Remembering Sitara Devi's communal utterances in Delhi's smog


Smog is back in New Delhi. And back with a vengeance! It’s difficult to describe the conditions we are surviving in. There’s that perpetual layer of dust and together with that a strange mix of fumes and fog and heaviness in the atmosphere. Eyes are burning, if not watering. Nose and throat somewhat choked. The lungs over-worked as breathing gets difficult…can’t describe the slogging the heart is undertaking!

Is this the capital city of a modern state or some sort of a gas chamber? The very basic survival gets difficult as a majority of us are either coughing or sneezing or wheezing. And at this juncture its difficult to say how long this spell will last or for that matter how long we’ll last!

Why don’t the political rulers of the day throw aside the air purifiers fitted in their bedrooms and rest rooms and office rooms, and then see how we, the masses, are living in this smog-ridden capital city and suburbs. In fact, this brings me to write that I would prefer the old emperors’ strategy of killing people at one go and not like today’s rulers who seem determined to kill us slowly yet steadily. Dying that we are, day after day.

It wouldn’t be wrong to describe this prevailing situation as a medical emergency which requires an immediate halt. Several remedies should be brought into force: The odd–even formula should be re-introduced, not just for weeks but for months, if not for years. Metro fares must be brought down to the lowest possible. Air conditioners banned, together with diesel vehicles and the connected stuff. Garbage dumps and dusty roads be sprinkled with water…If the municipalities cry ‘no staff’ for this level of watering, I would go to the extent of saying that release (temporarily if not permanently) the hundreds and thousands of under-trials from prisons and let them be a part and parcel of cleansing this city from all possible pollutants of the day!

SITARA DEVI …her kathaking and communal utterances!

Courtesy: Indian Express
Courtesy: Indian Express

As I happen to file this column on November 8, which also happens to be Kathak dancer Sitara Devi’s birthday, so let me write details of my meeting with her.

I had met her in 1999. Just once. In fact, that one meeting with her was more than enough! Yes, enough to relay that she was un-artistic, narrow-minded and communal in her views …She had bragged non-stop about herself, about the relationships she’d had, about those yesteryears spent in Benaras, about her ‘kathaking’, and of her political slants and ambitions.

It was an informal dance mehfil-get-together at a writer’s home in New Delhi, where Khushwant Singh was invited as the guest of honour. And it was to be an evening where the 79 year old Sitara Devi (born in 1920, she was 79 in 1999 ) was to dance. And though she did dance that evening, but quite obviously age seemed catching up. Not just her body which showed ample signs of ageing but there was a hardened look on her face and in her eyes, and the make-up was gaudy and overdone. There was an obvious lack of any of those graceful dance movements, as a certain heaviness had overtaken…In fact, she seemed no match for the other two dancers who also danced that evening - Yamini Krishnamoorthy and Uma Sharma.

Over with the dance, she was over-enthusiastic to air her views during the course of a full-fledged interview. As I sat interviewing her, her answers left me shaken. In fact, her answers, the choice of words she’d used, her views and viewpoints left me staring at her in a pained sort of way. I couldn’t have ever imagined that Sitara Devi could sing praises of the communal forces and laud the activities of a particular Right-Wing brigade —“Kyon nahin? Woh log hamei musalmanon se bachaate hain!” (Why not? They protect us from the Muslims!). She had also stressed rather too aggressively that in Mumbai only and only Marathas should live. She was emphatic that no artist from Pakistan should be allowed to perform here in India. She had justified the pulling down of the film ‘Fire’ and had also justified the attack on Dilip Kumar’s house.

And when there were frowns around, she continued coming up with another set of those blatantly communal views till a couple of guests quipped rather too aloud, “Tonight we will not be able to sleep is so disturbing to hear all this and that too from the mouth of such an acclaimed artiste.”

And later that evening, as Khushwant Singh and I sat discussing Sitara Devi’s obnoxiously-cum-dangerously communally charged views, Khushwant told me rather categorically, “I am now determined to keep away from all those characters who are communal and corrupt. I don’t give a damn who they are but if they are either communal or corrupt or both then I will just not meet them or talk to them… such characters are dangerous for the country, for the very society. I can’t talk to a communal element.”

And after that interview, Sitara Devi had tried to meet me again, presumably for another interview. But it was an absolute NO from me. In fact, I did make it a point to tell her in no subtle terms that her views were communal and crude. Also, she was moving far away from the purity of the classical dance, inching towards hard core, communal politics. Perhaps, she was readying to fight elections on a Right Wing party ticket!

Also, if you can recall the manner in which Sitara Devi had turned down the Padma Bhushan in 2002, whilst simultaneously ordering (well, almost) a Bharat Ratna for herself, had relayed volumes of her conduct, of her very attitude. Mind you, she wasn’t even subtle about it, rather blatantly loud.

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