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The seventh surprise

Once the most ignored aspects in urban culture,art forms from the North East are now a regular part of the Capital’s calendar

Written by Tora Agarwala |
November 4, 2011 3:42:17 am

Last week,Jatin Goswami and his 22- member troupe kept the audience at Delhi’s India Habitat Centre riveted. The theatrics and swift movements as the group performed the famous Sattriya dance — a classical style from Assam — were being closely watched. As the lights dimmed and the notes of the borgeet,sung to the beat of khols and traditional tunes,filled the hall,the 90-minute show went on to regale the audience with a relatively unknown dance form. The performance was a part of “Festival of Arts from the Banks of the Brahmaputra”,which saw a series of folk and martial dances from the North East that followed the Sattriya performance. “What would the people of Delhi,Kerala or Gujarat know about Nagaland or Mizoram?” says Bijan Mukherjee,founder of Impresario,a Delhi-based organisation which co-ordinated the event.

Politically volatile,internally turbulent and culturally rich,the picturesque region of North East India lies on the country’s periphery,both literally and metaphorically. However,more recently,there has been a change,and the sleepy hills of the East are waking up to bring more and more performances for the rest of the country and more specifically,to Delhi. The Capital’s cultural calendar has an avalanche of Northeastern events related to food,music,dance,theatre and writing,apart from many visiting performing artistes.

“The region has been suffering for more than 60 years. We cannot walk away from that. But cultural promotion can be one step forward in addressing issues,bridging gaps and reaching out,” says writer and commentator Sanjoy Hazarika,who heads the Centre for North East Studies,Jamia Millia Islamia.

“As a modern democracy,it’s our responsibility as artistes to accommodate North East in the cultural calender,and it is happening on a big scale now,” says Jalabala Vaidya of New Delhi-based Akshara Theatre. Back in 2009,they organised “Romancing India’s Northeast”,a festival devoted exclusively to the region,complete with music,theatre,book readings and films highlighting the culture and ethnicity of the region. Akshara is planning another festival of arts devoted to Northeast in February 2012. “Our emphasis will be on poetry,apart from artistes from Manipur,Sikkim and Assam,who are expected to perform,”

she says.

Around the same time,Delhi-based publishing house,Zubaan,will be organising a festival in Delhi with panel discussions and readings by people from the area. Last January,they organised an exhibition titled “Seven Sisters and the City”. The exhibition of books and photographs was about young women from the Northeast who live in the city. “Usually it is about music and dance,but the focus needs to shift to Northeastern literature as well. I am glad the events were well-attended “ says Preeti Gill of Zubaan.

It’s not just organisations which are making an effort,there are expats who are working on a slew of activities too. Gilles Chuyen,a contemporary French dancer and choreographer,who has been living in India for the past 17 years,is trying to revive the old Naga dance forms by giving it a more contemporary twist. “Contemporising is the only way to make it more appealing to the youth,” says Chuyen.

In 2008,Chuyen performed at

OCTAVE,a festival organised by the Ministry of Culture in Delhi,where traditonal Northeastern folk dances were presented in contemporary ways. “I feel art and culture are the best ambassadors for integration,” he adds.

In February next year,Hazarika is planning an elaborate festival at the IIC,complete with films,theatre and music. The music of sylvan hills is coming to the Capital. We will be tuning in.

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