As she cooks Mewar’s interpretation of Laal Maas in piping hot ghee, Princess of Udaipur, Mewar, Trivikrama Kumari Jamval, direct descendent of Rani Padmavati essays a very pulsating take on this dichotomy of creative freedom and the need to keep a classic story intact.
For some reason the film Sailaab comes to mind. It had Madhuri Dixit dancing to an interestingly choreographed song Hum ko aaj kal hai intezar, suitably watchable in its context. I imagine a film promoted as biographical on say a former President of India with the same or an equivalently competent actress essaying the role of the dignitary. Then I imagine a scene at Vijay Chowk and in the name of artistic licence, this character performing that dance in the attire of that song in Sailaab. Alright, let me credit artistic licence with a little more sense – imagine the song notched up a level to a ‘filmi’ adaptation of the lavani, which is otherwise a fine art form. Even if like shifting sands, the disclaimer is added later that the film is fictional, the identification in public space with a certain individual and office would be far too clear already. And yet, Hum ko aaj kal hai intezar performed in Sailaab or some place other than the ‘fictional’ film is fine. If at this hypothetical ‘Vijay Chowk’ situation, instead of actually dancing, the character of the dignitary takes the salute in keeping with the tradition of office, would she be arrogantly establishing her premier rank?
The image of happy feet dignitary is a dash of cold water on my face. I could perhaps mute a Pallo latke, a 70s rip off of an original folk song honest enough in admitting in its performance that it was a ‘filmi’ rip off and meant for no other purpose but that. But as a citizen of the Republic of India, I find unthinkable the crassness of the lavani adaptation in movement, attire and situation, artistic licence or not. It does not even get to the point of muting!
The warm aroma of ghee smoking shakes me out of the reverie. Peculiar thoughts to enter your mind at a kitchen counter! Strangely, as I chop the garlic to be added to the pot on the stove, the Australian poet M.T.C. Cronin comes to mind. From the dark recesses of memory comes the line I seem to remember attributed to her about getting inspiration from the everyday chores of life, including – you got it! – chopping garlic. Intriguing how the mind works, especially the feminine mind they say, traipsing from one thought to another. True enough, even as I potter around the kitchen on a relaxed Sunday morning, thoughts jostle in my mind at random: hope the mutton is fresh, now where did I put the lid, oh dear! Hope the colour of the blouse in the machine does not run, what an absurd discussion I caught while I was flicking channels during the commercial break of the Animal Planet documentary …
Whoa! Where did that come from? But truly, I snigger to nobody in particular, grilling someone on a dance performed at a wedding – I mean, how low can you scrape the barrel? Shout out to Richard Dawkins who said, “By all means let’s be open-mined, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.” Since I had better things to watch than an inane discussion on television, I cannot comment further on it. But it does set my mind thinking. In the heat of things or desire to prove a point or indoctrination by an only-westernised-means-liberal education, it appears we have forgotten our own roots. Dance in our culture is grace, worship, spirituality, offering, enrichment, respect – and entertainment. How many of us acknowledge today the Natyashastra, Natraj and Creation, and probably a whole lot of advice and codes on the order and harmony it represents? How many of us respect the lines of proper place and time for not only dance but every activity we undertake in our daily lives?
Think about it: for all my expertise in teaching English with an M.A. and Ph.D. under my belt, can I step in for a mathematics or a geography teacher? For all the democracy in the world, and all my individual freedoms, do I have the right to make a right royal mess of the college prospects of students by doing that? In case that sounds too micro, let me make it macro. Ah! That was the point where the mind hopped on to Sailaab and a prospective hypothetical film script!
From this vantage, one understands completely what noted lyricist Javed Akhtar means when he says, “We need to preserve them (old songs.) There are certain things that should be respected the way they are. It’s rubbish (remixing old songs.) It’s not acceptable.1” The bard fiercely protecting the sanctity of what is close to his heart and placing the sacred beyond the pale of artistic freedom is commendable (not so much is his knowledge of history, which frankly speaking is the one thing worse than my teaching mathematics and geography) – it is a principle of the sacrosanct for all ages and time, violating which would hurt and has hurt mass sentiments. Playing around with the order and harmony set down in scriptures, chronicles, cultures and hearts is “unacceptable”.
There is plenty to learn from our ancient texts, and indeed texts of other faiths, about the way of life including correct places of dance, music, education, governance, physical and mental health, ethics – that is, if one has the integrity and will. But more of that at a later date – the dish is ready. As I lift the pot off the stove, I have to point out that this dish is the only truth here. Anything else is allegorical and fictional, and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.