Unbounded by a singular medium of expression, Jaya Mehta is a multi-media artiste who expresses her art in various forms. From dance to poetry, film to children’s fiction, articles, workshops and lecture-demonstrations, you name it, and she has them all under her belt. The renowned Odissi dancer has now written The Poetic Saree and with the exquisite dance visuals, the book uniquely travels between the disciplines of dance, music, poetry and the visual arts.
For Mehta, every subject should be viewed from different angles and expressed it in numerous ways. “I love being an ambassador of our multi-dimensional culture, which has the incredible power of seeing a multitude of things and the oneness within it,” she says.
Born and raised in Delhi, Mehta has been a student of Indian painting, ancient Indian history and dance. And it was her education in multiple art forms that led her to learn Odissi from her Guru Pratibha Jena Singh in the Guru Surendra Nath Jena style. “I left my job and my skills in research and painting, to pursue Odissi. My Guru’s style of Odissi was my perfect match, a response to my inner longing. I was completely satisfied, and I never looked back or too much ahead.” says Mehta, who after immersing in Odissi and the other dances for 15 years, learnt that they were deeply poetic in nature.
“Surya’s wife Chaya, yearning for her husband; Radha, the passionate learner, asking Krishna the secrets of his flute and its seven musical notes; the world of Hanuman in the Hanuman Chalisa, where energy just circulated powerfully across the entire universe; all these stirred my powers of visualisation and the quality of inner conversation,” says Mehta.
In 2017, she performed at the International Poetry Festival in Rotterdam with Kathak dancer Anima Jhagroe-Ruissen. “After we performed solo Kathak and Odissi compositions, we came together with my poem Sakhi. Without music, it was narrated twice by each of us. But it was only after I returned from the festival that I realised that poems couldn’t just be danced. They needed to be printed. And I started working on the book in November 2017,” says Mehta, who then went on to create a beautiful, glossy poetry book with dance visuals and illustrations.
Elaborating further, she says, “I visualised it as having the sumptuous feel of a saree, and that’s how the title The Poetic Saree came about. With book designer, Swati Chakraborti and Notion Press in Chennai, I worked hard at creating a beautiful book of dance-poems, different from all poetry books yet priced around `300. Culture curator and dancer Swaati Chattopadhyay wrote an incredibly beautiful foreword to the book.”
With a rich background in art and culture, Mehta shares her perspective on the current scenario of art. “Young artistes in India, face a government and infrastructure, refusing to look at their work. Only older performing artistes, who established themselves in the last century, seem to still be featured in festivals and important posts. If young artistes with an interdisciplinary approach are not encouraged to participate in government cultural bodies, museums and festivals, Indian art will remain static instead of flowing.
“We need to re-look at this approach, and the press should also cover younger artistes with new approaches to their art forms with greater interest. The younger generations of artistes in Indian cities, in their 30’s and 40’s, are working very hard in this age of commercialism and competition, to find a sincere and novel approach to Indian art forms. We need to appreciate them in their construction of a new face of Indian art and culture that is young and inter-disciplinary,” she concludes.
The Poetic Saree is a book in many avatars : the poetry book, an audio book on SoundCloud and video-poems on Youtube