28 October 2006

Jasmine Vs Jewel

I went to see Ramaa Vaidyanaathan's bharata naatyam concert last Saturday. It was a memorable experience. All the while I was watching the performance, I couldn't help compare it with another dance concert called "Silappadikaaram" my friend and I saw a few months back. These two concerts are very different - Silappadikaaram is a full blown dance ballet with scores of dancers and stage decoration and props etc., whereas Ramaa Vaidyanaathan's performance is a solo dance recital. Except for the fact that both are bharata naatyam performances, there is no comparison between the two. But Silappadikaaram has become a yard stick to me. After watching it, I started comparing every ballet, every solo performance with it.

I watched another Odissi ballet called "Rudrakshya" a month back. It had five male dancers and four female dancers performing various items, some all-male, some all-female, and some combination. There was a male dancer called Lingaraj Pradhan who caught my attention immediately. He looked like "Radha" in male disguise. They performed a couple of items about Lord SriKrishna and Gopikas in Brindavan - one dancer portraying Krishna and the rest as gopaalakas and gopikas. Lingaraj Pradhan looked like he is a gopika. He was not at all effeminating. He is as masculine as they come. But when he dances, that far off look on his face, that smile touching the ends of his lips, that light in his eyes, that gaze filled with devotion makes you wonder if he is really a gopika in disguise and is beholding Krishna in front of him right there and then. I have never seen a person transforming so much, crossing all the barriers of gender, location, space, and time and becoming someone else... so convincingly. It didn't appear like he is a dancer performing and emoting on the stage. It appeared like a gopika trapped in Lingaraj Pradhan's body is pouring out her devotion.

Many times, our own state of mind, sentiments, emotions, feelings flow out and create an aura around people and make us think that we are watching their performance where, in fact, we are watching our very emotions being enacted by them. We see things in the light of our own emotions. But that was not the case here. It was not my imagination. Lingaraj Pradhan was truly showing the audience glimpses of his soulful performance.

I drifted. The topic of this post was not Lingaraj Pradhan. The topic is Ramaa Vaidyanaathan. The concert's highlight was the varNam. She chose Swati Tirunal's "Saatura Kaamini" set in Kalyani and performed that item for almost an hour. The theme of the varnam is the dancer addressing Lord Padmanabha and pleading on behalf of her friend who is in love with Him.

The song says - "O Lord Padmanabha, my friend is madly in love with you. She is consumed with desire and has become very weak. You're the master of all the worlds. You take care of every single creature in this entire universe, yet you are not seeing her misery and removing it. She cannot take your separation anymore. Oh lord adorned with Kasturi on forehead, the fragrance of Kasturi is making her miserable with your thoughts and separation. Be compassionate. Don't disappoint her and remove her misery."

Ramaa Vaidyanaathan's choreography and performance to this song was so original and beautiful that it brought tears to eyes a few times in a span of 45 minutes and made a lasting impression I will cherish for the rest of my life. The moments I remember vividly even after all this time are -

While doing sanchaari for the word "sakala lOka naayakaa", Ramaa shows different living beings in the world such as animals, birds, humans and enacts how Lord shows love for them. She depicted Krishna taking care of the cows, petting parrots, embracing gopikas and thus making all of them happy. At one instance, She became a cow. I cannot forget the way that cow raised its head and gazed so soulfully to get Krishna's attention. You can see the love, loyalty, devotion and innocence in that cow's gaze. Ramaa disappeared and Krishna's cow appeared there. It was magical.

Another highlight was the way she depicted the girl smelling Kasturi in a dream-like state and going after it. The girl is already suffering pangs of separation from the lord. She sits in a garden pining away for him and falls unconscious. In that state of unconsciousness, she smells Kasturi. Do you remember how they show in the movies a heroin sleeping and her soul raising from the sleeping person and going around singing a song with the hero ? You can see both the sleeping heroin and the soul heroin in the same frame. That is made possible with the technology there. Here, on the stage, Ramaa makes you feel like there are two persons. One is unconscious with greef, and the other one is raised from unconscious person and goes in search of the source of kasturi fragrance. I couldn't believe my senses. That was the greatness of Ramaa Vaidyanaathan.

Finally the girl finds the source of Kasturi fragrance. She sees lord and embraces him with joy. The fragrance is transfered to her body. She starts smelling like him. And suddenly he disappears from between her arms like a dream. And the unconscious person wakes up. Next morning her friends take her to the river. They all are about to get into the water for a bath. The girl refuses to bathe because she doesn't want to part with the fragrance on her body that reminds her of her closeness with the lord. This was a scintillating moment in the entire performance. I believe I saw a few wet eyes including mine.

Ramaa Vaidyanaathan's speciality is, she doesn't rush with her mudras and abhinayam. She gives it time to register with the audience. Each mudra is performed with such leisure and perfection that you can appreciate the beauty and the technique. Each expression and emotion is performed with such clarity that you get time to relate to it and experience it yourself. You soak yourself in the performance and at the end feel like you've performed yourself. You come out of the concert hall blooming and engulfed by the fragrance of the devotion.

Silappadikaaram is a fast-paced ballet with zero-defect perfection, crying beauty and blinding brilliance. It will leave you breathless. I kept comparing Silappadikaaram to the concert and at the end of the concert, the conclusion I came up with is -

Silappadikaaram is a jewel and Ramaa Vaidyanaathan's concert is a rare fragrant Jasmine.

If you are still curious about Lingaraj Pradhan, I still maintain that he is a gopika who got lost and is trying to find her way back to Krishna.

13 October 2006

This man is my hero

Dr. Mohammad Yunus, a professor, economist and banker from Bangladesh was announced as Nobel Peace Prize winner for 2006 today.

Why did they give it to him for "Peace" and not for "Economics" ? You'll love the answer - "Because he worked to remove poverty and removing poverty is key for maintaining the world peace". In the Nobel laurate's own words, "Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty".

It all started with 27 dollars. Dr Yunus once met a woman who makes beautiful chairs and stools out of bamboo and sells. He came to know that she makes just 2 cents in the whole day out of this business of hers. He didn't understand why anyone with such wonderful art and skill should work for such pittance. She told him that she doesn't have enough money to buy bamboo. So, she has to borrow money from a trader who loans money. The loan condition is that she has to sell him the finished product at the price he decides. As a result, she never made more than 2 cents on her work. The money she borrowed is less than 20 cents.

Dr Yunus asked his student to research and find out how many people are there, in need of small amounts like this woman. He came up with a list of 42 people and the amount of loan they needed to put their lives on track is a mere 27 dollars. Dr Yunus loaned them this money out of his pocket. This enabled them to sell their product whereever they got a good price. He later approached banks to ask loans for the poor people and the banks turned him down saying the poor are not "credit-worthy".

This was the beginning of "Grameena Bank" started by Dr Yunus for giving small amount loans (microcredit) to poor people. This started way back in 1974 and now Grameena bank has over 30,000 thousand branches in villages of Bangladesh. They lend money to over 1.5 million borrowers. The average loan is 75 dollars. Repayment rate is 98% . This bank works exclusively for the poor people. The Grameena bank's microcredit model has been exported to poor nations around the world.

While the traditional banking system is designed to be anti-poor and anti-women, Dr Yusuf's revolutionary microcredit banking system is exclusively designed to empower poor and women in particular. That is why I say the Nobel peace prize can find no better candidate than Dr Yusuf.

Lastly, this great man says he wants to start a company that makes low-cost, high-nutrition food for poor with the 1.4 million dollar Nobel prize money. He wants to construct an eye hospital to serve poor with the remaining money.

Isn't he your hero too ???