Our body is a vehicle for awakening and we should be treating it with care. Did we need a pandemic to realize this simple Buddha survival-kit?
‘The trouble is – you think you have time’. It was not Prince Siddhartha Gautam who said it, it was Buddha. Same body, same tongue, same eyes and yet, what a deep chasm of brave reflection, introspection, meditative clarity and self-awareness that separated the two minds!
When we sing or dance or lose ourselves in the deep waters of any form of art, we happen to traverse a similar distance between being reactive, reckless and shallow to being blithe, wise and deeply-aware of the moment that matters.
Dr. Saroj Sharma has been adorned with many titles from Nritya Alankar, Nritya Praveen, Nritya Visharad, Nritya Prabhakar, numerous international recognitions for choreography and Kathak across the world along with distinctions in various research areas and fellowships straddling psychology, alternative medicine, Astanga Yoga, Ayurveda and Kathak. She was also distinguished with the ‘Nitya Sadhna Award 2017’ by the Indian Art and Cultural Society, Cultural Carnival Goa.
But if you sit with her for just five minutes, you would grasp that spot tucked inside in her vast métier where her heart truly belongs – Dance therapy. That’s what she has been endeavouring to stimulate as the Director of Kala Ashram College of Performing Arts, an Elysian haven for true Kathak lovers, students and lifelong learners.
She strongly believes, and exudes, the Meraki of Dance and Mind. In her reckoning and experience, dancing something as beautiful and divine as Kathak is the best way to anchor the trifecta of body, mind and spirit at one point. In this fluid and thought-provoking conversation, she reminds us why it is important to pay attention to the ‘really important stuff’ in life – not because of the Corona-lockdown, but despite it. Step forward and find out more.
Pranam! I just saw a beautiful session of the Dhamaar Taal happening virtually under your wings. Can we draw any corollary between this Dance and nuggets of Buddhist Zen?
Pranam. Of course. All the time. If you noticed, before we perform any Toda, we do a Padant, i.e., we recite it for the audience along with the Tabla beats or Theka. It tells us indirectly that there is immense value in thinking before we speak or act. Discretion and patience go a long way in ensuring that we do not make mistakes – whether in art or in life.
Another example is that of Tatkaar – the fundamental footwork that we start with before doing anything else. This is where we control the traffic of our mind, we ease out the congestion, we focus on the Tabla beats and we attain the meditative parking-spot that calms out body, mind and spirit by bringing them together, under one hood.
What is it like learning something as intricate as a Classical Dance? Do most artists run the danger of turning Narcissistic at some point, specially once they elevate to new levels – be it in terms of knowledge or commercial success?
Well, I am sure you were fascinated by the specific Namaskar ritual that every artist undertook before putting the first foot forward for the Tatkaar. This is something that most classical dances follow – from Bharatnatyam to Kathak. The idea is to acknowledge and show gratitude to all the elements of the Earth as well as the people around – whether it is the percussionist or the audience. Because we believe that everyone matters in the successful performance or learning of any art.
This spirit of respecting everyone and noting everyone’s role is quintessential to a good artist. That said, yes, losing this wisdom in some ego-trap is possible and visible when we look around at even some of the most celebrated artists. They forget that life and success has a shelf-life. They forget that one day money, applause and adulation stop flowing. What remains then is what always mattered but what one chose to ignore – real knowledge, real love for the art and real admirers. Most of these ignorant people also lose what they earn because of myopia, financial imprudence and an assumption of longevity.
Nothing lasts forever. One day, our bodies are bound to age and fade away. We always run away from that thought. Why not embrace it and cultivate a life of true purpose and impact? Why fear death? Why not use it to make life count?
Do you see this acceptance happening presently as we are fighting a health-challenge?
Health is not just physical or physiological. It has mental and emotional dimensions too. In fact, those dimensions govern and define our physical state more strongly than we realize. I see so much depression, mental issues and fatigue around that it amazes me how people lose sight of the simple formula for life.
Life is not about money, accessories and social-proof of well-being. It is about what makes you feel really happy inside.
What makes you feel happy when you, or your protégés, are on stage?
I would rather say that my happiness starts a few steps back. I cherish my role more as a teacher than as an artist. I know that after 60 years I, or a student, would not be able to perform this art but we can always be ‘Sadhaks’. Who or what age can stop us from doing that? There is an inexplicable and rare joy in immersing oneself and one’s students in the bubble where one climbs the spiritual staircase by taking the steps of Tatkaar. Even if it lasts for one hour, the after-effects follow throughout the day. We are calmer, more anchored, more elastic and less distracted than a rat-race participant.
Is that what Buddha meant, perhaps, when he talked of Nirvana?
Who knows! Everyone’s Nirvana is different. Everyone’s path is different. But what is important is to start to find that path instead of wasting time and life in chasing stuff that others have been running after. We have caused enough damage to the climate, to our mental immunity and our true purpose by living the wrong way. Every day is new. Let’s make sure that the next world we enter and create is more mindful, more respectful, more harmonious and more responsible than what we have left behind. It is a good thing that we have got this pause button.
In Kathak, whenever we complete a Toda, we conclude it properly at the Sam. When we wait for the next cycle or Avartan to begin, we assume a pose of pause in a certain posture. In those few seconds, nothing moves and even our eye-sight is fixed on one hand or angle. This patience for the next Sam says a lot. We cannot be hopping madly from one hoop to another. It is very important to pause, to breathe and think about what we will do when the next Sam begins. This lock-down is something similar. When we resume action, it is better we do it with careful thought. For that we need to contemplate what we did wrong and what we did right.
This lock-down is a precious opportunity to do so. Did the great human being not say – ‘Mind is everything. What we think is what we become’. So let us become what we always had the power and purpose to be. Let’s make a better world as a consequence of that Nirvana.