Its 8:30 am on a regular school day at the Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj English Medium School in Kasarwadi, Pune. But it is hard to miss the excitement and curiosity as I walk into the building to see the kids lining up outside their classrooms. They are heading to the small hall at the far end of the corridor to watch another one of Baithak Foundation’s – ‘Baithak @ Classes’ concert.
Baithak Foundation has been engaging extensively with the school with a diversity of concerts on classical arts as well as weekly music lessons. The children all know that they are going to watch something special today. They can’t wait for the performance to begin as they sit down on the mats laid out for them on the floor. All of them primary school students in third and fourth grades quickly fill the room with their buzz and energy.
Dr. Poorva Shah – Kathak dancer and disciple of Pt. Birju Maharaj and Smt. Yogini Gandhi – is going to be performing for this eager audience today. I find my thoughts going back to a day, 12 years ago, when I had watched Smt. Yogini Gandhi-ji perform. It was the first time that I had seen a Kathak performance at such close quarters. The story-telling, the intricate footwork and the way she painted these bold lines on an imaginary canvas was breath-taking. It was a magical spell I never recovered from. As a student of Kathak since, I hope for some of the magic to work for these kids today.
The performance for the day is beautifully laid out by Poorva. Before she begins with an invocation to Lord Shiva, she engages the kids with questions on what they know of the God of Dance. Hands shoot up in the air as every child in the audience wants to share. Poorva weaves all of their answers together as she takes them word by word through the Dhyaan Shlok – Angikam Bhuvanam. “We bow to Lord Shiva, whose body encompasses the Universe, whose speech is the entire world’s languages and whose ornaments are the moon and the stars” – she explains, using Hasta Mudra-s to establish connect between her words and actions. The children form the Hasta Mudra-s with their hands held up with much enthusiasm. When Poorva takes the stage to perform, they watch with amazement as the same Hasta Mudra blend in with movements and music and convey a sentiment of prayer.
A little girl in the audience waves her arm to catch Poorva’s attention. “The tapping sound we heard, is that a part of the music or is that coming from your feet?” she asks and looks disbelievingly as Poorva mentions the long years of practice that it has taken for her feet to be able to make the strong, clear but controlled sound.
The little spectators soon see more of that footwork as Poorva moves on to the next piece – a pure technical segment, an elaboration of Taal Dhamaar. She introduces the abstract rhythmic aspect of Kathak, Hastak-s and talks about the speciality and importance of the Padhant. When she takes the stage though, the children are gripped by the beautiful numeric patterns of the Ginti ki Tihaiyan, the footwork and especially the Chakkar-s. And when Poorva leads them to recite the various numeric patterns of a Saat-ki-ginti they repeat after her in loud excitement.
The day’s performance is concluded with a wonderfully performed Thumri – Bindadin Maharaj-ji’s “Sab Ban Than Aayi Shaam Pyari Re”. Yet again, Poorva sets the stage by telling the children of the beautiful relationship between Lord Krishna and the Gopikas in Vrindavan and the interactions between them. The story – telling is then transformed by the dance and the impressive abhinaya as all the little ones in the audience watch in captivated silence.
As the kids are being lined up and led out of the hall, a group of children stay behind with their questions for Poorva. They want more of this, you can see. They want to know and do more. Poorva, rounds them up in a big circle around her and demonstrates how she does the Chakkar-s, spinning on her heel. Before we know it, the kids are spinning on their heels too. I watch as they refuse to give up and keep attempting it. And then some of them start to get it. One spin, then two, then three… it builds. By now I’m smiling because something tells me that the magic has worked again.
As an observer today, I come closer to understanding Baithak Foundation’s vision and objectives. I witness first-hand the impact that they are poised to have on society. I see a long and arduous journey with many challenges. But then I also see the people behind the effort – who bring together a perfect mix of passion, understanding of the environment they function in and the ability to pull off what they have set out to do. The least we can do is to join the movement!
by Bidisha Ghosh, Baithak volunteer.