Published: 24th February 2017
A illustrated manual on classical Indian dances
Artist Parwati Dutta tells us about her first graphic novel and her experience writing it
Manu is a competitive boy and this kathak-dancer loves nothing more than a face-off in tatkar (basic footwork). Then there is Malti, who loves her pheris and chakras. Both of them along with seven other young classical dancers come alive through illustrations on the pages of dancer Parwati Dutta's first novel, Niritya Gatha. Having trained under Pandit Birju Maharaj for Kathak, the founder and guru at Mahagami Gurukul, Aurangabad, has brought out a 62-page graphic novel about nine Indian classical dances like Kathak, Chhau, Manipuri and others.
Grand performance Illustration of a Kathakali performance from the book
Drawn into Relief
The idea of this novel has been bubbling in Dutta's head for more than six years, but it was only last year that she started working on it. Moving away from information-heavy academic texts and coffee-table books she decided to go the storytelling-through-characters route, juxtaposed with historical references. For instance, there is an illustration of Arjuna (from the Mahabharata) sitting under a tree during vanvas, observing Kathak dancers who were chanting the name of the Divine in the forest. "It gives children a background on the historical aspects of the dance form. That is how you start feeling empowered because you are learning more about the tradition than just learning the tukdas of the item," says Dutta, who can often be found sitting with students sharing anecdotes at the Gurukul. The Odissi and Kathakali dancer we see on the cover, dancing with a smile with the Ellora caves as a backdrop, is Parwati Dutta herself. "The idea was to bring back my childhood," laughs Dutta, whose interest in dance was sparked by the concerts her parents used to take her to. And it is to her parents that she has dedicated the book, as they were supportive even when she decided to quit engineering. "We need not compare our salaries to an IT professional. If we are able to nourish our creativity and achieve all the sustaining elements that we need to survive, that is good enough. Also, dancers can contribute in many ways, from choosing projects to teaching - we need not limit ourselves to one thing alone," says the 45-year-old artist.
Myself and I The book cover of Nritya-Gatha with illustrations of Parwati Dutta herself
Keeping the spark
"There is a confusion when it comes to education with regard to dance. Do we want to enrich the students with knowledge or, in the bid to make it in the competitive world, want them to look for a stream of education that has utilitarian value? Dancing should be learnt not for career but for enrichment," she underlines. She herself has nurtured more than 2,000 dancers at Mahagami Gurukul and started successful initiatives like the Outreach Programme, where trained dancers are sent to schools that require assistance. But when it comes to DIY dance videos, the self-proclaimed traditionalist opines, "Though they help expand the outreach of the dance forms, only after a one-on-one with the mentor as per the Guru-shishya parampara, can one reach
their destination." As an example, she shares with us an instance when Pt Birju Maharaj randomly recited kathak bohls. "Maharaj noticed how I regularly incorporated those abstract utterances which he doled out spontaneously in my performances and came up to me and said 'I just gave you a seed and you made a tree out of it.' That statement, including several others, keeps the passion for dance alive in me." This book is one step towards kindling that passion in dancers to take the road not taken. Odissi One of the illustrations which features on the book's cover is inspired from this image of Parwati Dutta All About Nritya Meet Sudha, the Bharatnatyam dancer from the novel Tribal Treat Chhau, an Indian tribal dance performed mostly in Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal Southern Delight Attractive makeup and the elaborate costumes of the Indian classical dance-drama Kathakali are always a big draw
Dancing queen Parwati Dutta, classical dancer