Pandit Birju Maharaj – Where words end, dance begins!

I had the pleasure and privilege of watching the Kathak Maestro, Pandit Birju Maharaj perform live yesterday! And what a treat it was! The show was supposed to start at 6pm. At 5.45pm I saw the legend walk in – before time! Dressed in simple and elegant Indian Kurta-Pyjama and an overcoat, he looked like an epitome of grace and humility. He responded warmly as the crowd greeted him. When someone clicked a photo of him without his permission, he graciously paused and posed. I saw a sense of regret and apology on the person who was trying to click his picture without his permission – when she noticed the gracefulness that the maestro demonstrated despite that. I thought to myself, that’s what legends are made of! A capacity to transform people just by being a great example of what they wish to see in others. I saw him walk in with a walking stick – and I admired his spirit to be there. When I read that he would be performing, a part of me wondered how.

Inside the auditorium, they had made announcements to not click photographs or take videos. However, some people still tried that and the organizers gently came and requested people to not do so. I was impressed with how they handled it. And I was wondering what has to happen for humans to respect the privacy of others and maintain it. It looks like we can’t enjoy anything in life unless we click a picture of it.

Anyway, after two and half hours of performances, the maestro finally came on stage. The energy in the crowd changed. He had been speaking a few words here and there before that, and he stole the hearts of the audience with his simplicity and humour. He humorously spoke about the clothes that people currently wear in the movies these days – how sometimes they forget stitching fully and leave big holes in between, how sometimes the cloth is just not enough to cover the body etc. The audience was laughing. He mentioned that when he is invited to teach someone in the film fraternity for a movie, his first question is – “Kapde acche pehan rahe ho na?” (You are wearing good clothes (in the song), aren’t you?). Well, the way he said it, with kindness and humour (not with any judgement), I loved that. I don’t know if I have been able to do justice in capturing all that here in the writing. To talk of something without condemning others is a wonderful skill.

So, when he came on stage, first we heard a fantastic poem that he had written on Radha and her mischief – which was beautifully expressed and rendered by his disciple, Saswati Sen. When we thought that was great, the 79 year old maestro took us by surprise. He took to stage and swept us off our feet. He danced, or shall I say he lived the dance. For him, everything is a dance. He spoke about simple things in life like writing a letter, talking to a friend etc and transformed them into magical dance moves. It was like as if everything about life could be expressed through dance. And even the simplest of things looked great when it was thus, expressed.

While everyone else danced beautifully, he poured life into dance gracefully. It appeared as though he lives to dance, he lives in dance and he lives for dance. In 3 sentences, he depicted 3 stages of life – childhood, adulthood and old age. And in 15 seconds, he showed those 3 stages in a manner that we will never forget. What expressions! What elegance! What grace! What joy! He even expressed thunder, lightning and peacock dance through dance. You name anything, he can weave it into a dance. For him, life is a dance.

I felt proud to be an Indian as I walked out of the auditorium last night. The colours, the vibrancy, the culture, the art, the dance, the humility – Wow! Truly, we are one of a kind! The more we live on these and the more we revive these, the more we may find the beauty of our existence. My gratitude to him and all the great proponents of Indian arts and culture for keeping it alive and inspiring us.

 

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