Kernels of kathak

Kernels of kathak

Meet Ragini Madan, a kathak artiste who, through collaborations, has explored parallel grammar of different dance styles

Passionate: Ragini Madan

It all began 17 years ago when, after a performance, tabla legend Ustad Shafaat Khan and kathak guru Shovana Narayan were relaxing and soon started reminiscing about old times. “That’s when we decided to start an annual two-day festival to show our gratitude to all those who had not just recognised and encouraged us but also gave us a platform to perform when we were starting out as artistes,” says the legendary danseuse. And thus LalitArpan was born. And its latest edition presented one of Narayan’s shishyas, the London-based Ragini Madan. “This was my second outing at LalitArpan, the last one was about 12 years ago,” smiles the 32-year-old.

For Madan, an interest in dance was kindled early in life, when she would willingly participate in all her school’s cultural activities. “Keen that I learn a classical form, my mother took me to Asavari, Narayan’s dance institute, for lessons in kathak.”

First lesson

And on her first day there, Madan, who was then barely 10 years old, recalls being asked to just sit and observe the other students as they danced. “I remember getting hooked to the happy environment of the place, its positive energy, the sound of gungroos, the kathak bols, tatkar and chakkars... from that day itself. Later I realised that it was akin to discovering a new home, one that was full of positive energy,” smiles the dancer who, besides pursuing kathak, also works as an econometrician at a private firm in London.

And since that day on, her passion for kathak has grown manifold. “This form has become an integral part of my life — a medium to express my feelings, thoughts, observations and whatever I believe in,” she adds. While her training in kathak continued, Madan also completed her undergraduate studies in Economics at the Delhi University, and then, in 2007, left for the University of Cambridge for further studies. In the new environment where the Indian classical arts were almost non-existent, she soon began to miss kathak. It was then, as luck would have it, that she met two other Indian classical dancers — of the odissi and bharatanatyam styles — at her university. “Since we all shared a similar passion, we decided to form the Cambridge University Indian Classical Arts Society (CUICAS), in 2010, to provide a platform for students interested in the Indian classical dance forms to learn the form and watch recitals,” she informs.

Tough turf

Things for this new organisation weren’t all that easy. Madan remembers the challenges the trio faced not just in organising events with limited funds and infrastructure constraints at Cambridge but also in attracting audiences. “It was only a matter of time when, as word spread, our Indian classical dance forms started garnering a fair amount of appreciation among the students.”

Madan says that her interactions with other classical dancers through CUICAS led to collaborations in which she got to explore the parallel grammar of different dance styles on stage even in the city of the Big Ben, where she moved in 2014 to study MSc in Economic Policy from the University College, London.

All these activities ensured that Madan, despite the distance, kept in touch with her guru in Delhi so that her solo performances had something new to offer.

While her work as an economist keeps her busy through the day, Madan ensures that she takes time out to watch recitals of other classical art forms, collaborate and interact with dance students from different parts of the world and attend workshops by visiting artistes.

And, as a kathak dancer, Madan also takes time out to read and understand the theoretical aspects of the form.

“This is something that has always been a crucial part of my training sessions with Shovana didi,” adds the artiste who is also a strong believer in the guru-shishya parampara that she says has been the foundation of her dance journey. “Shovana didi is not just my guru, she is also like my mother, and my mentor,” she says.