Danc-in’ Bangalore!

By Ashish Khokar – Noted critic, columnist, scholar, historian & publisher Ashish Mohan Khokar, platforms and profiles the history of dance & dancers in Bangalore through this regular column.

1st January 2003: It is not only a new year but the ninetieth birthday of Lata Poovaiah, one of the three famous Poovaiah sisters of Bangalore. Born in Madikere, Lata is the last of seven siblings (Muthamma, Rohini, Beliappa, Swati, Aslesha, Sita and Chitra) who were born to this blessed land – Karnataka! “Those days we went to school by bullock-cart! And the nearest college was in Mysore” reminisces Lata, sitting in her living room at Shangrila in Palace Cross Road just a stone’s throw away from another guru of Bangalore, U. S. Krishna Rao who turned ninety just a day before Lata did, i.e., on 31st Dec!

Lata ended up in Bombay…oops, Mumbai and this was after she had been to Allahabad for college and Benaras Hindu University. “We must be the first girls from Coorg to go that far those days!” This education and exposure stood them in good stead and they were soon under the tutelage of one of the senior gurus of Kathak, Guru Sundar Prasad. Earlier, Uday Shankar, the legendary man (also brother of maestro Ravi Shankar) had seen the trio and supported them artistically. The Poovaiah sisters had arrived! They had an active stage career of almost 50 years, based in Bombay and then returned to Bangalore; pensioner’s paradise “although we had no pensions, as artists!” Lata is now the last living continuity of that glorious era.

Speaking of that era takes me to a letter written by American pioneer “Ragini Devi”, better known as mother of Indrani Rehman. Ragini had based herself on Brigade Road in the fifties and hadmade interesting observations about this city. In a letter written on 13th February 1952 (a full fifty years ago!) to dance historian and late Prof. Mohan Khokar she wrote “I have been trying to organize dancing classes in Bangalore – but find it takes a long time to get a large class and people do not want to pay anything for dancing lessons – so financially, not worthwhile. People here are not art-minded and activities are very limited. So all I can do is sit and write my books!”

This is what I do too! I have written 4 books in one year to bring out “attendance”, the yearbook on dance, too. This may not be possible in other cities where so much happens that one can do no focused work. And fortunately today, Ragini Devi, bless her soul, will be happy to know lots more happens in this city. Over 500 dancers alone visited Bangalore in the year that was and over 50 top names performed. Add atleast 25 major festivals and no one can complain about this being a pensioner’s paradise. It is a paradise and a paradox. For, while one half of citizenry of Bangalore is interested in the arts, the other half – the IT lot, those geeks – have no time or interest for anything except for their desks or bars! It takes all sorts to make a city and its cultural scape.

Here’s hoping 2003 will be a watershed year for the Bangalore art scene. The year began with the “Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival” featuring Jean Luc Ponty & L.Subramaniam. Another, the “Bangalore Arts Festival”, is due in May, featuring Hema Malini, Shobana “Mitr”, Shubha Mudgal and L.Subramaniam along with Prasanna’s Rangayan group and Sajnani’s production of Girish Karnad’s Tughlak. May the season bring out the best of Bangalore. Add Nrityagram’s “Vasantahabba”, which i on the first Saturday of February and your cup is full and overflowing. Enjoy!