“There’s a certain stigma attached to ghungroos and tablas” – Fasi-ur-Rehman

By Sonya Rehman

Originated from North India, Kathak today stands as one of the oldest art forms of dance in the world today.

And like its name – meaning ‘story’ (in Sanskrit) – Kathak is a dance which communicates. So much so, that as the dancer performs and narrates stories of love, loss, pain and joy (through Kathak) – audiences cannot help but to be mesmerized, and taken in.

There is a certain magic in Kathak which has hints of tragedy and longing, and perhaps this is what makes it out to be so very captivating. It is the dance of one’s emotions…the dance of the soul!

But given the fast-pace of life today, do youngsters in Pakistan still appreciate this Eastern classical genre of dance?

Are they still driven to learn Kathak, or does their interest now lie in learning Western forms of dance (Salsa in particular, given the current rage in Lahore and Karachi?

Speaking with one of the most distinguished Kathak performers in the country, Fasi-ur-Rehman – a performer who has been true to his art for a little over three decades – had some extremely interesting views to share.

He stated: “I don’t think the trend of wanting to learn Kathak has died down at all. You know, since I started out in the 70s, I’ve been hearing people say just this. For me, it’s nothing new, but the way I see things, it’s much better now. During Zia’s regime things were a lot more different, Kathak performances were banned, and at that time it was only taught in schools – no public performances. But it’s a lot better now as there are many children who want to learn Kathak. And with Kathak, as one dances, you seem to understand yourself better; you end up discovering your inner self”, Fasi said before going on to say: “Therefore what can be better? And it is this current generation which wants to discover their inner selves. This is because they don’t think badly of classical dance; even when boys want to dance…no one judges them because there’s so much awareness in this day and age, and the level of thinking has increased. When I used to perform in the 70s, 80s and 90s, a majority of the audience comprised of an older crowd. But when I perform now, a majority of my audience is youth-based who really enjoy watching Kathak performances.”

Nevertheless there still seems to be a stigma attached to dancing in the current scenario. Even though Fasi was never pressurized by his family to quit dancing professionally, and that they were very “lenient” towards his chosen career path, what does Fasi make of this stereotypical outlook regarding dance?

He remains positive, stating; “See, I’ve been in this profession for a long time – but I find it better now. I’m sure there are people out there who say that there’s a stigma attached with classical dance, but it isn’t as it used to be in the past.”

Fasi was right. With the advancement of time, and the alteration of thought, culture and ideology, Pakistani society sure has learnt to become far more tolerant than what it used to be.

Yet, teaching Kathak on a regular basis at the Lahore Grammar School (LGS) for girls, I am informed by Fasi that none of the girls are allowed to perform publicly – only for their in-house school functions solely.

In addition to teaching at LGS, Fasi also gives Kathak dance performances (once every month or so) and lecture demonstrations at certain institutions in Lahore – some of them being the National College of Arts (NCA) and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

But coming back to the subject of whether or not Kathak is a fading, local trend, perhaps it would be unfair to affirm that it is. This is because, as Fasi elaborated, the youth within the country have begun to enjoy Kathak performances.

Fasi-ur-Rehman

On the other hand, Kathak is oft equated with ‘mujra’ by some people in the society. Why is it then considered alright for young girls (especially) and boys to perform racy Bollywood numbers at full-fledged weddings? Is that not ‘mujra’ too, then?

Agreeing that it is indeed two-faced, Fasi enunciates: “It’s very hypocritical. In the school where I teach some of the girls aren’t allowed to dance, but at the same time their parents are happy when the girls dance at these functions. There’s a typical psyche attached with ghungroos and tablas – people think there’s something not right about it and that perhaps, it’s linked with prostitution”.

In the final analysis, it all boils down to this: that given the metamorphosis of Pakistani culture, Kathak is far from dying out.

Sure, at the same time, many would subscribe to the notion that attention has been diverted to Western forms of dance – considering the gradual rise of private and public Salsa and hip hop dance classes in the cities of Lahore and Karachi…Kathak remains far from fading out.

Till today, at world performing arts festivals, events and galas, Kathak maestros such as Sheema Kirmani, Naheed Siddiqui, Fasi-ur-Rehman, Nighat Chaudhry and others, are asked to perform.

Held in high esteem, respected and cherished, our Kathak luminaries are far from fading into the fabric of the past.

Because after all, who would want to disown a form of art which makes one’s soul whirl and dance?

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