By Tanvi Girotra
One of the things that Dilli still hasn’t caught on to and made its own is, ironically enough, the oldest form of self expression there is. Indian Classical Dance which has existed in various forms – from the storytellers in small remote villages to the court dancers in the palaces of Chandragupt Maurya. But sadly enough, it has never been fully appreciated or understood.
I remember when my mum pushed me into my first ever Kathak class at the Pandit Shambhu Maharaj Kathak Academy. I was 7, and it was just another one of those things my parents dragged me into. I hated it. I hated the sounds their ghungrus made in the lobby. I hate the constant playing of the tabla and the sarangi in every classroom. I hated that everyone took this frivolous thing so seriously without realizing how ridiculous it made them look. I despised it from the bottom of my heart till one day it all changed. We were starting with our daily footwork – thumping our feat on the ground till they turned red and hoping that the sound would be something like the crisp clapping deafening sound of my guruji’s. And then it happened. I started stamping my feet lazily and for the first time I heard it. And so did everyone else – a soft yet very clear and loud clapping sound. I looked around to see where it was coming from, and then I looked at my feet and realized it was me. When you know you’re a wizard inside because you cant control the magic within you as a child? It was the exact same feeling. From that day, dance became my life. My ghungrus became my most prized possessions and my guruji, my God. From that day on till about 8 years that followed, dance taught me the rigorous discipline and sheer hard work required to do things right, the confidence to stand on stage and have all eyes on you, and however outdated, ancient or forgotten it might be, Kathak taught me the love and pride for everything that the Indian culture represents.
But this is not about me. Apart from my obsessive ranting above which really cant be helped. This isn’t about Kathak either. This is about another beautiful form of Indian Classical Dance which is even less well known and from what I know of it, is just as amazingly enigmatic as Kathak. And a beautiful Odissi dancer who is an example of the fact that even though she completely looks it, its not just about the way you look or what you wear or how well you perform. Its about how you make it yours. Something that Priyanjali Mitra has spent ten years of her life doing. Her commitment and dedication towards her passion is represented through all the other things she does – whether or not they are dance related.
A student of Sociology at the Lady Sri Ram College, most people her age are trying to fill up their CV’s with whatever they can find, and pray to to get into a good Masters program or get a good job. And her aims aren’t any different. But that doesn’t mean she plans to leave out what she loves. “I do not want to become a professional dancer but having said that, I don’t want to leave dance either. I want to continue for as long as I can . All of this is governed by a simple principle – I cannot stop doing what makes me happy. There are times when I am absolutely stressed out with everything and I have also considered leaving dance. But then I ask myself whether doing that will ease out the burden or will it just make me extremely unhappy? The answer turned out to be the latter. Ten years from now, I would have hopefully continued to dance and inspired others to do the same.”
Being the newest Dilliwaala in our Little Black Book, Priyanjali claims that her favourite place to hang out in Delhi has to be Hauz Khas Village. “I’ve spent a lot of time there in the past two years. The fort ruins, deer park, cafe’s and kitsch places vaguely remind me of Camden town in London. Many also call it the Soho of Delhi. What’s interesting is that it’s a cultural hub of sorts – art, fashion, antiques, old movie posters come together to make it a fascinating place to just relax. Lots goes on there in terms of travel cafes like Kunzum or quiet places like Thadi and Elma’s or even Yodakin.” The hidden sociologist in her comes out as soon as we ask her to comment on Dilliwaala’s. “The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about Delhi is the intellectual bourgeoise. And the fact that it is our cultural and political capital. Dilliwaala’s organize themselves around class. Everyone is a someone or at least everyone’s father is someone.”
I have always felt that Dilliwaala’s aren’t very good with their first impressions. They might be fabulous people inside, but don’t really look the part and definitely don’t know how to show it. Priyanjali has to be one of the first people for whom this absolutely does not hold true. Her warm and friendly personality is the first thing you notice about her. But what her first impression doesn’t tell you is that she has to be one of the most hardworking people I have ever known. How she puts on a broad smile, gives out instructions in her sweet voice and gets work done before anyone realizes what hit them, is something I will always fail to understand. It’s just one of her many personality traits that never stop amazing me. But I guess that’s a dancer for you, whether on stage or off it – disciplined, graceful, hardworking, but always a bundle of surprises! I think its safe to say that we may be a mixture of a lot of things but there are somethings that if you know us enough, you’d notice very clearly. Dance and all that it has made us is the most important one of them.