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CONNECTING INDIA WITH ITS DIASPORA

Vol 2 Issue 1 January 2009

P R AVA S I B H A R AT I YA

DIASPORA &CULTURE
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Art ◆ Dance ◆ Cinema Literature ◆ Cuisine

MINISTRY OF OVERSEAS INDIAN AFFAIRS

Sreenivas .in Consulting Editor K. dance. Pravasi also takes you on a world tour of Indian diasporic cuisine. flavours and fragrances. It is these values of Indianness that unite us both in ideology and in practice. No part of this journal may be produced.com Designed and produced by IANS (www. From those dreadful three days in November to this day has marked a period of introspection for India’s civil society. Dr.. mechanical.bharatiya@gmail.” Sharanya Manivannan.Z ea=ky.in izoklh Hkkjrh. New Delhi — 110021 Website: http://moia.. Sreenivas Pravasi Bharatiya is a monthly publication. he said. For the past year was a watershed year. We need to ensure that any new architecture we design is genuinely multilateral with adequate representation from countries reflecting changes in economic realities. I Printed and Published by V. once more. a special edition to welcome you to Chennai. cutting across creed and faith. From scholars and practitioners and writers to aficionados. Those who do not have a home make one wherever they can find it. The defining images of 2008 were those of India’s citizenry. spicy and delicious food for thought and pleasure! Food keeps body and soul together and food keeps a nation’s traditions and memories alive even as they morph into a variety of delectable forms around the world. in the final analysis. in many ways. citizens and special forces who laid down their lives both as innocent victims and valiant warriors to defend the city were the ultimate custodians of civil faith.in www. Pravasi Bharatiya pays tribute to those valiant men and women who represented some of India’s finest. we present you this special edition of Pravasi. or transmitted in any form or by any means — electronic. F-148 D. Chanakyapuri. Prime Minister Dr. like no other event has in recent times. photocopying. The wound may take a while to heal. the written word. Temples in the US have become a referencing point and a cultural matrix of nostalgia and “home”. a Canadian filmmaker of Indian origin. talks of his craft and oeuvre and how “Indian” cinema helps him traverse a variety of cultures and mediums with remarkable ease. caste or class. exile and angst are recurring themes in the life of the Written Word in diasporic literature.” spurred Tushar Unadkat’s motive sources of creativity. Uttara Asha Coorlawala. Today. New York-based professor of dance and choreographer and a consummate practitioner of the swirling graces. defined the final frontiers of national resilience… On the occasion of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. — Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the inaugural address of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2008. angst and the urgent need to identify where I really belonged. catch up with Thanabalan from Malaysia who is trying to establish bonds with the relations of his forefathers who went to Malaysia over a century ago from Karaikal in Tamil Nadu. The views expressed in this journal are those of the contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA). born incidentally in Chennai. both within and outside the Indian nation. Pravasi Bharatiya presents you. It is these values that we must uphold to the world in all that we do.” Also read a special feature on vallamkali… Pravasi urges you to find out more about it in the pages that await you. Tushar. or otherwise. coming together to defy the doctrine of hate and terror that shook the country and the world alike. At the G-20 Summit in Washington. Dislocation. Summing up his prescription to deal with the crisis. Bodies such as the G-7 are no longer sufficient to meet the demands of the day. of inclusiveness and the eternal values of truth and non-violence.FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK The idea of India transcends the narrow barriers of religion. stored. In this edition. Pravasi presents a very special writer-artiste-performer who “acknowledge(s) that the friction produced by my difference and lack of any sense of belonging has been fuel for my creativity. For this and much more.overseasindian. in many ways. reflects on the shamanic metamorphoses “contexts” lend her art and craft. of assimilation. dk.overseasindian. recording. without the permission of MOIA. That is what makes us globally Indian. is unbroken. the Prime Minister’s words have had a prophetic resonance. New Delhi —110093 Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs www. and that great unifier of hearts and souls — food. Bhatia on behalf of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs Akbar Bhavan. cinema.G. The Prime Minister’s words were prescient when he referred to the idea of “Indianness”. The Great Indian Diaspora had arrived when the first travellers from India set foot on distant shores with ideas and enterprise. The wider the world becomes. marked by cataclysmic events in Mumbai where a terror attack took the city hostage for nearly three days and claimed the lives of over 160 people while injuring over 200. K.ianspublishing. Ordinary policemen. the smaller it seems to become! Pravasi also brings to you news from the world of economy as it battles its biggest ever crisis since the Great Depression of 1929. Dr. Welcome to the world of food. “Alienation. Pravasi presents a diversity of amazing vignettes and insights alike from the world of culture. presenting you nuggets of crunchy.. Uttara says it “calls for constant plumbing for deeper messages of humanity and for re-interpreting (for new contexts) pre-fixed ideas of identity and tradition”. which to the world has symbolised India’s economic power and resilience. Printed at Printek Grafix.gov. Editorial correspondence and manuscripts can be addressed to pravasi. K. reflects on the replication and re-contexting of Indian architecture and building traditions in the United States. It was this spontaneous union in diversity that. Mumbai. Pravasi Bharatiya welcomes you to the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and wishes you a great meeting of minds from across the globe. All rights reserved. Vidya Dehejia. defined India’s nationhood. says how a “diasporic natya shastra” presents newer resonances and a newer cultural text and context to India’s classical art forms. This edition makes a modest attempt to capture the “diasporic” fusion and synthesis of culture as represented in its arts and sculpture.. “I would like to emphasise the importance of broad-based multilateral approaches to our efforts. but raised in Malaysia and Sri Lanka. n retrospective. another historic city which has given the world iconic pravasis who make us proud. I find resonances of all those things which fundamentally stir me. of tolerance.G.com) on behalf of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs. but the spirit of the city of Mumbai. I seek that which is similar and therefore familiar. GTB Enclave. Singh called for restoration of ethic and credibility in the global financial system. Barbara Stoler Miller Professor of Indian and South Asian Art at Columbia University. What then do our common cultural values stand for? Throughout history Indian culture has been a living example of pluralism. language. it represents a continuum which links us to a collective destiny and its shared memories.

dance Fluid. protean and eclectic… there is no definitive form to an art unbound by tradition across diasporic culture… .

Translations and generational transmissions have often restructured pravasi bharatiya | january 2009 pravasi bharatiya | january “ “ 2009 25 . national and governance”. Telugu. In Thanjavur. I reference a very recent passionate discussion on the Odissi dance listserve (with its world wide readership) on what is and is not admissible as Odissi dance. several cultures seemed to have contributed to the canon of Bharatanatyam — Tamil. humanism and notions of self. a diasporic natya shastra is read anew and resonates with surprising implications in its transplanted context and time. relationship with “Indianness” — whatever that is or is not — is diluted. and intellectual copyright/guru-dakshina issues — were raised in the Edebate… to the confusion of those who would disagree on some aspects of the discussion while agreeing with others. At the risk of reiterating the obvious. with its science. evidencing both intra cultural and cross cultural fusion. In this conception. geography and time are complicit in establishing a dominant central form as authoritative and as the circles dilate. In Thanjavur. says Uttara Asha Coorlawala 24 T he notion of Indian diasporic dance is linked with ideas of a central source dance form that is encircled with ever more distant echoes of itself rippling outwards. technical mastery. Issues as aesthetic excellence. grounding and reassuring in that it calls for constant plumbing for deeper messages of humanity and for re-interpreting (for new contexts) pre-fixed ideas of identity and tradition. I want to point out that scholars have established that the “encounter” between Indian dance and the West happened long before 1984’s ‘East West Dance Encounter’ in Mumbai… It keeps on happening — from the meeting of inquiring minds of the Mughal and Thanjavur courts to the re-formation of local forms into high ‘classical’ art dances based on San- skrit shastras that is into homegrown dances “of the book “ in the early 20th century. control. all this just 50 years after Odissi dance was “discovered” and revived. Laid bare in the discussions were the needs of those artistes who must press up against boundaries versus the needs of others who want to hold to what they have learned. The new ideas are perceived either as contaminating or provocative depending on perspective and extent to which the ideas are imposed or embraced. several cultures seemed to have contributed to the canon of Bharatanatyam. cultural inheritance. Maharatta and colonial influences were embraced. depth.dance The meeting of local and Islamic cultures fuelled what is now Kathak. to value and master after considerable sacrifice and bodily investments. The meeting of local and Islamic cultures fuelled what is now Kathak. It is only certain that the intensity of these lively exchanges highlight the fact that a lot of people around the globe feel very strongly about this dance form and its future. This problem is being thrashed out in global forums today. I want to remember that the encounter with external ideas happens with every translation between performance and the moment that performance is ‘explained’ in any language other than that of dance. Of intersecting circles… Swirling and rippling into all kinds of shapes as dance forms and dancers buzz back and forth from India. was fuelled by what Subramaniam calls the “assimilation of modernity flowing from Europe. This notion can be inspirational. Lakshmi Subramaniam for example has written of how Raja Serfoji II (a Maratha king in Thanjavur) composed marching military tunes as far back as in 1803! The discourse of colonial and even post-colonial times. It is also a deeply problematic kind of theorising of the diasporic condition when it demands that hegemonies of purity and authenticity must conflict with needs to assimilate socially and relate to global changes.

but which provoked a diverse range of responses and post performance writings . “ what we received. the sinful hip thrusts of Helen’s generation have morphed into Saroj Khan’s and Shiamak Davar’s jhatkas and matkas. Stage presence accrues from constant writing onto the dancer’s body what the audiences want and how they see. and that the act of recovering it. for a generation of young Americans of Indian origin. Perhaps it did. we believed passionately that there was some elementally Indian aspect of ourselves that we needed to find. exploring the interior landscape of various women-protagonists (nayika).dance Stage presence accrues from constant writing onto the dancer’s body what the audiences want and how they see. would make us whole. taught me how dance is so much more than what one does. Although. before any of us moved outside India. Viewer responses to performances acquire significance in relationship with the viewers’ prior experiences. my recollection of performing for audiences around India. What we once considered markers of foreign influence have become signals of authenticity. These responses may or may not coincide with the performer’s own contexts as in the recent superbly nuanced performance in Los Angeles by a Chennai performer. and so that embrace of cultural difference is already a part of what my generation inherited. And try explaining that today? Most current discourse on Indian dance forms attempts to prove or interrogate just that! Among the most popular cultural exports from India today are its Hindi films. Arduous hours of work are not by themselves enough. During our glasnost developmental period when I was growing up. however. and later beyond. NRI films and Bollywood dance. what provoked considerable comment was not so much her departure from the tradi- 26 pravasi bharatiya | january 2009 pravasi bharatiya | january “ 2009 27 . of Indianness. However. Viewer responses to performances acquire significance in relationship with the viewers’ prior experiences. presented an entire performance of abhinaya. In October 2006 in a performance presented by in Los Angeles. For example. “a quintessential dancer and a multiple award winning artiste” from Chennai. pluralistic religious and secu- lar cultural practices (let alone beliefs) are incredibly divergent. the markers of authenticity/difference within multi-tiered classes.

2006. Senior Dance Critic. into all kinds of shapes as dance forms and dancers buzz back and forth from India to locales around the world. www. India. and as the YouTube pick-of-the-day enters my sensory world and that of my son and his friends. I am pleased that the times of oppositional discussion are winding down and giving way to more plural ways of thinking about cultural expression. I write only from my perspective of having danced professionally (70s to early 90s) and as a cultural representative of two governments. 2008 2) Responses included articles by Ramaa Bharadvay in Narthaki. as having offered much needed models of subversive female icons in Indian culture icons who had been invisible to this generation. “Embracing the Canonical” and the anthology Performing Pasts: Reinventing The Arts In Modern South India eds Indira Viswanathan Peterson and Devesh Soneji. Alvin Ailey and Long Island University. who had brought their young daughters to the dance recital to educate them in Indian morals. as an ICCR empanelled dancer until I sustained a torn Anterior cruciate ligament and ripped cartilage in both knees accumulated from dancing on too many hard stage floors. apparently the constructions of gender implied by the padam-s and javali-s were problematic. I am grateful for that my life in New York city with my family. It gives me great joy to be involved with their processes and observe their directions of exploration.com. but lots of adjacent circles intersecting. It was at this point.dance NOTES AND REFERENCES 1) See Lakshmi Subramaniam. years later. I am pleased when the young dancers are drawn to understand more deeply not only what they themselves can accomplish. (as fusion in India of the 70s) and later as examples of diversity. the material and the ideological. women who asserted their subjectivity in relationship to men. seeing more clearly a wider picture of who dances.rangoli. perspective on dance. and who calls the tunes. Further responses included Lewis Segal. It is time to think of not one. This speaks to the complexity of cultural.org and www. The presence of multigenerational audiences and memories in the new country complicates reception of that past. but also what they might learn from what Indian dance is and has been.rasikas.org 3) My career was inaugurated by the USIS. religious and secular. Los Angeles Times. Ironically. For anxious diaspora mothers. In those days. www. there were very few persons from India with student visas and these tended to be graduates in technological and highly scientific studies. exoticism (80s in Europe) and cultural multiplicity (90s in India and the US). The most wonderful aspects of the Indian dance forms today is that so many people — dancers and nondancers — come to crisis over the cultural and the technological.com (October 2006) & reprinted by National Sunday edition of Indian Express. CA — Nov 2. Today. tatvas. that one of my friends observed in a dance conference in New Delhi. and my positions at Barnard. but the performance tours (1973 & 1976. upon some consular officer or editor’s discovery of young girl in New York on student visa studying at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. there seem to be audiences and participants attuned to these discussions. and of having lived my life bi-continentally. Here we have an instance when one past — already re-written by early post independence social reform in the memory of the performer — is read anew and resonates with sur- prising implications in its transplanted context and time. historical and power implications inherent in bodies and in the patterning of behaviours and ideas that are the structures and grammars of dance. where I have opportunities to interact with young talented dancers of diverse cultural backgrounds. I have seen how my body and my choreographies were shushed in dichotomised representations of nation and West: how they were celebrated as first as examples of cultural transcendence. Looking back. Oxford University Press New Delhi. when they are discussing dance. It amazes me that regardless of diaspora and source locations. Perhaps their agenda was different from mine. the erotic and the spiritual. I cannot here presume or dare to unravel this Gordian knots of investments. tional concert format as her focus on the independent women portrayed in these poems. swirling. Yet others commended the performer’s choice and interpretations of nayika’s. rippling. ! 28 pravasi bharatiya | january 2009 pravasi bharatiya | january 2009 29 .narthaki. that I seemed to have been liberated into a new wider. 1978) encouraged me to develop what I had hoped then would germinate an Indian modern dance. then I ended up performing just that as an Indian cultural representative in Europe. fatwahs and agendas. The USIS went on to sponsor my national tours of my dance performances across India.

rs Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs www.overseasindian. lR.US-based Indian dancer. a fusion dance influenced by elements of Indian classical dances.in www. choreographer and teacher Uttara Asha Coorlawala performing ‘Draupadi’s Saree’.moia.eso t.gov.in .

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