Every creative art involves an innocence of perception and liberation from the shackles of accepted beliefs and ways of doing. When we are touched by originality in art, it is this freshness that moves us. Malti Shyam is one such person whose creativity and virtuosity in Kathak dance leaves the audience speechless and spellbound. She is at present teaching dance at the Kathak Kendra, the national institute for Kathak in Delhi. One of the top-grade artistes of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations and Doordarshan, Malti is a professional dancer, teacher and choreographer and has given innumerable performances and attended major festivals in India. Shanta Serbjeet Singh has said about her, ?A thinking control on Kathak'sgrammar, a polished understanding on how to stretch each bandish to its outer limits, to stress its inner and outer shapes, to reveal the source of energy in the body and to make it flower visibly?? In an interview to Organiser, Malti reveals some of her experiences during her performances abroad and what all she has achieved through the dint of hard work and perseverance.
Which region do you hail from?
I was born and brought up in Almorah. After that my parents moved to Delhi and all that I learnt was in Delhi subsequently.
Why did you take to Kathak and not to any other form of dance?
While still a child, I decided to devote myself to Kathak and as we lived close to the Kathak Kendra in Delhi, it became possible for me to realise my dream. I started learning Kathak at the age of 11 and initially acquired training under Smt. Reba Vidyarthi whose rigorous training in the basics of Kathak provided a good grounding, moulding and shaping of me in the language of Kathak.
Which gharana do you belong to?
I belong to the Lucknow gharana which defines a style with lyrical grace and technical precision. I became a disciple of Pandit Birju Maharaj and under his tutelage, I have been training in Kathak ever since. His expert guidance in all aspects of Kathak, his profound art and understanding of the tradition have been critical in my growth as a dancer and continue to be my source of energy and inspiration. Actually, if you ask me, my life is Kathak.
Does your family life come in the way of dance or vice versa?
I have a very supportive husband who comes from Allahabad and is a stage actor. I have a son who studies in Class X. He does not dance but is fond of music. It is an inherent quality in him and for which I cannot take any credit.
At what age did you give your first stage performance?
I gave my first performance at the age of 13 in Shankar'sBal Mela where I bagged the gold medal in dance. I strongly believe in destiny and this is a gift to me from Nature. I strongly believe that it was my destiny to be a dancer. I never plan anything beforehand but I find that even without planning, different paths open out to me and I am able to find the correct path. It is destiny which shows the way.
What about your formal education? Has it proved helpful in your performances?
Since a very young age I was fond of reading. My reading habits, my performances and my travels abroad are very well reflected in my personality development. I am entirely self-educated. If you ask me, I would say I have received all my education through dance which has been a serious learning experience and made me a devotee of learning as also of dance.
Great art, of course, requires years of devoted and dedicated application to learning, to absorb and finely hone the language and technique. It is only when such learning is deeply embedded in the artiste that there is the possibility to discover beyond such knowledge, which becomes the artiste'sown unique voice and inspiration. And when that happens, it makes possible for the innocence of perception to come to the fore, encouraging an inspired performance, full of confidence, energy and abandon, yet technically precise and perfect in every sense.
When you perform on the stage, are you conscious of the audience and their reaction or you do not care?
When I am dancing, I get so engrossed in what I am performing that I am totally oblivious of the audience or its reaction. All I know is that when I am lost in my dance, I am at the height of happiness and when I am happy, then even the audience can feel my happiness and enjoy my performance.
Where did you perform Kathak apart from Delhi?
I have given performances all over the country and all over the world too. I have given dance performances in the USA, London, Greece, Italy, South Africa; you name any place and I have been there. Shall I tell you that in South Africa, an African sculptor carved a statue of mine and this is installed in the Indian Embassy there. During my performances, I have seen people get absolutely lost in my dance and some even have tears rolling down their cheeks, so overwhelmed are they at my performance.
Any interesting incident in your life that you may like to narrate?
In South Africa huge posters with my photographs in dance postures were put up outside the hall in which I was scheduled to perform. I was waiting outside, when an African came and asked me, ?Who is this dancer? Do you possibly know her?? I told him that it was my picture on the poster and that I was scheduled to perform there. He could not believe his eyes. With surprise writ large on his face, he again asked, ?Really! It is you?? He was seeing me without any makeup and glitzy costume. Little did he realise that it was makeup on the stage which completely changed my personality and looks.
Abroad, after my performances, I have seen the audience giving me standing ovations and clapping continuously for 5 to 10 minutes. Such moments have been very rewarding and unforgettable. I have come to the conclusion that if you want to convey something, you can do so without knowing the language spoken in a particular land.
Do you perform solo or in a group? Do you compose your own items?
I basically perform solo but often in a group too. I am scheduled to perform at Bodh Gaya my solo composition entitled Swapna-priya. In this I will present the theme of Lord Krishna leaving with his cowherd friends of the forest, and the gopis thinking about him and imagining him to be present among them. This apart, I have immense astha (faith) in Dhammapada which lays stress on development of good qualities, which are like a flower in a forest, where the fragrance of the flower spreads making everything pleasing to the senses. You must have experienced the attractive smell that chandan (sandalwood) and chameli (jasmine) possess and how it gets spread in the air. In a similar fashion, good qualities of a person spread in the entire world, making it a better place to live in.
I have choreographed Rang, Swapnapriya, Moksha Parva, Aanatya, Pravaha, Ashtangik Marg (Eightfold Path of the Buddha), and the life of the Buddha.
Are you a follower of Buddhism because your compositions are essentially on the Buddha?
I am not a follower of Buddhism but I admire the Buddha and his Eightfold Path. To perform on the stage, I practice for long hours and my imagination is constantly at work, thinking of how to perform. At times, I even improvise during my performances and the accompanying musicians have no problem in keeping a pace with me.
Is the present group of students as devoted and hardworking as you must have been during your childhood?
I teach 45 students who come to my classes on alternate days. Devotion to dance is not as much as it was in my days, but there are some students in the age group of 10-12 who are not only devoted but would go a long way if they continue to dance as they do now.