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Sensibility and SARABHAI

Mallika Sarabhai shares her views on art and politics...



Mallika Sarabhai: `We need to package our crafts for contemporary needs, but we should preserve their integrity too.'

SHE IS confident, beautiful, and articulate.

If you are Mallika Sarabhai, you have to be all these and more. She shares her views on Indian craft and global economy.

"What makes me tick is my interest in Indian handmade crafts and textiles. In college, when I used to wear such stuff, people would say, `Oh! You like ethnic things.' I think the smirk is unnecessary."

But today, ethnic jewellery and textile have caught the fancy of an entire generation. Mallika makes her point about certain attitudes. "Market economy sees tradition as an anachronism. Handicrafts are as important to India as information technology or electronics. All we need to do is to package our traditional knowledge well."

Tradition is not tradition if it is not authentic. Mallika is pragmatic. "Indian crafts need a new look. Preserve the integrity of the craft, but make it a resource for contemporary living".

The versatile artist makes a telling statement (keeping in view the Indian woman) on how she thinks tradition helped in giving expression to a not-so-peculiar modern aspiration. "To show off your hip today translates into showing off your navel. Many people think low-cut jeans does it well. But I think the sari does it better".

Mallika feels Indian villages should be projected at the international level. "Why are our fashion institutes not inspired by our villages? Do we need foreigners to tell us what we produce is good? Why do we have to feel inferior about our heritage?"

Indian arts, Mallika feels, have found their place. All classical forms have attracted talent and it is easier to find patronage for such art forms these days. "At my age, if I cannot keep pace with the invitations I receive, one can imagine what it is like for the younger generation."

For some time now, Mallika has been choreographing works based on contemporary issues. "I believe every dance form has its place so long as one form is clearly distinguishable from the other," says the danseuse.

Mallika infuses activism into aesthetics.

Asked her view on what went wrong in Gujarat, she says, "Some of us are extremely depressed by the riots and I happen to be the pin-up girl for hatred."

The dancer, actress, choreographer, writer and activist has been addressing issues of ecology, gender equality, culture and arts. Her work on gender issues is considered significant. She has come to critique patriarchal practices in the Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi by valorising the Goddess in the Hindu pantheon. Mallika, through her work in theatre interspersed with choreography, carries this critique further in her performance as Draupadi in Peter Brook's Mahabharata. The piece brought out the different stereotypes revolving around Indian womanhood. This was followed by her other work, Shakti — The Power of Women, in London, which eventually became popular in all of Britain, Holland, and India for its portrayal of mythological, historical and contemporary women. Sita's Daughters, which came next, was a satire of a system making women subservient. "The piece was performed all over India from slums to metropolitan festivals and has been invited to Singapore and the U.S."

It is not surprising to hear her say that the arts were the alphabet of her activism.

G. N. PRASHANTH

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