The Secret History of Improvisation in World War II

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The Creativity Guru

I just came across a fascinating article*, published in 1948, describing the use of improvisation in personality assessment. Even more fascinating is that the lead author is the famous developmental psychologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner, who’s not really known for this type of research.  (He’s probably most famous for co-founding the U.S. Head Start program in the 1960s and 1970s.)

Bronfenbrenner starts the article by giving us the amazing history: During World War II, many American psychologists were drafted into the war effort. Working for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), they were asked to screen all of the “special ops” forces before they were chosen to go overseas. Bronfenbrenner describes some of the positions:

member of a research team working on the economic geography of the Orient, radio operator for a unit of the French Underground, propaganda writer for a radio station in the Pacific beaming programs to Japan, leader of a…

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2016 Ramkatha

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rehearsal kala academy

The tradition of Ramkatha, has been handed down from the time of Tulasi das, we never question many things.

The North Indian population of Goa, have their annual Ramkatha performance with the burning of Ravan’s effigy, the crowd is amazing, rains and all.

For the past 15yrs my students have been performing, from the blatant, Ramkatha’s, the Ramcharit Manas, to the Chopai and Dohe  we done it.

we have performed Ramkatha in Jazz, the Bhavayami Raghuramam of Swati thirunal they have all been performed.

This year it is another take.


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Angika abhinaya,

Anga are the parts of the body, and that which pertains to it, is Angika.

That which manifests the inner emotions such that it is visually perceivable is Angika abhinaya.

The body language often communicates more than words.

When we have to study angikaabhinaya we refer to Anga, pratyanga   and Upanga.

Anga—refers head, neck, chest, torso and waist.

Pratyanga – refers to neck, stomach, thighs, knees back and shoulders

Upanga — refers to eyes, brows, nose, lips, chin, cheek, teeth, tongue and shoulder.

Angikaabhinaya can also be classified as

Shaka—handmovements, hand gestures, and mudras

Ankura – of the yes, neck, face and head

Nrtta, just body movement

Dasarupaka a referral text on theatre, explicitly puts, nrtya as pantomime, and Nrtta as dancing to rhythm.

Despite emerging from the same root words, Nrtta would mean body movements, while natya is the drama component, so nrtya would be a drama presented through the medium of movement, dance and mime.

Physical expressions are beautiful forms of expression. It is paradoxical in existenaces as it involves structured learning and practise but when it comes to actual implementation there are lot of interpretations that come to play.

Natyashastra describes the detailing of movement. Most people find it rather confusing when every form of classical dancing claims Natyashastra as its progenitor. How is this feasible when each form is different from the other?

The logic runs Natyashastra is text that provides a definition, for want of better word I shall call it a formula called  Shuddha, and to these local flavours add in, say in Kerala the musical accompaniment and movements would be full grandiose as it needs to stand out in the structure of the vibrancy of nature and fury of sea. While in the Tibetan dances earth colours dominate, with cymbals and wind instruments to carry the sound over the mountains. These musical changes bring out subtle modification in movement creating what is called as the Margi. Finally we have absolute folk, that is constantly re-inventing itself and that is called as the bahuchari. This explanation by the scholar Dr,Chudamani Nandagopal of the Guwhati museum makes a lot of sense.

Though we have fallen to accept the  classification of the forms as Natyadharmi or the structured classical and Lokadharmi as the free flow folk.

In the context of a classical play we accost movement, in the form of Rangakramana or the usage of stage space. There is also the interpersonal spacing of the actors and finally the Angika abhinaya or expression through body movement.

The walk and stance of the actors are also prescribed to create the precise visual of the character presented.

The practise of this form calls for tremendous stamina and skill from a performer.

The guidance for this form of expression is largely drawn from texts like Natyashastra, Dasarupaka, abhinaya darpana, hastamuktavali, Bharatarnava, sahitya ratnakara, lasyaranjana, and others.

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ImageThe breeze felt warm and shadows came alive, it was as if each shadow had a story to tell.

Kathanika, had just finished reading the story of Nagamandala the much acclaimed play by Dr.Girish Karnad. The abstractness amused her .An untold story coming to life asking to be told.

“Well, the bird sings because it has a song”

“Says who”

“Mary Angelou”

Kathanika looked at the woman who invaded her privacy both in the physical world and somewhere in the realm of her thoughts.  And the answer Mary Angelo did not go with the woman in front of her, this woman was clad in hand-woven sari her long stresses caressing her she looked like she was from another era.

“And you are”

“What would you like to call me?”

“I don’t know what you are called.” The woman smiled “”okay you know me as Savitri”

“Haa! Sati Savitri,”

“If you choose to say so”

“Satyavaan Savitri”

“If you choose to say so, let’s talk about you before we talk about me”

My story wondered Kathanika, there was nothing much to her story, she was married off to  Manas because she was in love with him, now she wanted to divorce him because over the year she discovered that he was sick, a sick soul though he did love her the way his upbringing permitted him.

“Maybe you would disapprove of me”

“Why would I Kathanika, you don’t know my story”

“Yes I do you fought the God of death to bring your husband back to life.”

Savitri smiled, so that is the story, what were told after the story?

“I was told I should face hardships like you to save my marriage and husband.”

“Do you think I did right?”

“I don’t know Savitri right now I am at a place where my husband has a year at the maximum to live, I can donate my kidney and save him, but I don’t want to.  To tell you the truth I was planning to leave him before he fell sick.”

“This Kathanika is my sorrow every story teller has twisted me in his tale to so much that I am no more recognizable. Probably the story teller from Auroville came the closest to me and my persona, but he could not help making a Goddess out of me either.”

“I do not understand”

I did share my story with the sage of Auroville,

Kathanika, my story is very similar to yours, I was the daughter of Ashwapathy a King who brought me up with strong sense of right and wrong, he also taught me not to judge or preach but just be who I am and transform people.

When I fell in love with Sathyavaan, the Bard Narad warned my father that Sathyavan was not the right choice for he was saddled with a father who was blinded with ignorance and greed hence he was called Dhumatsaketu or the smoky one.  Sathyavaan himself was so activated by his father and his father’s thinking that he his self image, and sense of right and wrong or what we call as conscience was dying. The rate he was breaking he would hardly last a year before he breaks down completely.

What I did was to just be me, it took me almost a year to transform Dhumatsaketu, and it was a battle of wits and tact. With both the son and father. Then one day we had to go out to the forest and Sathyavan had reached his all time low. He was exhausted and collapsed.

Slowly and softly I asked him, what was that he wanted in his life, and talked of life instead of death, I spoke to him of the joy of living and sharing, a vision of future and hope how we could transform our lives as long as we wanted it. It took me almost the night but I could bring him back.

“So you did not argue with the Lord of Death”

“In a way I did, I spoke of living, to spoke to Sathyavan of the children we would have the kingdom we would reign with each of these he came back to the world of living.”

“Even Sri Aurobindo said you fought death”

“Yes, and you chose not to listen, I fought the act of giving up, I fought and dispelled that and not mortal death. It is about the conscience and right choice; it is about living and not existing.”

“So what is that you want from me now?”

“Kathanika, I do not want anything from you, but I want you to know when you say Savitri you are not talking about giving up you are not talking about sacrifice, you are talking choice.”


“I chose to marry Sathyavan, and when he was giving up on life I chose to bring him back, not for him, not for the tradition but for me, because I loved Sathyavan. I choose which war I wanted to fight the Lord of death, it was either the war to keep Sathyavan alive, or it would be a war to deal with my conscience. Letting Sathyavan go would be compromising or killing my conscience that was a battle I did not want to fight.”

…..”And there was Savitri who fought for her marriage.”Manas grandmother was sniffing declaring her displeasure about Kathanika not wanting to donate her kidney.

Kathanika smiled to herself, she knew what Savitri came to tell her, it was her choice, 

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Free Thoughts by Ranjit Singh

When we were small boys, every year ten days before the festival Dussehra, our mother would choose a small area on one of the mud walls and make a crude image of a woman, stars and moon and bullocks with the cow dung. We lived in the village. Almost everyone has some land on which agriculture was done. Also there were plenty of animals like cows and buffaloes. Houses were made of mud and walls and floors were plastered with wet cow dung. We did not understand all this and thought this as some folk art. It was called Sanjhi. Now this ritual has almost vanished like many other rituals which were observed in the rural parts of the country. The images slightly resembled the Warli art. Both were drawn almost in the straight lines meeting to form triangles and squares.


The image is called Sanjhi and established…

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Purva ranga is the prelude to every performance.
The chapters 2,3 and 5 of natyashastra refer to purva ranga.
It begins onstage with curtains closed the musical instruments are arranged. The steps are as follows:
Ritual Procedure Dedication
Pratyahara The opening Nagas and rakshasas
Avatarna Singers follow Apsaras
Arambha The vocal musical exercise Gandhara
Asravana Tuning of instruments Dhanava
Vaktrapani The performing technique Dhanava
Parighattana The setting of strined instruments Rakshasas
Samoghatana Setting of rhythm Guhyakas
Margasarita Blending of string instruments with drums Yaksha
Asarita Rhythms are set
Gitividhi Honor of the gods.

This proves that it is not just a sacral procedure. It is an unique form of worship. Once the curtain is raised we have
Ritual dedication
Madraka or vardhamanaka With an accompanying dance is the song and dance praising rudra.
Uttapana Sings in the praise of jarjara the weapon of indra.
Parivartana Is in the praise of Lokapalas
Nandi To the Brahmins and kings
Suskaprakrsta Jarjara and pitru
Rangadwara Vishnu
Cari Uma
Mahacari Rudra
Trigata Conversation between the sutradara and his assistants
Prarocana Is the hint of the drama.

Moolata brahma rupaya Madhyatho Vishnu toopena
Agratha siva roopaya vrksha raajayathe namah.

The tree is analgous to the Arbour Mundi.
• Brahma on the top
• Shankara in the second.
• Vishnu in the branches
• Skanda in the 4th
• Nagas in the 5th – which is the base.
• Sanskrit drama in performance
• Drama and rituals of early Hinduism

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