As told to Pragya Mukherjee
- Sonal Mansingh
Sonal Mansingh, the internationally acclaimed danseuse proficient in various dance forms be ranging from Bharatnatyam, which comprised her debut performance-arangatram and first raised her to heights of fame, to chauu and Odissi, has performed before the highest dignitaries all over the world and her art has won her the highest of accolades including Padma Bhushan (1992), Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1987) and the Padma Vibhushan in 2003, conferring on her the honour of being the first woman dancer in India to receive this award. However her tremendous achievements are not merely a result of talent but of tremendous grit and dedication to her craft. Her passion for dance was such as to make her run away from home in order to be able to continue to pursue dance as a career. She spent long years training under great luminaries in the filed of dance such as Prof U.S. Krishna Rao and Chandrabhaga Devi and later Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra who was the one to train her in Odissi.
Her sterling resilience was tested to the limit when during a car accident in Germany her spinal cord was injured and her legs lost their function. However this was when chiropractor Pierre Gravel gave her new hope by announcing she may be able to dance again. Living with this hope she made a complete recovery and within a year she was able to successfully perform to a full house.
Sonal Mansingh has been elected a member of the Executive Board and General Council of Sangeet Natak Akademi, National Cultural Fund, Ministry of Culture. More recently she has been appointed a trustee of the largest institution in India, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA). In 1977 she founded the Delhi based Centre for Indian Classical Dances (CICD) which has produced numerous stage productions and been the training grounds of many notable artists today.
This legendary dancer’s passion for her art should be an example for all. Here’s a short tete-a-tete with the legend herself.
DuBeat: What inspired you to take up dance as a profession?
SM: I am from a political family. My grandfather, Mangal Das Pakwasa, was one of the first five Governors of India. My grandfather and both my parents were greatly interested in the arts and so famous artists would often come and perform at our house. I grew up among these artists and naturally grew an interest in it.
DuBeat: Was dance still not considered respectable enough that you had to run away to pursue it?
SM: Dancing and dancers had a negative connotation in those days and this prejudice hasn’t entirely died down even now. Dancing is still a problematic profession for some packets of society.
DUBeat: Wasn’t it difficult to steel yourself to run away? How were you able to make such a big decision?
SM: It wasn’t a hard decision to make. This is something I try to make my students understand as well. If you really do something with a passion nothing and no one can get in your way. You only realize you made a choice in hindsight but at that time nothing else really seemed to matter.
DUBeat: How did you develop an interest in Odissi?
SM: It was under Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra that I discovered Odissi and how much it needed to grow. At the time Odissi had a limiter repertoire so we began researching all aspects of it- performance, art and tradition. This was when I started learning Chau as well.
DUBeat: What was your reaction to the famous documentary film made on you by Prakash Jha?
SM: Oh he did a wonderful job! But now he can make a new one, so much has happened since (laughs)
DUBeat: Do you feel the youth today is losing interest in Indian Classical Dance?
SM: I wouldn’t say that. I still meet a lot of passionate youngsters interested in classical dance. However if interest is digressing into other newer forms of dance it is perfectly all right. It’s really all up to individual choice and what you consider to be enriching or fulfilling for you.
DUBeat: Any message for our readers?
SM: Be passionate about what you do and never lose sight of your principles. I don’t wish to generalize but there are youngsters one hears of with a callous attitude who carelessly crush people on the pavement or show similar disregard for the lives and problems of others. This insensitive attitude has to change. There are of course many young people who are passionate about change and keen to make a difference but there are also those who take life lying down. Always keep with you a strong sense of values and learn to be compassionate.