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Science, Philosophy and Art!

Science, philosophy and art? Can they be clubbed together? How, why? A young friend had these questions writ large on her face when she heard about SPA for the first time. The name SPA sounds exotic! Does it come any closer to the actual experience of real spa? If yes, I’m in! If not..alas! What do you really have in store under the name SPA?

Image by Gerhard G. from Pixabay

Here’s what I said to her!

The spa that you know, tickles your senses. This SPA tickles your frontal lobe!  You go to spa to relax, put all your tensions away, talk deeply with your body and mind and rejuvenate.  The SPA that we offer calls for higher attention. It responds to the urge we all have to see newer horizons, the need for serious reflections.

But don’t we have too much on our platter already? Why bother with more serious stuff?

Because deep down we all are already bothered! So many unresolved questions and riddles!  So many ideas and conceptions! It is in our nature to be bothered.

Imagine a herd of deer grazing in the meadow in the forest. What a peaceful and pleasant sight. Then there is a slight movement in the bushes, not a leaf crackles, only the stare, and if the wind is favorable there is also a smell..one or two are the first to notice. Drooping ears get erected. In a second everyone is alarmed. They leap and run. As the saying goes, the tiger runs for a meal, the deer runs for life.

Next day, same time, same meadow and the same amazingly peaceful herd! No trace of yesterday’s anxiety in the air. Not that the deer don’t retain any memory from the past, it just doesn’t make them build fences, ignite fire, make tools and weapons and build temples.

We, homo sapiens, did this! Not once, but again and again. What we created changed our environment. That led to newer challenges for us and that, in turn, called for new tools.  The game continues till today.

Arguably, the most anxious, discontented and dabbling species on earth. No any real spa in the world would be sufficient to bring us the calm of the deer. Only if we know how to deal with our own selves, we would perhaps save a lot of trouble for ourselves and for the world.

But is this not what they do in spiritual practices and psychology therapy sessions?  Why SPA?

Because SPA brings together three ancient responses of mankind. We humans wanted to know the nature of reality, we had passion for what we call wisdom and somewhere in the process of becoming human we learnt to take a broken heart and make it into art! How wonderful it is to weave these responses together and see what emerges. Magic happens when we do it together. It is for this experience- SPA!

In SPA we dig deeper into the history of science, philosophy and art. We see what separated them. We also try and find the bridges that connect them together.

This is something our formal education, our career, seldom allows us to do; to gain perspective on these three fundamental qualities of ours.

New challenges are already showing up on the horizon, the challenges posed by biotechnology and silicon life. It’s our own creation. Soon to crack us open. Are we there? Are we listening? There is no place to leap and run away. If we are not to become a meal, we need to look into the eyes of danger and sustain. We look forward to SPA to talk about this and many other such interesting tales.

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Where The City Is

Liminal Spaces are the physical spaces between one destination and the next – elevators, trains, corridors. In Anthropology, liminality is the disorientation that one experiences in the middle of a rite of passage – when you’re no longer the person you were before you took on this journey, and you’re nowhere near to being the person you would be at the conclusion of it.

For the past few years, since I started college, I’ve been feeling this liminality – in school, at work, with family. This disorientation has only become so much stronger in the last one year, while I waited, with everyone else, to start my life again. I’ve come to accept that being in your 20s, is being in the longest liminal space (time) of your life. Add to it actual travel, changing cities for study, work or hobbies – and you are always leaving.

“Self love happens in liminal spaces,” I said when my friend pointed out that I only click selfies in elevators. These liminal spaces, although not destinations on their own, offer us opportunities that destinations don’t – opportunities to indulge in self-love, in hobbies, opportunities of warranted escapism. They come with an allowance for us to be disoriented, to be carefree, to be everything we don’t really imagine being when we’re at our destination but would enjoy right here, right now.

Another liminal space I have recognised recently, especially reinforced by learnings from the pandemic, is cities. For most of us who were not born in big cities, cities are not retirement destinations. More and more people are realising this as they are forced to work from home, rendering the hustle and palpitation of the big city unnecessary. Thus, not only is my very time (age) liminal, my space (city) is too.

This explains not only the disorientation I and my peers feel at all points of time, it also explains our indulgence in escapist behaviours. For me, that would be a constant chase of art and aesthetic respite. I am not an artist. With the way I have struggled in the last one year with writing, I don’t know if I can call myself a writer either. I am just a liminal being, always leaving, indulging in theatre and literature because my time and space allows it and I enjoy it.

I have lived in three cities in my 22 years, and I’m looking forward to making my next big move soon. As I look back at my hazy days and bokeh nights in all these cities, I don’t remember the places I felt at home at. I only remember the places that told me, “You are leaving, and it is okay. Would you like to indulge a little while you’re still here?” Theatres, art galleries, cinema halls, house parties with people I will never meet again, bookstores – every place that I resolved to return to, but always knew I would not really. Not yet. I am just passing through.

“You wanna find love, then you know where the city is,” goes a lyric by the 1975, an indie/pop/rock band we absolutely adore. Although very antithetical to the theory I am sharing here today, it’s been sort of my mantra all these years, as I fell in love with Mumbai, Pune, Panjim, New York City, Delhi. Did I really expect to find love in these places? I did not. I did expect art, a lot of it, because what else do I escape into while I wait?

Art is an integral part of the urban fabric, especially in a post-industrial, media powered era. While exploring this train of thought, it is important to realise that we are not just thinking about art and cities as given objects but as dynamic processes of representation. They shape our experiences, memories and learnings. My time at the IAPAR International Theatre Festival in Pune in 2018 and the Serendipity Arts Festival in Panjim in 2019 did not just further my artistic sensibilities but shaped my very memories of the years, my learnings from them, and shaped my relationships with these cities.

It is not only the experience of consuming art that produces sentiments, it is also the very existence of these festivals and physical venues, in these particular cities, that creates sentiments in the life of aesthetes like me.

The complete scope of geographic engagement with art, more particularly performing art because of its inevitable relationship with physical space, is very wide because it spans the construction of identity, memory and expectations. It also strengthens the vision of the very home we are headed towards. In a way then, we are not just waiting to get where we have to, we are waiting to know where we want to go and to learn how to get there. Chances are, I will not find love and home in the next big city I move to. These liminal spaces and times, these cities and ages, theatre venues, art galleries, cafes and even people we keep going back to because we know we can’t forever, are both an escape from the unavoidable wait and constructions of the very destinations we are waiting to reach.

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कोरोना आणि कलेचा ‘काळ’

कोरोना या प्रकरणाविषयी २०२० सालच्या सुरवातीपर्यंत जनसामान्यांना कल्पनाही नव्हती. फारतर करोना नावाची एक बुटांची कंपनी माहित होती. जगाच्या इतिहासात येऊन गेलेल्या साथीच्या रोगांची माहिती शालेय इतिहासात येऊन गेली होती. आणि त्यावेळी तरी त्या माहितीची व्याप्ती वार्षिक परीक्षेबरोबर संपत होती. हे असं काही आपल्या अनुभवाला येईल याची पुसटशी कल्पनाही कुणी करत नव्हतं. आधुनिक वैद्यकशास्त्र आणि प्रगतीपथावर असलेली मानवजात आता यापुढे असल्या यःकश्चित आणि क्षुल्लक आजारांना अजिबात भीक घालणार नाही याची खात्री होती. आधुनिक मानव हा या सगळ्याच्या खूप वर आलेला आहे याविषयी कुणाच्याही मनात तिळमात्रही शंका नव्हती.

पण गतवर्षीपासून सगळं जग संपूर्णपणे कोरोनामय झालं आहे. कुठल्याही दोन व्यक्तींचं संभाषण हा शब्द किमान एकदा उच्चारल्याशिवाय संपत नाही. किमान एकदा!

या सगळ्या कालावधीत अनेक गोष्टी घडून गेल्या. सुरवातीला तर याचं गांभीर्य फारसं लक्षातही आलं नव्हतं. मार्च २०२० मध्ये जेंव्हा पहिला लॉकडाऊन झाला त्यावेळी, पंधरा दिवसांचा तर प्रश्न आहे असं वाटत होतं. फार तर तीन आठवडे… अगदीच ताणलं तर एप्रिल अखेर. एक क्षुल्लक व्हायरस तो काय… पण तो पुरून उरला. अजूनही आहे. आणि तो जाण्याची कोणतीही लक्षणं दिसत नाहीत. उलट तो दीर्घकाळ आपली सोबत करणार आहे अशीच चिन्हं आहेत.

या प्रकरणाचं गांभीर्य लक्षात येईपर्यंत अनेकांची वाताहात झाली होती. शासकीय पातळीवर खूप धावपळ सुरु होती. या कालखंडात लोकांना मदत करायची म्हणजे काय करायचं हे लक्षात यायलाही खूप वेळ गेला. हा मुद्दा शासनाला दोष देण्याचा नाही. शासन म्हणजे आपल्यासारखीच माणसं आहेत. त्यांनीही हे कधी अनुभवलेलं नव्हतं. अचानक कुणीतरी डोक्यात दगड घातल्यासारखी शासनाची अवस्था झाली होती.

हे सगळं आत्ता लिहिण्याचं कारण म्हणजे या काळात कलावंतांची झालेली परवड. समाज म्हणून आपण कलेकडे आणि कलावंतांकडे कसे पहातो, शासन म्हणून आपल्या लेखी कलेची आणि कलावंतांची किंमत काय अशा प्रश्नांची काहीशी माहित असलेली पण मान्य करायला अवघड अशी उत्तरं स्पष्टपणे समोर येत गेली. आपल्या समृद्ध संस्कृतीच्या वारश्याचा (आणि तो समृद्ध आहेच) डांगोरा पिटत असताना तो वारसा सांभाळणाऱ्या मंडळींकडे केलं जाणारं दुर्लक्ष आणि अवहेलना असहनीय आहे. सर्व प्रकारच्या समाज घटकांचा विचार होत असताना कला आणि कलावंत यांचा स्वच्छपणे पडलेला विसर हा अंगावर येणारा आहे.  

कोरोनानं माणसाला स्वतःकडे पेशींच्या पातळीवरून बघायला शिकवलं. मोठी गोष्ट झाली. पण माणूस म्हणजे केवळ पेशींचा समूह नाही ना… त्याला जिवंत राहण्यासोबतच आपल्यातलं माणूसपण ओळखण्याची, जपण्याची आणि जोपासण्याचीही आस आहे. आणि कला ही माणसाला तिथवर नेणारी एक वाट आहे. कलावंताला डावलून या वाटेवर कसं चालता येऊ शकेल?  

बहुसंख्य कलाकार मंडळी ही हातावर पोट असणाऱ्या असंघटीत कामगारांप्रमाणे असतात. रोज काम केलं तरच त्यांना पैसे मिळतात. त्यांना कुठलीही नोकरी नसते. आणि कुठल्याही मेहनातान्याची हमी नसते. किमान वेतन कायदा नसतो. तुमच्या निगोसिएशन कौशल्यावर तुमचा मेहनताना ठरतो. याला अर्थातच काही अपवाद आहेत. पण मूलतः पैसे देणाऱ्याची मेहेरबानी महत्वाची होऊन बसते.

समाज म्हणून आपण कलावंतांच्या आर्थिक परिस्थितीविषयी संपूर्णपणे अनभिज्ञ असतो. “ते स्टार लोक आहेत! सेलिब्रिटी आहेत! बक्कळ पैसे मिळवतात!” हे वाक्य अत्यंत नगण्य अशा कलावंत संख्येला लागू होते. बहुसंख्य कलावंत हे ‘स्टार’ नसतात. ते कष्टकरी असतात. कला हे क्षेत्र त्यांनी जाणीवपूर्वक स्वीकारलेलं असतं पण त्याचा व्यवसाय कसा करायचा याची अनेकांना अजिबात कल्पना नसते. अर्थात यालाही आपले सामाजिक समज कारणीभूत आहेत. कला ही जन्मजात असावी लागते इथपासून ते विविध मंडळींना लहान किंवा तरूण वयात प्रती-लता, प्रती-आशा, प्रती-बच्चन, अशी विशेषणे लावून त्यांची शिकण्याची उर्मी संपवून टाकण्यापर्यंत अनेक गोष्टी आपण करत रहातो. वेगवेगळे आयडॉल्स, सम्राट आणि सारेगंपुंच्या गोष्टी बघत राहतो. मला अनेकदा असं वाटतं की हा एक सामाजिक कट आहे की काय? कलावंताला महान म्हणायचं, त्याची कला अनमोल-अमूल्य आहे वगैरे म्हणायचं, त्याला मखरात बसवायचं आणि जवळ जवळ देवत्व बहाल करून टाकायचं. आणि एकदा देवत्व बहाल केलं की त्याला एक नारळ दिला तरी पुरतोच की! त्यालाही रोज दुपारी बारा वाजता भूक लागते याचं भान ठेवण्याची आपल्याला गरज भासत नाही.

कला आणि रंजन या दोन भिन्न गोष्टी आहेत याचंही आकलन आपण समाज म्हणून करून घेणं गरजेचं आहे. जे जे मनोरंजन करते ते सर्व कलात्मक असेलच असं अजिबात नाही. आणि रंजन करणं हीसुद्धा काही सोपी गोष्ट नाही. पण रंजन करतो म्हणून तो कलाकार असं समीकरण बनवलं की कलात्मकतेचा, सौंदर्याचा मुद्दा पूर्णपणे गौण करता येतो. प्रसिध्द होण्याची क्षमता हा कलेचा मापदंड नसतो. आणि हे लक्षात न घेतल्यामुळेच आपल्याकडच्या असंख्य पारंपारिक कला अस्तंगत होण्याच्या मार्गावर आहेत. त्यांचा उपयोग आपण तोंडी लावण्यापुरता आणि जाज्वल्य वगैरे अभिमान जागृत करण्यापुरताच करतो. प्रत्यक्षात त्यांच्या अस्तंगत होण्याने आपल्याला काहीही फरक पडत नाही.

गेल्या वर्षभरात आपल्याला असं दिसतं की समाजाच्या विविध घटकांना उपयोग होईल, मदत होईल असे अनेक निर्णय शासकीय पातळीवर घेण्याचा प्रयत्न झाला. पण कलावंतांसाठी कुठल्याही प्रकारची भरघोस मदत झाली नाही. काही ज्येष्ठ कलावंतांनीच पुढाकार घेऊन आपल्या खिशातून आणि आपल्या काही मित्र मंडळींच्या मदतीनं कलावंताना आर्थिक आधार देण्याचा प्रयत्न केला. बुडत्याला काडीचा का होईना, पण आधार मिळाला. तो स्पृहणीयच आहे. परंतु त्यांच्यापासून प्रेरणा घेऊन शासकीय पातळीवर मोठ्या प्रमाणात काहीही घडताना दिसले नाही.

कामगारांच्या पाठीशी त्यांच्या संघटना असतात, व्यापारी संघटना असतात, चेंबर ऑफ कॉमर्स असतात, पण कलावंत हे दुर्दैवानं राजाची मर्जी बसण्याची वाट पहात राहतात. कधीतरी राजा माझ्याकडे बघेल आणि त्याच्या गळ्यातला मोत्याचा कंठा माझ्याकडे फेकेल या आशेने गात रहातात, नाचत रहातात, अभिनय करत राहतात.

कलावंत हा बहुतेक वेळा आंतरिक ओढीनंच हे सारं करीत असतो. त्याचा कलंदरपणा लपून रहात नाहीच. पण सुदैवानं म्हणा किंवा दुर्दैवानं, पण तो सहसा बिलंदर नसतो. त्यामुळे तो रसिक प्रेक्षकांना मायबाप वगैरे म्हणतो. पण ते मायबाप प्रयोग संपल्यावर त्याला अत्यंत निरपेक्षपणे वाऱ्यावर सोडून देतात हे कटू सत्य आपण नाकारू शकत नाही. यातही जे शहाणे असतात, हुशार असतात, त्यांना याचा सुगावा आधीच लागलेला असतो. ते स्वतःच्या जगण्याची घडी वेगळ्या पद्धतीनं बसवतात. आत्तासारख्या परिस्थितीत त्यांना याची झळ कमी लागते. पण त्यांचीही संख्या अर्थातच नगण्य.

या सगळ्या परिस्थितीमध्ये बाकी सर्व व्यवहार सुरू झाले तरी नाट्यगृह सुरु होत नाहीत. मनोरंजनाच्या कार्यक्रमांना परवानगी मिळते पण नाट्यगृह बंदच ठेवावी लागतात. यातून कलावंताला हात चोळत बसण्यापलीकडे फारसं काही करताही येत नाही.

खरं सांगायचं तर नाट्यगृह बंदच राहणार हे समजल्यापासून कोरोनाचे धाबे दणाणले आहेत. आता आपलं कसं होणार अशी चिंता त्याला सतावू लागली आहे. तुळशीबाग, मंडई, लक्ष्मी रस्ता यापेक्षा हजारो पटींनी माणसं नाट्यगृहात असतात! तीच बंद झाली तर आपलं अस्तित्व कसं टिकणार? फक्त दिवसभराचा बाजार, रस्ते, ऑफिसेस, यांवर आपली गुजराण कशी होणार? आपल्याला संपविण्यासाठी या चतुर माणसांनी चक्क नाट्यगृह आणि चित्रपटगृह बंद करावीत? आमचा सर्वनाश करण्यासाठी असा रामबाण उपाय? आता अगदी नाईलाज म्हणून तुळशीबागेत जावं लागणार, मंडईत जावं लागणार, लक्ष्मी रोडवर जावं लागणार, उन्हातान्हात, भर पावसात आम्ही रस्त्यावर येणार… आमची हक्काची आणि लाडकी नाट्यगृह सोडून!

माझी तर खात्रीच झाली आहे की कोरोना हा एक नाट्यप्रेमी आणि चित्रपटप्रेमी जंतू आहे. (तसेही नाट्यप्रेमी आणि चित्रपटप्रेमी हे समाजाच्या दृष्टीनं जंतूच असतात). तो इतरत्र फारसा आढळत नाही. पण नाट्यगृह आणि चित्रपटगृह इथंच त्याचा मुक्काम असतो. या दोन जागा उघडल्या तर लाखोंच्या संख्येनं रसिकजन गर्दी करतील आणि कोरोनाला मेजवानीच मिळेल. सगळ्या जनतेला आता कलेचा आस्वाद घेण्याची इतकी आस लागली आहे की जिवाची पर्वा न करता तमाम लोक लोणावळा-खंडाळा आणि खडकवासला-सिंहगड या जागा रिकाम्या वाटाव्यात इतकी तुफान गर्दी करतील. धार्मिक आणि राजकीय उन्मादापेक्षा नाट्यगृह आणि चित्रपटगृह या जागा अधिक घातक आहेत. या दोन गोष्टी सुरु केल्या तर न भूतो न भविष्याती अशी परिस्थिती निर्माण होईल. कोट्यावधी माणसे मृत्युमुखी पडतील. आणि अशी भयावह परिस्थिती निर्माण होऊ नये यासाठीच बहुधा या दोन्ही जागा बंद ठेवण्यात येऊन बाकीचे सर्व व्यवहार जवळ जवळ पूर्ववत करण्यात आले असावेत.

आमचा पिंड नाटकाचा असल्यामुळे आम्ही आमच्या नाटकांचे प्रयोग जाहीर करतो आहोत. परंतु त्याची तारीख आणि वेळ आम्ही जाहीर करू शकत नाही. त्यासाठी आम्हाला सात दिवस लागतील. सात दिवसांनी, आठव्या दिवशी काहीच न घडल्यास, अजून सात दिवस लागतील. असे किती काळ होईल याची आम्हांस कल्पना नाही. पण तोपर्यंत दहावा आणि तेरावा दिवसही उलटून गेला असल्यामुळे कावळाही शिवून गेला असेल. मग आम्ही प्रयोग करून तृप्त होऊ किंवा कलेच्या आणि कलावंतांच्या संपूर्ण मरणाची आणि पुनर्जन्माची वाट पाहू.

ता.क.: कावळा शिवला नाही तर तो त्रस्त समंध कुणाच्या मानगुटीवर बसेल ते काही सांगता येत नाही. कावळ्याचे तळतळाट लागू नयेत यासाठी संबंधितांनी आपापली काळजी घेण्याचा प्रयत्न करून बघावा.

अजून एक ता.क.: बहुतांचे जीव वाचविण्याच्या प्रयत्नात थोडेसे कलावंत मेले तरी फारसे काही बिघडत नाही. तसेही ते किरकोळच आहेत.

कलावंतांसाठी ता.क.: आपण विक्रम आणि वेताळ वाचूया… तशीही डोक्याची शंभर शकले होतच आहेत… पण विक्रमादित्याने आपला हट्ट सोडला नाही हे लक्षात ठेवूया..

#कोरोनाव्हायरसचाकोरस #नाटकमरूदे #संगीतमरूदे #नृत्यमरूदे #कलामरूदे

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Peanuts for the Sellers of Magic Beans

The Balancing Act by IAPAR, directed by Prasad Vanarase at Amta, West Bengal

The other day, I had an enlightening conversation with my two-year-old niece. Our conversations have levelled up from being in philosophical gibberish to philosophical Marathi these days and I couldn’t be happier about it. We were sitting on our balcony staring at the sky when I found that the little child was unusually quiet. She was staring at nowhere for some time. First I thought she was mimicking me, which she does quite a lot these days. But then I realized, she was lost in her thoughts. So I asked her what she was thinking about. Now those of you who know Marathi would know that the acts of thinking and asking are conveyed through the same word – vichar. “Aga kasla vichar kartyes?” I asked. Now, this little girl wasn’t familiar with the other meaning of the word. So she instantly thought that I was asking her what she’s asking. “Kunala?” she retorted – To whom? I couldn’t help but laugh. Then I asked her what’s on her mind. “Kay chalue dokyat?” To which she was terrified because she thought something was running on her head. So I just hugged her and let her ponder upon whatever urgent matter she was dealing with. But I thought to myself, how wonderful it is that we start thinking before understanding what thinking means. Then she pointed out to a person on the road from our balcony and asked me where that uncle was going. I said I didn’t know. She seemed disappointed with that answer. I doubt she believed me. I don’t blame her for that. I remember believing that adults know everything.

A friend once told me about a funny situation she was caught up in. She was bathing her 3-year-old son and he began to cry. He was furious and he was crying. She asked him what happened. He pointed towards the sinkhole. “Someone’s taking away the water. I want it back!” She didn’t know what to do to distract the child. She asked me, “Now how am I supposed to explain to my little one the law of gravity when he’s only three?” 

It’s miraculous and wonderful to see little children ask questions about big things. This statement applies to the elder ones too. They believe in strange ideas and don’t buy the most obvious ones. That’s what makes them the most unpredictable and most challenging audience to perform for. They will surprise you by laughing in moments where you didn’t expect laughter or react to moments that you didn’t expect them to understand. Yet, oftentimes, they would not even react in moments where you had thought they surely would.

I was working on a story with some sixth graders. We were working on folk stories. In every drama class, we read one folk story and dramatised it in groups. The story for that session was a Chinese folktale commonly titled ‘Emperor’s New clothes.’ For those of you who don’t know, it’s about an emperor who is obsessed with buying new clothes. He’s a true connoisseur of textile. One day two thieves come to the palace and tell him that they have a unique ability to weave gold and silver and gems and riches into a cloth that fools can’t see. Everyone in the kingdom, including the king, pretends that they see the cloth for the fear of being taken as fools. He pretends to wear it and goes out on a small parade. When I asked my students what they thought the story was about, many students said that they think it’s about a king who got fooled by two cunning thieves. But one girl said to me that she thinks it’s about a man who decided to believe in a unique idea and then when he realised that he was deceived, tried to get out of the bad situation with confidence.

How sad would it have been had I told her what the supposed moral of the story was? Her question made me think more about this. What content do we let our children consume? Is it really what they need or only what we want them to need?

Content for children is usually looked down upon. Stories that adults don’t find interesting are handed over to them like hand-me-down clothes. Now hand-me-down clothes are wonderful. They are more comfortable than the newer ones. But I wouldn’t agree with the same about content. It is either that, or the widespread belief that people who can’t create content for adults end up doing it for children. How hard must it be to write for children? What’s the big deal in building a performance that a child can enjoy? How hard must it be to write textbooks? People underestimate the power of children’s literature, of children’s theatre just as much as they underestimate the work done by people who work with children. Stories have power. Theatre has power. And that’s why children should receive content that is nourishing enough for their minds and souls. That which fulfils the needs of both entertainment and knowledge likewise.

Neil Gaiman once quoted C. S. Lewis saying, “There is no such thing as writing for children.” I would like to re-quote him in a broader sense. C. S. Lewis probably believed that he wrote, and people decided that it was for children! I believe it is the same for theatre. A theatre performance that is devised for a younger audience shouldn’t ideally be something that is put down to them by the adults. Adults should be able to enjoy it just the same. If you can’t find it interesting, it’ll be wrong to expect them to find it interesting too.

As easy as it is to bring your content to the market of little people willing to buy anything you present, the biggest challenge is sustaining their attention. I once attended a wonderful performance of Hansel and Gretel for children at a literary festival. The storyteller was surrounded by little children like honey bees on a honeycomb, all of whom had taken the liberty of interaction very seriously. Every time the story went a little further, they’d ask her completely unrelated questions that were haunting them so badly, they needed the answers right away. And her? She was answering only what was necessary to take the story forward without hurting any little mind. The performance was thrilling. One boy ,in particular, was persistent in asking a question and she realized how important the question was for him. The performer wisely chose her words to make sure he got the answer and also made him realise that the question was a little out of context, without hurting him. She wasn’t only following rules, she also knew when to break them. 

Many people work with children in various ways; as parents, teachers, caregivers, facilitators, and content creators. They struggle with this common issue of not knowing what is meant for children and what is not. I’d say that the best way of doing the right thing is knowing that there is no right thing. Working with children is a mysterious, magical, wonderful, tough, and mind-boggling voyage and if you are sailing it, you should know that you have a gift. We see a lot of advertisements for protein powders promising the right kind of nutrients to children. We always worry about nutrition for the body but nutrition for the mind is just as important. If children get just what their minds and souls need, I can’t wait to see how beautiful the world would become. 

So does that mean explaining the law of gravity to a 3-year-old is necessary? Absolutely! Does giving psychology, sociology and philosophy lessons to school-goers count? Yes, anything and everything their minds and souls need. Does accepting your mistake when they have caught you go wrong count? Yes. It does. 

How funny is it that the makers of content for small people have to ensure that they create content that also appeals to the parents that decide if it is suitable? Parents, teachers and everyone who helps reach content to children play a very important role in what a child consumes. We control what our child sees and reads and listens to. This is one of the primary reasons why a lot of content creators end up doing things that will please the controllers of content. I won’t blame them. Everyone has their bills to pay. It is, however, important to keep our priority the nourishing of young minds and souls. That’s where a greater future for this beautiful world lies.

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Dancers Don’t Talk About Dance

“Dancers don’t talk about dance, dancers talk about other dancers!”

In Transit by IAPAR, directed by Aditi Venkateshwaran.

A very wise eighty two year old friend of mine once said this to me in an unknown, unhinged moment, through her infinite wisdom. Ever since, these words I carry within me, my work and the community I represent. It’s always nice when things work out fairly. But more often than not, that’s not the case. Especially for artists, more so for dancers! We are creatures of habit. Human interaction, whether physical, emotional, intellectual or psychological, is at the core of our existence. In the past year, especially, we have been struggling to make sense of a lot of things that our narratives revolve around.

We’re trying to hold on, move ahead with the struggles that surround us. Many moments in a very confused and troubled time and space, trying to find stronger voices and form new perspectives of how we can grow and create a better future for our children and this earth. How does dance fit into this troubled narrative? How do we continue to move in restricted spaces with tired and confused bodies? How do we make ends meet with our art and whatever it represents for us? Do we have each other’s backs?

One year already into the pandemic, and yet, no one has any more clarity on the future of dance and performing arts. Have we even learned our lessons yet? What is our tribe? Where do we belong? Do we have a community? Some of these questions have always come back to me throughout my journey as a dancer. For a classical dancer who never quite “made it,” I rebelled pretty early. And I don’t think I’ve yet “made it” into the contemporary world either. See the thing is, I’m not even sure if I want to. My journey with my dance and my practice goes much deeper and beyond and I’m glad it is what it is right now. Dance for me is no longer a routine, or a choreography or a style. It is a way of life, a philosophy of sorts, a trigger that has changed things for me like nothing else before. It made me listen to my body, believe in it, nurture it. Dance lives in me – deep in my skin and bones, in the injuries on the outside and the scars within. It makes me question everything – my faith, my loyalties, my privileges.  It makes me dig deeper into questions about where we belong, where we come from and where we’re headed. Especially this entire year.

For a community that thrives on philanthropic activities, patronage and community support, it has been pretty sudden for most artists to have that link completely cut off.  Almost everyone around us, especially in bigger cities have started looking at alternative mediums to explore. Online teaching and collaborations have become a thing and alternative sources of livelihood are more essential than ever. It is becoming evident that being the expert of just “ONE” thing is no longer beneficial. With social media and technology taking over our lives like never before – we need to look at acquiring alternative skills to survive. Honestly, more than anything else, finding relevance in the given scheme of things has become a bigger struggle for most of the dancers.

In Transit by IAPAR, directed by Aditi Venkateshwaran.

“Suddenly we were no longer essential, until we were.”

I recently read a wonderful article about ‘THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER CHOLUTEKA” by Prakash Iyer and I want to quote something from it that I find very relevant to this conversation – “The challenge for us is that we get focused on creating the best solution to a given problem. We forget that the problem itself might change.” We are all focusing on building the strongest, most sophisticated products or services, without thinking of the possibility that the need could vanish. The market could change. ‘BUILD TO LAST’ might have been a popular mantra, but ‘BUILD TO ADAPT’ could be the way to go!” I’m going to try very hard to not become another voice in the chaos and the anxiousness that surrounds us as artists, but what I feel we really need to immediately do is start looking beyond the arts. Start looking at science, at technology, at the society, at the products that govern our lives and those who we live with. The only way to incorporate innovation in our work is to be more open and accepting. 

Becoming accepting towards nature itself – how we treat nature, how we treat each other – will define our existence going ahead. Virtual or physical, to survive – we need to listen very carefully and observe. Physical spaces will always be around us, whether as our homes or black box theatres and proscenium spaces. Dance will always exist, but physical spaces running as business ventures will have to be recalibrated to fit the current narratives. 2020 has been a year of pause, of reflection and immense creative reimagination. In the wake of and still in the midst of a pandemic, how do we begin again? Are we looking at each other? Are we holding onto each other?

29th April is celebrated as International Day of Dance, and to celebrate that, a little perspective from the principal dancer of the Stuttgart Ballet – Friedemann VOGEL the author of the International Dance Day Message 2021 by ITI!

“Everything starts with movement – an instinct we all have – and dance is movement refined to communicate. Much as flawless technique is important and impressive, it is ultimately what the dancer expresses inside the movement that is the essence. As dancers, we are constantly on the move, aspiring to create these unforgettable moments. Regardless of the dance genre, it’s what every dancer strives to achieve. So, when all of a sudden, we aren’t allowed to perform anymore, with theatres closed and festivals cancelled, our worlds come to a standstill. No physical contact. No shows. No audiences. Never in recent history has the dance community been so collectively challenged to stay motivated, to find our raison d’être. Yet, it is precisely when something precious has been taken away from us that we truly appreciate how vital it is what we do, and how much dance means to society at large. Dancers are often celebrated for their physical prowess, when in fact we are sustained even more by our mental strength. I believe it is this unique combination of physical and psychological agility that will help us overcome, to reinvent ourselves to keep dancing, and to keep inspiring.”

I wish on everyone a little happy dance for a moment, a phase, a few years and for eternity – Hoping for a  better version of our future selves, and for reaching back to one another with inspiration, hunches, instincts, and impulses, just like when we move. When our bodies touch each other, when our eyes meet, when time takes off – breaking our bodies to the same rhythm – to help us bridge all gaps, connecting all the dots. Infinite possibilities –  Like a metronome!

The next is unknown yet exciting, and I have a feeling this pandemic is going to become a very important narrative of this generation’s artistic practise. So while I’m making space to mourn for what is lost, I’m also very desperately trying to look for the unimagined opportunities that may live.

Aditi Venkateshwaran

29th April 2021

Pune, India

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All the Whole World – Our Stage?

Indian theatre and other performing arts have always been rooted in tradition. Performed in various Indian languages and in English, theatre in India today has immense diversity and potential. Younger artists are now addressing issues such as identity crises and the thematic handling of postmodernist angst. We take pride in our cultural roots, but funnily enough, we don’t do much to take these far on an international level, aside from the practices of tokenism. Contemporary modern Indian theatre longs to break away from these practices and create a space for itself, yet it often finds itself in a half-hearted effort to rebel against that which it does not truly understand. Our identity on the global stage is a confused, scattered truth, and while it understandably stems from the lack of a structured “Indian identity,” it also requires immediate attention to ensure continued growth in a fast-changing reality.

In the process of representing cultures and communicating this representation across cultures, some features are identified as ‘hallmarks’ of a particular culture. One needs to approach this representation with an open but wary mind and take note of the various nuances of cultures. Global understanding stems from an open-minded approach to the local truths. This approach is a part of the wider curiosity that we as artists must perpetually hold onto, not just to be able to create together but also to be able to learn from one another. Despite our differences in ethnicity, religion, race and access, we are artists who are devoted to a single goal – to create art. World Theatre Day was initiated in 1962 by the International Theatre Institute (ITI), an initiative of UNESCO. It started with 12 centres and now it has more than 90 centres around the world. Today World Theatre Day is celebrated to encourage the globally shared spirit of theatre.

When we create a performance, we want to present it in our town, we want to present it in Pune, in Mumbai, eventually in different parts of the country. On the same lines, what stops us from taking our ambition international? We share our work with people because we believe maximum people deserve to witness our art, as do we deserve to share it with them. Yet our imagination, ambition and faith is often limited by these physical and political borders. Similarly, a great need is also felt for initiatives to bring in international perspectives into the Indian theatre scene. The number of international theatre festivals that take place consistently in India today is a mere handful.

To be a global citizen is a responsibility, and it is also the need of the hour. The modern Indian theatre community is facing a crisis that it is refusing to address. One of the main reasons for this crisis, I believe, is a lack of enthusiasm for international collaboration and a global outlook. We are unable to reinvent ourselves, and we will never be able to truly do so if we refuse to expand our horizons. The advent of social media and other technologies is, without a doubt, a boon for all industries as well as the performing arts, but it is also far from enough. As artists, we still face questions of access, opportunity and networking that will not be solved without initiative. I do not claim international collaboration will rid the theatre community of all its problems, but I do believe that inviting performers from other countries, cultures, ethnicities and offering local students of theatre – formal and informal – an opportunity to view and learn from these artists will sometime, somewhere down the road create inspiration that is otherwise fairly unimaginable.

Over a  century ago, we struggled to formulate an Indian identity. Today, alongside this challenge, we must also forge a greater global identity for ourselves that is not based on mere tokenism but on an adventurous, curious and ambitious outlook.

Photo Courtesy: Carolin Sanders (Switzerland) IAPAR International Theatre Festival 2019