There is something about dance that makes it as much a medicine for the soul as literature. I remember the beginnings of being trained in Kathak as a child. Even though I hated taking those lessons and soon left the coaching, one thing I clearly recall about those few classes is how my teacher would emote with the music, and in no time, she would get across a state of mind to me. Back then, I used to imitate her steps, but now I know that the passion of a dancer in any auditorium is endemic. It has the power to send out waves of similar passion amongst the sea of audience. I was witness to one such endemic very recently.
Mallika Sarabhai is an activist and Indian classical dancer. She will perform a piece at the last session of day 2 at the Kolkata Literature Festival 2016. It will be a session different from the rest of the sessions because it will be a live performance. Well, if that is all you have expected from “Stri Shakti- In Search of the Goddess”, you are in for a surprise that will not only render your expectation as an understatement, but also awe the senses out of you.
There are only two temples of Draupadi in this country which otherwise makes a temple at every crossroad.
“We have to understand one thing”, began Sarabhai, “and that is, we look at everything, whether it is thought or action or language or culture or cooking from one single prism and that prism is patriarchy.” This was the theme throughout her dance drama that guided a mesmerised audience on one of the final days of Boimela through tales of those women who were not made into goddesses and those whose sufferings were deified with sexist intentions. Hence, she rhythmically narrated snippets from the Mahabharata. What universalised this narration of an Indian text set eons ago from now is the vantage point which the performer chose to narrate from. The prism of Draupadi, the princess who was commoditized several times in a ‘male-stream’ world, appealed to me- a Draupadi who, while walking through dark alleys late at night, while watching a barely dressed model campaigning for a real estate company, or even while reading in textbooks that 928 is a “satisfactory” sex-ratio, has felt disgraced. Sarabhai certainly struck a chord with her audience by switching between several characters within a matter of seconds with incomparable poise.
Every form of art, I believe, is revolution. If it does not challenge the existing norms that plague lives of many, then it is as futile as ornamentation of a naturally beautiful body. Thus she revolted, and how! From Sati’s frantic conversation with Yamraj to the childish portrayal of Nakula and Sahadeva during their encounter with a shared wife- the lady did it all. Each part of her body moved like pieces of a larger mirror- her body, reflecting a society constructed and manoeuvred by men. Her soul and her body were not isolated, but one meaningful entity that led us in the search for goddess. She redefined who a goddess is, and what parameters qualify a person as a one.
‘The Revolution introduced me to art, and in turn, art introduced me to the Revolution!’
The vocalist and musicians aptly complemented the meaningful Search of the Goddess as Sarabhai deployed rhythm to draw home through Draupadi some often ignored arguments such as “Yes, Krishna gave me cloth but then where was Gita’s truth? Was it not needed then?” Similarly, she explicated that Sati is a ‘Sati’ not because she refused to live, but because she challenged death. This event indeed gave to us (especially those intrigued by feminist retelling of mythologies) much food for thought.
It was while narrating a mythological allegory to the societal reluctance to crimes based on sexism that the brilliant dancer literally did something that we till a while ago had only been citing as an appreciation of her art; she painted an image with her footsteps, and how! When the painting was over, we, as audience, witnessed a lion (symbolic of the strength of the Goddess) before us. No doubt the performance received a standing ovation from the entire house which, I am sure, like me, will take home an inner speculation in Search of the Goddess.