A. I started Kathak in Ayodhya with Pandit Sant Gopal Mishra ji as my first guru. My mother was the one who introduced me to this art form. I started with learning Kathak, the sitar and vocal. Once I came to Delhi with my guru to see Pandit Birju Maharaj perform. That was the moment I knew for sure I want to pursue Kathak. Since then I had this dream of learning with Maharaj ji. So after my schooling I took admission in Kathak Kendra, New Delhi. There I was a disciple of Guru Smt. Reba Vidyarthi for two years and finally turned into Maharaj ji’s class.
Q. What made you choose only Kathak? Why not any other classical dance form?
A. Kathak was the only dance form introduced to me at an early age. Moreover, I must admit that it wasn’t my choice but my mother’s wish that led me here. She was the one who encouraged me to pursue this dance form.
Q. Who is your inspiration?
A. My inspiration is Pandit Birju Maharaj. As I said earlier, I was completely under his spell when I first saw him perform and wanted to be taught by him. It was a turning point of my life. Whatever I do, it is because of Maharaj ji’s training. He not only teaches dance; there are so many different things that I have learnt through dance about my personality. He has a different way of teaching and explaining things as he is too profound. It is like a blessing for me that he has made it so easy for others as well to be able to perform such a difficult dance.
Q. What kind of challenges did you face as a beginner in this field?
A. Once you have passion, you don’t know what you are going to get. You just love doing it, out of love, patience, determination, focus, you just do it. I personally never knew whether I was going to get a job or pursue this field or how I will learn. My only motive was to practice and dance every day. So nothing seems like a barrier when you are completely driven or you can stay under the spell of something that you really want. Same happened with me. Even today with every practice and every performance I tend to learn more and more.
Q. What is the best thing about Kathak? What makes it better than other dance forms?
A. I feel each dance form has its own quality. Kathak is a beautiful art form but each dance form has its own essence. Some are good in one thing and the rest in others. So I cannot actually put my finger on just one thing.
Q. Tell us more about Rasik Performing Arts.
A. Rasik Performing Arts is an organisation which was co-founded by me and Shiv Shankar Ray two decades ago. We have formed this in Gurugram where we teach classical dance and music. This is our effort to take our heritage to all young learners with a network of established artists, a series of baithaks. Many workshops are also organised to make aspirants know the depth of these art forms.
“My inspiration is Pandit Birju Maharaj. As I said earlier, I was completely under his spell when I first saw him perform and wanted to be taught by him. It was a turning point of my life. Whatever I do, it is because of Maharaj ji’s training. He not only teaches dance; there are so many different things that I have learnt through dance about my personality.”
Q. Have you ever performed fusion with other dance forms? Dance fusion with Bollywood beats is trending now. What are your views on this?
A. Yes, I have performed fusion several times with many dance forms, including tap dancers, Odissi dancers and many more. I personally don’t feel so good about mixing Bollywood with Kathak. Making Kathak so easy does not do justice to this beautiful art form. People engaged in fusion make it seem like another ordinary dance form, which it is absolutely not. There are so many reactions of Kathak that one loses if they are focused on such Bollywood beats.
Q. How will you compare your experiences while performing in India with those of your shows abroad?
A. In Western countries, people look up to India and its great heritage and culture. So they give us immense respect. Whenever they come to see a classical performance, they are awestruck by our culture. So when they come to learn any classical art, they are always in their “modesty mode”. Many of my students, whom I taught in London, loved not just the art but entire Indian culture. People are keen to know about us there. On the other hand, it really disheartens me that people in India take these things for granted. Our culture is not respected in India as it is abroad. It is rarely valued here. These things are quite popular here but there are just a few people who will go to see these performances and appreciate it.
Q. What can be done to emphasise the importance of arts and culture in our society? And how to get more people interested in art forms like Kathak?
A. I think teachers are the one master key to this problem. All classical arts teachers should teach in a traditional way and instead of focusing on performing on various platforms, they should teach them its importance, make them find a way to connect to it. I myself, after being in this field for so long, feel that there are a lot of things about Kathak that I am not yet aware of. There is so much to this art form that one lifetime is just not enough. There is so much practice needed. You have to constantly do your riyaaz. Learning should be more emphasised upon instead of the rat race of performing at more and more platforms. The way a teacher teaches, they way they portray the art, that’s what matters.
Q. Are today’s impatient youngsters fit to take up something like Kathak, which requires a great amount of patience and dedication?
A. I cannot completely pin it on youngsters; our entire society has changed. Everyone has turned hasty. Mobile is another big distraction. No one can concentrate fully if you are dying to check your phones every now and then. I am quite strict about this with my students as I tell them, no cell phones during practice. Concentration is needed whether you are learning dance or anything else. People have stopped writing to each other and started chatting through SMSes. These changes have deeply affected our younger generations. I think music, dance and yoga should be compulsory in every school. Dance and music have that power to give you inner peace. They detache you from the outside world. They are a kind of meditation. With your full concentration, your reflection, coordination, focus, you get can better at all of these.