Ranga Shankara: Samprati 2013

It's home to us.

We can walk around blindfolded, know the numbers of steps to the first greenroom, the width of the wings, what the cyclorama feels like when one rests a tired cheek on it, the taste of the sabudana vades and definitely better than to eat or sleep (openly) in the auditorium.

Ranga Shankara, Arundhati Nag's baby and one of the dead-best theatre facilities in the country, turned 9 on October 24th this year and will shortly kick off it's 10th Theatre Festival - Samprati, a platform to delve into the works of Girish Karnad. A fair chunk of the sun for this well known Bangalore playwright.

If we* love RS in the times of cholera, chikungunya and the rest of the year, we simply adore it at festival time. The weather is great, the girls are pretty, some folks are witty and everyone gets down with the buzz and excitement of a darkened theatre and...the lights coming on. The sheer, insurmountable thrill of witnessing live actors on stage.

I spoke to Suri (S.Surendranath) the new Artistic Director of Ranga Shankara, the morning before the festival begins. Despite being immersed in streamers, posters, interns and having to solve every manner of pre-festival crisis, Suri is his game and funny self, one eye on his laptop and the other on Veronica. “Ayyo Rama” he says “not 15 years, just 9. It's the 10th festival though.” In tandem with the festival in Bangalore, away in Mannheim, Lichtenstein and Nuremberg, the super successful Ranga Shankara-Schnawwl Theatre production 'Boy with a Suitcase" begins it's 8th run. Meanwhile Aru, utterly unphased by the hectic nature of it all, nibbles on a plate of bhel puri knowing, que será será.

So, go people, go and enjoy Samprati! Eid is here and Deepavalli is around the corner. The energy at Ranga Shankara, during the festival, is electric, like nothing else. There will be seminars, discussion, debate, videos of monologues and lots and lots of theatre. Stimulate yourself (ok, I didn't mean in quite that way). Go to Ranga Shankara if you've never been before, you will be so glad you did. And if you are one of that royal we*, well, you know what I'm talking about.

Over to Suri...

1. Any pet dreams for RS, Suri? Where would you like to see it go in the next few years?
I want to reach out to the younger generation. That is where a lot of good and path-breaking things are happening. The new generation or the younger generation has developed its own language. Also, if you look at the demography of the country, about 600 million are under 35 today, making India the biggest youth nation. And about 140 million are around 19 years. How can we forget this audience? It is important that they are given a platform to say something that they really want to say. So in the next couple of years you may see a lot of these young ones performing at Ranga Shankara.

2. Samprati focuses on the works of Girish Karnad...what brought this on? Are you looking at new audiences? New interpretations? 
It is precisely with the same approach we started ideating for this festival. Give platforms to the younger generation. Girish Karnad's playwriting completes five decades came in as a bonus. Then we thought why not marry the two generation. For me it is a wonderful happening - Girish Karnad is from a generation earlier than me and the directors are from a generation after me. It is a kind of bringing tradition and modernity together, like what Girish Karnad has done in his playwriting. For him Modernity and Tradition are not two separate idioms. They are just two phases of any creative process. Like Ananthamurthy says, we must often question tradition to rediscover modernity. And this generation, in these plays, are doing exactly the same. Through Girish Karnad's plays they are questioning the tradition, they are redefining modern society, they are re-interpreting his works in a modern context. Yes I am trying to reach out to newer audience. Even if I get about 20 new audience per day, I am through. I will have achieved something.

3. What about new writing....are you exploring ways to encourage and develop a new crop of playwrights?
This festival could be a step for me to understand the way the younger generation works. In the coming years I think we should allow new writing to be on stage. There is an immediate necessity to get new play writing on board. We need to support new playwrights. Theatre cannot be stagnant. It lives in this moment. And to make it more lively we need this new play writing.

4. Seeing the spate of new and devised works at Ranga Shankara over the last year, do you see the need for dramaturgical interventions or guidance? Do you foresee the introduction of dramaturgs to our theatre-making process?
The need for a dramaturg is more immediate than yesterday. We need not intervene in the process. But certainly we need to guide them. A playwright gives us a focused play. Which is then open to many interpretations with a director/directors. With a devised play, though they may be good, this 'focused element' is often missing. When you have a team writing/developing a play, this is natural. It is then we need a dramaturg, to put the process, and content in order. Not to spill over.
Dramaturgy brings in a kind of cohesiveness to the entire process, from ideating to scripting and structuring the play. The dramaturg, he or she, is as responsible as the director to take the play to the audience. The director can only take the play further from where the dramaturg leaves off.

5. Do you foresee a time when Ranga Shankara spreads its wings and has festivals at other venues? For instance, what about a Folk and Traditional Theatre Festival at Infinite Souls?
Inshah-allah. Right now we are planning to take our AHA! productions to other venues in Karnataka. I come from a strong Karnataka background. I feel children in other towns of Karnataka are deprived of good entertainment. Good theatre, I feel, should reach out to them. Show them what is good. It has some challenges. Language is one. English may not be accepted all over. We need to produce some Kannada plays and take them out of Bangalore. Holding festivals is a humongous challenge. We need a lot of man-power. Ranga Shankara is ready to explore this possibility with a group of like minded people/teams. Why not...

6. What about theatre pedagogy? I have personally been involved with the pedagogy exercises that RS has offered the local community, including the Theatre Pedagogy for Toddlers Workshop. Do you see a Pedagogy Department at RS in the future?
I did not have a clue about this. But once I saw the Portugal team in this year's AHA! festival I am all for it. (Remember I have a grand-daughter, 18 months, who watched the show. She loved it!) We should really seriously start this. Will you help us?

7. How does RS reach out to the community....through interactions with school children....low income group children and so on. In what ways do you hope to further your outreach?
Aru and I are talking every day about reaching out. Our main concern is to get college students to theatre first and then to Ranga Shankara. We need to crack this. When I was running a television channel, we had the same challenge, to get college students to watch the programs. It is one section whose behaviour is very difficult to predict. We need to keep on trying. The school children are with us now. About half-a-million kids have watched AHA! shows at Ranga Shankara. And about one-third of them are those children who could not afford to watch a play. Thanks to Britannia we are consistently achieving this. But there is still a lot to do.

8. How is this RS experience turning out for you personally? Do you hope to leave some kind of mark on RS?
I loved theatre. And am enjoying it. After many, many errands in my life, I feel I have finally settled down. I really don't know about leaving a mark. May be leave a good theatre behind?


July: Dramaturgy, Open University and other ideas

A stream of visitors to the farm. The first avocados. A blitz of Bermuda cherries. A herd of wild boar who rooted around for fragrant khus-like grass bulbs. Rumours of elephants.
Then the team from Centre for Study of Culture and Society on retreat at Infinite Souls. http://cscs.res.in/

Long conversations into the night; about music, Ahmedabad in the 70's, the Identity Project, Aadhar Card. Ashish Rajyadaksha knows Konarak from that time, via the Emergency and rock concerts at NID. I first met Tejaswini Niranaja, during the research and making of Guhya, through her feminist writings, translations and writings on translation. Her idea that translation can be a tool for resistance, that used effectively, the very act of translation can be potentially disruptive, is a powerful one and has had an impact on many of us struggling with issues of multilinguality and form in contemporary performance. No more abject recipients and, further, conduits of words, but more cognizant of the embedded politics of language and text.

Woken early by squabbling peacocks, we walked up the hill to look on Savandurga by dawn. The dogs ran ahead of us, sure footed, eager, 3 patches of beige and white and one flash of black Maggi.


I've been wanting to organize and host a Dramaturgy Workshop for a while, inspired by Germany and the Boy with a Suitcase experience, and it all came together in July. Riding on the zeitgeist of all the new writing coming out of Bangalore, we gathered together, well... tremulously, is the word that comes to mind. We were: Arundhati Raja, Gautam Raja, Swar Thounaojam, Ram Ganesh Kamatham, Mallika Prasad, Kamal Pruthi, Deepika Arwind and Ruhi Jhunjhunwala. And me. Just a small group who had put out new works (that included text in English) in the last year and were interested to participate and hone our craft. Ruhi would be our scribe.

The plan was simple and open ended. I would make a presentation on Dramaturgy in general (from traditional to contemporary tenets) and thus a case for intervention between the points of writing and direction. And we would then, in small groups, make dramaturgical interpretations of 6 scripts. The framework for analysis I shared with the group was:
1. Language
2. Form
- Physical Dramaturgy
- Vocal Dramaturgy
- Musical Dramaturgy
- Dramaturgy of Silence
3. Content
4. Voice
5. References and referencing

The scripts we worked on were:
Bogeysystems - Swar (We didn't have the time for Lucky Lobster, though Swar submitted this as well)
The Wedding Party - Kirtana
Coding Music & Vydehi - Gautam Raja
Nobody Sleeps Alone - Deepika

It was bloody hard work, brave work, and yet we plowed through it, only stopping for food and chai. By around 9pm, we were about done, having presented the interpretations to the playwrights involved. Of course there was blood shed, what decent process would expect anything less.

Later in the night, Suresh Jayaram, the hugely well versed curator and founder of 1 Shanti Road made a lovely presentation on Representation of Body in Indian Art. He rooted it in the links between visual artists and performers, beginning with the outward gaze of Raja Ravi Varma's Galaxy of Musicians and taking us through G.Ravinder Reddy's giant bronzes of Telengana women and N.Pushpamala's frozen, highly referenced critiques of female stereotypes. Me, I fell in love with Anupam Sud's stage-like prints. 

Galaxy of Musicians

N.Pushpamala's The Other and The Mother

G.Ravinder Reddy

Anupam Sud


The next morning, the playwrights spoke briefly about their process and intention as a sort of riposte to the previous day's interpretations. Response, but not justification. It is an eternal battle, between playwright and director. The one's fight for autonomy and artistic independence and the other dragging in that damned fourth wall dilemma - the audience. It raises two questions immediately: Does the playwright write to keep the audience happy? Should the director care about keeping the audience happy? If we substitute 'happy' with 'provoked' there would be no argument. There is a certain sad futility associated with merely catering to an audience and the sub text of the battle is the knowledge that artistic freedom must be absolute. That intrinsic to artistic freedom, is artistic responsibility... and the rest is moot.

But hey, we don't gather for a Dramaturgy Workshop for the good times, right?! A meeting of artists with very different world views, contexts and intentions is bound to be fraught. Hopefully we took baby steps in seeking each other through close readings of text and discussions.

An issue that kept raising itself was that of 'the political'. Is the act of doing theatre, itself a political one? Are we being sufficiently responsive to our times? How has our post colonial history impacted us? How strong is our resistance through the act of theatre?

The other was transculturality. Since several of us had recently been involved in collaborations or trainings with other countries, we spoke a lot about the equations involved. It appears we haven't moved far from Said's Orientalism. Often, even a fairly exposed or evolved collaborator will err in favour of tradition over modernity, unwittingly choosing the embedded value systems the tradition also includes. Choose the mask over the face, so to speak. Let alone foreign collaborators, Mallika spoke of watching a koodiattam performance and then having someone ask if she could do the same! We asked why an urban contemporary artist must be compared to a traditional artist. Apples and pears. Why isn't a traditional artist asked to challenge the politics of gender and feudalism instead?

There were four questions I asked that we try and answer. Suffice it to say, we didn't. Well, not completely. But the questions have been tabled and we are mindful of them and struggling to frame answers in the context of a rapidly evolving Bangalore.

1. Why theatre?
2. Theatre for whom?
3. How do we deal with the changing spectator?
4. Can we be or should we be transcultural?

We ended with 2 promises from Jagriti Theatre that bode well for the future of new works. An online window for new scripts that will be actively promoted and facilitated by Jagriti. A festival of new works at Jagriti. There was also a feeling, perhaps not strongly articulated, but felt - that we should be directing each other's works. That directors, instead of looking elsewhere, should begin by directing plays that have evolved locally. If not as big productions then at least as works in progress, at least to increase community, a sense of solidarity and with empathy for each other's process.

With this, we look forward. To expanding our Dramaturgy Workshops into a public forum, open to all who are interested. To evolving modern Indian tenets of dramaturgy. To working in interdisciplinary ways. To, like Lilly in The Hotel New Hampshire "...keep trying to grow." And unlike Lilly, "...to keep passing the open windows."


The Dramaturgy Workshop peeps had barely left, when the Open University folks came in! What joy, to have so many friends at Infinite Souls in the course of just a month. To see familiar faces after so many years. Chellam Bennurkar, director of Kutty Japanin Kuzhandaigal, the seminal documentary film on child labour in the fireworks industry of Sivakasi and an old, old friend of our home. Corinne Kumar, whose very face and presence is enough to gladden anyone's heart, one of the Mothers of C.I.E.D.S collective, Vimochana and AWHRC (Asian Women's Human Rights Commission). Anita Ratnam, who I met 20 years ago, when Samvada had published the first ever study on Child Sexual Abuse in India and we used this study in the making of "My Children who should be running, thru Vast, Open, Spaces...' Srini Kaddur, wonderful man, who has a farm in Magadi and a tamarind grove not far from us and who is also part of C.I.E.D.S. Ishrath who works with Samvada. Suresh Jayaram of 1 Shanti Road who stayed over after the Dramaturgy Workshop, bless him. I had asked MD Pallavi to come as well, as she was on the cusp of both: her play C Sharp C Blunt, directed by Sophia Stepf, is one of the new works of the the year generated in Bangalore plus I thought she would enjoy witnessing the Open University dialogues. Kotaganahlli Ramiah was the one missing person, but we held his energy and ideas close. As Pattabhi's younger brother Shiv would say this group "... could have been seated at a banquet for the Gods".

This was our third meeting to forward Corinne's idea of an Open University, with a focus on justice and gender, for marginalized youth. She has the experience of running such a model in Tunisia for many years, working in the Arab world with all the restrictions of a police state. We sat beneath the banyan tree and dreamt out loud what we each wanted for this university. Inspiring to listen to the various experiences and ideas the group brought to the table. (check out their websites for a serious buzz) For me, the dream is to explore Sakshi-path deeksha, for want of another phrase. The concept of the individual as Witness. I first had this idea when I saw Amar Kanwar's The Lightning Testimonies. What would it be like, were we to understand the power and potential of each of us, as Witness? Would this enhance our sense of agency and engagement with the world around us? Would we then be less cynical, less apathetic?

We decided to make a small start with a Hunime Habba in Vardenahalli. We spoke with Nagamma, Sankaramma and Lakshmamma and asked them what they thought? How many people would attend? How does a play by Ramiah's Adhima group from Kolar sound? And some music? Janapada? Dollu? Harikathe? Once Nagamma bit, there was no turning back. So dates were fixed in November.

And that's that, right? We can only perform, put ourselves out there and see what happens next. Talk to our neighbours, Rame Gowda, Hanumanthappa and Ramchandra, spread the word, meet by moonlight and enjoy some theatre and music together. Side by side.

Sounds like a start to me.



Blogging from Germany: Frau Gronemeyer's Recipes

Sneha's Notes 
There is something simultaneously vicarious and lovely about people's recipes handed down over generations. A continuum of the senses, that transcends time. I have recipe books and notes from Konarak's mother that offer me a small window into her person. Even though I never met her, I know from her notebooks that she made menus for everything, from everyday lunches to dinner parties. eg Monday lunch: Tomato and cucumber salad, keerai, drumstick and mutton curry, rice, papads OR Dinner for MS & Vimala:  Spinach soup, cauliflower and cheese, roast chicken and caramel custard. I know she liked cooking Sri Lankan food because they had a wonderful time there when they took Twelfth Night over with Madras Players. I still cook from her Ceylon Daily News Cookery Book that her friend Malinie gave to her. I know her roasts and fish curry, learned from her father's recipes, are the stuff of legend. I know David and Doreen Horseburgh would drive down from Madanpalle just in time for one of her fine lunches perhaps of pork vindalho and yellow rice, take a nap and then go dancing at Blue Fox.

Ceylon Daily News Cookery Book
Last week Zui and I baked a Nusskuchen or Hazelnut Cake from a packet I bought in Munster! It was just stunning. From a packet! I have another packet from Germany, which I am keeping for next week, for Maulwurf Cake. This is a uniquely German combination of chocolate cake and crumbs and banana cream. It looks like a mole hill when ready, hence the name. Maulwurf means mole. But these packets are nothing next to the glory of real recipes, treasured and improved over time, by real people.

So it was a treat when Andrea Gronemeyer mailed me some recipes from her mum, Irmgard. Traditional German recipes for Apple Pie and Cherry Cheesecake. Yay!

Andrea Gronemeyer and her mother, Irmgard
Irmgard lives alone in a small village in north-west Germany. She is 87, a widow, with 7 children, 11 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren. She loves to speak on the telephone with all of them.  She loves the German tradition of coffee and cake in the afternoon and always asks if you would like to sit down for same "kaffe und kuchen". And  she loves to read and to go to theatre.

Andrea's mother's apple pie:

3 eggs - beat untill fluffy 
- 150 gram sugar
- 100 gram butter
- 250 gram flour
- 1 cup sour cream
and mix it to a smooth dough and fill it in a buttered springform pan.

Peel 1 kilo apples and remove the seeds and slice it
mix it with
- 100 gram chopped almonds
- 150 gram raisins
steam it lightly
and put it on the dough
cover it with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon

Bake it for 30-40 minutes at 175 degree Centigrade

Cheese cake with sour cherry preserves

(As luck would have it, my mother gave me a jar of sour cherries. But in lieu of them I would use other soft fruit that is available - strawberry, cherry, peaches)

Mix  250 gram flour with 1 teaspoon of baking powder
In the middle of it, press a little hole
Add 1 egg and 125 gram butter
Knead this into a dough

Put two parts of it on the bottom of a springform pan
cover the dough with 20 gram ground almonds

Pour off the juice of 750 gram pitted and preserved sour cherries,  drain them and put them on the dough

Mix and stir
750 gram low fat curd cheese with
200 gram sugar
2 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
3 eggs
75 gram butter
65 gram flour
grated lime/lemon peel
3 tablespoons of fresh lime/lemon juice

Pour it over the dough and the cherrys

Roll out the third part of the dough and cut it into strips
Put it on the cake as a reticule

Bake it for around 50 minutes at 175-200 degree Centigrade

5 minutes before it is ready cover the reticule with a mixure of the yellow of an egg and water

If you try the recipes please let me know!

Love and Hug


Farm Song: Peacocks and Cicadas

Sunset at Infinite Souls Pic: Chris Burchell
Just after the last full moon, we sat out beneath the big banyan, exhausted and happy, the trees mad with prescient rain-scent, night-excitement and insect-song. Check the crickets, I said and Chris said No, they're cicadas. The crickets just chirp but the cicada make the full on tree hum. And since there are no coincidences, this morning: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/06/songs-of-the-cicada.html

As it happens on lazy Sundays, one thing led to another and I found, lo and behold, an FB group working on photographing and identifying Indian cicadidae. Beautiful, noisy little musicians of the insect world, J.G.Myers wrote of them in his book Insect Singers: "It will not therefore surprise one to find the greatest musical artists of the insect world among its deepest drinkers."

Further, his second chapter is on the appearance of cicadas in Art, Mythology and Literature. Aristophanes, who will appear again shortly, mentions them in The Birds:
"But in flowery meads I dwell
Lingering oft in leafy dell
When the inspired cicadas gladness
Swelling into sunny madness
Filleth all the fervid noon
With its shrill and ceaseless tune."


No affection lost there. Perhaps they kept him up, on hot summer nights, with their endless search for sex and drink, those damned cicadas.

One time during the rains some years ago, after many a Dionysian revel, Chalam was snoring about as loud as the thunder and we spent the night poking him with bamboo and chucking pillows at him, to no avail. The next morning he woke up and has complained since about the frogs in the pond and the racket they made. "Brekekekex ko-ax ko-ax brekekekex...."they went on all night long, never making it to Hades, never bringing back Euripides, just going at it, hammer and tongs, in the pond.

"Brekekekex ko-ax ko-ax....
When the revel-tipsy throng, all crapulous and gay,
To our precinct reeled along on the holy Pitcher day, 
Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax."

Aristophanes again, observer and purveyor of all things natural and unnatural. Aeons ago, in The Valley School, my students performed The Frogs chorus one moonlit night around a different banyan tree.

Pic: Chris Burchell
We have another celebrity noise-maker at the farm, Pavo Christatus or the Indian Peafowl. Mornings are wild with their calls, but run as I might, I never get more than a sight of a blowzy beige and brown peahen, occasionally low-flying from one tree to another. Never have I seen that man bird, not a tail feather nor blue strut in sight. This causes me no end of wonder and pissed off-edness. When Arunchala and yes, lots of Auroville is crazy with peacock, how come I don't see them at the farm? When peacocks just laze around the roofs of the ashram at Thiruvanamalai, how come none deign to visit my cottage? When I have seen, with my own very eyes, those vain critters preen in front of a one way mirror studio door in Auroville, why the hell won't they show here? And yet I hear their keening cry so often...

Maybe I should do as Hanumanthappa says and scatter ragi in the lower fields and then rise at 4am to watch them feed. "Mai-yooo" their call goes, onomatopoeic. Mayur.

When Zui was a month old, we were in the Auroville old Visitor's Centre cafe listening to Debiprasad Ghosh play his magical sarod to bring in the new year. Later, drinking ginger-lemon inside we experienced a strange sound phenomenon. Tables scattered all over the cafe beneath the vaulted roofs of the Visitor's Centre, and we could hear, utterly clearly and intimately, conversations several tables away from us.  Our own possibly wandered away to entertain another table. All these many years later, sitting on the verandah at the farm, we hear Zui and Siddharth having a conversation on the hill. 45 minutes away from us through bramble and briar and then up the metamorphic buttresses and outcrops of neighbouring Savandurga.

Another unusual sound was once heard in the very wee hours. Chalam and Johnson, having said bhum Shankar most fervently, were off on a walkabout. The next day they reported a tale of fear and mystery; of foxes and wild dogs circling the farm and passing calls between them like football players. A high pitched, thin sound that volleyed from side to side, now here, then gone, then re-appearing on the diagonal side. We wondered if it was the owls on the tamarind tree, or perhaps Puck looking for some Love-in-Idleness, but they were certain this wasn't an avian sound.

Besides these and the cacophany from the parrots on the young banyans, all we have is the morning bird song. And Nagamma talking to Sankaramma from 3 inches away. Not much else. No traffic or cell phones. The butterflies don't make much noise.

Pic: Chris Burchell
There are other seasonal man-made sounds: the nightly singing when a stray farmer sleeps in his field to keep the wild boar away from his crop, Rame Gowda's radio that he occasionally leaves on to keep away a wandering elephant, the sss-sss-thump-thump of disco bhaktigeete via loud speakers of the temple in Sevanagar and the dull blasts of greed and dynamite that tell me with misplaced authority that these beautiful hills and their resident cicadas and peacocks are on borrowed time.


Blogging from Germany: Shany

Shany Mathew Photo: Leonhard Kieffer 
I first met her through gauzy pink curtains and over glasses of Turkish ayran in a courtyard in Jungbusch. There was a party at the Orientalische Musikakademie Mannheim (OMM), not far from the Pop Akademie, and cycling back to my flat, I saw Emiliano Trujillo and Peter Hinz who introduced me to Shany Mathew, glittery jewel-eyed Bharath Natyam dancer from Frankfurt. I was in Mannheim to work with the Schnawwl ensemble for Das Lied Von Rama and of course we had plenty to talk about.

I met her again in April 2013, with the fabulous photographer of musicians - Roland Rossbacher, and she had just returned from a tour of Eastern Europe with Bombay Jayashree and Priyadarshini Govind. She wasn't performing, she went just to be in the atmosphere of the tour. We talked for a long while at the cafe-bar of the Altefeuerwache in Mannheim. 

I was intrigued by her experience as a second generation German of Malayali origin who had somehow and against all odds developed an abiding love for Bharat Natyam. How does it hang, I wondered? A Syrian Christian girl who is clearly devoted to her dance guru.  How do you stretch past the stereotypes (Non Resident Indians attracted to Indian traditional arts etc) and come into your own? 

So...here is the journey of Shany Mathew, a unique and wonderful soul!

About life in Germany:

I was born in Germany. My father took me by my hands and exposed me to the world of Indian dance and culture at a very early age. He was a senior member of the Indian community in Heidelberg and organized several cultural programs that involved Indian musicians and dancers. Sometimes there were professional artistes who came from India and I was fascinated by their stories and performances. For NRIs like us, it was always very special to be dressed in Indian attire thrice a year and participate in the revelry. It felt like a small Indian oasis and a welcome break from the mundane German lives that we led. At the same time I was watching Malyalam movies at home and mesmerized by dancers like Shobhana and Revathy. This upbringing entrenched Indian classical music and dancing deep inside my soul in the formative years of my life!

About that first moment when she fell in love with dance:

I remember vividly the first live classical performance I watched at the tender age of 4. I was awed by the twin sisters from India performing Bharatnatyam in a community function at Heidelberg. Apart from getting swayed by their beauty and costumes, I was lost in a world of expressions and hand gestures, thoroughly impressed by their power and attention to perfection. I had this surreal feeling that they were talking to me and nothing could distract them from anything that was happening around us… as if they were goddesses and telling me something through their story…as if my mission in life was conveyed to me at a very early stage by god through the medium of humans. I felt very peaceful after watching this performance and something deep inside me told me that I have to learn this dance form..
Seven years had to pass till my wish could be fulfilled under the tutelage of Alexandra Romanova  in Germany, who was a disciple of the renowned dancer Yamini Krishnamurthy.

With Alexandra Romanova
About being brown skinned in an all white village:

Indeed I was brought up in an area where there were very few foreigners or Indians. In the bigger cities like Cologne, Frankfurt etc. where there were many foreigners, it was common for the kids to interact and socialize with fellow Indians, who sometimes were in the same school or classroom. They played together,  had a sense of belongingness and never felt isolated. But I was strongly connected with Germans; the German way of life, as my friends and surrounding was predominantly German.  I learnt German folk dances in school, had classes in western violin, went for artistic gymnastics, was an altar girl and an active member of church activities.

My parents claimed that when I was a kid and saw unknown Indian or brown-skinned people, I turned my face and walked backwards to observe them. I must have felt that they somehow belong to us and my original folk.  The aunties would then wave or wink at me! My desire for India and my origin was very strong.

20 years ago it was much more difficult to be brown skinned or “different”. India was only known as a third world country and the media had mostly negative reports to write about Indians. I never experienced overt discrimination or racism, but there was always an underlying feeling that you don’t really belong to this community and that you are “different”. It didn’t matter, how fluent you were in German, how qualified you were or how rooted in the German culture….

Meanwhile I could feel a change and a kind of open mindedness enter society due to globalization and a positive focus on India. To be brown now, seems to be even “in”.  Moreover, Asians and Africans are also taking important positions in the society like teachers, doctors etc. and even the smaller towns are getting more cosmopolitan. I believe that a good period has started; a time of opening borders in the head, interest in other cultures, cross over projects. But still, like every transition phase, it needs time, patience, and understanding.

About dreams for her dance:

I am already fulfilled and happy, grateful for all the projects that I have worked on. They have already far exceeded my expectations.

But, I do have a few dreams...

I am blessed to have a wonderful Guru, Rangaprabha Girish, in Kerala, who has been training me under the Guru Shishya tradition for the last 21 years. Normally, people choose a Guru who is very popular and marketable as it helps them in their performances to mention a more international acclaimed and renowned teacher. But I was very much impressed by the value system of my Guru, his passion and true devotion towards the art and especially towards his students. He gets the best from everyone, and magnanimously helps underpriviledged children bring out their hidden talent. These qualities made me always return to him and continue my studies even after my Arangetram. However, though he teaches even renowned senior Gurus in Kerala, due to social ostracism, he never gets his due.  

This is why I would like to bring out this hidden gem and reveal him to the world so that more deserving students from across the world can benefit under his tutelage. This is not just a dream but my primary mission. May my dance always be a dedication to his work and personality and bring an awakening among the people.

And last but not least, I would wish that my performances leave the audience touched. Through art I see a wonderful opportunity to unite people and blur the boundaries between countries.

About life as an "Indian" dancer living in contemporary Germany

I am performing and teaching in institutions where there is a promotion of cultural exchange, especially between India and Germany. On one hand I have my very pure traditional classical programs, where I am explaining exactly the meaning and content of the art forms and the story of the performance.  On the other hand, I am participating in cross over projects with foreign musicians, thereby reaching an extended audience who would normally not go for a traditional performance.
This is the a good time to be in Germany, as a lot of Germans are looking towards Indian values and beliefs to enhance their quality of life… dance being one of them. Moreover, since I keep visiting India often, I am also able to explain to my audience the socio-cultural significance of the dance.

About working with western artists and breaking away from the 'NRI' groups?

There was no significant moment when I decided this. It just happened to me that I got an offer to perform with western musicians and I was open minded to try to implement my ideas and own creativity. Also, since there are dearth of South Indian musicians in Germany to accompany Bharatnatyam performances I was a ‘recorded perfomer’ largely dancing on my Guru’s compositions.
With western musicians and senior Indian musicians, who brought influences from jazz, rock and other genres, a new world was opening to me. It was an amazing energy exchange and I felt that we were speaking the same language though we belonged to different parts of the world. 

At the same time, I wasn’t very motivated with just being an NRI dancer, as largely the performances were for keeping the superficial tradition alive and not necessarily for understanding the soul of this dance.

Nevertheless, I blend my performances effectively, keeping the roots and the traditions of the Indian classical dance so that it doesn’t create confusion.

With a string quartet
About influences:

More than dancers or choreographers, musicians who are experienced in world music inspire me. They gave me ideas and I tried to implement them without losing the roots of the classical dance form. So I am influenced by global artistes - Oriental, African, European. Subconsciously I take something from every artist I meet. Furthermore, my first teacher Alexandra Romanova is definitely an inspiration with her work. She translates poems and uses our Indian art forms as a medium to communicate contemporary themes through -ballet, contemporary dance and the classical Indian dance -Bharatnatyam. 


Blogging from Germany: Of Spargel, Waldbeeren and Baerlauch

In Germany I could easily eat sausage. No problem. One lovely smoky little kielbasa, one grilled weisswurst with sweet mustard and my 10 year meat famine would be done for. 10 years of vege...oops, pescetarianism down the tubes just cause of one nice porky wurst. Sigh...

But I hold out because of all the divine plants and herbs and berries that the German spring has to offer, Spargel, Waldbeeren and Baerlauch being my favourites. And Waldmeister ofcourse, for the delicate grassy magic it makes of a jug of chilled white wine.

Spargel was the first of the trio that we met, on a cool spring evening, in Credi (our set designer) and Anne's garden. Anne had a made a giant pot of boiled spargel and new potatoes. I think there was also a tomato tart and salad. But for me, it was all about the spargel. Dunked in melted butter, some juice squirted out of a lemon and....heaven! Not for nothing is this ivory-white chubby asparagus, virgin, untouched by the sun, called Frühlingswonne or Springtime Delight. A taste so subtle that anything else would kill it, and really, a sensualist's treat: dip, lick, suck, chew. It's no wonder it is also reckoned to be an aphrodisiac. People eat it with Hollandaise, (much like it's chlorophyll tinged relate, green asparagus) with pasta, in quiche, salad and so on. But for me, nothing's better that boiled spargel. Perhaps sometime with some shaved Grana Padano, and that's it.

Waldbeeren or wild berries are omnipresent in Germany. A sour mix of purple and red, tiny berries sourced in the woods; fairy-sized blackberries, rose hip, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, hawthorn... Mix them with natural yogurt or muesli, they make the prettiest cheesecake or panna cotta topping, lovely as a compote with plain vanilla cake. I even had a voluptuous velouté of spargel with sundried waldbeeren that was quite exquisite.

Now if spargel and waldbeeren are the girly-girls of the German springtime, you couldn't find a wilder punk rocker than Baerlauch or Bear's Garlic. Also known as wild garlic or ramson, the treat here are the leaves. You've got to be brave, 'cause this one is seriously strong. It looks like it could be a lilly, but rub the leaf on your palm and sniff... no lilly of the valley, this! It grows wild in damp woodlands and in ditches and makes a beautiful, robust, really different pesto. No basil, just baerlauch. I haven't seen it in India, so if anyone has, please tell me where to get some!

Wild Garlic Pesto

1 large bunch of wild garlic, washed

1 small bunch of parsley, washed

60gms pine nuts, toasted

60gms parmesan cheese

150mls olive oil (no need for extra virgin)

squeeze of lemon/lime juice

salt and pepper to taste

Place all the ingredients into a food processor apart from the olive oil and blitz for a minute or two then slowly pour in the olive oil until blended.

Waldmeister! ah....The infusion of this herb (Woodruff in English) in white wine resulting in the delightful Maibowle is one of those eternal matches. Bogey and Bacall, Raj and Nargis.....waldmeister and Reisling. Reminiscent of la fée verte, but lighter, not so scary.

Apparently Johann Strauss II wrote a lesser known operetta called Waldemeister, but that takes me nowhere. This much I know, all of the above quite made up for the sorry glutenfrei Tofuwurst I tried to cheat my taste buds with.