The dancers had been asked to present 3-4 minutes of abhinaya without costume and bring recorded music.
Yes, yes, yes!” was the immediate response of dozens of visual and classical performing artists to Shovana Narayan’s request for participation in the recent Tribute to Pulwama Martyrs at the India International Centre (IIC), New Delhi.
We have all shared our grief over the attack on so many dedicated defenders of Indian democracy, but it was Shovana, retired from a brilliant IAS career but fortunately not retired from a brilliant performance career, who brought us all together to express our solidarity through our art.
Row upon row of uniformed CRPF personnel along with their DG, other administrations and families were present for an emotional evening of love, tears, compassion and solidarity. The tribute was planned out with the collaboration of the multi-talented visual artist, Naresh Kapuria, also known for his half century of dedication towards helping others, including a legendary fundraising benefit by a panorama of artistes for Kargil families.
The vision for the evening began with every dancer, vocalist and speaker signing a large canvas in the lobby which was later presented to the DG, CRPF, Rajeev Rai Bhatnagar on stage. Shovana wove a tapestry of poetry through the warp and weft of the evening connecting each brief presentation to the next. Drawing on ancient and modern sources, from sutras to Helen Keller, Gandhi, Wordsworth and Robert Louis Stevenson, she gently embraced our shared loss as with the Sufi epigram, “When the heart grieves over what is has lost, the spirit rejoices over what it has left.”
The balance of dance, music and spoken word tributes began with heartfelt words from the IIC director, K.N. Shrivastava. This was followed by a moving vocal performance by Dr Shanno Khurana introduced by Rani Chhabra. The incredibly elegant Shannoji at the age of 95 established the aura of the evening. Other musical tributes were offered in the deep, stirring tones of Madhup Mudgal and Vidya Shah’s lyrical tenor.
The dancers had been asked to present 3-4 minutes of abhinaya without costume and bring recorded music. Music was handed over to Shovana’s student liaison coordinators, Komal and Mrinalini, with light and sound coordination by Nitin Jain. It was incredible to see the seamless technical transitions handled without a single glitch! No mix-ups, restarts, or dropped levels; mics for musicians and speakers were all in the right place and on at the right time, lights did the needful and when you consider that this involved more than 30 separate light and sound occasions in one presentation, it was awesome.
Sonal Mansingh rushed from her India Gate Odisha Parb performance to join us but arrived after the well-orchestrated event had concluded because everything had gone like clockwork without the usual hiccups and delays that would have made such a large group presentation drag on interminably. This one was crisp and effective and the energy was palpable as artistic voices shifted flawlessly.
The dance presentations were powerful and touching, elegant and thought provoking, by nationally honoured dancers Bharati Shivaji, Geeta Chandran, Prathibha Prahlad, Madhavi Mudgal, Ranjana Gauhar, Dr Saroja Vaidyanathan, Prerana Srimali plus myself. I was particularly moved by Dr Saroja Vaidyanathan’s abhinaya of a soldier’s mother, wife, sister and brother interacting with him before departure to service and each one’s reaction to news of his death.
Rashmi Vaishalingam shared the words of Raja and Radha Reddy who were out of Delhi, Sadhana Shrivastava shared the poetry of Nalini Kamlini and Rama Pandey blew us away with a powerful reading of her own poetry of praise and reflections on society. The always graceful actress, Sushma Seth, shared her feelings in a few words of poetry while Sunit Tandon brought the artiste’s tribute to a fitting end with a well-chosen poetic bouquet.
Besides poetry, there were excellent spoken tributes by Alka Raghuvanshi, Lavlin Tandon reading inspirational letters from the battlefront and from Aruna Vasudeva, Ashish Khokar shared his pride in a family history of a grandfather and of aunts serving as Army doctors while Geetanjali Lal recalled her college days in Kashmir during the 1965 war with Pakistan.
This heartfelt tribute was a much appreciated opportunity for the community of artistes to share our feelings as part of civil society to a representative selection of our armed forces, those who “give their today for our tomorrow”.
Sharon Lowen is a respected exponent of Odissi, Manipuri and Mayurbhanj and Seraikella Chau whose four-decade career in India was preceded by 17 years of modern dance and ballet in the US and an MA in Dance from the University of Michigan. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org