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“Acrobating between Tradition and Modern”: The Roots Movement and Theatre’s Negotiation with Modernity in India

Anuparna Mukherjee, English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad

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Abstract

When playwrights like Girish Karnad joined the stage after the nation’s independence in 1947, the Indian theatre was suffering from acute identity crises being torn between its ancient cultural past and its more recent colonial legacy, which gave birth to hybrid dramatic forms. Several theatre personalities at that time articulated the aspirations of a newly independent nation through their attempts to decolonize the aesthetics of modern Indian theatre by retracing its roots in the repository of India’s classical and folk traditions.  In the light of these developments my paper aims to look at some of the diverse indigenous forms that had been deployed with much success in plays like Karnad’s Hayavadana or Tanvir’s Charandas Chor, thereby significantly contributing to the larger project of decolonization after independence. At the same time the paper also wishes to interrogate whether this ambivalent process of Indianization, sometimes loosely brought under the umbrella of ‘Roots Movement’, is quintessentially ‘anti-modern’, or whether it is actually an attempt to evolve a discourse of an ‘alternate modernity’ by subverting some of the paradigms of its European counterpart which are actually a by-product of both capitalism and imperialism in the West.

The Sitala Saga: a Case of Cultural Integration in the Folk Tradition of West Bengal

Proggya Ghatak, National Institute of Social Work and Social Science, Bhubaneswar

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Abstract

The paper discusses religious narratives about annual deity of Savara of South Bengal that can be conceptualized as myths, legends, and memories according to folklore of ‘Sitalamangal’. This goddess is primarily associated with smallpox, yet she is occasionally given other roles and powers, including those as the protector of children and the giver of good fortune. Her role also incorporated other elements of the period, viz. incorporation of deities from Brahmanical religion, incorporation of motifs and symbols from it, incorporating tribal, Tantric-goddess tradition to its fold as well as developed an elaborate ritual structure. The Sitala worship has attached the social fabric of Savara society and maintaining social solidarity.

Performance as Protest: Thumri and Tawaif’s Quest for Artistic Autonomy

Shramana Das Purkayasth, Vijaygarh Jyotish Ray College, Kolkata, India

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Abstract

Indian cultural history testifies to the intimate bond the tawaifs had for centuries with the performing arts. Be it the pre-Mughal folk culture of rural India or the highly sophisticated culture of classical music in the Mughal courts, the tawaifs had always remained at the focal point of it. However conservative social paradigm never allowed them to belong to the mainstream Indian society. Concepts of honour, chastity and occupational propriety, with which patriarchy regulates a woman’s individual choices, constrained the tawaif to inhabit a limited space, isolated and solitary, alluring, yet infamous. In the present paper, I propose to explore how thumri reflects the tawaif’s own consciousness of her contradictory status as an outcast as well as an artist, indispensable to India’s musical heritage. Through a detailed structural analysis of the genre, I would discuss how the textual world of thumri with its distinctive formal and performative peculiarities supplies the tawaif with a potentially subversive “action repertoire”, enabling the nautch-girl to voice her desperate demand for autonomy.

Aestheticizing without Agenda: A Counter-Reading of the Western Approach to Chhau Dance

Indranil Acharya, Indranil Acharya, Vidyasagar University, West Bengal, India

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The Argument

In an article titled “A Crisis of Culture” published in The Hindu (May 07, 2006), T. M. Krishna observes:

We are in a modern world, don’t we need to modernise everything? What’s modernisation? Have the arts not always moved with the times? Do we sing or dance the way it was done 200 years ago? Don’t we experiment with all our artistic traditions? Don’t we address contemporary issues through dance? Don’t we package our music differently today? (2)1

 The crux of this paper is to raise similar issues with regard to the popular folk dance form of Eastern India- Chhau. The Chhau of Odisha, West Bengal and Jharkhand has been included in the UNESCO list of Intangible Heritage. The western perception on this essentially folk art form has been quite problematic. There is a constant attempt by the western researchers to categorize Chhau as a classical dance form and the ostensible reason behind it has been the royal involvement in terms of performance and choreography particularly in Seraikella and Mayurbhanj. However, the purely folk origin of the Purulia Chhau of West Bengal is left out of the ambit of discussion. But it has not been taken into consideration that after the independence and the abolition of monarchy in various Indian states, this paradigm of nobility controlling the art form of Chhau has been done away with. Instead, various state governments and their agencies have undertaken a string of democratic measures to preserve and promote this rich indigenous art form. This paper attempts to confront and counter the traditional readings of the western scholars with regard to this folk dance form. The recalcitrant approach to search for a “pure” form as Chhau is incorrectly projected as a classical dance form. There is a sardonic reaction at any deviation from the so-called “purity” of form as sheer exhibitionism with regard to the western audience and a downright rejection of political patronage as an ignoble way of promoting tourism industry. Such misconceived criticisms are taken up for discussion in this paper. With first-hand knowledge of the ground reality and close interaction with the folk artistes, the paper aims to correct the western approach to standardize an essentially fluid and vibrant art form that imbibes the best of western influences and blends it impeccably with the indigenous tradition to produce an organic unity of impression. The paper begins with an outline of this dance form.

The Therapeutic Value of Indian Classical, Folk and Innovative Dance Forms

Arpita Chatterjee, Barasat College, West Bengal State University, India

Dance provides an active, non-competitive form of exercise that has potential positive effects for physical health as well as mental and emotional wellbeing. Dance therapy is based on the idea that body and mind are co-relational. The therapeutic approaches with various forms of Indian dances are a new entrant to dance literature. Ayurveda held dance as a power of healing (therapy) and inner awareness (psychology). Indian philosophy also supports the facts of Sangeet (song, dance and music) for benefit of human health physically as well as mentally. The powerful dance form of Bhangra (Punjab), Karagam (Tamilnadu), Chou, Rayabese, Dhali (West Bengal) gives good health and strength. The fast footwork of Kathak dance helps to release anger and tension. Manipuri dancers make rounded movements and avoid any jerks, sharp edges or straight lines. It gives them undulating and soft appearance, proper body control and peace of mind. All these body movements, body balancing, expression, muscle movement, muscle constriction and relaxation have a strong effect on therapeutic movements. In India today the dance therapists are conscious about this matter and in therapeutic sessions they actually improvise different dance movements according to the need.

Tipu Sultan and the Politics of Representation in Three 19th Century English novels

Ayusman Chakraborty, Jadavpur University, India

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 Abstract

Tipu Sultan was the ruler of the native state of Mysore. His fierce opposition to British rule in India earned him unrivalled notoriety in England. Colonial writings usually portray him as a cruel tyrant who tortured Indians and Englishmen alike. This article studies the representation of Tipu Sultan in three nineteenth century English novels – The Surgeon’s Daughter by Sir Walter Scott, Tippoo Sultaun: A Tale of the Mysore Wars by Captain Meadows Taylor, and The Tiger of Mysore by G. A. Henty . In these works, Tipu is painted in an extremely unfavourable light. Arguing that the politics of imperialism influences such representations, this article tries to show how the depiction of Tipu as a monstrous villain served to justify British rule in India. These novels seem to suggest that the British deserve credit for rescuing Indians from such egregious villain. The article also focuses on politicization of Tipu’s dead body. Colonial art and literature constantly return to the scene where Tipu’s body is discovered by his enemies. This article argues that colonial imagination converts Tipu’s corpse to a ‘grisly trophy’ which becomes a sign of British triumph over Oriental despotism.

Tagore’s Paintings: a Creation of Genius[i]

Rajdeep Konar, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India

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Abstract

Standing even at his 150th birth anniversary, there still remains a tendency to see Rabindranath Tagore’s paintings as “aberrations” to his aesthetic creed. This article makes an attempt at understanding the “thought gesture” behind Tagore’s paintings and thus relocating them in his personal tradition of art. This argues that the significance of Tagore’s painting will be fully realized not in a minute technical analysis of his painting. There have been numerous attempts at asserting judgmental views on Tagore’s paintings concerning the absence of any “methodological approach” to his painting. Rather, the pertinent questions which should be posed are: Why did Tagore essentially began painting? And why did he paint what he did? These questions could lead us towards comprehending the potentially infinite “thought gesture” which lies beneath the finite, pragmatic act of painting. This could let us into a greater understanding of his act of painting as not an event of ‘exception’ but as a development of the very ideas and concepts which constituted his consciousness in whatever he did.

Representation of the ‘National Self’— Novelistic Portrayal of a New Cultural Identity in Gora

Dipankar Roy,Visva-Bharati, India

 Abstract

Any colonial rule involves a systematic and ruthless attack on the culture and heritage of the colonized race. This often results in a total loss or at least maiming of the sense of ‘self’ for the colonized people. The masculinist self of the colonizer labels the self of the colonized as ‘effeminate’. In reaction to this, the nationalist consciousness of the colonized people often tries to replicate the macho virility of the colonial masters in an act of fashioning a ‘nationalist self.’ In the context of Indian colonial history we see development in similar lines. But, the codification of the dominant strand of the nationalist consciousness in overt masculinist terms often have strange reverberations. This paper is about such an act of fashionning selves and its after-effects. To study the issue in the Indian colonial contexts I have chosen Rabindranath Tagore’s novel Gora as a case-study. The conception of this novel’s central character is largely modelled on the issue of an ‘ideal’ national self.  The author, however, by observing the dialogic principle consistently in the text, problematises the dominant ideas connected with the figure of ‘nationalist self’. How he does it will be my main concern in this article. Whether it is possible to arrive at a general tendency of the nature of India’s colonial encounter with the British in relation to the issue of the development of the national character will be dealt with in the concluding section of this essay.

The Bilingual Writer Stripped off his Bilingual Identity in Indian Literary Scene: Manoj Das and the Politics of Packaging

Amarjeet Nayak, Thapar University, India

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Abstract

The position of a bilingual writer in India, who writes in English and a regional language, is a problematic one as s/he has a foot each in two literary traditions–Indian Writing in English and Regional Language Literatures. Instead of being seen as a bilingual writer, the market forces see to it that the writer is seen as a monolingual writer in the respective literary tradition. This paper tries to show how packaging of the bilingual writer in these two traditions contributes significantly towards the split identity of a bilingual writer as a result of which the bilingual writer is stripped off his bilingual identity. I shall do this through an analysis of the packaging of Manoj Das, a prolific bilingual writer in Indian Writing in English and Oriya literary traditions.

The ‘Blue Flame’: An ‘Elliptical’ Interaction between Kahlil Gibran and Rabindranath Tagore

Indrani Datta (Chaudhuri),Vidyasagar University, India

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Abstract:

This paper focuses on certain aporias in the life and works of a Lebanese American writer, Kahlil Gibran, that reveal his idiosyncratic interest in and preoccupation with India, neither his native nor his adopted country. It also charts out the ‘elliptical’ connection that this Lebanese immigrant forged with the Indian Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. A “belated” (Behdad 1) reading of these aspects opens up the possibility of critiquing Gibran’s life and writings through the theoretical framework of Nico Israel’s “outlandish”-ness (ix), a state that exists between, as Israel has stated, “exilic emplacement” and “diasporic self-fashioning” (16-17). This kind of “reading behind” (Behdad 4) rewrites “a kind of philosophical décalage” (2) that ruptures existing West-centric discourses by destabilizing and displacing them through “other locations…other trajectories of subjectivity, and…forms of knowledge” (Behdad 1). My critiquing of Gibran’s life and texts, in this manner, show how his sense of identity, generated out of trans-cultural and transnational spaces, not only engenders a counter discursive practice to the West-centric politics of exclusion but also tries to rescue non-Western writers, and their literatures, from the “anamnesiac order” (Behdad 3) of such politics.

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