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‘Katha Kahe So Kathak’  

By Abhiri Mishra
Dehradun, 26 Jun: It was indeed a culturally auspicious occasion in the history of Dehradun on 20 June when the friendship between the classical music doyen, Uttpal Samant, and the great Padma Vibhushan awardee, Pt Birju Maharaj, made it possible for the Kathak enthusiasts of Doon to learn the intricacies of the dance form from the maestro and his disciple. It was a four-day workshop at “Sur Lahri”, the abode of music lovers and Uttpal Samant.
The first day started with a Kathak based speech by Maharaj. His daughter, Mamta Maharaj, and senior disciple Saswati Sen started teaching the “Tukda” and “Tihais” with utmost dedication, patience and of course, love – the essential ingredient of teaching. The children, naive to the finesse of Kathak hand and feet movements, would be corrected sternly but the reassuring smile from Pt Birju Maharaj would immediately incite confidence and enthusiasm to learn it.
The children were divided into three groups – Junior, Intermediate and Senior. The senior group comprised of senior students and teachers from all over Uttarakhand including my Guruji, Deepak Bhatt. On 23 June, it was the day of Agni Pariksha at the IRDT Auditorium. All the children had to showcase what they had learnt in these 4 days before their parents and audience. The show started at around 5:30 p.m. and the auditorium was full, with everyone gathered to witness the grace and skills of the dancers. A big round of applause welcomed the arrival of Pt Birju Maharaj along with Saswati Sen and Mamta Maharaj. After paying homage to Dehradun’s Kathak Maestro, the late Madhukar Anand and a welcome to all guests by the eloquent Jagdish Babla, the cultural evening began. The junior group including children as young as 5 years performed Ganpati Vandana and a few “Tukdas”. None of the beats were missed, their movements were so accurate that they never missed the “Sam” or the first beat of “Taals”.
The next performance was by the intermediate group. The steps were crisp and with perfection they performed Shiv Vandana along with a few “Tukda”, “Tihai”, etc. Then, it was the turn of the Senior Batch. The perfect synchronisation in their movements indeed justified these dancers being the seniormost.
Aryav Anand, the disciple of Pt Birju Maharaj and son of the late Madhukar Anand, performed “Tukda” and “Tihai” with great agility and thrilled the audience. The budding Kathak dancer of Dehradun stole everyone’s heart with his effortless performance of “Paran”, “Chakkardartukda”, etc. Another disciple, Elisha, performed various movements based on the sound of the river, etc. A small portion of Shri Ram’s life was enacted and performed in dance by Ipshita Mishra, the niece of Pt Birju Maharaj.
The next performance was by Mamta Maharaj, the daughter of Pt Birju Maharaj. The “Gaat” performed by her left the audience spellbound. Technically, she showed her expertise by conversion of various “Tudka”, “Tihais” from one “Taal” to the other in a split second. Her facial expression, eye movement and hand movement had the essence of Birju Maharaj.  It is said, ‘Katha Kahe So Kathak’, meaning Kathak is the art of storytelling. Everyone loves to hear stories, especially children. Birju Maharaj and Saswati Sen enthralled the audience by enacting two boys playing with a ball. The throws, chit chat between the boys were very effectively presented by simple “Bols” of Kathak. The conjugal conversation between a sturdy Sardarji and a fragile cute Japanese girl left the audience laughing till their stomachs started aching. The performance of the hockey world cup in Kathak ensured that the audience could do away with watching world cup matches if such a performance was available to them. The “Jugalbandi” between “Tabla” and Kathak was appreciated with loud and long applause from the audience. Her performance showed all the inherited Kathak traits of her guru.
Finally, Jagdish Babla invited the one and only Pt Birju Maharaj. He started by explaining rhythm, the basis of every dance and the basis of the universe. He explained with example of the heartbeat, making of chapatti, etc., and related it to “Taal”. The difficult “Bols” of Kathak having 2 and 3 “Matras”, etc., were easily explained by words like puri and sabji making it conducive for the children to learn “Tukda” and “Tihai”. The story telling art of Kathak unfolded when “the motherly affection of a bird feeding its fledgling”, “the chit chat of a grandfather and grand-daughter” were beautifully expressed by Kathaksbol, counting in Hindi ek, do… and hand movements. Apart from being a great dancer, he is an expert in playing virtually all musical instruments and an accomplished singer as well. He recalled that, once, while he was singing on All India Radio, people asked if he is the same person who mastered Kathak.  At the request of the maestro, vocalist Uttpal Samant, Pt Birju Maharaj presented Geet, Thumari and Ghazal written by his grandfather, Pt Bindadin Maharaj. Each song began with the unique aalap, the same lines were presented in various styles. He performed as if he was vocalist who had practiced day and night. The expertise of Maharaj was reflected when he described the animated conversation of the wood of the bansuri (flute). His father, Pt Achan Maharaj taught Kathak to the daughters of Seth Harkishore in Dehradun long ago. He said that the memories of his stay in Dehradun along with his father were still fresh in his heart. His command on other languages was showcased through “Rabindra Sangeet” which he performed for the audience. The evening concluded with Raag Bhairavi by the Kathak Samrat.
An unforgettable cultural evening would have been a nightmare without the tireless efforts of volunteers from Sur Lahiri. They ensured that not a single sound of the “ghungroo” disturbed the performance and the hall was left spic and span. Memories of those four days with the great maestro are permanently itched on my heart and I will cherish it throughout my life.
(Abhiri Mishra is a Class-VII student of SJA)