Purush Perspectives 3: From the Archives


The silk shirt of the legendary dancer Ram Gopal was from ARMANI….errr..A.R.MANI from Madras! Snippets like this kept us entertained throughout the Purush conference! I’d like to make special note of the presentation of Aashish Khokar who recollected the above anecdote, not least because of my research interests in copyright and heritage but because it is immensely important, it seems, in the modern world that we think of record keeping and systematic ways of filing our audio-visual content. What used to be a time-consuming task has now taken gargantuan proportions with so many of us recording so much through phones, cameras, video cameras, ipads and other gadgets.

A subtly disguised warning at the start by Khokar not to take pictures and video of the film that he was going to show, served its purpose. In a surprisingly open and unrestricted conference, where most parts came with little restrictions on recording it audio visually, one wondered if this is something that should be revised. The point made, Ashish then introduced the precious Khokar Archives in MALE MOVES (1910-2010).

It gives us such delight to watch clips from footage taken years, sometimes decades ago. At one point, the Khokar film contained a fascinating clipping of some unusual dancers, moving in a very alien, yet familiar way. It was the context that made it alien. It was African dance in Gujarat! African sailors shipwrecked off the coast of Gujarat came ashore and stayed on, passing their musical and dance heritage to the locals. Thus was born this unusual folk dance tradition that was part African and part Indian! They had peacock feathers for skirts, giving them the Indian touch, but they moved in an African way!

At another point in the film, a gem of a recording, which Khokar described as an informal one, showed Birju Maharaj seated doing abhinaya for a line in a song…..

He sang, “koun Gali gayo Shyam” (which street did my love go into?)

He presented some scintillating original ideas. He provided variations on  ‘gali’ – street. He showed a path just using eye movement, then he showed a windey path with his hands, he showed the parting of hair as a path! He interpreted the line along the eye where kajal (khol) is applied as a path! Then he philosophised about the intangible path that runs from the eyes to the heart!

Presently, he spoke of the choice the nayika had to make – “Koun gali?” “Which street?”

He pointed to his palm and explained that there were one of three or even four paths denoted there, i.e the spaces between the fingers of the palm!  So which one to take– koun gali? No rhyme or reason to choose one over the other! He showed the raking of sand and ran his fingers along the lines with an enquiring look – koun gali? The lines on one’s palm – which ones of these to follow?  And the most evocative of them all – the holes in a flute, which way will the air choose to flow out of?

Amazing stuff! Kudos to the Khokar collection!

Can’t get that very recording, but found a great rendition of Kaun gali on youtube.


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