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She perceives India as World Teacher

The reports about heightening tensions between India and Pakistan hogging one of those rare headlines in the Western media and rumours that the conflict might go nuclear did not deter the plans of Roxanne, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies in Albright College in Reading (Pennsylvania), who is an exponent of Kuchipudi after learning the dance form during her yearly sojourns to India.

On the contrary, she quipped to her American friends: "If bombs were to destroy India, I would prefer to be there and die as I could not visualise a world without India.''

Prof. Roxanne imbibed and understood the Indian philosophy and culture so well that whatever might be the subject, she would draw upon Hindu philosophy to drive home a point. Not only an exponent of dance, she had deeply studied and analysed Hindu traditions and did a Ph.D. on `Aghor Sadhana' and at present working on a project with Devipuram of Swami Amritananda Saraswathi, on tantric traditions.

Amidst all this, she had written a rare book, `A yoga of Indian Classical Dance--the Yogini's Mirror' as a translator of Indian culture, combining the twin spiritual disciplines of Indian classical dance and Yoga ''that have shaped my life's narrative'' to cater for her students and those who have attended her dance performances. "They evinced interest not only in the two disciplines but also their cultural contexts,'' she told THE HINDU when she was here recently on a short vacation.

Drawn to Indian culture and philosophy when she was 19 years old, which she described as "triggering of a memory from past life'' after witnessing some dance recitals in the US, influence of the Beatles whose fascination for Indian culture is well known, and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's teachings, Prof. Roxanne came to India in 1972 through an education programme and later started learning Kuchipudi from the well known teacher, Nataraja Ramakrishna. "When I first made the decision to go to India to learn only this form of dance, it did appear irrational but somehow things materialised for me and I came to India to do one-year academic programme,'' she said.

After initiation into Kuchipudi, she later moved to Chennai to continue learning from Vempati China Satyam. There she met her teacher Bala Kondala Rao and "our association continues to this day''.

Following her to Visakhapatnam when she took up the assignment as the principal of Kuchipudi Kalakshetra, Roxanne flies down to Vizag periodically to refresh and improvise her performances under Bala's guidance.

Why only Kuchipudi when there are several classical Indian dance forms?

``Because from the beginning Andhra culture attracted me and I became involved with it,''

So much so she became a Hindu, married an Indian, though the relationship broke later.

Meanwhile, Roxanne became more involved with Indian culture and philosophy. She has profound knowledge of Indian cultural ethos more than an average Indian as she studied with dedication the Yoga traditions.

Her latest work, conceived and performed by her, is the video recording of the ballet, `Adi Shakti: Dawn of the First Goddess'. Illuminating the spiritual dimensions of Indian dance, it is an innovative and colourful programme with entertaining and educational values. Depicting the evolution of Shakti, the primordial feminine energy, through the five elements---sky, air, water, earth and fire---and the seven chakras of the psychic body, mirroring the evolution of human consciousness itself, it is accompanied by dramatic monologue and verse.

An active environmentalist, she said: "As per the Indian systems of Yoga and Ayurveda, our bodies as well as universe are made of Pancha Bhutas irrespective of the caste, creed and East-West divide. Human action itself is polluting the five elements. When they become polluted, won't we be destroying our own existence'' she wondered. "Hence more and more people are taking recourse to Yoga to regain mental peace and physical health and radiate positive energy.''

Describing India as World Teacher, Roxanne, however, felt it could not degenerate into arrogance as was being projected by the new advocates of Hindu philosophy, taking a dig at the Hindu fundamentalists. "The true propagators of Hindu philosophy were Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Aurobindo, and the present generation needs to emulate them to retain the glory of Hinduism,'' she averred.

M. MELLY MAITREYI

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