Dance Critic

MBJ on OTV

Two weeks of holiday in Orissa, and our first stop is Konark, site of the enormous (though largely destroyed) Sun Temple. We have bustled north to catch the fifth and final day of the annual Konark Dance Festival, which uses the illuminated temple structure as its dramatic backdrop.

We were the special guests of the Chairman of the Orissa Tourism Development Corporation, who was a student in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram School in Pondicherry with our companions Puru and Maya. This guaranteed us VIP treatment and second row center seating, immediately behind his highness, the Governor of Orissa, and his entourage.

We arrived marginally late – the performance had just started. This was slightly stressful for our American contingent (Linda, Mui, and Bill); but our Indian faction (Puru and Maya) were utterly nonplussed. This arrival was positively early by Indian standards. Besides, the Governor had only arrived fractionally before us.

Dance Festival at Konark

The festival is a semi-big deal in the Indian classical dance world, it seems, if only because of the spectacular location. It features a variety of Odissi, Bharat Natyam, Manipuri, and Kathak performances by so-called “up-and-coming” artistes. In truth, the concluding night’s dance – by an earnest, but amateurish Odissi troupe and an exuberant, but equally amateurish company from Manipur – was remarkably poor for a festival with such impressive venue, resources, and longevity. Perhaps the earlier nights were better. Nonetheless, the dance was colorful, the musicians extremely tight and uncharacteristically well amplified, and the setting sufficiently dramatic to elevate even the lowliest performance.

What the festival lacked in quality classical dance, it more than made up for in classical ass-kissing. If the performances seemed over-long, they probably ran about the same length of time as the introductions and post-performance remarks by a self-important emcee, so obviously in love with the sound of his own voice that it was a marvel of self-control that the endless, masturbatory soliloquies didn’t bring him to climax. Whatever erotic nausea this might have produced in the audience was diffused, however, by his sidekick, some high-society woman who read three-or-four pages of prepared text in monotone between the dance pieces. As she flipped each stapled page, you could palpably sense the audience straining to count how many more leaves of torture she had in her sheaf.

The real point of the festival is not, of course, the opportunity it provides for the emcees to play star-for-a-night. It is not even the dance. It is for the Orissa Governor, as Chief Guest, to “felicitate” each an every person even remotely connected with the dance performances. This was the centerpiece of the evening. Each dancer, musician, choreographer, lighting designer, stagehand, and chai-wallah was required to stifle their yawns and boredly touch the Gov’s feet as he greeted them beatifically. If the felicitated looked disinterested, imagine how we in the audience felt. Time itself seemed to stand still. Just when I thought there might be a riot or mass exodus, the Governor returned to his seat, still visibly flushed with adrenaline from his star-turn.

After the performance, one of the television networks covering the festival approached Bill – a handsome, middle-aged farangi whose deportment reveals an obvious sensitivity and elegance – for an interview. He declined and put the reporters on my trail. As you can see from the photo above, I acquiesced.

My comments, which aired on OTV (Orissa Television), consisted of pabulum about “a beautiful and fitting end to a spectacular festival… blah, blah, blah.” The experience put me in mind of the old joke: “How do you tell when a lawyer is lying? His lips are moving.” Give the people what they want.

When the journalist asked me how the program might be improved, I knew that whatever I might say, nothing critical would ever make the newscast; so I decided to have a little fun. I offered that the program would be greatly improved by omitting the Governor’s felicitations, “which certainly makes him feel important, but holds absolutely no interest for anyone else.” Maya nearly wet herself in horror, while Puru and Yoo-Mi laughed hysterically. Neither the cameraman nor the reporter seemed to care, one way or the other. Like most Indian journalists, they ask pro forma questions, and never really listen to the answers given. It was left to some poor night-shift editor to discover the horrific clip and deep-six it fast.

The next day, after touring the Sun Temple, we gathered in the guest house lobby to watch the story on OTV’s hourly newscast. Of the dozens of television interviews I have given over the last couple years, this was the first I’d actually watched. Yikes!

MBJ on OTV

Two days later, as evening came on, our group walked into a small, remote village in Orissa’s Ganjam district. A young guy in his twenties sat beneath an old tree at the town’s cross-road, and called to Puru. “I saw that farangi with the choti (meaning either “pony tail” or “small penis” – might either be apt? Damn!) on television,” he advised Puru in Oriya. “Who is he?”

The villager was too polite to add, “… and who-the-hell cares what he thinks about the Konark Festival?”

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3 Responses to “Dance Critic”


  1. 1 Marvin 20 December 2007 at 4:15 pm

    1. I have used the expression “….in love with the sound of his own voice” for ages but this is the first time I’ve seen it in print. I like it.

    2. Not sure which is more respectful: touching the top dog’s feet or kissing his ring (if he’s wearing one or more). Either way, sounds okay to me. As Mel Brooks would put it, “It’s good to be the king.”

    3. Be careful. The picture of you reminds us of the FBI’s ten-most-wanted circulars.

  2. 2 viral 21 December 2007 at 2:02 pm

    hahahaha

    this is classic!

  3. 3 Lakshmi Mareddy 22 January 2008 at 9:13 am

    What the festival lacked in quality classical dance, it more than made up for in classical ass-kissing. If the performances seemed over-long, they probably ran about the same length of time as the introductions and post-performance remarks by a self-important emcee, so obviously in love with the sound of his own voice that it was a marvel of self-control that the endless, masturbatory soliloquies didn’t bring him to climax. Whatever erotic nausea this might have produced in the audience was diffused, however, by his sidekick, some high-society woman who read three-or-four pages of prepared text in monotone between the dance pieces. As she flipped each stapled page, you could palpably sense the audience straining to count how many more leaves of torture she had in her sheaf.

    Looks like some things have gone down, and some remain same Mark, in the last few years I have been away from India. Do read my NRI Take


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