Albert and Rihan, the Indian short story writer, in Nrityagram, Bangalore, India,2015.
This piece was extracted from the Sangam House Reader, ‘Other Windows’ Vol 3, a collection of short stories and articles collected from the over 26 writers cut across 3 continents that took part in the 8th edition of the Sangam House International Writers’ residency in 2015. It was published by Sangam House Books, New Delhi, India in March 2017.
Have you ever twirled in a circle, stretched on your tiptoes and swept your arms above your head? Have you ever tapped your feet to snappy music, or even do as much as nod your head to any type of tune? If so, then you have danced.
Everybody dances because the human body is designed in such a way as to allow easy movement and what more, the world offers an exciting variety of melodies to dance to.
In the same vein, ‘Everyone has a novel in them’. Just like in the art of dancing, the truth in this maxim cannot be denied for the writing craft in particular or creativity in general. As a matter of fact, every human being is creative in their own way except that the key to tapping into this creativity is understanding that our approaches differ in terms of level and style.
It was at Sangam House, during the 8th edition of its International Writers’ residency that this belief which I have always held about creativity was further confirmed.
It was during one of my usual early mornings walk through the stone slab pavements of Nrityagram, the dance village that houses the Kulas of the Sangam people where over 100 writers, creative minds, have been gathering since 2010, that I became aware of the uniqueness of The Place Sangam and the sort of creativity it stirs its occupants to exude.
Nrityam is a Sanskrit word for dance and Gram is the word for village. So, Nrityagram is a dance village that also doubles as a dance school. From the quarters where we the writers were accommodated, up to the very edges of the entire vicinity, one could feel creativity in the air. So thick was this feeling that a knife could have sliced through it.
This classical dance school is situated in Hessaraghatta, a tiny town near the southern Indian city of Bangalore, the ICT capital of India. Here, from my humble observation, I believe a serious effort is being made to nourish different dance styles and martial arts through the ancient system of ‘Guru Shisya Parampara’, and also to foster a serious relation between both crafts-writing and dance.
I understand Nrityagram was the brainchild of one-time fashion-model-turned-Odissi dancer, the famous Protima Gauri. She was a gifted dancer who had an eventful life living her craft I was told. Even though during one of her travels, sadly, a fatal accident occurred that took her, her legacy lives on in this distinctive dance village. My good friend Sukumaran-a poet and a writer- told me she ‘disappeared’ because her body was never found in the wreckage of the accident. Well, whether this is just another twist to the story I am not sure, but what I am certain of is that she loved dance, and Nrityagram stands today a testament to that fact. What better blend of creative minds, for Sangam House to be housed within the confines of this fascinating dance school.
Nrityagram has a perfect village ambience with mud buildings, greenery, shady trees, beautiful footpaths walled on each side by waist height flowers and so on. The beautiful hut-like buildings, the staff, the kitchen, the Kulas -one of which I was accommodated during my stay-, the strong rock hewn walls that fences the facility, all add up to give the village the architectural wonder it is and the perfect serenity writers need to look inwards, in silence, and listen to the inner voice in order to be able to write the countless words in our minds, which were constantly begging to be written to life.
Reading a book in the field, sitting on a rocker chair under a tree like the Frenchman Pascal was fond of doing or taking a long walk on the tiny stone cut pathways and watching the squirrels and birds zip by will only leave you spellbound as it did me during my time at Sangam House.
Like most of the countless tourists that visits the facility often, I believe a visit-even if it is for the purpose of satisfying that natural inner craving for sightseeing- to this wonder of a garden wouldn’t be a bad idea.
One cannot also escape noticing the spirituality of Nrityagram. Countless times, I got some form of religious epiphany from merely standing in front of the dance guru statue situated within a beautiful circular stone shed within the facility. This experience often time left me wondering, allowing my thoughts to roam free, on the subject of writing and dance. Indeed, writing and dance are two unique ways by which man expresses himself.
People around the world dance and write for different reasons and in different ways. My time at Sangam House taught me that the importance of creative arts –whether dance or the writing craft- cannot be over emphasised. Some people are moved to creativity to express feelings like sadness, anger, or joy. Others, like in my native Ososo land, a tiny village caught within the undulating Somorika hills in southern Nigeria, dance as part of important ceremonies like the famous 7-yearly Itakpo festival. There are also those that dance in an ecstatic religious frenzy while many more- like the dancers in Nrityagram am sure- dance just to tell a story; an exclusive story of culture and originality.
Dance, like the desire to express one’s thoughts in the written word, has probably been around about as long as people have. Cave paintings thousands of years old show what look like dancing figures and Egyptian pictographs are testament to man’s age-long desire to express himself.
Dancers as well as scribes appear in the art of ancient Rome and Greece. Through dance, most societies in those days asked their gods for good crops or bravery in battle, and through writing, men kept records of history and events. Even the gods themselves dance. We are told today by Christians that even angels in heaven dance. Saints sing and dance to God. Even King David, the Biblical ruler of ancient Israel danced.
As the writing craft and dance is constantly evolving, or changing, as creative minds continue to seek new forms of expression through dance and writing, I hope the attitude of most people -especially in developing countries- of looking beyond creativity as something of no importance should begin to change.
Nrityagram and Sangam House are already taking the initiative to see that this change begins to happen, at least in India. My time at Sangam House taught me that everyone is an artist one way or the other, reason why I believe Nigeria as a nation should begin to look at ways of modelling our elementary schools to reflect these two crafts so that our pupils can benefit from it.
Like our ancestors of long ago, as we continue to put our thoughts to paper and dance for the various reasons that suits our purposes, we must never lose sight of the fact that creativity as it is expressed in these two crafts can be a great force for both personal and social change. Through the creative arts, we can see and be the change we want to see in our world. And make life, our lives, as beautiful as the dreams and the thoughts that continue to dance about in our minds…