AFTER THOUGHT-BASANTA UTSAVA-KALA & SANGIT BHAVANA
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,