On the very morning of Basanta Utsava 2016 at Santiniketan, on the premises of Kala Bhavana, the art wing of Visva Bharati University, having a chat with faculty members there, I just casually inquired ‘Why do not you take part in the stage décor, costume design and make up for the evening dance drama?’
‘Sangit Bhavana (the drama & music unit) does not invite us’, the faculty members of Kala Bhavana responded.

Till to this moment, week after, I have just failed to come in terms with the response. In fact my very senses are shocked into a numbed chillness.
The units which are hardly separated by 10 meters, needs an ‘invitation’ from one to another?
Well, practically speaking, it seems Visva Bharati is having a serious problem to cross even these paltry 10 meters to grace the other!

But, ironically, the dress code and the stage décor of all major programs of Visva Bharati was developed into an unique style, not to be found anywhere else in India or rest of the world, only by the students and faculty members of Kala Bhavana, spearheaded by Nandalal Bose, Suren Kar, Ramkinkar Baij and Gouri Bhanja-the erstwhile stalwarts of the art world of Santiniketan.
I really wonder, whether highly accomplished characters like Nandalal, Suren Kar, Ramkinkar or Gouri Bhanja needed an invitation from Sangit Bhavana stalwarts like Sailajananda, Santidev or Kanika Bandopadhyay on formal official papers to gel into a cohesive unit to present the dance drama, and other major programs held by Visva Bharati, in and outside Santiniketan.

Well, as I have observed before, we have now become too enlightened as individuals or as a group, to even cross 10 meters and respond to the other. This is called civilization at Santiniketan, in the ‘modern’ sense that is.
This kind of modernity, though definitely in the false sense, is surely a very counterproductive move for the society as a whole and for society of Santiniketan in particular.

In around 1964, to 1970s to even early 1980s Sangit Bhavana and Kala Bhavana gelled perfectly well on such occasions, as far as I can personally recall. Elder sister, Suchandra Mitra (Bose), popularly known as Ankhi, performed as a lead dancer in Dance Dramas held by Visva Bharati for about 4/5 years from 1964 onward. I distinctly recall, from a month before such occasions, Ankhidi would be periodically asked by Ms Gouri Bhanja, faculty Design Department, Kala Bhavana to visit her house in evening, or on holiday mornings, along with senior students of Kala Bhavana to show her the dance steps taught by Haridas Nairji to form an idea about what kind of costumes to be used. A few singers from Sangit Bhavana used to be present to sing the songs, Ankhidi would dance along, Ms Gouri Bhanja would contemplate several designs which could gel well with the movements and the mood, and the senior Kala Bhavana students would take note of them and the costume would be planned accordingly. All this effort started nearly a month before, and after several trials and adjustments, the costume would be finally ready for the occasion, like say the Basanta Utsava evening dance drama.

About two weeks prior to the stage show, nearly all senior Kala Bhavana students attended the evening rehearsal with note books for sketches to form an idea about the stage décor, which would ultimately be implemented by them, under supervision of faculty members. In fact in those days the stage rehearsal was a huge thing, many students and faculty members would be present there in the evening, and have discussions about nuances of dance dramas stage décor and all. Right from my kid days in Patha Bhavana, upto the time I of my graduation in 1979 I always enjoyed the buzz at Sangit Bhavana on the evenings on such occasions. As my elder sister was once a very much integral part of dance dramas held by Visva Bharati, and as my uncle Sri Santidev Ghosh would direct majority of those dance dramas, I was naturally a keen spectator of the events right from my childhood. Interestingly, watching the rehearsals of dance dramas, to which my parents never objected even when I was a paltry child studying in class IV, gave me a huge respite from my evening studies! So naturally watching the evening dance drama rehearsals became a dear ritual for me for many years even after my elder sister left Santiniketan.

Even my father, Sri Sukhamoy Mitra, faculty member Kala Bhavana painting department, assumed the self proclaimed role of leading the Garba dance procession for decades with élan, which is popularly known as Kathi Dance now. The rehearsal for that procession dance used to be methodically held at Kala Bhavana. I cannot recall even one incidence where he was officially ‘invited’ by Sangit Bhavana to perform that duty. He, himself was a very good dancer, taught all the steps of the Garba dance to the seniors and freshers of Visva Bharati, and was very strict. Anyone with false stepping was firmly advised to take part next year! In fact, once I was very cross with him, though I knew the dance pretty well, my lady partner from Siksha Bhavana, on whom I had my typical soft corner of youth days, was promptly advised by my father to step aside and he shoved in another girl as my partner; which created a huge complication for me! I had a severe argument with him about this, on the dinner table, irritatingly much to the amusement of my mother!
I wonder what Sri Sukhamoy Mitra would have done in the present times!

From those days, I find, the tiny distance of 10 meters from Sangit Bhavana to Kalo Bari, between the tips of two characteristically important units of Visva Bharati, an insurmountable obstacle. Visva Bharati- a place which is supposed to embrace the whole world cannot traverse 10 meters of its own territory and say ‘Namaskar’ to the other?

Consequently the dress sense, developed so uniquely in Santiniketan, is stuck to its own labyrinth. No new ideas emerged in last few decades. The stage décor is losing the charm of collective innovation and appears repetitive. Soon everything might become stale by either repetition or by incoherence.

Many would opine that ‘art’ is essentially a painting, or a sculpture, or a graphic art, or multi-media – the relatively new phenomenon. We tend to forget that living itself is an ‘art’, in which Santiniketan once excelled. To create ‘art’ within a living society of diverse characters is a fascinating experience which only very selected few can cherish. I really fail to understand why Kala Bhavana and Sangit Bhavana are determined to miss this real opportunity.

With acute pain in our hearts, we would like to state firmly that we cannot appreciate this weird ‘sense of modernity’ and the subsequent popular corollary ‘individuality’ professed by the think tank of Kala Bhavana and Sangit Bhavana, where one cannot even say hello to each other in this present world, which is poised to thrive on integration, and which we feel is the truest essence of modernity.
With expectation and best wishes for a thriving Visva Bharati community,


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  1. mdhara16 says:

    Simontika Deb
    “তার ছিডেঁ গেছে কবে”? শুভবুদ্ধির উদয় হোক ,চল সবাই প্রার্থনা করি ।
    Swastika Mukhopadhyay
    I support from my heart! Excellent observation!
    Sukanya Sinha
    Good point made. Thanks for also recreating the image of Sukhamoy-da leading the Garba dance — it is etched in my memory.
    Swapna Ray
    Haan…akdom….jeno dnariechilam mastermoshai er studior pasher math tay ,kathi nach er rehearsal cholche..chokher samne sukhomoy da ke nach sekhate dekhlam.khub bhalo laglo sukul…make up duty o korechi onek!
    Boisali Biswas
    It’s a different world now.
    Sarbani Ghosh
    As you rightly say Sukul ” living itself is an art “….what is happening is sad indeed.
    Shyamal Mazumder
    But Sudhi Ranjan Mukherjee from Siksha Satra is actively associated ; that might however be the proverbial exception proving the rule!
    Kabita Ray
    Extremely relevant piece. Hope the authorities would read and revive the earlier tradition without involving their egos.

  2. mdhara16 says:

    Shubhashis Mitra
    The issue here is, Shyamalda, does anyone interested needs to be ‘Invited’? Thats a crazy term !!!
    Shyamal Mazumder
    That’s right. My thoughts while reading the piece splayed. That’s about how the Santiniketan concept has fragmented vertically, horizontally, physically and virtually. Memory of one incident raised its head from the rubbles; that about a rector being chided by the VC for committing the blunder of thanking other departments. About one resident PG student who innocently (and nonchalantly as well) wondered where Gourprangan was. About the now unthinkable fact that once the Patha Bhavana students were sent to the studios of Kala Bhavana for clay modelling and never felt it special if they received tutelage of someone like Ramkinkar. My weekly music class was held at Sangeet Bhavana; Biren Palit da taught us. We learnt Bengali from Ananga Rudra and Amitrasudan Bhattacharya who came from the Bangla Bibhag. We sold picture cards at Ananda Bajar drawn by Kala Bhavana students. Siksha Bhavana (UG) versus Sishu Bibhag cricket matches (tennis ball) never raised eyebrows. It’s now just a few days ago when a suggestion came from a slew of the PB ex-students (non resident) it was pooh-poohed by the resident ex-students. The cracks were never anywhere but now these are simply invisible.
    Uccello Felice
    Lekha ta Besh prasongik … bhalo laglo ei chinta bhabna….

  3. mdhara16 says:

    Janak Jhankar Narzary
    Shubhasis, Well written. Let me review my experiences. During my student life ( 1967-72) there had been no space of distance, in my 2nd year as a secretary of KB Student Union I took initiative to introduce traditional cultural items like Naga dance, Bihu Dance, Manipuri Dance, Bhangra Dance, Oria dance, and provincial folk songs along with Tagore song and dances in Bhavan’s Nabi Baran programme. The programme was held in Natya Ghor with a houseful crowds of audience, gained a huge public appreciation. THA SUCCESS WOULD NOT BE POSSIBLE WITHOUT THE HELP OF SANGIT BHAVAN, Mohan Singh, Jiten Singh, two Ceylonese and few more students from Sangeet Bhavan came forward their own to train Kala Bhavana students in the rehearsal and support to make the program successful. The support of Sangeet Bhavan in the background of Kala Bhavana’s performances continued till I left in 1972. During that period Kala Bhavana performed few full-length drama where students from Sangit Bhavana used to take part to play roles and also to help in playback music. Birenda , Biren Palit of Sangeet Bhavan always involved students from Kala Bhavana in musical programs of the University, like in the 7 ei Poush Chatimtala, in Mandir, Natyaghor, Basanta Utsav, Briksha Ropon etc. Birenda used to come in KB campus to find me “ Janak tomra rehearsal e eso, ( tomra means some selected students that I knew). Stage and make up was officially entrusted to Kala Bhavana Principal, acted by one teacher in charge. All the materials for stage decoration and makeup including Alpona decoration, Convocation stage decoration etc were kept under the custody of KB Principal. With a prior intimation the services of KB was available for the concerned Departments or Body of the University. The system had been changed toward the end of 1970. In 19 80 I was requested by Visva Bharati Karmi Mondoli for stage decoration on the Gour Pragan stage for an University program and I did it personally. The experiences of stage designing, decoration, makeup etc are significantly worthy in our creative life. Today the demarcations between tradition and modern, fine art – craft and performing art has merged each other to be one but to be more powerful as medium of greater expression. There is an unknown collective spirit of collaboration, partnership and compromised understanding in the Post Modern culture, any kind of isolation will bring the END of transformation and evolution.

    Asha Parikh
    Beautiful memories!…..How time has past! I was there taking part in 60’s!

    Subhalakshmi B Nandi
    A very pertinent point raised.Salute to the chronicler once again.

  4. mdhara16 says:

    Prof Shelley Bhattacharya
    Dear Subhashis, Excellent observations etched in our memories since the seventies. It pains us to see the deterioration at Visva Bharati.
    I dont have any hope in the future of Visva Bharati. When we joined we were jeered at; we stayed on because we enjoyed the spirit of this University.With best wishes, Shelley di.

  5. mdhara16 says:

    Kumkum Bhattacharya

    Dear Subhashis, I really appreciate the point that you have brought forward in your article. There is a chasm between departments even within Bhavanas leave alone two Bhavanas. I wonder if the faculty of the classical music department of Sangit Bhavana expected to participate in the functions especially Basanta utsava or Briksharopana or even Halakarshana.

    We have become individual performers and players and artists and academicians who are desperately trying to maintain our ‘capping’ criteria and build individual reputation for ex-VB posts and accolades. It does not matter if VB is sacrificed in the process. Our collectivity and sense of belongingness is lost. Can we reconcile ourselves to the fact that the matters in the university are being moulded not by the faculty, students and karmis of VB but by a body called the “JAC”? We were too busy to even take note of our roles and responsibilities being usurped.

    In the light of the changed circumstances of the present day maybe we need to crate formal spaces where functions and festivals are allowed to be of the university and not of a particular Bhavana however deft it may be in that field. The administration has to be a lot more inclusive.

    The very fact of the traditional Adhyapaka Sabha subsumed by ‘JAC’ and another branch coming up (university faculty) – in itself has turned out to be suicidal for both the administration and for the university. This is the real ‘whammy’.

    I do not know if this will get to you and evoke any response.

    However, do continue to write and opine – someday somewhere there will be a change for the better. Kumkum di

    Shubhashis Mitra

    Kumkumdi,Thank you for your response. First of all, very few, within Visva Bharati community feel like responding to posers like this. You are certainly a rare exception, and I offer a huge appreciation for this kind gesture.

    A week before, I was going through an article on latest job prospects in United Kingdom. What I found was very interesting, the article said students with dual-degrees are the most sought after in job market. Now, the kind of dual degrees are something like this Mathematics+Finance, History+Tourism, Graphic Design+ Apparel Production, Physics + Acoustics, Chemistry+ Dye Making, Multi Media+ Creative Writing, so on and many more as far as I can recall. So, naturally a huge amount of interdisciplinary work is going on this relatively new fields with immense possibility for further exploration. It is obvious that in educational institutes in UK, a lot of work is going on such subjects.

    I can easily presume that for the sake of career building for faculty members, for further enrichments/promotions/monetary gains such interdisciplinary activities have now become an interesting reality, and many faculty members most probably is working on these.

    Now, as far as Visva Bharati is concerned, getting stuck to one’s own department, and own area of specialization, might become counter productive in a decade from now, where the new faculty members will be spending near 25-30 years in this university. It might affect their career prospects in terms of better opportunities within Visva Bharati or elsewhere. The students will naturally be worst affected in the present scenario.

    So, interdisciplinary interaction is certainly not a high thought on some abstract philosophical plane, but more a demand on the education system. It appears crazy, when faculty members of VBU do not appreciate this, which is necessary for their own good apart from the huge boost these can give to the students. Making relations can not be that difficult.

    About internal politics/set up of Visva Bharati, it is for Visva Bharati community to sort that out. Personally I feel to interfere actively is unethical. For example we normally do not like outside interference in our own family matters, it only complicates the issue, rather than providing a solution in most of the cases.

    With appreciation for your response,Shubhashis.

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