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Bangalore Beat: Remembering Shankar Nag and Gaurima

Click here to go to the main page of Star Of Mysore.
Click here to go to the main page of Sri. K.B.Ganapathy.

Please send your opinions, feedbacks, articles to shshenoy at yahoo.com

I was in Bangalore about 10 days back on some private errand and managed to find time to see a Kannada play and also to visit Nrityagram of Protima Bedi, nay Protima Gauri, set up in Hesaraghatta, 35 kms from Bangalore.

I dread going to Bangalore where moving from one place to another is not only time - consuming but also annoying, shooting up my blood pressure. Despite sitting inside an air - conditioned car, I pity those who travel by auto rickshaws and two - wheelers inhaling more toxic emissions than a heavy smoker.

The grime and muck that would deposit on their bodies is another matter altogether, apart from suffering the noise pollution.

Despite a number of flyovers and underpasses that began appearing in the city since the days of the late Chief Minister J. H. Patel, the traffic congestion seems to continue as it has always been. Looking at the way the city is administered the curse of traffic congestion, among so many other curses the Bangalore city is suffering from, seems to continue forever for the simple reason that every flyover or subway will have its benefits nullified because of new vehicles that come on the roads in thousands every month.

The only hope seems to be the public transport system like the metro, city buses, train and air services so that those who come to the city may use the public transport instead of using their private vehicles.

Be that as it may, best is to avoid going to Bangalore for whatsoever reason, if it is possible. But unfortunately, Bangalore being the capital city of our State, naturally, all those with official business with the government, perforce will have to go there. Bangalore is also the city of opportunities for those who seek employment and a career. Even those who seek higher education have no option but to land up in Bangalore.

And what about the sick — either young or old? The state – of – the - art hospitals, whether for heart diseases or cancer, are available only in Bangalore. For all these reasons and more, the traffic congestion is understandable. Only a miracle - man can find a solution for this problem. Yet, without waiting for that miracle man, I went to Bangalore and one afternoon visited Ranga Shankara to see a play.

Among the most talented actors and directors of films in Kannada was undoubtedly Shankar Nag, the younger brother of another equally talented actor and former politician Ananth Nag. Unfortunately, God has the habit of calling back to his realm the most talented and the genius amongst humans while they are still young. Exceptions are rare.

One such genius and a talent God summoned to his feet was Shankar Nag, who died in an accident while still young and full of ideas for the Kannada film world.
The memories of such persons do not erase from our minds for long, but it is also a good idea to perpetuate the memory of persons like Shankar Nag by establishing something monumental connected with his area of activity. Probably that was the reason why his wife Arundhati Nag, an actress of great virtuoso built the theatre Ranga Shankara. I was visiting it for the first time, thus fulfilling my long-cherished desire and I was not a bit disappointed. Indeed, the architect should be complimented.

The ambience, the interiors, the seating, the stage, the sound [acoustics] and even the canteen area will make a visitor nod his head in approval — including the items in the menu at the canteen. My eyes fell on sabudana vada which was lying forlorn inside a cane basket and my memory went back to my days in Pune nearly three decades ago. I couldn't help eating them to my heart's content. Indeed they were mouth-watering and I even got a dogy pack.

The play was in Kannada titled Aathankavaadiya aakasmika saavu — based on the Nobel Prize Winner Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist, written in 1970 relating to a bomb attack on a bank in Italy in 1960. This was translated into Kannada, nay adopted, by S. Surendranath very competently and directed by Prakash Belawadi and seen in 2009. Indeed, it was not a play presented in a realistic manner with all the seriousness the title of the play indicates. Rather, it is a satirical rip - off on official corruption and the brutal methods of Police interrogation which, just as in our country, often results in death in custody, what we call the custodial death. It mocks at the process of enquiry into the suspect's death by judges which too is very common in our country. You cannot stop laughing almost all through the proceedings despite the serious nature of the subject — the most enjoyable play one should not miss if it is staged once again.

My next drive was towards Hesaraghatta, once again to fulfill my long-cherished desire to see the dance-school set up by the wife of the famous model and actor Kabir Bedi who is also an equally famous Odissi danseuse — Protima Bedi, in her new avatar as Protima Gauri.

When she was planning her dream project of a dance village which she later called Nrityagram after the ancient Gurukul Ashram model, the Chief Minister of Karnataka was Ramakrishna Hegde, said to be an epicurean and a playboy politician. Protima could not have chosen a better person to make her dream project come true. That was how she could get about 10 acres of land, I guess, in Hesaraghatta, a village scarcely populated.

Here she set up her dance village sometime in 1990, raising finance with considerable “smartness”. Reading about her Nrityagram in the newspapers, I though it might be on the lines of what Rukmini Devi Arundale established in Adyar, Chennai, known to the art world as Kalakshethra, which I had visited once nearly two decades ago. I was disappointed.

It is sad Protima Gauri passed away before her time. Again a case of God calling the young talent to his heaven. She was at the prime of her creative best, both as a dancer and as one set out to establish a monumental institution to promote dance and music in different dimensions.

Nrityagram is modeled as a Gurukul (residential school) for international community by Protima Gauri in 1990. In Protima Gauri's own words:
"It is a community of dancers in a forsaken place amidst nature. A place where nothing exists, except dance. A place where you breathe, eat, sleep, dream, talk, imagine — dance. A place where all the five senses can be refined to perfection. A place where dancers drop negative qualities such as jealousy, small - mindedness, greed and malice to embrace their colleagues as sisters and support each other in their journey towards becoming dancers of merit."

Alas, Protima Gauri died before her dreams, hopes and aspirations could be realised due to an accidental death while she was on a pilgrimage to Amarnath shrine in the Himalayas, where she slipped and fell into a gorge.

No doubt, with Protima Gowri's passing away, her half - finished work could not be completed and it was there for all to see, including yours truly. Fashioned from the raw mud of the good earth and the stones found in abundance in the place, Nrityagram of Protima Gowri's dream could be seen all over the place in the form of cottages and structures. Now of course, totally neglected and dilapidated. To me it looked like haalu Hampe or even worse ruins of Nrityagram. If you want to show someone a real - life broken dream, this is it. In one of the buildings a few children were being taught dancing steps by a teacher while the parents watched, inconveniently sitting on the available stone benches or mud - floor.

As I was entering another building which I thought was abandoned too, an old man crouched in an old cane chair in a darkened, melancholic looking living area said in English, "This is private residence," thus stopping me from moving further.

I vaguely remember press reports hinting at a controversy about Nrityagram being given away to a corporate hotel for a holiday resort. Indeed, it was true, though there was no sign board that boldly announced the existence of the resort. As I drove in, a security guard in uniform, beaming a smile, saluted and guided me to the parking area, apparently assuming that I was a guest of the resort. On enquiry, I found the resort belonged to Taj Group. After visiting the Nrityagram, I guessed that part of the property was given to Taj, in order to sustain the other half where Protima Gowri's dream is being pursued, may be by her well - wishers, without any passion. The pictures that are produced here, of Nrityagram, will speak more eloquently about its pathetic existential state.

By K. B. Ganapathy
Courtesy: Star of Mysore

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