There was an exciting bundle of silence in the air. A beautiful hood that hid a globe-trotting Tabla was being carefully taken off. Fingers that had mesmerized ears of all sizes and tastes were now drumming tiny and testing taps – just a few seconds more and the actual performance and magic would burst out.
But before Shri Raj Deshmukh, an accomplished Tabla maestro from the USA and the protégé of Padmashri Pt. Swapan Chaudhuri, began some really-complex, but marvelously-executed compositions; he did something unusual. He thanked his Guru before greeting the audience and said – “if I am good, it is due to my Guru. If I make a mistake, it is all because of me.”
That sentence, itself, was enough to tell why he has the ability to make heads bob and feet come alive no matter how many and where they are. The spell he casts comes as much from his magic wand – the Tabla he worships – as it comes from his humility and respect for his Guru.
Yes. The very word ‘Guru’ casts a different universe for a learner. Learning anything as beautiful and as intricate as a classical art cannot transpire into what it is supposed to be when a student thinks of herself or himself as a student (or worse, as a customer – which is sadly, the norm in today’s shallow world). If you think of yourself as the purchaser of a ticket or the customer of a class, any hope of you reaching even the gates of this magical world is lost – from the very beginning. And conclusively.
In this world, someone who takes you on this big and difficult journey, making sure that you learn well and with the right direction – that person can never be ‘just’ a teacher. That’s why s/he is a Guru. That’s why s/he deserves the deep and lifelong respect that true learners feel strongly – no matter how far they are from the class or the Guru.
Shri Deshmukh reminded the audience this very basic but cardinal rule of classical art that day. And when he was asked how he balances his life as a software engineer with his passion for music, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said – ‘I don’t have to. It’s a priority. Not a task. I naturally run towards the Tabla. It’s what I love, not something that I have to carve time for.’
Sitting close by, Dr. Saroj Sharma, Director, Kala Ashram Foundation was smiling in a mystic understanding. He was repeating what she keeps telling the Ashram’s Kathak students all the time – This art cannot be handled frivolously. It needs the ultimate form of respect, humility and discipline. Because it gives the ultimate form of joy and spiritual elevation.
Indeed. Girls and women of all age-groups, professions, and tastes are taught so much more than ‘just’ dance here. When they approach a stage, Guru Saroj ji would correct them on the grace and the direction. When the audience does not applaud enough, she would tell them how important it is to encourage an artist and participate in a performance, no matter where one is sitting or standing. When they talk about school-stress, teacher-partiality and exam-fever; she reminds them about the wonders of discipline and the never-break-rule of always respecting one’s teachers, specially behind a teacher’s back. When their parents worry about inadequate marks and comparisons with other kids, she ensures that they realize how gifted, unique and love-deserving their child is and how myopic can parents sometimes get. When the Ashram celebrates days that are not even on the calendars of many teenagers and modern-day families, like Meera Jayanti, Basant Panchami, Maha-Shivratri; she is watering India’s roots again – and ensuring that they go deep and far, even if they look dry on the surface.
Learning humility, culture, rigour, attention, empathy, respect for fellow-beings, gratitude and hard work – that never goes out of fashion. These qualities made, and still make, a woman the super-power she was born to be. From young girls to well-weathered feet, everyone gets the chance to embrace the real elements of being a woman at this Ashram. If you ask Guru Saroj ji if this is how they turn into good artists, she would smile mysteriously and say – “This is how they start. Once they turn into good humans, the real possibility begins then. Dance is an endless journey but finding the right first foot is the toughest part. Unless, one is a good human being, there is not much hope.”The next time you hear or observe any good artist or a strong woman, look closer – it all starts and ends in the way they think of themselves, their real Guru in life and any art that they immerse themselves in. That’s the hint of being great. That’s the turning point.