Withdrawing from engagements, including receiving an award, in Chennai, I dashed off an email to Sabha secretaries, gurus, artistes and stars, suggesting postponement of the December programs to a later date. This was immediately endorsed by renowned Gurus Chitra Visweswaran, VP Dhananjayan, and stars such as Anita Ratnam, Alarmel Valli, the Bharatanatyam collective ABHAI, and many young artistes, who were out there volunteering.
Ananda Shankar Jayant (Image credit: G Murali)
As a vocal votary of the healing power of art, having engaged with dance through my tryst with cancer a few years ago, my suggestion to cancel/postpone the Chennai Music and Dance season from December to later, may have come as a surprise to many. Amidst the angry images of devastation in Chennai, came the rainbow of resilience, of millions of young volunteers, who have braved their everything to save people and deliver services.We as artistes and art lovers, flock to Chennai, the cultural capital, every December to replenish our artistic spirit. And yet in the face of this en masse destruction, of homes washed away, and people rendered homeless, I asked myself: would it be the right time for a celebration of arts? Will it negate the suffering of lakhs to hold festivals during such a harsh time? <!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Withdrawing from engagements, including receiving an award, in Chennai, I dashed off an email to Sabha secretaries, gurus, artistes and stars, suggesting postponement of the December programs to a later date. This was immediately endorsed by renowned Gurus Chitra Visweswaran, VP Dhananjayan, and stars such as Anita Ratnam, Alarmel Valli, the Bharatanatyam collective ABHAI, and many young artistes, who were out there volunteering.“I too feel our priority should be to try and help people affected by these dire circumstances. Dance and music can wait,” said Alarmel Valli, even as Dhananjayan, struck a practical note by asking, ‘How can we even have rehearsals or reach the venue?’ Anita Ratnam was emphatic and stated, “It is unethical” while veterans, Chitra Visweswaran, and Sudharani Raghupathy cancelled all their December kutcheris, throwing themselves into relief work.Artistes volunteering at the forefront sent in impassioned pleas for solidarity during such a time. “I implore you all to stand united at this hour of crisis. To inundate the roads by blocking traffic towards concert halls, wasting generator supply for lighting up halls and canteens using up essential commodities, is really not a responsible thing to do”, pleaded dancer Swarnamalya Ganesh, in response to others who said that the show must go on, that art provides succour, and that artistes would perform and contribute to relief.Musician Anil Srinivasan, who is coordinating and delivering relief round the clock, did not mince words, “The common man is in need of basic survival. I stand by whoever says holding the December season is a travesty in these circumstances.” Back on the field, a day after her mother’s passed away, Sangeet Iswaran, wrote succinctly, “People’s lives and home cannot be rebuilt in a day. I truly think that this season Kaarunya and not Sringaara has to be the King of Rasas!’ So I asked, again and again, and continue to do so in light of this mammoth suffering of a whole city, wouldn’t it be the right thing to do, to offer our support as artistes and art lovers, in any which way to those who are suffering? What better way than, cancel/ postpone a few weeks of the festival this month, and divert the sponsorship/ donations/ticket sales, etc. received for relief in the areas that each sabha/ organisation is located in?What better way than to have all rasikas, and sabhas donate their season pass ticket money to this cause, and not seek a refund for cancelled programmes?What better way than each artiste, doing their little bit to the ones affected in their surroundings? (I am aware that many are already doing their bit.)What better way to show that we artistes care for those less privileged?What better way to showcase the true purpose of art?What better way to say that we are humans first and then artistes?Yes, this will cause some loss due to cancellations, or refunds, but that is trivial in the face of such a calamity. And we could always have more festivals later!With many national and international artistes and only some smaller sabhas cancelling their programmes amid reports that major sabhas are going ahead with the festival, it is the young artiste who is caught between what they feel and the worry that they could be blacklisted if they cancelled, that wrenches my heart.Can’t we set aside our ghungroos and tamburas, in aid of a greater need for just this month of December and allow the city to limp back to normalcy? Can’t we celebrate the arts festival in January or February?As my Guru Rukmini Devi Arundale said: ‘Culture is neither performance nor entertainment but life, and art is an expression of life”.Now is the time for us to stand united in service. Now is the time for art and artistes to serve humanity. Can art, artistes and all those connected with art show the way?Ananda Shankar Jayant, is an artiste, a dancer, scholar, motivational speaker and a Padma Shri awardee. She writes on art-related matters.Also read: Margazhi Utsavam- As Chennai gets back on its feet, should artistes be the exception?
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