Untouched and unspoken

Ambika Shaligram
Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Kathak danseuse Shama Bhate has conceived a special dance feature to mark the International Women’s Day

Ask a woman, what it feels to be one and the responses could vary, depending on her education, exposure, social status, work and so on. At some point, all the responses would merge into the socially accepted mores, roles and expectations laid down for females. 

If in the past, she would be cursed for her supposed transgression (like Ahilya), today she is killed by her boy friend or husband on superfluous suspicion. It is called ‘crime of passion’. Unlike her peers Rani Laxmibai or Rani Chennamma, Rani Durgavati, who ruled over Jabalpur, has remained unsung in history. She was a capable ruler, but always she had to take decisions on the behalf of her son, who occupied the throne, after her husband’s death. Durgavati had put her son, her kingdom, her subjects before herself. 

Her last act, to do something on her own, for herself, was when she took her own life with a dagger. She is distracted for a moment, when her son is killed on the battlefield before her eyes, and an arrow hits her. In order to avoid falling into enemy hands, she uses the dagger. Even today, aren’t we always expected to maintain a low profile, keep our ambitions, desires on the back-burner?

There are many women in our mythology and in history who had a lot to share, but they couldn’t say it all. And, if they did ever speak, they were always judged, questions were asked about them. Bringing five women from the pages of history and their suffocated thoughts on stage is Stree Man ki Unchhui Gahraiyaan, a dance feature conceived and choreographed by Kathak danseuse, Shama Bhate.

The programme presented by Nad-Roop will be staged on March 8, to mark the International Women’s Day. It talks about five women — Ahilya, Rani Durgavati, Sati, Sakhi and Hidimba. Says Shamatai, “We have a lot in common with these women; they were all made to fit in a box, so that they could fulfill the expectations of the society they lived in, expectation of their husbands, fathers. Ahilya was frozen in time, she wasn’t allowed to die, nor was she allowed to live. All this for no fault of hers. Rani Durgavati, despite being a capable ruler, couldn’t take decisions on her own. Sati was so young, she didn’t know the meaning of marriage. Her husband died. The new bride became a widow and was forced to jump into the burning pyre, her life cut short. Hidimba lived a lonely life, after Bhima left her within a year of their marriage. She accepted all his conditions, and yet she longed for him, longed to be referred to as his wife. But Bhima was concerned about Arjuna and when the war began, he called for their son Ghatotkacha, who ultimatley got killed in the war. Hidimba was left alone with the pain and suffering. And, then there is Sakhi, a character from Jaidev’s Geet Govind, who has no identity of her own.”

Shamatai’s students are portraying these five women, who are introduced by other characters on the stage. This device helps weave their stories into one seamless performance. 

“Avani Gadre is depicting Ahilya. Ahilya’s story is told to us by Saraltai, who flies frequently between India and USA. Their stories intersect when she decides to start with the recitation of Tulsidas’ doha, which has been interrupted by her travel. Durga is a history teacher and she will be educating us about Durgavati’s (played by Shambhavi Kulkarni) valour. A mother shares the pain of watching her daughter, Sati (Shivani Karmarkar) jump into the burning pyre. And, Sakhi (Bhargavi Sardesai), who has been rendered to a nameless footnote in the pages of Radha-Krishna’s life, holds a dialogue with Jaidev. She is their messenger-in-between, a keeper of Krishna’ secrets and a confidante of Radha. Sakhi stays on the periphery, watching the raas and shringar unfold around her, but remaining untouched by it. Hidimba is played by Ameera Patankar. We learn about Hidimba’s life through her conversation with her son’s spirit,” adds Shamatai. 

The roles were assigned to her students keeping in mind their temperament and the suitability, but the Kathak artist also wanted the dancers to make the characters their own. After all, we have lived these stories in some form or the other. 

Stree Man ki Unchhui Gahraiyaan, a Kathak dance performance by Nad-Roop will be performed on March 8, Sakal Lalitghar, Mukundnagar, at 7 pm. This is a ticketed event

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