By V Ramnarayan
There are a number of musicians and dancers in my extended family—which includes my family by marriage—not to mention painters, writers and even sportspersons. Every generation has felt the need to inculcate in the young of the family the values of one or other of these fields of activity. The artistic members of the family, who tend to secretly sneer at the sports-minded, are determined to instil spirituality in their offspring by exposing them to the fine arts of music and dance, especially of the Mylapore or Kalakshetra kind.
Some thirty years ago, cousin Cheenu, who loved his school so much that he spent extra years in some of his classes, had the opportunity to show off his scripture knowledge as someone belonging to an artistic family. He was the only student to put his hand up when the teacher asked his class to inform her who wrote the Mahabharata. I can imagine the proud if short-lived smile on his face as he piped up, “Kamala Subrahmanyam” after the teacher let him speak up.
Shankar and Raju surprised their parents with the alacrity with which they volunteered to accompany the elders of the family one evening from their Kilpauk home to the Ananta Padmanabha Swami temple at Adyar to listen to a cutcheri by Jon Higgins. Imagine their shock and discomfiture when they discovered that the singer of the evening was not their hero the English professor Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady, but a bhagavatar from North America!
The same pair of rascals also learned some noble lessons by watching the Kalakshetra Ramayana series and other mythologicals. They invariably assumed the roles of asuras in their own production of such plays at home afterwards. Hanging their sisters’ dolls upside down and torturing them in a variety of ways, they also let out blood curdling war cries to add to the effect. Plays based on the Bhagavatam were sufficient inspiration for them to take turns enacting the violent excesses of Kamsa, their siblings’ dolls once again adding a touch of realism to their stirring performances.
Back in the late 1980s, my wife and I decided that it was time our He-Man obsessed five-year-old, Abu, benefited from the great philosophical and moral lessons of the Ramayana and took him to Kalakshetra’s Art Festival. We were much impressed and heartened when he sat still and wide-eyed throughout the production. The brilliance of his enactment of Jatayuvadham—with some help from his plastic He-Man sword—that night in our drawing room has seldom been bettered.