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Vintage stuff

Reginald Massey's book on Indian dance forms has just been released. R. V. SMITH turns over pages and memories with the author.



Reginald Massey in New Delhi. Photo: Sandeep Saxena.

REGINALD MASSEY talks of the magic of snowdrops and mudras as he relaxes in the foyer of Chinmaya auditorium after the release of his book, "India's Dances: Their History, Technique and Repertoire". Imbued equally by literature and the performing arts, he is a man who brings the frosty delights of distant Wales to the fast warming up climes of Delhi.

A long time ago he went West. "How could it have been otherwise after being fascinated by the Lake Poets - Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey?" he asks, reminiscing about his younger days, when the dancing daffodils floated before his eyes in the classroom - both at St. Stephen's and at St. John's, Agra where he went to take his Master's degree in English Literature.

"That's how it is when we are young," says Massey, who keeps returning year after year, sometimes with his actress wife Jamila and photographer son Marcus.He talks of going to a famous dhaba in Connaught Place. .Then taps his tummy and says, "Not just now though, I'll have to wait for a few more days to allow the body to get used to this sort of food again. But go I must, because you can't get such tasty chicken in the London curry shops."

Talking about pre-partition Lahore and Shimla of the 1950s, he says, "Wonder where June K...and Daljit C...are now? Philip is in Singapore, K.P.S. Gill is here, of course. Ruskin Bond in Mussoorie, and Vohra has moved to Gurgaon, but the rest have just vanished into the blue." Massey's affair with dance and music began 50 years ago when he studied South Asia's culture, religions, music, dance, films, history and politics. Names of Uday Shankar, Rukmini Devi Arundale, Ravi Shankar, Ram Gopal, Achhan Maharaj come pouring from his lips. He worked closely with Ram Gopal in the 1960s and emphasises that Ravi Shankar started off with dance, like his elder brother. "Dancers transcend race, dance and technique." When Pavlova wanted to see Indian dance she was advised to go to the temples and watch the devadasis, as Indian dance was all but dead in the 1920s. And that's the time when the revival by Uday Shankar and others began.

However the rajas and nawabs did give patronage to both musicians and dancers. But dance and music were denied to ordinary people, unless they were attached to the rajwadas. Now it is there for all - a point Massey emphasises repeatedly .

He talks about the Moghul contribution to Indian dance and music - even Aurangzeb privately maintained musicians, he says. Then rulers like Jahandar Shah, Mohammed Shah and Nawab Wajid Ali Shah patronised Kathak . Things have changed now and Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Manipuri, Kathakali too flourish in Delhi, along with Kathak, points out Massey. "What a great revival of the performing arts after many people had almost written them off in the 1920s!" Just a short hour ago Anuradha Venkataraman, who performed at the book launch, reminded one of that famous line, "She walks in beauty, like the night". These are the things Reginald Massey loves and thinks about amid the Welsh crags where, like Thomas Gray, he watches the progress of poesy and the bard in the mind's eye.

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