Thursday, March 24, 2016

'The Palace of Illusions' - A review


a) Draupadi alias Paanchali

b) Five Pandavas

c) Dhai Ma

d) Sage Vyasa

e) 101 Kauravas: Important: Duryodhana and Dushasana

f) Dronacharya, Ashwattama

g) Dhrishtadyumna, King Drupad

h) Bheeshma

i) Others: Satyavati, Dhritirashtra, Pandu, Shikhandi, Gandhari, Kunti, Madri

Plot or Summary

The story revolves around a woman who was born in a world of men, politics and war and vengeance. Narrated by Draupadi, the wife of the five Pandavas, The Palace of Illusions gives a woman’s take on the timeless tale of Mahabharata. Tracing the life of the fire princess from her exquisite birth through her lonely childhood and her marriage and motherhood, this book unravels secrets of Paanchali’s life.

About the Protagonist

Draupadi, was, is and will be one of the strongest personalities in the world of women. Stumbling upon the threshold of her womb i.e. the fire pit from which she emerged, Princess Paanchali was first named as Draupadi to be signified as the ‘Unwanted One.’ Trudging through her quite and cold childhood, her only companions in times of her solitude were her brother, Prince Dhrishtadyumna and her nanny Dhai Ma.

Reaching adulthood, she reaches out to a world beyond her imagination, a world where she works hard to keep up with. With many tragic turns in her life and formation of unexpected relations, Draupadi causes the biggest and bloodiest war in history of Aryavratta, piping up to her destiny of changing the future of her country.

About the Author

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (born Chitralekha Banerjee, 1956[1]) is an Indian-American author, poet, and the Betty and Gene McDavid Professor of Writing at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program. Her short story collection, Arranged Marriage won an American Book Award in 1995, and two of her novels (The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart) as well as a short story The Word Love were adapted into films. Mistress of Spices was short-listed for the Orange Prize.

Divakaruni's works are largely set in India and the United States, and often focus on the experiences of South Asian immigrants. She writes for children as well as adults and has published novels in multiple genres, including realistic fiction, historical fiction, magical realism, and fantasy.

My Opinion

The best and appreciable part of the book is that the author has understood the complexity of Paanchali’s relationships and has put it down in a manner which can be understood by all, for example, the enigmatic relation between Draupadi and Krishna. Also, the author has empathized Draupadi’s situation and conditions with such precision and depth that the most probable secrets of Krishnaa’s (aka Draupadi) life have been unraveled, the biggest being her secret love for Karna who had as much right as Pandavas had to marry her.

Last Note

I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to the author for producing such delicate yet strong literature. I would also like to give my gratitude to my teacher for arranging this interesting activity which led add a number of new books to my list and also air my view about this book.

- Ashritha B.R. (Student at Rasadhwani)

Friday, November 28, 2014

The 10,000-Hour Rule

(Our guest blogger, Fiana Kawane, is a student of Kathak at Kadamb, Ahmedabad, since the past 11 years. She is of their performing troupe and has performed in Canada, Pakistan, Japan and all over India. Currently, she is in her second year of BA honours in English Literature from Goldsmiths College, University of London. She is doing her studies through correspondence so that she can continue to devote her time and energy to Kathak.)

Research shows that to achieve a certain level of proficiency and expertise in any field, it takes an individual 10,000 hours. It is a huge amount of time, averaging about 10 years of work. Be it dance, music, sport or academic excellence, everywhere the figure rests at 10,000. It seems to be the golden rule of success. We might ask, isn’t talent a more important factor? Don’t gifted people need less time to grasp concepts and acquire new skills and thus end up having achieved more in the same amount of time? 

Malcolm Gladwell, an influential thinker, says that ‘Achievement is talent plus preparation.’ Which means that individual progress depends more on hard work and practice than just innate talent. He gives the example of a study done in the 1990s headed by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson. It was conducted at Berlin’s cream of the crop Academy of Music. They divided the academy’s violinists into three groups. Group A were the top students who would go on to become the future soloists. Group B were the students who were neither great nor bad, they were simply ‘good’. The last group comprised of students who might never make it to performing and planned to teach in public schools. They were asked to map out how many hours a day they put into practice throughout their learning years.

All the students began learning violin at about the same age of 5. Till the age of 8 they all put in the same amount of time, that is, two or three hours a week. Differences in their learning patterns cropped up at age 8. Those who were the best in their class gradually started putting in more practice: by 9 they were practicing six hours a week, by 12 practicing eight hours a week, by 14 putting in sixteen hours a week and by the time they reached 20 they were determinedly practicing and pushing themselves to play violin more than thirty hours a week. By the age of 20, the top performers had practiced for a total of 10,000 hours. In sharp contrast, Group B of average students had totaled 8,000 hours and Group C of future music teachers just about 4,000 hours.   

These figures might reduce the idea of hard work and importance of practice to a matter of numbers. But that is not my aim. I don’t think if I robotically put in certain number of hours, I would become a good dancer. There is something more. To distinguish the difference, let me cite the study of another thinker Daniel Coyle. In his book The Talent Code, he says that there is a huge difference between mere practice and what he terms ‘deep practice’. Deep practice is an ‘error-focused’ approach in which the individual learns by making mistake after mistake to find the correct note, the perfect angle, or the true timing. 

Let me give you an illustration of ‘deep practice’ in action. For example, when you learn a new tukda, you first observe and try to imitate what you see. You are not getting the getting the sum right. So, what do you do? You try out variations. First you strike out the right hand to the 45 degree angle to your front and bring the head at the same time. It doesn’t work because you see your guru bringing her head slightly delayed and also tilted which looks more graceful. So you try to do that. Then you see that because you keep your right hand taut it seems like an unseemly stick. So you bend the arm from the elbow. It is coming closer but there is still something missing. What is it? You are letting your left hand hang loosely. So you keep it controlled against your frame. Voilà! It finally works. This kind of practice in which you keep on adding layers of refinement in each repetition is what is known as ‘deep practice’. It is something in which you challenge yourself to go beyond your comfort zone. It is something in which you are not satisfied with an average understanding of whatever you learn. It is something in which you are ready to struggle and work harder for the sake of attaining that perfect sum. 

To bring this study closer to our home front let me cite some examples from our field of dance. All the great exponents have put in sheer hard work even though they were extraordinarily gifted. Take for example, the celebrated Kathak guru Bindadin Maharaj-ji. He commenced his training at the age of 9 and it is said that for three years he simply practiced tatkar for twelve hours a day. Do the math. It comes to more than 13,000 hours. Similarly, Birju Maharaj-ji began his Kathak training at the young age of 3. He says himself that in his early years he put in 4 and half hours of riyaaz daily − no matter what. Even at this age of 75 plus, he tries to do riyaaz for 4 hours. These are examples which inspire us. It is understandable that it requires a huge amount of dedication and commitment and not everyone can do this. Yet in small and simple ways we can incorporate a more productive approach in our learning as students of Indian Classical dance forms. 

5 Ways to Incorporate the 10,000 Hour Rule and ‘Deep Practice’ in Our Lives:

1. Learning Beyond the Classroom:
I’m sure 2 hours of class twice a week is nothing when put alongside the stories above. Spending even 10 minutes recalling what you learnt in class every day will build into a wonderful habit. If you are taking dance seriously then you might want to incorporate riyaaz everyday; it all depends on how much time you wish to devote.  If you like to remain motivated by working with others you could have a practice partner who could work with you before class for 15 min. This is just a beginning. 

2. Participate in Workshops: 
Workshops are great places for intensive learning. Especially those like Rasadhwani’s Suruchi where you get a holistic approach to dance. An atmosphere of high creativity and energy is created in such workshops which is extremely productive in an individual and collective context. 

3. Have a ‘Yes I Can’ Attitude:
Don’t give up. If you can’t get a teehai right, you will but all in good time. Just sleep over it and work on it the next day if your mind gets blocked. But don’t tell yourself ‘I will never be able to do this. This is too difficult for me.’ No. You have to challenge yourself and say, ‘Why not? I CAN do this right’.
4. There is Nothing Like the ‘End’ of Learning: 
Visharad and Arangetram are not the end of learning but rather the beginning of the journey towards achieving that level of proficiency. Similarly, we can never fully learn something and store it away in our memory box. We have to constantly work on what we have learnt. We have to keep on honing, polishing and practicing right from the basics.

5. Focus:
This one word says all. You might have to give up a few dear things: such as those languid times surfing Facebook, watching a certain tv series… But the joy of having a purpose in life and single-mindedly and sole-heartedly working towards it – that is a quality to be admired in any one. 

Well, wouldn't you like to join me in this endeavour? 

Coyle, Daniel . The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Everything Else. New York: Random House, 2009.
Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. London: Penguin, 2008.

- Fiana Kawane

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Bharatanatyam for me

(Chintan wrote this for a student who was doing academic research work on dance.)

Bharatanatyam for me is looking at things beyond their actual appearance. I consider it as a medium of finding a metaphor in every event of our life. Though being an art form, it has deeper roots of spiritual upliftment, for that matter all the classical forms are meant for that purpose. Finding my way through learning a varnam or padam, I have always encountered that no matter what the “pada-artha” of the lines be, it always has a metaphorical meaning linked to it. My life, after learning this chapter from the art form, has gained a second nature of linking dance, or say metaphor, to all the events I come across.

Moreover, looking at the aesthetics of Bharatanatyam, it always mesmerizes me that even wearing a small circular shaped head-gear called “Chandra” has a whole different meaning other than just the beautification. Also my major attraction towards the art form lies in the geometry that one can clearly see during a recital of any item from the Bharatanatyam repertoire. Moreover the structure formation that a dancer forms on stage and a basic pattern of the movements in all the adavus (basic steps) is also a thing that is noticeable. Considering one more aspect of the spiritual link that this art form has, is that, the typical Bharatanatyam repertoire is inspired by the structural formation of a temple and also the evolution of the bhakta towards bhakti. Not going into much detail about the formations and the repertoire, I would conclude that the art form has captivated me by its aesthetic and spiritual beauty.

As far as being a male classical dancer is concerned, yes, initially I thought of this as a crucial task as I considered the acceptance from the society, as it is not very normal for a young Indian boy to take such art forms that are majorly female dominated. But after encountering certain beautiful male dancers from Chennai and Bombay during my visit to the cities for certain dance festivals, my views regarding the acceptance were more enhanced. More male dancers are now accepting the art form as their full time profession and are very well accepted by the dance critics and well as the society. Though, the acceptance from the society will always remain an ambiguous one. As most of them from the society consider the art form meant only for females and just ignore the details and aesthetics behind it, which is not gender biased. Though the ratio of male dancers is reducing, the acceptance level has increased much noticeably. I hope the students of the coming generation take up these dance forms by understanding the values behind it and not just learn them to add one more milestone into their profiles.

Chintan Patel
Student at Rasadhwani

Saturday, June 7, 2014

We feel blessed....!

January 2014 came with the fresh idea of celebrating 2014-2015 as the Silver Jubilee Year of Rasadhwani. An idea followed by ideas, which took the logical extension of exciting talks with friends and well wishers, planning and execution and above all,  raising funds to convert  ideas into reality.

Nothing concrete materialized and things started becoming bad to worse, with   financial closing of the year and approching election. Things were hot elsewhere but lukewarm at our end. Hoping against hope, we pushed the date from February 28th to April 28th, as a duel celebration on the eve of World Dance Day and just booked the auditorium without a penny against the proposed budget for ‘Mangalam’, our curtain raiser event of Silver Jubilee celebration.

Our friends, whom Rasadhwani had pleasure of inviting to perform, gave the consent and the wheels started rolling. Friends, well-wishers, Rasadhwani’s parents and all came forward and soon ‘small’ became ‘big’, enough for two ends to meet.
We are sincerely grateful to our well-wishers, donors, Door Darshan, our techno-friendly team, print media and yes, our appreciative audience who enjoyed the  evening’s  performance - ‘Nar-Nari’ by Maulik Shah and Ishira Parikh, ‘Earthen Pot’ by Manjaree Chandrashekhar and  ‘Gitagovindam’ by Vaibhav Arekar and Shivangee Vikram.

I and entire Rasadhwani parivar feel blessed  that the sincere efforts by ‘Mangalam’ team have been rewarded by the successful execution of an  ‘idea’ and thus genuine prayers were answered. I personally feel blessed that we are inspired by the Great Gurus who have shown us the path to Dance.

And Lo! This gave us the boost to program and plan the second event of Silver Celebration, ‘Suruchi’, due in November 2014.

~ Uma

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Joy of Giving

Dr. Anantani at a lec-dem in Ahmedabad
Until Oct. 26.2113 , ‘Joy of Giving’  held limited  meaning for most of us—to get satisfied by donating charity like food , clothes, books, school fees, etc. to  socially and economically deprived and underprivileged  individuals and wait till next call comes.

Shivangee Vikram, Rasadhwani’s  director, lead dancer and academic counselor made all us experience a different kind of joy through ‘Joy of Giving’ Week, which is organized every year from the 1st to 6th Oct. During this week and weeks beyond, she trained eight underprivileged urban youth in classical dance movements and prepared them to perform in front of a very sensitive and cultured audience on 26th Oct. at the CEE Auditorium, Ahmedabad. They performed on a recorded piece from Pandit Ravishankar’s ‘Chants of India’ album. They shared the evening stage with other 30-35 dancers who have been training as classical dancers since years.

These energetic and hard working youth of urban slums had a unique experience. The exposure to stage and to an appreciative full house was totally new and exciting experience for them.

Thinking of this again and again I sometimes feel, aren’t we all culturally deprived lot too?

- Dr. Uma Anantani


Sunday, December 8, 2013

What I learnt...

(An Argentinian by birth, Claudio Farias is the author of 'Le tango n'est pas une danse' (English: Tango is not a dance) and teaches Spanish and Italian at high school in Marseille. He speaks 12 languages and teaches, among others, Yiddish, Hebrew and Corsican to language enthusiasts in and around Marseille.)

I remember as a young boy at school, we had a program that introduced us to the different civilizations of the world. Among these, we learnt about Indian and Vedic culture. I remember that all of us were very impressed by not only the beauty of art in temples or the sculptures but particularly by the thought process conveyed in the texts. It gave a completely new dimension to our thinking. I felt that although it was an ancient civilization, it was more modern than a lot of concepts of our time. They explained the same things but in a more concrete manner and it was unavoidable to not have them deep-rooted into our heads. We were also introduced to new poets, especially Tagore. I feel they gave a new form to the old spirituality.

After school got over, we wanted to continue learning about India on our own. For this reason, we went to the local bookshops. But the problem was that those stores kept only cliched material about India and its culture. For example, if people wanted to study spiritualism, they would read a book, imitate Indian dressing, wear the bindi and believe that they were on the right path. At that time, I thought this was the right way. We also thought everybody in India was a rishi and was spiritually uplifted. Although the intention was good, now I know that this was such a stupid way of learning. This also formed a very incorrect picture of India, for us and for others. Gradually, whatever I had learned at school got diluted by this blind pursuit of ‘wisdom’ or something like that.

40 years later, when I have started learning Hindi and Sanskrit, I have realised how naive we were. Then, if someone who had just visited India came back with fantastic stories, we were eager and ready to believe whatever they said. There was no choice and we didn’t know any different. One must also understand that we didn’t have the different types of media we have at disposal today. Things have changed. People are travelling more and there is increased interaction between people of different countries and origins. And more importantly, we are not bound by what we formerly imagined. For this reason, we can return to the roots of the culture and really separate ‘Disneyland’ from the real world and the real values of the culture. In school, these same ideas were a little strong for us. Today, these same ideas make sense in a more powerful way;

In my opinion, there are two ways of approaching Indian culture. One is the easier but clichéd road forward. The second way requires a serious analysis of the civilization. The danger of taking the easier way is that the final result will not be a reflection of what you study or see but it will be a reflection of you. I opine and counsel not to be simple and fall for the easier way because I consider this was precisely what the old teachers and poets were trying to convey for us to learn.

- Claudio Farias