In the Fall of 2014, dancer/choreographer Smt. Ramaa Bharadvaj, along with other directors of Chinmaya Naada Bindu Gurukul of Kolwan India, completed a 7-week performance tour of the US, sponsored by the Chinmaya Mission West with the blessings of Swami Tejomayananda.
At the special request of BN&WWW, Ramaa narrates some of her extraordinary travel experiences, precious arts encounters and witty insights in her essay “Nava-dvaara – Nine doors to artistry”. It is being published as a five-part serial.
Nava-Dvaara – Doors to Creativity
CREATIVITY is like an ONION!
That’s the revelation that descended on me this morning of the 4th week.
Well, let’s think about it. How many distinct layers and rings (of attitudes, perspectives, traits and feelings) combine to give substance to this one treasured blessing called Creativity! Can we really describe ‘Creativity’ in one chunky definition-word or sentence?
So yes, Creativity is like an Onion.
CREATIVITY encompasses …
– Intuition: Awakened by having to move beyond the comfort zone.
– Originality: I use this word in the way an artist colleague in California used to define it, as “returning to the Origins”. Creativity is not about innovating new things (for after all there is nothing new under the sun) but linking thoughts, things and experiences and harmonizing them into a neo-avatar. The Arts especially are about re-imagining the inherited traditions for ourselves and for the global community in which we live. Osho went a step further and connected creativity with that Divine Originator… “God is the Creator: the more creative you become, the more godly you become … People who have been creative have been closest to Him.”
– Imagination: Because, as George Bernard Shaw said, “You imagine what you desire; you will what you imagine; you create what you will.”
– Being present: Creativity manifests in the Now, not in the future. It does not wait around for the austerities of perfect place, time, circumstance or resources. In fact, it has a way of appearing in its shiniest attire when the external factors are less than ideal.
– Quietude: Creativity doesn’t scream. It whispers in hushed tones and concise aphorisms but with a distinct firmness.
And two more things …
1) It surely brings tears (joyous of course) to the eyes when we encounter it.
2) And oooh, how it spices up things!
Yes, CREATIVITY is indeed like an ONION. Read on …
– Ramaa Bharadvaj
Door #7: Young Lads – Old Souls …
Santa Monica, CA
I suppose the most creative Divine re-cycling happens when Old Souls are resurrected in Young Bodies. These neo-avatars stand out for the way in which they think, believe, talk and act. Their aspirations glimmer with wisdom and their words and actions reveal a sense of purpose.
1) A TERPSICHOREAN THINKER:
I had just finished a high-energy class of participatory exercises on Indian aesthetics for 60 Middle-school and High-school drama students of the New Roads School. Students had said their ‘Thank yous’ and ‘Goodbyes’ and left, except for one boy, that is.
“Hello Ms. Ramaa. I am Liam and I have a question” he said in a gentle voice. “Do you think Dance is a path for self enlightenment?” I straightened and slowly turned towards him. Then came part two of the question, “… and have you experienced it?”
Too amazed to reply, I gazed into his baby face framed by unruly blonde hair. “How old are you Liam,” I asked. “I am 14 and I have thought about this for a long time,” he answered. This was no random question. To answer, one needs to understand what self-enlightenment is in the first place before one can figure out the role of Dance in it. I had no inclination to spout what I have read, or heard, or to quote books and Masters. This boy deserved nothing less than experiential wisdom. So with much reverence, I asked him, “What do YOU think Liam?” He smiled. “I believe that we can achieve enlightenment through whatever it is we love and dedicate ourselves to, and I love Dance.”
There you have it! Wise thoughts are often the simplest. May the Dance Muse lead Liam to the highest plane.
2) A VEGAN POET:
“Make sure to come to the restaurant from the park to join Ramaa and me for dinner” his dad said. “Well, if I don’t forget the route, I suppose I will” replied 12-year old Jobim. Ouch, a prickly answer! Or so it would seem. But actually not!
Just a few months earlier, young Jobim Zeichner had undergone brain surgery to correct the neurological anomalies that he had been dealing with since the age of 6. He has memory lapses that sometimes make it difficult to recall even familiar things, like for example the route from the park to the restaurant.
But that’s just minor detail as far as Jobim is concerned. He is too busy engaging in what he loves best – POETRY! In his after-school hours, Jobim hosts a blog of his own poetry and participates in spoken-word performances. His imagination flows bountifully about the world, his dog, the ocean shell and life. Nicknamed the vegan-poet, (Jobim became a vegan at the age of 3 out of compassion for animals) he has appeared on radio talk-shows to discuss veganism.
His parents invited me to watch Jobim in action at Downbeat 720, an award winning open-mic forum for high school student-performers at the Miles Playhouse. Its hosts, Joe and Joshua, offer advice, direction and feedback for every performer, thus extending “a safe space for students to develop their artistry and skills.” And come they do, young dancers, poets, musicians, bands and actors from around the city to whet their skills.
There, I saw Jobim come alive with confidence and humor in his spoken-word performance titled ‘My dog ate it’. In it, he comically bemoans his inability to make his written work disappear by saying that his dog ate it. How could he, when Google Drive kept saving his work in the ‘Cloud’ every five minutes?
A special evening with a special youngster!
Door #8: Avatars of Imagination …
San Diego & Washington DC
“Think left and think right, think low and think high! Oh the thinks you can think up if only you try!” – Dr. Seuss
What do a restroom, pumpkins and soda cans have in common?
Why, IMAGINATION of course! Ah! That wondrous trait with wings so abundant that can transport us to fascinating realms! It is what gives a sculptor the ability to see the deity hidden in the stone. And, it is what gave the artists in the following stories the inventiveness to turn the “Blaaah” into “Blinggg”!
Pumpkin: With Halloween just over, grisly-faced pumpkin lanterns guarded the entrances to most US homes – except at the house of Sukanya Shankar in Encinitas, CA. Giving off a translucent orange glow, these giant pumpkins sat cheerfully in the verandah, sporting exquisitely intricate etchings of the Lion King, the Wizard of Oz and an Indian princess with a Veena. I knelt in front of them transfixed by their beauty. These were a gift to Sukanya from the Self-Realization Fellowship and only a sampling of what the SRF creates and exhibits every year. So popular are these displays that thousands of children and their families come to see them, and a safe and artistic Halloween-interaction with the community is created.
What was especially fascinating for me was learning that the pumpkins (some weighing up to 80 pounds) are grown, picked and carved by the SRF monks themselves. “Even those who think they are not very creative, end up carving beautiful pumpkins. Everyone has some creativity in them” one of the monks had said in an interview. I guess it takes a pumpkin to pump out that creativity.
Restroom: Sure, we go to a restaurant to eat. So, Chefs work on creating food that is appetizing to the eyes and the tongue, and designers work on sprucing up the eatery. But why stop with just the plating and the seating? Is there anyone who ever leaves a restaurant without a visit to the restroom?
Aha! Jaleo in Washington DC seems to have thought of this. Sure, it’s got an interior that is stylish and imaginative. Spanish designer/architect Juli Capella who created it, describes it as “a relaxed environment with a hint of madness and irony”. But, to really experience the “madness” part, you have to visit Jaleo’s restroom! Its walls are studded with relief-sculptures of cacti in pristine white porcelain, while merry men and women in striking colors jump up from the floor-tiles waving and cheering as if trying to grasp at your ankles. Nowhere has a trip to the loo been such a jolly affair!
Soda cans: When I get bored, I eat ice-cream. But when Manatho Shumba Masani gets bored he picks up an empty soda-can and gives it a new Avatar as an adorable animal. He calls them Canimals. An evening stroll at the Eastern Market with my daughter Swetha and son-in-law Zach gave me many wondrous encounters of the artistic kind. Masani and his Canimals were among them. Using recycled wire and colorful soda cans cut into strips, Masani specializes in giving birth to Giraffes of all sizes (even life size ones).
Endowed with the cutest faces and stances, these Canimal Giraffes are not for sale. But for an affordable price, you can adopt them, take them home with you and share your last name with them!
What a “cantastic” concept!
To be concluded next week: Door #9: Stars & Stargazers
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ramaa Bharadvaj is a storyteller – sometimes with movements and sometimes with words. She is an award-winning dancer, movement designer, educator, arts advisor, advocist, and published writer. After 31 years in the USA she returned to India in 2009 and is currently Director-Dance at Chinmaya Naada Bindu Gurukul for Performing Arts in Kolvan, India.
Ramaa dedicates this essay to Swami Tejomayananda, who recommended that she be part of this US performance tour.