Classical Dance in Pakistan
Entries may be a little edited for clarity or brevity. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of PakPositive.
Tehreema Mitha, a renowned Bharata natyam dancer from Pakistan was being interviewed on PTV Home. A strikingly attractive woman, she spoke of her unique upbringing in Pakistan, her difficult choice of vocation, competition from across the border and lack of following for the art in Pakistan. Her approach to this ancient South Asian dance form was as interesting as the response she got from some of her contemporaries from India. Her life offers many lessons to young Pakistanis who ask themselves the question – ‘What is our culture’ and to young Indians who are struggling to accept a Pakistan confident in its own skin.
Set to North Indian music with secular (non-religious) themes such as the environment and women’s empowerment, Mitha should be the face of modern-day Pakistan. The ancient art of Bharatanatyam belongs to Pakistan (and Bangladesh and other countries) as much as it does to India and instead of being bogged down by the strong Hindu mythology that much of Bharatanatyam is based on she has danced to her own unique rhythm.
When asked by the host of the PTV show as to what her peers from across the border thought about her dance, there was no gushing ‘everyone loves me and I love them’ response from Mitha. Underlying the keen sense of competition that pervades all fields of human endeavour – from industry to art – she said that she is very comfortable sharing the stage with renowned dancers from India. However, Indian dancers were not rushing to embrace her interpretation any time soon. Here she spoke of the advantages of being a separate nation and being given the space to develop and interpret the art form without being bogged down by traditional strictures. “I have the advantage of performing on secular themes for longer than they (Indian dancers) have,” she concluded.
Mitha should be applauded by her compatriots. Not only has she given an ancient art form a radical and less religious face, she is competing with big brother India on her terms. She brings value to the table and cannot be dismissed easily. Her dedication to her art is awe-inspiring.
Mitha rues the fact that art is dying in modern-day Pakistan. While she spoke of non-governmental initiatives in this arena in terms of opening halls and other spaces for the pursuit of arts, the impetus, in my view, should come at a more basic level. Parents should begin to see performing arts as another medium of education for their children as crucial as the sciences and math are.
On the international front, there are no free meals. Mitha knows that. The Indian dancers will not welcome her with open arms, but India as much as Pakistan needs constant rejuvenation of its cultural traditions. And if the likes of Mitha spur uneasiness and compeition on the other side of the border – it should be welcomed. Competition on the dance floor is so much more palatable than annihilation on the battleground.