Four dancers from different genres came together to perform on the poems of Rabindranath Tagore translated to English by Utpal K Banerjee. By Shrabasti Mallik
There are very few who had (or have) the vision or the creative genius to be able to capture every emotion of a human being, every phase that a man goes through, the soul and vibrancy of every passing season and the fervour of every festive season in one lifetime. Rabindranath Tagore not only touched upon every one of these with utmost dedication but his verses and texts were so universal that, translated (from original Bengali), it resonates with every soul. “Regardless of language, cast, religion or gender,” said Saswati Sen, Kathak danseuse and Pandit Birju Maharaj’s foremost disciple at Fun & Frolic, a musical soiree which saw the coming together of dancers and dance forms like Purvadhanshre (Vilasini Natyam), Kavita Dwibedi (Odissi), Pratibha Prahlad (Bharatanatyam) and Sen.
The performances, too, were bound by a thread — the poems of Tagore, translated to English by Padma Shri Utpal K Banerjee for National Sahitya Akademi, who published four volumes of the his satirical and whimsical poetry.
Pratibha Prahlad, however, had made a narrative with verses selected from three poems from the Mother and Child series — Aakul Aahbaan (The Fervent Call), Maa Lakshmee (Goddess Lakshmi) and Shishur Mrityu (Death of a Child). The performance etched the patient wait of a mother for her daughter to return home at the end of the day. The repeated recital of, “Kothay geli Rani?” (where did you go Rani?), weaved into the narrative was heartfelt as the piece recounted the anxiousness of the mother as her daughter does not return. Through gestures and expressions, Prahlad traced the journey of her baby girl blossoming into mature and beautiful lady. It was unique in its own accord because the recital drew lines from all the three poems simultaneously creating, almost an entirely new narrative.
Said the danseuse, “It was challenging working on these poems because Bengali is not my native language and ‘Rabindra sangeet’ style in which most of Tagore’s poems are sung does not seem in consonance with Bharatanatyam style. It may have been my cultural conditioning, I had to break through the barriers of my mind and my Shruti and Smriti — the heard and remembered — to even begin looking at possibilities and what can be accomplished.”
At the end, the daughter arrives, dead. The pain and the agony of a mother showed clearly on Prahlad’s face while her movements said, “I dressed you and adorned you and now you come back a lifeless body.” She cradles the imaginary body of her lifeless daughter and pats her to sleep like a child. The performance ended with the lines Aandhar raat e chole geli tui, aandhar raat e chupi chupi aye (You’re gone in the darkest of night, In dark night, you return to me).
Sen’s frivolous rendition of Tagore’s Bananaas (Banishment to the Wood) resonated quite well with the nuances of Kathak — brisk movements, hand gestures and storytelling. “Banabas is a highly suggestive poem by Tagore based on the Vatsalya, emphasising the secret dialogue between mother and child in Ekanki abhinaya. The presentation draws inspiration from Kathavachan tradition of Kathak through narrative, expressive and imaginative dance technique,”she said.
What added beauty to the performance was Sen reciting, “Lakshman bhai jodi amar thakto sathe sathe” (Only if brother Lakshman were with me at all times) in clear Bengali.
With childlike expression she donned the role of a 14-year-old boy requesting his mother for a baby brother like Lakshman. He tells his mother, through gestures and acts the many things that he plans to do with his brother — picking fruits from trees, building a resting spot underneath a shady tree, going to the forest together, and an arrow and travelling to mount Chitrakoot during monsoon.
“My mother was a great orator and I am familiar with most of Tagore’s works for children. No other author or poet could fathom the depth that Tagore touched — from the simplest of emotions to complex emotions,” she added.
photos Sreenivasan Ramakrishnan