By Simrat Pal Singh, Batch of 2019
Shovana Narayan is a Kathak Maestro and an outstanding dancer, famously called as the ‘Kathak Queen’ of India. She is a reflection of the social traditions and artistic cultures of India. She created a new and innovative style of performing arts by enriching it with a deeper and wider canvas of expression and dimensions. She has been awarded with Padmashri in 1992 and Sangeet Natak Academy Awards in 1999.
Do you recall your first dance performance? Any anecdotes which you would like to share with us?
Of course I remember my first dance performance very distinctly and vividly. I was quite young at that time and was visiting my grandaunt’s house. A dance competition was being organized in the neighborhood and I told my mother about my wish to participate in it. At first, she dismissed, but, due to my incessant efforts, she eventually relented to my desire. One day before the actual competition, I went cold feet during the stage rehearsal. I was stricken with stage fright and everyone tried to coax me with several toffees and chocolates and what not but none of that could assuage me. My mother exclaimed that I must put an end to this doltish nautanki but when I realized that my dance could be forced away from me, it was like a dam-burst. So, the next day, I went on the stage, and danced with all the strength and might and eloquence that I could muster and bagged the first prize. This incident perhaps marked the beginning of my journey as a dancer.
Do you think that youngsters actually receive the required support from their families when it comes to taking up something like professional dancing as a career?
I believe that my family was quite supportive and assisted me in honing my skills as a dancer, though I don’t come from a family with a rich artistic background. My father was in civil service and his father before was perhaps a Parliamentarian. And yet, in our house, there has always been a lot of emphasis on Indian culture, philosophy, saahitya and thus the grounding was right there from the beginning. But of course, it depends on family to family. There are several families with slightly orthodox ideology, which don’t allow such ‘freedom’ to their children.
How do you think that we can attempt to change this rigidity in their mindsets?
Some families don’t consider professions in music and dance as viable career options. In the end, parents want their children to earn a handsome amount of money. But they forget one simple fact that money isn’t everything, and that there ought to be a genial glow of self-satisfaction in the hearts of their child in whichever career he/she pursues. So, I suppose that the entire burden falls onto the shoulder of these children to convince their parents, to make them realize that they will be better off choosing a career of their choice rather than being forced into doing something that doesn’t appeal to them.
Also ma’am, how vital do you think formal education is for an artist?
I reckon that it is necessary to the extent that it widens your horizon and opens the windows of the mind in the right direction. But formal education is one thing and good education another. Formal education deals only with literacy whereas good education is about inculcating moral values. It enables us to appreciate differences, to hear another point of view and eventually, amicably agree to disagree. So, education is surely of grave importance but more than formal, emphasis should be laid on good education.
How did the shift from physics to dance came about? Also, being such a versatile person as you are, how did you manage to accomplish so much?
I was always into physics and I’ve always been into dance. My interest in one never snatched me from my desire to excel at the other. I pursued B.Sc. in Physics, M.Sc. and Ph.D. as well and at the same time, I was a well-known dancer. So, perhaps both these things were parallel. And I believe that everyone is quite capable of multi-tasking. When it comes to doing things that you are fond of, you’ll never actually fall short on time. You’ll get the calling from within and no matter how many obstacles you have to face, how many hurdles you might have to cross, you’ll eventually accomplish it without fail. The starting point of all achievement is a simple desire.
Of all the dance forms, why Kathak?
I love Kathak. It is like life itself. It encompasses everything. If you just take rhythm for example-you can have the slowest of rhythm to the fastest. The permutation and combination one can have in Kathak is simply fantastic. Abhinay on just one word or phrase and I can show the entire world in it. It is as if the entire beauty of life resides within this dance form. You can make it as structured as you want and at the same time, as fluid as you want.
Do you think practicing and performing an art form helps in the personal growth of an individual?
Yes. It does. I suppose that particularly classical art forms help in maintaining balance and stability of mind. We are citizens of the world and deeply rooted to our ground of moral values and ethics. Tell me, how many artists you see around killing people, resorting to violence, either to others or to their own self-well. I really can’t think of many. And moreover, if we find the other person’s opinion conflicting with our own, we won’t go around banging his head, like they do in Delhi High Court! Practicing and performing an art form helps in cultivating inner harmony and peace, in inculcating mutual respect and understanding for the other person.
Your advice to those wish to follow your footsteps, be it wearing many hats at the same time or taking up Kathak as a career.
Make sure that you go into the depth of it. Otherwise all your efforts would prove to be futile. To understand the beauty of what you intend to do, you must learn from the grass-root level. Be it as a dancer or an academician, it is necessary to have a strong foundation. And make sure you pursue your goals honestly, sincerely and ethically. Most of all, don’t ever hesitate to perspire because if it were easy, then it won’t be worth having.
What trends do you see related to the popularity of Indian dance forms such as Kathak in foreign countries?
Indian Culture is really popular in foreign countries, which might be contrary to what Indians normally believe. I keep performing in various festivals around the world and have come to notice that foreigners specially attend such festivals to see what Indian culture is, mind you-not the hybrid of western and Indian art forms but pure Indian culture which is often depicted by classical dance. Earlier, Indian population there used to go for hybrid art forms but in recent times, increasing number of Indians in foreign countries desire to feel the essence and have come to appreciate their own culture.
Do you think that there is a stark difference between Indian and western culture or are they quite similar?
Here I’d like to mention that people often mistake popular culture for western culture. How many of you know that symphonies by Mozart and Beethoven were also classical in nature? And I believe that classical music of theirs is as beautiful and spiritual as ours, as difficult as the Indian classical music. Have you ever thought of western dance as classical Indian ballet? We only think of Salsa and party dance which happen to be contemporary dance forms. So, perhaps there is only a difference of perception.
And what role do you think that events like Virasat and Spic Macay play in popularizing our culture among the youth of today?
To say that they are doing a fantastic job would probably be an understatement. In most families, discussion about our Indian culture and other artistic forms doesn’t take place. Parents mostly talk about how to mint money immediately. So I’m afraid that if the present situation continues the beauty of our culture might fade away in the years to come. Events like Spic Macay and Virasat have taken up the crucial responsibility of bridging this gap. They provide an opportunity for the youth to see what our culture is. And youngsters so desire, they can also pursue a career as a professional artist, just like I did.