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Augmenting our knowledge in various fields is arguably one of the major benefits of travelling, near or far. However it is also true, during our trips to different parts of the world we limit ourselves to more passive forms of learnings. For example, we trust mainly on our power of observation to gain vital information about the culture, tradition, habits of people etc. The benefits of this form of learning cannot or should not be dismissed. It is a lifelong process that aids in developing the person we wish to become. But there could be another form of learning, a more active education, that we can indulge in during our journeys across the globe. Today I intend to discuss about the opportunities of learning that present itself in sphere of music and dance. For this article, I will focus more on India and opportunities available there, for it is a country which boasts of formulating the most ancient form of treatise in dramatic arts (natya shastra) and music. There are many forms and expressions of this beautiful art practiced all over the country even today. But before we delve into this, let me share with you a story from my own experience.


Lord Krishna Playing Flute

About a year and a half ago, I met Thibault E at a small restaurant in a very busy city. He came to enjoy a cosy dinner with his wife. A light drizzle that started since late afternoon turned into a heavy and incessant downpour. As we were all stuck inside we thought it better to strike up a conversation rather staring at each other from the corner of our eyes. He narrated his tale over a cup of simmering hot coffee. Thibault always found himself mesmerised by the tune of flute. Since his early childhood, he yearned to have a flute for himself and learn it to play. But his parents did share his fancy and thought this to be a rather idle dream. In the face of their overwhelming practical concerns for him, he was forced to put his dream somewhere in the deep recess of his mind.

Thibault was a good student and did not find it difficult to secure a place in one of the country’s premier technological universities. He similarly excelled in his career too. To cut a long story short, he, by the age of 42, was already in a possession of so much money that he could have afforded to retire then and there if he wanted to. His private life was equally fulfilling with a lovely wife, who was and still is a renowned name in her own sphere, and two healthy children. He had nothing to complain about, or so it seemed, because the inner dissatisfaction that was gnawing at his heart was not apparent to anyone but himself.


Sarod, Musical Instrument

Increasingly, Thibault found himself lonely at his own home. He simply did not know how to fill his “free” hours meaningfully. But there was no one else to blame for this than himself. He never cultivated a serious hobby to fill his empty hours. He was only allowed an hour’s play every day. His parents were strict disciplinarians and he did not wish to mess with them. If there was nothing else to do, he simply locked himself at his study room and dozed away the time. In later years too, he hardly made an attempt to acquire some skills beyond his regular studies.

Thibault frequently needed to stay away from home for short periods of time on business trips. One such occasion landed him on a distant coast to India, in Cochin (Kochi) to be specific. Since the business engagement got delayed for some unforeseen reason, he got some time to experience an exotic place and its culture. While aimlessly travelling here and there he landed himself in a small village named Cheruthuruthi, by the river Nila. In the afternoon when he was enjoying a walk a soulful tune of flute caught his attention. After some search he found the player, a boy in his early teens. Seated on the sandy river bank he was completely engrossed in his practice.

Kerala Backwater

Flowing Water, Kerala

For sure, the tune was not familiar to Thibault, but that did not matter. He leaned against a coconut tree a little distance away and closed his eyes. He felt a deep sense of peace. He could have stood there that way for hours. But the performance was interrupted all of a sudden. A man’s voice was heard from behind. It seemed an elderly gentleman came calling for the boy and the two were preparing to leave the place. Seeing Thibault in the audience the man turned towards him smiling. In a very sweet voice he enquired about his whereabouts. Thibault briefly described his purpose. The conversation was helped by the boy who was clearly knew better English. After a brief discussion about the place and its history, the kind hearted gentleman asked Thibault to come to a local school dedicated to performance art and music. It transpired that some kind of celebration was to take place there later in the evening. With child’s glee in the heart, Thibault promptly accepted the invitation. For Thibault, the evening and the rest of the days in Cheruthuruthi were spent as if in a dream.


Performance in Kalamandalam, Cheruthuruthy

When Thibault narrated the story about his boyhood childhood wish, senior members of the school encouraged him to pick up at least the basics of playing flute. Someone also handed his flute over to him to let Thibault have a feel of it. Touching it with his fingers, for the first time in his life, he felt an immediate sense of bonding. After some pondering and lenghty discussion with his wife, Thibault took a sabbatical from his work. Following the advice of the gurus of Chethuruthy, he enrolled himself to a school some distance away from this village. His teacher there also helped him to find a mentor in his home country. With much enthusiasm, he devoted himself to his learning. He segregated his time between his actual and adopted home. With hard work he rapidly advanced.

Modest as he is, when I met him at the restaurant, he could not be drawn into describing his achievements even after 15 years of continuous practice. The best compliment, perhaps, came from his wife. “Thibault is a different man,” said Erika his wife, “he is more relaxed, more engaged with life than ever before.” Like a magic wand, the charm of flute transformed Thibault and Erika’s lives.

Pose in Poise, Bharatnatyam

Time has changed. You do not need to come all the way to India to learn music and dance native to this country. You may enrol yourself to an institution nearby. Online learning opportunities are all available. But if you are musically inclined and journeying across India you may consider taking up courses in any of the reputed institutions of Chennai, Bangalore, Mysore, Coimbatore, Tanjore and beyond. All these places are also replete with schools teaching various dance disciplines including bharatnatyam, kuchipudi, kathak and so on.

It is also highly recommended that you set some time aside to visit Brihadeeswarar Temple of Tanjore. The outer wall of the temple bears all the elegant poses of bharatnatyam, a dance form that is no less than 2500 years old. The temple is a part of UNESCO World Heritage. Many of these places also turn themselves into virtual auditoriums and relive the past glory by organising annual dance festivals. Khajuraho, Modhera, Mukteswar and Mahabalipuram are some of the most prominent ones. Besides, major auditoriums across the country organise dance and music recitals for the benefits of art connoisseurs year long.


Temple Sculptures Depicting Dance Poses, Chidambaram

I sincerely hope that in your next journey you will get ample opportunities of exploring your talent in these fields and beyond. Moreover, these activities will also help you to get a closer view of the cultural treasures of any place that you choose to visit on your next trip.

A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened. ~ Albert Camus


Image Courtesy

Jean-Pierre DalbéraAshley Van Haeften, P Das Arayil

Parallelly published in The Inked Expressions.