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Guru Purnima: Delhi artists share fond memories and tough lessons of their gurus

On Guru Purnima, today, the city artists remember their gurus and share anecdotes of how their teachers influenced their lives.

art and culture Updated: Jul 10, 2017 12:04 IST
Nabanita Das
Artist Alka Raghuvanshi with her metaphoric guru MS Subbulakshmi.
Artist Alka Raghuvanshi with her metaphoric guru MS Subbulakshmi.

Anyone can be a teacher but seldom one transcends to become a guru. While a teacher imparts knowledge by using methodological tools, a guru enlightens the mind of the learner by leading a life through example. In the Indian diaspora, the guru-shishya parampara — which is now a fading phenomenon — goes beyond the bond that exists between a teacher and a student. In India, the guru, doesn’t tutor the students but inspires them to follow a specific way of life. As the legend goes, Guru Purnima falls on the full moon day, in the month of Ashadh (monsoon). It marks the birth anniversary of Ved Vyasa — the author and a character in the epic, Mahabharata.

To celebrate the rich tradition of Guru Purnima — a day dedicated to the mentors — some popular artists from Delhi share their memories and experiences with their gurus.

Rajat Kapoor, actor

The popular actor-director of stage and cinema, Rajat Kapoor, became emotional when asked about his guru — Mani Kaul, the filmmaker. Rajat assisted Kaul soon after he graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), and credits his knowledge to his mentor. “I learnt everything from him, and not just films, even about life and in fact, Ankhon Dekhi [2013] is dedicated to him,” says Kapoor remembering Kaul on his death anniversary that falls on July 6.

Actor, writer and director Rajat Kapoor talks about his association with his guru, Mani Kaul. (Satish Bate/HT Photo)

Rajat is extremely influenced by the world view that Kaul had. He says, “If you ever complain about a person to him, he would negate it saying that it’s his nature. Using the metaphor of the raga Malkauns [which hits the ear with it’s distinct character and is supposed to be like that], he would say: ‘This is how the raga goes. If you try to change it, it will not remain Malkauns but become something else.’ And then, he would start singing it. So, the virtue of acceptance is something that I learnt from him.”

Actor Rajat Kapoor credits his knowledge of filmmaking to Director Mani Kaul. (HT Photo)

The actor recollects the time when he was assisting Kaul, and felt that his mentor was arrogant. “But after Mani sir’s trip to Amsterdam, when I met him, he was a changed man, completely mellowed. I think age and experience had brought that [difference] in him.”

Alka Raghuvanshi, artist

Alka Raghuvanshi still wears the nosepin emulating her metaphoric guru MS Subbulakshmi.

Artist and art curator Alka Raghuvanshi goes down the memory lane while reminiscing her bond with her metaphoric guru MS Subbulakshmi — the legendary Indian Carnatic singer. “Subbulakshmi’s dignified simplicity and bhakti towards art and humility, with which she handled success, are traits that have inspired me and have become the cornerstones of my life,” says Raghuvanshi.

She was influenced by her guru, and even her looks, to the extent that Raghuvanshi chose to get her nose pierced and sport a nose stud, like Subbulakshmi. “ I love her dressing style, her traditional sarees and the big bindi.... I used to emulate it all. Till date I wear a nose pin, which is a visual manifestation of my guru’s aatmasaath (blessings).”

Artist Alka Raghuvanshi was deeply influenced by J Swaminathan.

As a painter, Raghuvanshi was influenced by painter J Swaminathan, someone who she looked up to for his “wicked sense of humour” and deep understanding of abstract art. “I admired him for being able to walk away from unbearable situations with dignity. When I quit active journalism to become a full time artist, I was secretly inspired by him,” she adds.

Geeta Chandran, dancer

Classical dancer Geeta Chandran feels blessed to be under the tutelage of Guru KN Dakshinamurthi Pillai

Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran feels blessed to have come in contact with some great teachers, who transformed her view towards life and art. “I have had the good fortune of learning classical dance from gurus who not only transferred [to me] their technical skills of dance but consequently also gave me a part of themselves through their feelings, thoughts and values.”

Geeta Chandran wants to imbibe the virtue of generosity that her guru had.

Remembering her days as a diligent student of Swarna Saraswathy, she says, “Once, in Swarna Amma’s class, when I was just 8 or 9, I made some errors in the tala (rhythm). Irritated at my lack of concentration, she hurled the talam (heavy bronze article used to maintain the rhythm), at me. It hit my foot and cut my ankle, leaving a mark that I bear till date!”

There were times when her guru’s reprimanding was equivalent to a compliment. “At another time, I made a mistake and Amma said, ‘If even you make this mistake, what can I expect from others?’. That was the highest praise that I have ever received,” recalls Chandran.

The artist has also been under the tutelage of Bharatanatyam guru KN Dakshinamurthi Pillai, whose generosity she yearns to achieve even today. “Guruji was generous to a fault. His table used to be full of food, and everyone was welcome to have a meal at any time,” she adds.

Zila Khan, singer

Singer Zila Khan with Ustad Vilayat Khan.

Some of the artists are blessed to receive guidance from gurus and a few chosen ones get to carry their lineage too. Sufi singer Zila Khan is one of the latter, who received talim (training) from Ustad Vilayat Khan — the legendary sitarist who is also her father. Opening the pandora box of stories, Zila remembers her days with her father when she used to play marbles with him, while the family was away watching films at theatres.

Zila Khan , A Sufi Singer and the daughter of legendary Sitar maestro Vilayat Khan. (Ajay Aggarwal )

“For Ustadji, trust held utmost importance in life,” says Zila adding that it’s one virtue of her guru and father, which she tries to inculcate even today. She adds, “He used to tell stories of his life and struggles, everyday, so that they get instilled in us and we realise the importance of struggle and respectful it. Bade baap ki beti bhi struggle karsakti hai.... You become a stronger, bigger and sorted individual when you struggle, and there is no embarrassment attached to struggling. Above all, he also taught us that one should always stick to one’s principles.”

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