Veenapani Chawla Changed the Trajectory of My Life

The answers to why I never married, why I gravitate toward grace over militancy are linked to her

Published: 30th November 2015 04:32 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th November 2015 04:33 AM   |  A+A-

CHENNAI: One night many years ago, I stood in Veenapani Chawla’s kitchen and tried  to tell her what it meant for me to be there. So I told her about how in the time since I had first started visiting her home, the Adishakti Theatre  outside Auroville, I had been writing poems about my engagement with the  space (at once tranquil and terrifyingly charged), my friendships in it, and  the Ramayana studies and performances I’d been exposed to there. I remember how, at one moment, she looked me in the eye and asked if I was happy, and that I weighed myself and said honestly, “Happier.”

As we were speaking, someone came in looking for a knife. VP,  as she was known, would not pass it by hand. “I don’t want us to fight,” she said, smilingly. I admired her so deeply, and so simply, that I adopted the superstition immediately.

S h a ra n ya.jpgVP died on November 30 2014, at the age of 67. She was an  artistic pioneer who immersed herself in everything from chhau,  kalaripayattu and koodiyattam to western dramaturgy, and dispersed equal energy into developing new work, questing, teaching, and creating and maintaining the magical Adishakti campus.

“There is no one like Veenapani Chawla in Indian theatre. There is no other group like her Adishakti — certainly there hasn’t been any since what we call ‘Modern Indian Theatre’ began,” wrote Girish Karnad a few months before her passing. I met many  who envied her. But I met so many more who loved her. She was powerful, and equally kind. I had come into her orbit by chance, and stayed in it because of her generosity.

The first time I went to Adishakti, I stayed for a month. I would  take my slippers off and dig my feet into the cool earth as though I could shoot out roots, and weep. It was a primal connection. This was where I  came to understand intimately that what society calls a fringe is what the psyche knows as a frontier. It was not until a few years later that I found out that my paternal ancestral temple was only 20 minutes away. It had not been an imagined bond between my blood, bones, those pepper vines, and that soil.

I am not a theatre artist. I was not trained in the pedagogy for which Adishakti is famous, developed over decades of intensive research and dedication, and given away to all who wanted to learn it. I never studied under VP. I never even learnt how to swim from her — an offer she made me each time I saw her doing laps in the huge, mineralised pool built on the campus a few years ago. Most of what I learnt from her, though, was intangible — both in its transmission and its nature.

Veenapani Chawla was a singular influence on me. Meeting her permanently changed the trajectory of my life. I am who I am at 30, only  because I met her at 23. Why I still live in India, why I never married, why I gravitate toward grace and quietude over militancy and glitz — the answers to all these questions are linked to having known Adishakti and its founder, and having been indelibly transformed by both.

How could so much transpire on the basis of one soft-spoken  woman and her home of red earth and verdure? Simple. Above all, knowing Veenapani Chawla taught me that another way, another paradigm, is  possible. That one can live a life with devotion at its core: to art, to divinity, and to community.

 

(The Chennai-based author writes poetry, fiction and more)

Stay up to date on all the latest Chennai news with The New Indian Express App. Download now
(Get the news that matters from New Indian Express on WhatsApp. Click this link and hit 'Click to Subscribe'. Follow the instructions after that.)

Comments

Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the newindianexpress.com editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on newindianexpress.com are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of newindianexpress.com or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. newindianexpress.com reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp