He can’t wait to talk about the numerous dance-forms his group can perform. Pranjal Deka is extremely proud of Pragati Sangha (his group from Assam), which was in Delhi recently to perform as a part of National School of Drama’s theatre company Sanskar Rang Toli which organised a week-long festival for children, Bal Sangam to celebrate Children’s Day.
A second-year student of BA back in his hometown, Deka wants to be seen only as an artist. He says, “My entire family is into performing arts and I am a (member) of a group that is a part of history. Studies are important but not to the extent where they start dominating my life.”
Ask him what he wants his calling to be and he replies, “I want to be an acclaimed singer. Right now, I can sing (and dance to) about 22 songs in different languages spoken by various tribes of Assam. I want to extend my reach and learn as many languages as possible. Besides that, I want to be a part of the guru-shishya tradition in my hometown. I want to share my knowledge with others who are eager to learn.”
While some traditions of music and dance have been lost, many groups are trying to keep India’s culture alive in the hinterland. People from Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Jammu and others swear by it. Adds Deka, “Whenever a disciple approaches a guru to teach him, there is a small ceremony that binds them together as the guru and shishya. Back in Assam, students present their gurus with a gamccha (thin cotton towel) and paan, and seek their permission to be their students. It is an extremely emotional moment for both,” informs Deka.
Deka is not alone. Swati Yadav is a performer from Shri Krishna Lok Sansthan from Madhya Pradesh is a Class 10 student who refuses to be intimidated at the mention of her board exams. “I want to be a dancer and this event is no less than an exam for me. It is equally important to perform to the best of my abilities here. My group and I have brought together a compilation of around seven to eight dances from Bundelkhand for visitors to enjoy,” says she.
Manish Yadav, coordinator of Yadav’s group, says, “This is true learning. These students (performers) are more informed than any other child here as far as the country’s culture and traditions are concerned. What we fail to understand is that these fields give a person equal exposure to (the world).”