Year-ender 2020: Despite all, hope springs eternal

Gauri Diwakar in a still from Dancing Emptiness

2020 looked like a very attractive number last year at this time. Like any other year, it had its prospects and apprehensions. When January dawned, however, the first blow to strike was the personal loss of a beloved father. He is somewhere better today. Then suddenly, communal violence erupted all over the country. NPR, CAA and CAB were terms that nobody had heard of, but they became a part of everyday news. While all of us were discussing the pros and cons and how so many people’s parents, like ours, were born in pre-Independence India, a wave of protests swept the city in which vandalism and violence were common. People did not even get days to ponder over this rampaging when the news of a global pandemic, COVID-19, started trickling in.

It started with news coming in from China, where the virus had supposedly originated in the wet markets of Wuhan and was spreading worldwide like wildfire. Finally, the news of the first few cases in Delhi started coming in. Suddenly, the entire world was going into a shutdown or a lockdown. All human life had come to a standstill. Starting right from the morning, when you would walk down for your newspaper, milk and groceries, to going to school, going to colleges, going to offices . . . everything stopped, even socializing and entertainment. Countries had closed down, air travel was suspended, sick people were quarantined and isolated, people were totally masked and human-to-human contact was minimized. One never thought that greeting each other with a smile and a handshake would bring deadly disease.

My zoology teachers would sometimes tell us that the most evolved life form is the one that can adapt. And a virus can mutate and reproduce very easily. So we do not know whether viruses are the lowest life form or the highest in the evolutionary chain. The next apocalypse might well be due to a virus.

During this very dark period, we were lighting candles and striking plates on our balconies, showering petals on hospitals, but nothing changed. People were falling sick and dying in the thousands. They were scared. The poor were migrating in droves and dying in the process. For people in the cities, there was no labour or household help. The visuals of celebrities doing household chores were becoming popular, but lesser mortals like us were scared and slogging all the way. And where did the arts and professional artists stand? It was physical and mental torture.

The history of the arts is as old as the evolution of man. The arts are an expression of both the intellectual and emotional urges of humans and their creativity. But during this pandemic, the arts were almost forgotten. Painters, dancers, musicians, sculptors, weavers, kathputli wale, potters . . . everything was shut. There were no occasions to allow puppeteers to display their talents. The performing and visual arts were both left out in the cold. No auditoriums or museums opened, no concerts or performances were allowed. The state of mind of professional and amateur artists cannot even be guessed. Professionals who were breadwinners for their families undoubtedly underwent financial crises.

But the arts cannot be suppressed. Artists came to the help of other artists. The internet and technology came to their aid. Online classes and shows suddenly blossomed. The status remains the same as the year goes by. There are online festivals and series from all over the world and the arts have managed to sustain, fuelling the undying artistic instincts of mankind. Never before has there been so much connectivity internationally, with shows, talks and knowledge from the senior gurus thriving.

The year has also seen the loss of many seniors in the arts, among them Yog Sunder Desai, Valentine Shipley, Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan, Astad Deboo, Manglesh Dabral, Pt. Jasraj, Dr. Sunil Kothari, S.P. Balasubramaniam, Soumitra Chatterjee, Sarathi Chatterjee, T.N. Krishnan and Saroj Khan. I had interacted often with Sunil Kothari sir. A constant presence in not only the Indian but also the global dance scene, his absence is really going to be prick. But all his knowledge and wisdom is going to be live for many years to come. I had the good fortune of being able to interact extensively with him once for an article on his life and influences:

Dr. Sunil Kothari

And being able to watch Astad Deboo’s last physical production, Unbroken Unbowed, was a privilege: I’m sure he is dancing in a better place now. He will be a source of inspiration for the coming generations.

Astad Deboo in Unbroken Unbowed

Recently, there has been another blow to the arts community in the shape of many senior artists in Delhi being asked by the government to vacate their houses.

But it is in the nature of mankind not to give up, and the hope will always be for a better year ahead, no matter how the past year has been. So let’s hope for a truly Happy 2021. Let your spirits soar, let your minds free, your creativity reach its pinnacle, your feet tap, your body sway . . . and keep dancing.

Pics: Anoop Arora