I Would like to address this letter not to P. Deivamuthu but to those who might have believed his allegations. I am a Kalakshetra alumnus, who graduated this April, 2007. Two of my years at Kalakshetra were under Mr. Rajaram, the other two under Ms. Leela Samson (I lived in the hostel during the entire four-year period).
I would not consider myself an authority on all details of the institute. Yet P. Deivamuthu speaks as if he is privy to all the interactions occurring at Kalakshetra: he knows the accounts, what the board of directors think, the students feel, the teachers teach and so on.
He has prepared quite a list of 10 points to prove his case that Ms. Leela Samson is a Christian whose only aim is to destroy Hindu culture. While I will address some of them, there is little use in addressing each point separately.
First, if the director indeed ?refused to send students? to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar'sseminar, as your write up alleged how come over 50 of us participated? As far as the quote by her (Ms Leela Samson) which he provides, was he there to hear what she said? Even those, like myself, who were there would be hard-pressed to produce a verbatim quote, so unless he was hiding at the morning prayers with a recorder, I think this can be dismissed as substantial evidence (on the other hand, this should raise questions regarding the authenticity of his claims).
Furthermore, I would like to take this opportunity (since I was there) to make clear that she said no such thing. This open dialogue between director, staff and students was an inside issue, but since its content seems to have travelled far and wide (and with various interpretations) it'sonly right that I address it publicly now. At that time, the director was careful to express her respect to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and clarify that the issue at hand was not a religious one. She indeed clarified more than once that this was not a pro or con religion discussion. Her only concern was the aesthetics of a large number of people on stage simultaneously, and because of this (and the organisers? failure to formally request the institute'sparticipation) she was hesitant to send us there. But after hearing one of the students? request, she was moved to let us go, and as stated, over 50 of us danced that evening at Anna University. It is unfortunate that despite her acquiescence, our participation has till this day not been acknowledged.
Now to P. Deivamuthu'spoint number 1: ?Most of the Vinayaka idols for which regular poojas were being conducted by the students have been removed.?
Again there are traces of facts, but twisted, and I untwist them to illustrate how the changes Ms. Samson is implementing are in accordance with Rukmini Devi'swishes. In the hostel there was a small structure with Vinayaka images which has been removed, and that is simply because it was not Rukmini Devi who had established it there. The first principal of Kalakshetra, Mr. Shankara Menon, who took care after Rukmini Devi'sdeath was concerned when the hostel warden brought in and placed a Vinayaka deity by the dining hall. Years later, this one Vinayaka had turned into a miniature temple structure, where regular poojas and so on were held. While that in itself is not inappropriate, the hostel'sname is Besant Cultural Centre, and why should only a Vinayaka statue be worshiped there? Rukmini Devi'smood is reflected beautifully in the prayers the students and staff recite every morning. There is one prayer from each of the major world religions, the last one being an all-embracing ?Universal Prayer?. Rukmini Devi grew up as a theosophist and was deeply influenced by Annie Besant. Moreover, her passion for dance started first with her deep admiration for Anna Pavlova and the classical ballet. It is therefore misleading to categorize Kalakshetra simply as a place which preserves ancient tradition, for it is founded on broader precepts. I believe that many people today consider Rukmini Devi a great woman because she was able to appreciate and assimilate the beauty in many religions. And the appreciation of beauty in all things is, according to Rukmini Devi, the true essence of art.
Point number 2: (The last one I will address) ?Leela Samson ordered all prayers in the institution to be stopped.?
This one is so blatantly false that I?m speechless. In fact, the truth will not reflect too well on the students, but the number one complaint in the hostel which surfaces on a daily basis (from the hostel matrons) is that very few attend the hostel morning prayers.
Yes, there have been many changes since Ms. Samson took over as a director. But changes were in this case welcome. The prevailing atmosphere during my first two years was not particularly inspiring; the Bharatnatyam classes themselves were my refuge and reason for staying on. Naturally, when a new director takes over, comparisons between the former and the new director are inevitable.
Strangely enough, P. Deivamuthu seems to believe that empowering the students with a voice is a break-down in the gurukula system, but I strongly disagree. For even the best teacher cannot anticipate each doubt or answer every question unasked. The students must be encouraged to articulate and voice their doubts and opinions.
Crediting the students with maturity (perhaps more than we deserved), Ms. Samson was from the outset very approachable and encouraging. Because she is actively involved on a daily basis, the list of what she has done and is doing would be rather lengthy. To summarize a few, she has improved the dance cottages, built a new library and instrument room, upgraded the offices, replaced old dance costumes, applied make-up for the performers, increased cultural programmes, and so on. During programme times, she would get involved to the point where she helped on all levels, decorating, moving chairs, encouraging student participation, and whatever was needed for the event to succeed.
And aside from these, Ms. Samson qualifies as a highly capable and judicious director for Kalakshetra, because she is a dancer who has created a niche for herself in a highly competitive city, Delhi.
In conclusion, I?m fully aware of the heat Ms. Samson is under from various places, some quite close to home, for the changes she is implementing.
(The writer can be contacted at [email protected])
Unfortunately the writer has not addressed any of the core concerns in our report. Rather she has largely concurred with what we reported. There is no opposition to change but it should not destroy the essence.