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Crusaders of the losing arts.

Jyotindra Jain, Anurupa Roy and Ebrahim Alkazi are leading the campaign to revive our fast eroding culture

Rare are the attempts at preserving the vanishing valuable part of the country's cultural heritage and at developing new venues to resuscitate the dying arts. But all is not lost yet

TO DIP into the world of sports and draw an analogy for the cultural space, modern and contemporary Indian art is like cricket, which overshadows every other sport played in this country so overwhelmingly that no matter how many crowns our athletes pick up in other disciplines, they can never dream of walking away with million- dollar deals. That's not unlike the story of the country's arts and crafts, which have been denied the spotlight enjoyed by modern and contemporary Indian art, especially now, thanks to the phenomenon of ' crorepati' artists.

The obvious corollary is that institutional support is dwindling for many of the art forms that would be classified as endangered if there were to be an arts and crafts census in India. Rarer still are attempts at preserving the vanishing valuable part of the country's cultural heritage and at developing new venues to resuscitate the dying arts. But individuals do manage to make a difference in a sea of indifference -- and that is the message of these three individuals who share a vision to make the preservation of the arts and crafts not just the business of the government.

CULTURE CZAR

Jyotindra Jain's initiatives to breathe life into the IGNCA has paid dividends

HE HAS turned a national joke into a popular arts and crafts destination For a long time, it was easy for Janpath regulars to miss the leviathan called the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts ( IGNCA), for nothing seemed to be happening there.

What was intended to be the country's premier art institution was mired in petty politics and an overpowering sense of inaction. Bad publicity, and the suspicion that it was siphoning off people's tax money, was all that the IGNCA succeeded in getting for itself. All that changed when Jyotindra Jain, formerly of the Crafts Museum and JNU's School of Arts and Aesthetics, took over as the centre's member- secretary two years ago.

The results of Jain's initiatives to infuse life into the institutions have literally spilled on to the roads that skirt the rambling complex -- the most recent example has been the successful Dastkar Nature Bazaar, which brought the country's finest craftspeople and Delhi's citizens in touch with an institution that most people had written off as dead. That the Bazaar was not an aberration became evident when it hosted the novel puppet showcase called Akhyan, which included a well- researched exhibition of puppet traditions from across the country as well as daily shows. And more is lined up for the weeks ahead.

Any culture watcher would have bet on Jain to breathe life into the IGNCA, which he joined as a professor in July 2008. After all, it was during his 16- year stint as its chief that the Crafts Museum came into its own, before slipping into bureaucracy- induced dormancy when Jain left its directorship in 2000.

After quitting the Crafts Museum, Jain joined JNU's School of Arts and Aesthetics as its dean in 2001 and revived the school after two failed attempts by the university. He was the one who introduced new academic programmes such as Popular Visual Culture and Cinema Studies.

" I had joined in an academic position but they asked me to take charge as member- secretary when the then incumbent retired," Jain says about his rise to the top of the IGNCA. " They had advertised the post but I didn't apply for it.

The selection committee, however, chose me following proper procedures." He knew he was moving into a hot seat, and that the IGNCA was essentially a research institution carrying a lot of negative baggage, but he was determined to first bring it closer to the people to bring down the wall of suspicion. He did it, and how!

STRINGS ATTACHED

Anurupa Roy is at the forefront of making puppetry a mainstream art once again

SHE HAS been the life support for an art abandoned by its practitioners Despite the film 3 Idiots exhorting young people to follow their heart ( and asking their parents to let them do so), one wonders how many parents wouldn't bat an eyelid if their daughter were to announce, " I want to be a puppeteer." Anurupa Roy's parents didn't flinch when she made her intentions clear some time in 1996- 97. She was studying History at Lady Shri Ram College and had applied for the mass communications course at Jamia Millia Islamia. The day before her interview at Jamia, her college principal asked her if she really wanted to do it. " Without realising, I blurted out that I actually wanted to be a puppeteer," recalls the 33- year- old who has become the torchbearer for the dying art of puppetry.

At a time when the art is being deserted even by its traditional practitioners, it's been a brave move on the part of Roy to make it her life's calling. " I was exposed to puppetry when I was studying at Sardar Patel Vidyalaya," Roy recalls. " It stayed on with me and I grew up doing random puppet shows with friends for children. Even at LSR we did a few shows but it was all hush- hush," she says.

Following that moment of epiphany at LSR, Roy plunged into her unusual career, forming the Katkatha puppet theatre group, only to realise that it wasn't going to be easy. " The country's doesn't have training institutions for puppetry. And I was at a disadvantage because I had not grown up in a family of traditional puppeteers," she says. So Roy gave herself an education in puppetry, following her father's advice, and more than a decade later, she believes that life has begun to ease for her.

" The most heartening fact is that schools now invite us for workshops and they are ready to pay the fee we ask," Roy says.

She has opened up the possibility of young people interning with her group. " If you accept the monetary limitations this profession imposes on its practitioners, then passion is all you need to take you forward. I only wish the government could help us in taking the art to a level where puppeteers are able to sustain themselves," she adds.

Till the government gets moving, it's people like Roy who'll continue to keep the dying art alive.

A CAREER UNPARALLELED

Theatre legend Ebrahim Alkazi's foundation has the largest collection of archival photographs

HE TOOK it upon himself to be the custodian of the country's photographic heritage Ebrahim Alkazi's career has been so long and illustrious that one can't really sum up his achievements in a small review -- he was the director of the National School of Drama from 1962 to 1977 and remains one of most influential teachers of the theatrical arts ever. But life has not revolved around one stage -- it's kept moving from one act to another.

Three decades back, at a time when no one really cared about the depth of the country's photographic heritage, he set up the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts with the express purpose of preserving a vast collection of more than 85,000 photographs and prints that present a comprehensive visual record of India's history and ethnic diversity.

The foundation's collection -- dating from the Revolt of 1857 to Independence and after -- began taking shape in London but Alkazi, sensing an emerging opportunity closer home, moved it to Delhi in 2003. It is not only the largest private collection of archival photographs in the country, but it also exposes the inadequacies of government- held collections that people don't really get to see as frequently and in as wellorganised a format as they do at exhibitions organised by foundation.

Those keeping a tab on the development of photography would recollect some seminal photo exhibitions held by the foundation in the city, the most recent being those on Delhi's early history and of the albums of the Archaeological Survey of India's first director, John Marshall. The foundation is now being helmed by Alkazi's grandson, Rahaab Allana, who says they are constantly on the lookout for rare pictures to add to their vast digitised collection.

One of their recent acquisitions was the entire body of work of the 97- year- old Homai Vyarawalla, the country's first woman photojournalist.

" It's an honour for us that Homai chose to give her lifetime's work to our foundation," says Allana. The gesture shows the credibility and respect Alkazi's foundation enjoys.

The government, which has gems of equal or higher value in its possession, must learn fast from Alkazi before its collections of heritage photographs scattered in dusty archives across the country succumb to the passage of time.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Nov 16, 2010
Words:1498
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