Editor's Note: This is the first article in a ten-part series of interviews with well-known residents of Delhi, on issues that they believe define Lok Sabha election 2019.
On the table of well-known Kuchipudi dancer Raja Reddy lies a book of scriptures: the first compilation of the Vedas in the Telugu language; one that would need to be weighed rather than be counted in pages. It is voluminous, and according to Reddy, it weighs “over 20 kilograms, if not more”. The Nataraja idol beside it looks rather small. Strangely, Reddy is surrounded with books rather than images from his own discipline: dance.
Reddy’s life is about balance: both in the art form he pursues, and in personal life. He is among the few men who have perfectly balanced their two marriages. Reddy first married Radha, and later her younger sister Kaushalya. “Share my husband if you will,” Radha had then told her sister, “but you will never dance with him”. Till date, Kaushalya and Raja have never danced together. Yet, they are a “happy threesome” living in a mansion-like home in New Delhi.
Claiming that he has no political affiliations, Reddy does rue the decimation of 'Bharat versus India' — a recurring theme of the BJP. “Bharat is superior to India: it is a repository of art, knowledge and culture . I salute 'Bharat': to me it is 'swargam, prachi sudha', heaven and nectar of the East. As against this, 'India' or 'Hindustan' is its narrow and limited form, and misses the greatness that 'Bharat' imbibes. 'Bharat' is a mosaic of different cultures, religion and languages and is by far superior than 'India', which is synonymous with strife, violence and divisiveness," he says.
“'India' has failed to carry forward the legacy of 'Bharat'. It is English and western, and continues to imbibe what the British left behind. It has missed out on the gurukul system; instead the British imposed English as the medium of instruction all over. Alongside, they trampled over Indian culture. To me, India — the country — is a distortion of 'Bharat' — the legacy.”
Successive governments, Reddy says, have failed to address the issue. “The only person who tried to inculcate the spirit of 'Bharat' within 'India' was Raj Narain, a minister during Janata Party regime, and the politician who defeated Indira Gandhi (during the 1977 Lok Sabha election). I still remember how he discarded fine china cups and mooted for earthen containers. Not many were able to carry that forward. Others who tried indulged in mere tokenism," he says.
“Another leader who I would single out and give credit to is Indira Gandhi. She single-handedly restored the dignity of Indian art forms. Every time that a foreign dignitary visited India, she ensured that a dance or music performance was included in the schedule."
“Indira was also very particular about maintaining the dignity of the artists. I remember, during an international conference, she had come to watch the rehearsals as late as 3 am because through the day she was tied up in meetings. It was during the same time that she found that a group of Rajasthani singers was being made to go around each table to perform. She was livid: 'How can you make the artistes go around tables? They must only perform on stage.'" Reddy rues the absence of sensitivity among politicians who take artistes “rather lightly”.
While none measured up to Indira Gandhi, Reddy does concede that after her the only leader who gave “some attention” to artistes and the cause of culture was former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was “fond of music, poetry and dance”. To quote Reddy, Vajpayee was a “rasik”.
“I also regret the manner in which the Padma awards have been devalued. Today, they are a result of intense lobbying rather than recognition of talent. Also, on-line applications to hunt for talent is very dubious and misleading. This must change.”
“My kind of India is one in which 'Bharat' and its culture should be center-stage. India should mirror 'Bharat' even while encompassing the 'Indianness' of India. I want to see politicians encourage dancers and artistes. 'Bharat' is supreme and cannot come after India; rather it should lead and be the torch bearer. Let India lead by all means but 'Bharat' should not lag behind”.
Reddy believes that Vedas must be taught in schools. "As of now, the teaching of scriptures is limited to Ramayana and Mahabharata and that, too, at the primary levels. Governments, irrespective of parties, must be duty bound to promote 'Bharatiyata'. As of now it is mere tokenism, and after a few dance and music classes till the primary level, it is done away with. Even sports are given far more importance in the curricula while arts, music and dance are poor cousins. This has to change, otherwise 'Bharat' will lose it soul and India would become hollow; a mere body which lives on devoid of its essence," he says.
“I am not suggesting that India or its concept should be diluted. It is necessary to keep with the times if we need to progress and compete internationally. India must move forward. On that, we cannot compromise. But India should inculcate the spirit of Bharat and reflect on its legacy and rich cultural heritage”.
Giving a thumbs up to BJP, Reddy says, “It is good that the BJP talks about 'Bharat', but somewhere along the line it allowed communalism and politics to overtake that sentiment”.
However, Reddy feels that arts should not be government dependent, nor should its survival depend on the vision on any one government. “India’s culture and the arts should be all pervasive and every government must have it inbuilt in the framework of development. It should be an imperative to do in the list like food and shelter. It should be a macro theme," he says.
“I also regret the levels that politics has stooped to. The language and the attack on opponents is very regretful. This gali galouch, abuses, are completely unacceptable as is the religious and divisive rhetoric. The feeling of oneness is being replaced by narrow divisions of caste and community. We are increasingly talking about Hindu, Muslims and Christians rather than Indians or Bharatwasis. I am all for nationalism and also believe that if anyone tried to play dirty, they must be taught a lesson. But rhetoric should be free of hatred and venom and the bar should not, at any cost, be lowered. As of now. the cracks are showing and the seeds of communalism threatening to erupt,” says Reddy as he flips through the Telugu version of the Vedas that he wants to read but is loathed to carry.
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Updated Date: May 02, 2019 11:23:34 IST