Tim asked me why I went to the rural village of Iyengarkulam in India and stayed with the Rajagopals in preparation for the creation of Lives of Clay. The Rajagopals run Kattaikoothu performance school , a unique Tamil heritage theatre form. Typically I waffled as I couldn’t articulate my complex and slightly confused thoughts/feelings.
Having mulled over it I try again.
It was an instinctive initiative. Looking back, the week away with much slow time, without any agenda and nothing to do other than long walks and hanging out with the locals on site drove home some brewing thoughts.
Here’s one such thought which I remember sharing with my brother on one of our post-dinner walks.
India might be part of this global world, but I feel that if I wish to observe the real India, then I have to leave the urban cities and visit the more rural areas. To me, the population in urban cities seem like passengers in an airport’s transit lounge; a holding place where all are passing through and no one feels a sense of belonging or connection. Outside busy cities it is easier to observe the real India-in it’s people and culture, rooted in their land.
If you look at India from one point of view it can be a gloomy picture sometimes. At the same time if you view it at other levels - if there is any country that has in its earth the seeds or the possibilities of looking at life in its entirety or with a sense of wholism, it exists here in India, and you can sense it in rural India, in places such as Iyengarkulam. The culture of the land is like a kaleidoscope of different configurations of plurality including in the nature of discourses that exist.
Here is a civilisation that has maintained a dynamic continuity- it’s never still - it has a stillness or collectedness, but it is not stagnant. The paradigms themselves have been flexible to enable this continuity through change. I see this in the people of the villages - they are like a kaleidoscope made up of seemingly contradictory dimensions that make up the totality. A totality put together through overlapping
You do see a lot of harsh realities yet one returns energised by the spirit of these people and places. Somewhere we urban and so-called educated lot are missing a trick with our misplaced values!
Again I waffled about Bharatanatyam not being connected with the land unlike Koothu( or Kattaikoothu in this case). Maybe I even sounded as though I had gone off Bharatanatyam. No it’s not true . But I knew something was missing in the world of BN I belonged to; the world where BN is packaged as an exhibition of technique
primarily. Kapila Vatsyayan compared the practice of Classical Indian dance forms in urban areas to cut flowers in pretty vases , with no roots to feed them!
I observed Rajagopal and his team prepare for their performance. It was a timely reminder about values and how to embed them in practice. There was no analytical talk, they just did it.
In response, here are some forming thoughts.
All Indian art forms be it Koothu or Bharatanatyam( BN), belong to a different methodology. Eclectic forms but the spirit or the attitude has been the continuity and connection between them all. The artforms are a vehicle of self-discipline and growth ( learning to see?) primarily and then it is shared with good company. Once the emphasis in motivation shifts from self-reflection to exhibition then the nature of the art changes . It loses it inner soul and becomes a mere shallow spectacle.
Although I trained at Kalakshetra where these values were instilled in me, one often needs to remind oneself about the essence of the artform and its roots in the land. I will have to rediscover that connection with the land rather than com
plain that the art form is limited by its highly sophisticated technique.
Watching Koothu and the dynamics of the expression within it makes me wonder if finding that connection with the land might be a matter of playing between the BN techniques of Natya dharmi (highly stylised expression )and Loka( expression of the real world )dharmi. This could be a starting point to reconnect with the land and culture.
These were the qualities of the koothu I wish to revive in my BN i.e primary/secondary motivation and play between Natya/loka dharmi techniques. This in turn will revive the connection with the Tamil land.