition too.”
But when she pauses here, before she says the next string of words, you know that there is something more heavy than any trophy that she has found in the process. “That day I felt that I have done something for ‘myself’. It was a surreal, beautiful and heart-filling emotion.” She strongly espouses Kathak as the ultimate fitness regimen for mind, body and soul. “All dances are good exercises but this dance form has a different grace and equanimity to it that seeps into the spirit and not just into the body. This is a joyful train for that evasive ‘shanti’ we seek so much in out stressed lives.”
And Dr. Saroj (who is incidentally equipped with M.Sc degrees in Psychology, Geography along with a PhD in Geog-Dance-Yoga and other distinctions in Naturopathy and intensive competencies in Astanga Yoga) explains this process beautifully and brilliantly. This dance is truly therapeutic – for mind, body and soul, alike – she underlines. “It is an inimitable amalgam of music, dance and Yoga. When the quintessential beats of Tabla, Ghungroos and Sargam dissolve together into a beautiful nectar, the three dimensions of one’s self also blend together – body, mind and spirit. In this classical dance form, particularly, both the sides of one’s body – from feet (Tatkar) to hands (Hastak) are used equally so both sides of one’s mind and body also align in a great equation as one gets into the zone deeper and deeper. Twenty serious minutes of Tatkar, and one finds something transformed in one’s body and mind already – there is balance between two sides – and is that not what we keep chasing all the time?”
It is not one candy. It is a hamper
Another facet of this dance is that it is not just rhythm or a sequence of steps but a composite of many elements that demands sharpness and alertness of the mind all the time.
As her student, Mrs. Kalpana Kothari from Udaipur avers, this dance does not allow even one micro-second of distraction. “One slip and you fall out of the complete ‘Toda’ sequence, until the next one begins. That is why I call it my meditation. It is true mindfulness. My mind is present and alive throughout every step. You just cannot afford to miss any beat. This ‘laya’ gives a much-needed poise to my mind, but there is a bonus too. Because I am seldom aware of the work I am putting in at the body level, I do not get exhausted. By the time we finish one class, I have also done a lot of cardio, and without even realising it.”
The mathematics part is, indeed, indisputable as a great way to anchor one’s mind. Dr. Payal Kumawat, who has been professionally (and research-wise) associated with Physical Education domain for many years now, adds that the body also gains a lot here in the form of a full body work-out. “In any sport, one has to expend a lot of energy and time for a 360 degree work-out, but in Kathak, one lets out the same sweat level and tones all major sides of the body while being involved in the dance. The math of it, of course, sharpens the edge a lot. It is a rare combination of art and cardio exercises.”
Sorry – No Escalators on Mount Everest
It is a special triangulate of body, mind and spirit and that is exactly why as one submerges oneself slowly and deeply to Kathak, there is something that transforms something really poignant inside. This well-preserved science and art of true meditation uplifts the soul while shaving unnecessary weight from the mind and body. Just the way ghungroos, the table and the harmonium blend seamlessly for any Kathak practice and performance; the coming together of mind, body and soul on one orbit does the miracle and gives the dancer a true centre of gravity – both literally and metaphorically.
But, there is always a but, right…
Tan vairagi man anuragi, Kadam-kadam dushwari hai;
Jeevan jeena saral na jaano, Bahut badi fankari hai! (Nida Fazli)
If you meet any of these women immersed in real Kathak, a thought is bound to cross your mind – what would it be like doing what they do? What would it be like learning Kathak for not just a work-out tool, for not merely a dance form, but for something that reincarnates our spirits while we are still alive? What would it be like dashing across the stairs, turning our backs to unnecessary headaches for one hour?
And any of these Kathak protégés will tell you what they have learnt well from Dr. Saroj – “You cannot capture its true powers and essence unless you actually put something of yourself in it.”
In Dr. Saroj’s well-nailed words – It is not dance. It is Meraki.
Dr. Shilpa stresses, “I would recommend every woman – please do whatever you have always wished to do – dance, paint, doodle, trek, whatever. Find your happiness. Put yourself into a vessel. Pick any vessel but pour yourself into what you love. Do not let life pass you by.”
“It is a special bubble for me. My Kathak class is my sanctuary. Once I enter this world, I find myself and my peace and something else that I am still finding a word for.” Kalpana’s passion for these few hours twinkles bright in her eyes.
That is why no matter how good Shreya Ghosal or Pritam or Madhuri is, the true nerve-tingling impact of the song only gets born when you allow yourself to immerse in it.
There is a reason that some women enter this class as different people and climb down the stairs as transformed souls –as if they are just out of a time-machine. They invest more than time. They pursue Meraki.
Unlike others. Some people, as Benjamin Franklin observed, die at 25 and they are buried at 75. Which one are you?
The one who simply hears a song or the one who lets the song pierce beautifully?