The article focus on three l’s of existence and pedagogy: one is life which involves faith, attitude, and ritualistic practices; second is learning, which is an important aspect of education that children undergoes in an upbeat manner and so do adults. Learning involves lessons of life and technical lessons of dance. The last lesson also came as bonus session with the guru himself making us believe in what we are doing to achieve it as well. Since to do is to believe and achieve that as well.
My life took a different turn when in my dance journey I decided to merge my reflections on Bharatanatyam and Kathak (two classical art forms of Indian dance). I having been exposed to Kathak and art forms at one of the institute that claimed age old traditional method of learning guru-shishya parampara (teacher-taught traditional relation). But as a keen observer of things from a very Integral perspective, I found the path further locked. Mainly because of conflict in two professions of university and dance I was handling, I felt the two getting crowded, and that’s where when I felt my journey as an artist and as a dancer has finished. I found people nudging, poking, pushing and motivating me to dance. While I with fear in my body and grit in my brain picked up projects or saw dance happening (a faux pas perhaps! As you dance, you don’t see dance happening) but it lacked harmony or proper manifestation even if it had perseverance.
I knew knowledge involved in dance while I searched for method to acquire and sustain it. I was and still like a spider who is climbing wall, trying to find my own path and destination but have been slipping down due to my own mistakes and ignorance. A spider since its size is small takes task which are mightier than its possibility but yet wondrous is the God who has delved the cosmos in that tiny frugal being who never gives up!
Like that my journey made me seek the spider in me, that which secret has God locked in me, what is my worth? And how will I discover that? Or will I ever discover that? Hands of nature would be my guide, since no guru knows the pains of eons that are having affair with me. I against those odds decide to be.
I add at this point #dasratharama #learningbyplayingitforward project and the relevance of it. As hindsight I see the next step in my journey to learn by playing it forward.
I happen to come across a project on Indian philosophy and cognitive science based at one of the institutes in India. I took it as an opportunity to interact with acclaimed artist and guru Dr S Vasudevan Iyengar (henceforth: Guru or Vasu Anna). We could finally meet in October 2017 after a concert, I sought his help while I discussed my project which I had already mailed him. He eventually took me under his guidance in November 2017, when I shared my project with him and he was open to the idea. He appreciated that and that’s how I was introduced to his brain child, ‘alternative learning space’ for dance education known as Hamsabaala. His mother’s Ms Kamala Srinivasan (or Mami as we address her) presence was the stambha (pillar) of Hamsbaala, I discovered other players.
In this article I elucidate the erudition process at Hamsbaala that children and adults undergo, the main focus of journey however remains my own learning during my tutelage with Hamsabaala.
As I watched and made young friends I realised this very therapeutic than any counselling session. I realised Guru ji was there off and on but the system became guide more than the guru in physical form. I yearned for sweet presence of Hamsabaala.
Life: the environment
Psychologically I was in a much free environment which was pious and task oriented at the same time. I widened my mind and my body as I sat in armandi (insert pic). Widening of a mind is an exercise that we undertake during my spiritual training that ego which hampers you or brings in doubt is countered by removal of it. ‘Anything is possible’ is the mantra.
I realised there were chidings and conversations during the class but work was going on without boasting or bragging about it. I was often comparing it with my earlier dance class or other dance classes I have been to. I realised I was opening up to a different plane or truth of life.
There were gods in the classroom. The environment was not only spiritual but pious. There were strict rules like not to eat in classroom or drink from the cup with your lips touching it. This would be considered as impious or jootha as North Indian call it in Hindi. I found it soothing. My earlier class had none. The restriction expected me to be caring for the environment, alert and responsible. Each player felt that.
The namaskaram formed part of important ritual before beginning and ending the class.
From K and Dh’s the youngest batch to the growing girls to the mothers in different batches, there was wide variety of learners of different age group. It was psychologist’s delight for me. I explored a learning cohort, something we are trying to build in society as psychologist and as an educationist.
So my young classmates were 5 to 6 years old who taught me the first adavu, the thatta adavu. I found it hard to spread my feet at 180 degree but got it without much effort. I got to know the temperament of each student almost everyone was a good learner while I struggled with the mothers’ batch too, due to inadequate practice. We grew in number as students.
The teachers Ms Varsha, Ms Madhu and Ms Lakshmi were kind, polite and unleashing their comments at us all the time. Despite large number of students no body escaped the reprimands for not practicing enough.
While Mami took music classes in another room. Her reprimands to be on time, practice, do correctly, not to let hair loose and the most important wear the puttu (a sticker on forehead) made life happier. Since it was love for us, dance and Hamsabaala that was reflected in those chiding. Who in the world has time to care for you! The one who gets angry on you perhaps loves you the most! Apart from Mami and bhaiya, I made a dear teacher and friend with Varsha, who guided in dance while we discussed psychology and counseling.
Lessons: The content
The word adavu left me satiated like a thirsty crow having tasted drops of water. I was happy as having heard about it from my mentors it finally manifested in front of me and I was encouraged to do the same.
The taalam as we used to hear, is more stringent in Bharatanatyam, was of course a delight to discover. I was keen to do abhinaya as well, as I have found the abhinaya more neat, specific and dramatic unlike Kathak which followed a different line of thought.
Armandi gave me that space but my knees cracked or my butt complained. I discovered energy within me. While it had learning and absorption by body, it lacked the perseverance as it needed the riyaz (strenuous practice) but definitely and surprisingly responded to Bharatanatyam. I discovered the power of observation and discussion on dance, body’s learning can exhibit. I felt that grasp was also because of the guru who has been so meticulous, therefore, there was powerful influence in the instruction.
As I learned hastaks (the codified hand gestures) and explored body angles and movements in the dance form I could use it more easily and effortlessly in my choreographic work in Kathak. Knowing or unknowingly I used the hastaks and their viniyogas (usage)! It was surprising.
The possibilities to discover in future
Learning was based on understanding and observation of movements to be memorized but due to Vasu Anna’s detail explanation of each movement, it became meaningful and fruitful. There is a meaning in rote memorization which perhaps Asians can understand. The entire debate on understanding, reasoning versus rote memorization is complicated and undiscovered. The dichotomy has made us ignorant about learning. We have lost the art of rote memorization due to print and now due to digital world.
Another objective in writing this piece is that how do we make learning happen with our young or adult minds. What are making them learn? As an educationist I wish that we indulge in these debates and just do not let teachers decide for it, be it school or learning class for us.
In future while I wish to absorb the fullness but due to time constraint would love to have smaller capsules to master, as was given in the test, at regular basis. It is not a set syllabus but created for each group. I have enjoyed the cyclical and vast process of learning but some cheating that is make short learning lesson plans for a student could be done!
My own journey (lessons of life) with Bharatanatyam
The joy to learn dance has been my priority mainly due to my training that focus on process than product. But my ultimate aim is that when one two are inseparable and giving through body is based on strenuous process.
I am not sure what I will give through Bharatanatyam at this point but I would love to explore its selected productions even through body in future. I am hopeful that this mélange has purpose.
However for my further learning I do see importance of learning as a bit linear process. Learning in any knowledge area when becomes linear loses its fullness. But still to focus on adavus step wise for a while could be useful.
However to learn them intermittently and a non sequential manner made all of us alert and as we compared adavus while we learnt. But this discovery if left to students or only hinted at could be costly. As students might never discover it, therefore other options need to be looked at. I look as an adult learner which I am sure teachers would look as well.
The journey with Hamsabaala
I thanks Hamsabaala and I am sure I would be a successful learner with her. However, it is important either in fullness or linear way, each one discover their learning path in class. As learning is the ultimate delight or ananda!