A Showcase of Past traditions
NEW DELHI: This generation, and the last, is most characterised by the painstaking effort they put into installing epitaphs on the lost traditions of previous generations. ‘The death of the novel’, ‘demise of the print journalism’, even ‘farming’; almost everything which seems to have outlived its utility is no more to be given a grace period. Academics and seasoned hacks have been spending more and more time in eulogizing these customs than ever. Their death is imminent, they argue. Add to this list the much more populist and bottom-up art of ‘folk-tales’ via ‘’folk-singing’, the practice is dying so fast and so marginally that no-one’s bothered to check up on its pulse for once, such is the mad rush to send packing everything which hinders or poses any challenges to the credo of technology and ‘globalization’.
I met Rajat Nayyar, a young filmmaker, in my office over nothing and ended up two hours later finishing a bottle of Shiraz. He is the founding member of ‘Espirito Kashi’, a media project working to preserve the cultural heritage of our country, mainly the folk tales and songs sung usually at the time of birth, death, or marriage in several communities by women. His short movie ‘Crossing a River, Losing a Self’ was released to much appreciation this month, and he has also panned and tilted his camera over many a rites of ‘vivah samskar’ and ‘mrityu samskar’, all in the ‘land of fire’ -the immortal Kashi, as he preferred to put it. “I feel the camera breathing with me. As I breathe, the camera breathes and thus I accomplish the task of transfer of empathy. The empathy should be transferred in your work”, said the filmmaker, who considers the documentarian Jean Rouche among the biggest influence on him. The Roucheian concept of ‘cine-trance’, too, hangs heavy on him, the concept which inspires the filmmaker to posses the process of filming and involving the participants intimately.
The Young India Fellow bumped into the world of documentary filmmaking quite by chance. Working at an NGO in Brazil he was assigned to shoot a short film, and while editing that film he realized that he had given birth to something seamlessly perfect. “I wanted to shoot films after that, so I came to Benaras. It struck me as an exceptional place and I didn’t wish to leave anytime soon.” Call it soppy spiritualism or anything on his part but you won’t see people talking likewise about an Ujjain or an Allahabad--There’s something about Kashi, one wonders. While subsisting frugally on his salary from Brazil, Nayyar got invitations from local people to shoot several ‘rites of passage’, and thus he cut his teeth by shooting the elaborate proceeding of the recently departed on the ‘ghats’ as well the newly married, through his poor point-and-shoot as he became grossly enchanted by the Indian mythology of the eternity and hereafter.
“I want to redefine preservation,” he says, “through the means of visual anthropology”. Nayyar, a management student, learned about the field only during his year long stint as Young India fellow, and was even warned by Andre Beteille, when he revealed his desire to shoot town women who sing folk songs during ceremonies for the purpose of preserving the practice, as “activism”. He is also disdained at the way we wish to preserve and promote our heritage. “Academic way of doing preservation is dry and uninteresting. No one is interested in seeing that. An academic paper is read by only 1-2 people on an average,” he says and champions the aesthetic filmmaking as the way forward. For the diminishing interest of the new generation in folk culture he blames, not quite squarely, the globalization. Since there’s a constant influx of deracinated people flocking to cities no one’s really interested in preserving things purely for aesthetic purpose, he explains. But his efforts have not been completely shot in the dark. He has collaborated with Prof. Devendra Kumar of Benaras Hindu University over a short documentary of Haryanvi women’s folk songs, named “Jakari: Life Songs of Haryanvi Women” which has now been accepted into the syllabus of one of the courses at Kurukshetra University, while his ‘Vivaha Samskara” has now been ensconced at the Munster University’s Musicology and Anthropology department, where it was first shown.
The worst casualty, as anyone would agree, in the supersonic speed with which we have blanketed the whole world is the local culture, and its peculiarities. ‘Uprooted-ness’ has become something to boast of, and any trace of local is seen as rustic and much to be frowned upon. At the outset it may not seem egregious but the lumping together of traditions is at work, quite subliminally, almost all the time. But the work being done by Nayyar for getting the unsung heroines of Indian folk tales their place under the sun is just as appreciable as it is singular. “Reason is a concentration camp,” he says, at one point during the interview, “our efforts should be directed more at ‘how’ than ‘why’ of things.” His next task is to test the form of ‘ethno-fiction’ to tell stories more eloquently and with an extended poetic license.
His work can be accessed at http://espiritokashi.wordpress.com/