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Delhi Talks: It's becoming increasingly hard to say 'Vande Mataram' to what India has become today, says dancer Geeta Chandran

Editor's Note:  This is the fourth in a 10-part series of interviews with well-known residents of Delhi on issues that they believe define the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Read other articles of the series here

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Bharatnatyam dancer Geeta Chandran was drawn into a controversy recently when she opted out of a campaign supporting Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Chandran’s name had figured in the list of 907 artistes who had pitched for Modi to counter an earlier campaign comprising artistes and filmmakers urging people to “vote hatred out of power”.

Chandran has denied being part of the signature campaign, saying that senior artistes had been invited to the Indian Council for Cultural Relations to celebrate the Hindu New Year. During an informal conversation, a few of them had asked their colleagues to go and vote. Not aware of the political nuance, the dancer was among those who gave her consent on the grounds that voting was every citizen’s right and people must be encouraged to exercise their franchise. However, there were differed views on whether endorsement of the current government should form part of the appeal. Chandran was among those who felt it should not. Therefore, when she found her name among those backing the BJP, she had little option but to come out publicly and clear the air.

 Delhi Talks: Its becoming increasingly hard to say Vande Mataram to what India has become today, says dancer Geeta Chandran

Bharatnatyam dancer Geeta Chandran. (geetachandran.in)

Founder-president of Natya Vriksha, Chandran has also authored books. She has exquisite taste and an enviable collection of sarees and jewellery. She is also fortunate to get immense support from her husband, Rajiv.

While talking about the kind of India she would like to see, Chandran invokes poet Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and his description of a radiant India: “That contains the key to my kind of India – Sujalam! Suphalam! Sukhadam! Varadam! But sadly, these words also are key to understanding how much longer we have to traverse. The first two words ring hollow when we see the abject exploitation of the earth and the destruction of our water bodies.”

“Sujalam, the Yamuna, is our river, which we have systematically killed and reduced to, if I may say, a gutter accepting our urban waste. In Indian mythology, it is said that whoever tasted a drop of water from the Yamuna would gain immortality. But today, the Yamuna has ironically become a symbol of death. The turtles and dolphins that thrived in the lush waters are long-buried, and the water today bubbles with contaminants and sewage. This is surely not my kind of India.”

Yamuna pollution is only one of Chandran’s woes. There is more.

“The concept of entertainment has changed beyond belief. Earlier, at weddings in South India, there would always be a classical music or dance performance. Today, DJs playing ever-so-loud film music has replaced those, and everyone jives on the dance floor. This craze to obliterate our cultural traditions is perhaps the most painful change I face as a classical artiste. The slow, the hand-made, the personalised is yielding space to the commerce of entertainment.

“Look at classical dance. Today, performances are truncated to 45 minutes and no more. The rampant culture of two-minute noodles and dip-dip tea are indelibly harming our invaluable classical traditions. This pressure on the classical robs it of its true potential.

“The notion of the State as a giver or patron has now changed for ever. Today, everything is contractual. Both the political class and the bureaucracy are under tremendous pressure, and that robs them of every opportunity to be gracious. So we have become a vulgar society, without respect. The macro media environment also adds to this pressure. This is certainly not the kind of India I want to say 'Vande' to.”

Clearly disappointed with the state of affairs, Chandran says her profession as a classical dancer teaches her to aim high.

“I have been trained to believe in the highest values and aesthetics of our tradition that once dazzled the world with its conceptualisation of the entire world as one family. This is where the political manifestos fall short. There is very little understanding of our heritage. Being shrill is not a good thing, and with shrillness all around, we are losing the calm that arts brings. Political parties need to learn from artistes.

“Therefore, I would want to say 'Vande Matram' every single day and bow my head to my country. But every time I do that, images flash across my mind, images that are dark and gory; images that are deadly and images that are violent. These jolt me to reality and I shudder: Is this my kind of India? Is this what I will leave for my children? Is this what they will inherit? Is this our legacy? The answer is no. This is not what I grew up with, and this is not what I want to leave behind for the younger generations. I want them to be able to bow their heads in reverence to India and say 'Vande Mataram', something that I am increasingly finding difficult to do.”

“But I am not giving up. We may be far from an ideal India, or an India that I would like to see, but we will get there, maybe slowly, but surely. My India is too big for anyone to alter its essence, too large to be trampled upon. The poet’s words may appear hazy today, but soon, they will shine nice and bright and be as radiant as Bankim Chandra penned them to be.”

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Updated Date: May 07, 2019 10:49:37 IST