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The seven leaves of culture

A book store-cum-cultural space, Saptaparani is a small house tucked away in the inner lanes of Banjara Hills in Hyderabad.

Published: 02nd June 2012 10:08 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th October 2012 11:53 AM   |  A+A-

A  book store-cum-cultural space, Saptaparani is a small house tucked away in the inner lanes of Banjara Hills in Hyderabad. Started in 2003, it has become more than just being a space to learn, but a place where forgotten culture may once more find its identity in this fast-paced country obsessed with the West. With almost a decade behind it (this November will be its 10th anniversary), Saptaparani still trudges along in its easy slow pace, garnering just enough attention to be, yet not enough to become more than it is.
“We’ve maintained a consistent activity graph since we’ve started. We do have more regular activities happening now, but otherwise, we’ve been keeping ourselves just about occupied,” says Anuradha Prasad, the quiet, no-nonsense brain behind Saptaparani — which means seven leaves in Sanskrit.
The place has regular classical music and dance lessons that take place, which also include learning instruments such as the violin and piano and dance forms like Odissi. Depending on the people who visit the city, other non-regular activities like book-reading sessions, book launches, concerts and workshops take place.
The 40-something-year-old house also boasts of an amphitheatre that seats about 200 people. What originally belonged to an English man, Anuradha bought the house and slightly re-modelled it. But what would compel a relatively stay-at-home wife who admits to being content, to move out and create the cultural space that Saptaparani has become?
“My friend Aparajita came up with the idea. There wasn’t any avenue through which children could be exposed to our Hindu mythology and culture in a contemporary context outside school. So we initially were planning on an exhibition of books and activities that would introduce them to our culture. But as things went along, the book store became more of a solid idea and that’s how it started. My friend is no longer an active member.”
Did that mean that she was unhappy at the amount of cultural and religious consciousness she saw perhaps in her own children or their peers?
“No, not at all. In fact, quite the contrary. My children studied at Vidyaranya school which is an education system in itself with no examinations or the typical classroom atmosphere. They were very much in tune with their cultural history. But, as I mentioned, outside school there weren’t many options and if I wanted to buy books either, there weren’t many shops that had a good collection.”
The book store now has a collection of about 3,000 titles, mostly in English, but near 20 per cent of them in regional languages. The store today has a variety of books — from activity-based to puzzles, academic-based fun books, short stories and folk tales and so on. But more attractive than the book section is the game section.
A wall has been dedicated to traditional games like Paramapadham Sopanam (snakes and ladders), Adapilu Atam (lion and goat chase), Vanavasa and Search for Sita (games which follow Ram, Lakshman and Sita through the forest) and Chowpad (a game of dice similar to ludo; it was the game in which Yudhishtir had lost Draupadi to the Kauravas) among others. “We’ve tried to promote these because they are being forgotten by our generation, let alone our kids,” says Anuradha.
Besides spearheading Saptaparani, Anuradha is also actively involved with SPICMACAY. She also sits as a trustee on the Jiddu Krishnamurti Trust and is an advisory member to Centre for Social Initiative and Management.
“I believe that work must speak for itself. However, I decided to speak out this time about Saptaparani because with its 10th anniversary coming up, we should be a little more rigorously occupied,” says Anuradha, adding, “I feel with us having been choosy about the kind of events we host here, has given it the reputation it has. We are particular about who we give it to; it’s important that people respect the space.”
Testimony to that, Saptaparani has played host to eminent personalities like Palagummi Viswanadham, Gunturu Seshendra Sarma, Prince Rama Varma and Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna among others.
When you finally look at Saptaparani, the place shares more than Anuradha suspects with her personality. A comfortable space where expression is sacred.

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