The SAARC gala is over and the heads of states (barring the General who gave the summit the slip) are safely back where they belong. With the heads of states came the usual entourage—spouses who tippy-toed out in between official meetings, receptions and discussions to shop for handicrafts and, of course, the dancers and musicians who danced and sang and drummed and whirled past us as part of the SAARC pageantry. As performers from Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India posed together in a giant shimmering tableau of brotherhood and sharing, the visiting dignitaries and hosts applauded politely. And that perhaps, ladies and gentlemen, would be the only official acknowledgement of the rich tradition of performing arts that each of the SAARC nations could have nurtured and shared with its neighbours.
I realize that life isn’t just about a song and a dance, but I find it strange that in all the discussions about trade and tourism and direct flights linking nations, no one thought of discussing, with any serious intent, the role that the music, dance and arts of these countries could play in bringing together the people of the SAARC nations. Why isn’t anyone thinking beyond the choreographed pageantry that kicked off the 14th summit? The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India declared in his inaugural address: “India is announcing a unilateral liberalization of visas, for students, teachers, professors, journalists and patients from SAARC.” If the good Mr Singh forgot to add artistes and performers in the list of persons qualifying for relaxed visa rules, I would take it to mean that either he doesn’t believe that regional cooperation in South Asia need extend to the arts, or that the arts in South Asia need not be considered seriously at all. It’s probably okay for everyone to have a few song and dance sequences to bring a bit of entertainment and pageantry into the sombre goings on at the summit, but beyond that the arts could well be dumped on the side.
Fusion music is becoming increasingly popular across the world. But for some reason, it is always seen as an experiment between the East and the West. Why don’t we think of fusion between the music of South Asian countries? For instance, the drumming traditions of this area are highly evolved and almost mystical. How about fusing the pung cholom of Manipur with the powerful drums of Sri Lanka? It could take the West by storm. I saw a fleeting glimpse of how South Asian cultures could be fused at the SAARC show but there is no detailed dialogue beyond the pageantry.
So I guess while the SAARC bigwigs discuss matters of great weight, perhaps some of us who believe in the arts and love the great music and dance forms of these nations could think of setting up a guerrilla operation called SAACC—South Asian Association for Cultural Cooperation. Takers, anyone?
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