Friday, April 13, 2012

An excellent book about Uday Shankar

After reading posts about Uday Shankar dances like In Search of Uday Shankar’s Kalpana (1948) and A Documentary on Simkie, Uday Shankar's Dance Partner I started browsing through the internet about Uday Shankar and read this excellent book of Mohan Khokar mentioned by Minai (the link contains a list of books about Uday Shankar):
His Dance, His Life: A Portrait of Uday Shankar
It eulogizes Uday Shankar but does not hide his weaknesses. The author seems to have spent a lot of time with Uday Shankar during the last years of Uday Shankar's life and had about ten hours of tape recorded conversations with him. Though Uday Shankar started as a painter, dance seems to be a part of his life since childhood. The first influence was a 'chamar' dancer Mata Din whose movements he began to imitate much to the delight of his mother who had no daughters. " His mother more than anybody else encouraged him as a dancer, though both then knew nothing of what dance was." This was in the village of Nasrathpur before Uday Shankar was fourteen. By 1930, he was quite famous and when he visited Nasrathpur again ".. Shankar went to see Mata Din, whose dancing inspired him in childhood. He fell straight at his feet'. Somehow without much knowledge of classical indian dances but with memories of Indian paintings and sculptures and with his painter's eye he seems to have internalized dancing. According to Beryl de Zoete, who saw him in 1931:
"When Shankar 'took up' dancing he did not appear as an exponent of one of the traditional schools, but as a choreographer, free to choose what elements he needed from either. His knowledge of Indian dancing was at that time very slight, but he had a real gift for composition and capacity for assimilating style which reminds one of Massine. The magnificient dance poses of the Indian sculptures also played a large part in his education. It was Kathakali, the great dance drama of Malabar, which chiefly attracted him, and he was the first to attempt a transcription of some of its extraordinary techniques and make up, for the Europeah stage. More important still, he caught something of its spirit. I had never before moved quite in this way by dancing before. The dancer did not appeal to the audience, seemed indeed to be unconscious of its presence. Yet his face is not inexpressive, on the contrary it seemed much more varied and striking in its means of expression.But the expression corresponded to another state of being, it was directed inwards, not offering itself to the spectator with the desire to please or surprise. The remoteness of the art, commuting with iyself, as it were, was something new and strangely attractive."

This quote is on page 64 of Khokar's book. The last points were made again by Uday Shankar in the lasr interviews described on pages 165-166:
"It was like something possessed me. I forgot myself. I was no more Uday Shankar. And I forgot I was dancing to the public and I had no concern of how the public was taking me. No such thought came to me. I just went through my paces with complete enchantment."
The book is full of reactions and reviews by contemporaries who saw the dances and the author does not impose his views even though he seems more symapathetic to traditional Indian dances. There are stories of the decline and bitterness and indications that 'Kalpana' may be an uneven film. In fact F. Hall says in 'Honoring Uday Shankar' that only a couple of the dances are excellent. The author wrote two more books, one called "Traditions of Indian Dance" where the last chapter on 'The Free Dance' Has some material on Uday Shankar. There is another on folk dances of India which I have not seen yet. Unfortunately all seems out of print. But the author's son seems to be an influential dance critic and I hope that these excellent books will be reprinted though he says (
"Today, if you are looking for a book on dance, you are likely to be directed to the gardening or hobbies section. No publisher wants to print a book on dance unless there's a known name involved. And when they do, the books cost a fortune."
P.S. There is very little about Simkie, Uday Shankar's most vibrant partner in the book though her name is mentioned several times. Elsewhere, Ravi Shankar remembers his brother's art most from 1030-38 when Simkie was partnering him. In the video posted by Minai, Amalahankar thinks her dancing was nothing compared to simkie's. Some of the details from the book which have not seen before are:
Jlly 21, 1941: Simkie fell suddenly sick... appendicitis.
September 1, 1941: Simkie was successfully operated upon for appendicitis in King George 5 hospital, Lucknow.
And Weddings
March 15, 1941: Ravi Shankar with Annapurna Devi
March 8, 1942: Uday Shankar with Amala
August 4, 1942: Prabhat Kumar Ganguli with Simkie
and this heartbreaking passage on page 156:
"In a mere five years, beginning in 1942, the parting of ways was complete. Simkie gave up performing altogether and tried for a while to direct dance in Bombay films. This discouraged her further. She then joined the External services of All India Radio. This,too, was not for very long. Finally she left India, demoralized and hurt, never to return to this country. She has since preferred to keep religiously away from anything connected with the Shankar cult."


MinaiMinai said...

Thank you for these wonderful excerpts and impressions from Khokar's book on Shankar which is fairly hard to find! Great info to add to the online community about the subject. Though it is disappointing Khokar didn't include more information on Simkie! Darn.

gaddeswarup said...

There is a bit more information. Simkie lived from 1910-1998 and was sixteen when she met Uday Shankar. The following link suggests that Uday Shankar was on very friendly terms with several women and also the reasons why Kalpana is not so easily available
I personally feel that Simkie had a raw deal. Perhaps Uday Shankar was thinking more in terms of having family which will continue his legacy. That sort of attitude may also explain his arranging marriage of Ravi Shankar. Khokar book also suggests various problems in Almora including some sort of moral decay with suggestions of hedonism.
In any case, it is surprising that there is no Wikipedia entry on Simkie and her contributions seemed to be more underrated and so are Uday Shankar's. It is good to know Uday Shankar thought that she suited his Indian dances best compared to anybody else, including Indian women dancers who danced with him.

gaddeswarup said...

A recent post by Minai