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Light on foot, lighter on food

URMILA RAOURMILA RAO


DRAPED IN a sari, sporting a slender bindi and a pair of ethnic earrings, Sharon Lowen looks more Indian than a Westerner. Her black hair is loosely rolled into a puffed bun little above the nape. As usual. What is strikingly noticeable about this brown-eyed, Detroit-born Indian classical danseuse is her beauty, grace, and sinuosity about which a lot has been written. One thing that has perhaps gone unreported is her fine sense of humour, which brims over in a conversation over sips of Cranberry Cooler, fish kebab tarator and tabbouleh at the Hookah restaurant in New Delhi's Vasant Vihar the other day. Unwinding her taut nerves after an excursion with students of the American Embassy School in this growing heat, she still holds on to her charming smile.

Something else that is little known about this well-known Odissi dancer is, in her 31 years of stay in the city, she has been least daunted by the scorching heat, finding the "pleasures of summer" in rooh-afzah sherbet, mangoes and by sleeping on mats; that she is still taken by surprise if huge potholes are noticed on the Ring Road minus a notice board; that she pictures the haphazard movement of vehicles on roads "a bit like dancing." There is a certain rhythm, she feels, in the way traffic moves in Delhi, and the sense of timing that prevents collisions amuses her.

On a balmy afternoon, sitting at this Mediterranean eating joint on a cushioned floor, set in a traditional Indian style of dining, Sharon shares a little more on the food front. "I am not addicted to the kitchen. Though I have rolled a chapatti or two. At best I can only stir-fry vegetables. It is quick, easy and light," smiles the Michigan University dance graduate.

Spicy Food

A fish lover, she doesn't care much for chicken or any other kind of meat and prefers regular dal-rice. As a Fulbright scholar, when Sharon landed in Delhi in July, 1973, to pursue Manipuri dance, her experience with food was "rugged."

"It was watery dal, old chappatis and no vegetables," she recalls her early days as a paying guest here. Spicy food though was not much of a problem for her. "Americans are accustomed to eating Mexican food," she says, a tad surprised that Indians ate very late and were not as adventurous with food as most Americans.

Having started her odyssey with Manipuri, she picked up Odissi on the way two years later, "just as an academic interest," she reveals between bites of the main course, Khuridra Muhakle Mousabahet (vegetables with cous cous) and Riz Maa Khoudou with Kapse sauce.

"And my 17 years of training in Western ballet enabled me to take up the physically demanding Chhau form of dance," adds the first woman solo Chhau dancer. Though logistical complications led to the lapse of dalliance in Chhau and Manipuri, she has not given them up totally. "I am continuing with Odissi because I love the `abhinaya'. There is a constant growth in this form of dance."

No sweet tooth

Sharon, who claims not to have a sweet tooth, settles for cappuccino instead as she says, "I get a kick from the fact that coming from outside, I am able to represent and give a total aesthetic experience to people and touch their hearts."

There have been lots of trials and tribulations for this daughter of a chemical engineer father and clinical psychologist mother, but Sharon, skipping the arid areas of work, chose to connect with people through love, truth and beauty of her dance.

"Love that is metaphysical, spiritual and not religious, truth that is real and not saccharine, beauty that is sublime and aesthetic," as she prefers to put it. Today, a chapter in Indian classical dance is rich, thanks to her decision against a legal career and later as a puppeteer. Though she is at home away from home now, India may not be so forever.

"I will stay as long as what I am doing is of value and is valued," she sums up.

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