What can you say about a critic whom you have admired as a young dancer, who has reviewed your work, and whom you have worked with. Through all of this, I got to know her as a writer, and eventually, the fine person that she was.
Shantaji was not only a part of the golden era of the classical arts, she monitored, analysed and wrote about it in great detail. Those were the times when the classical arts were really celebrated. She was in committees, deciding, writing, watching, and organising. In those days, dancers weren’t very communicative and did not have that skill. Now they do, and speak for themselves, but in those days, it was different. People like Shantaji played an important role in creating that synergy, of making the views and experiments heard. She wasn’t just a dance critic, she was so much more. There are so many dimensions of her that need to be celebrated. And celebrating her is celebrating the golden era of classical arts.
Those days were the glorious days of art in media, and one would look for her reviews and columns. We met almost every evening. I went to watch the concerts and she was always reviewing them. Now when you look back, you realise that she brought arts reviews centerstage. Today, there is a tendency to marginalise art critics and reviewers, but she put this kind of writing under the spotlight, and that contribution is huge because of her large canvas; she wrote on dance, music, books, and films. Her knowledge was immense.
She was one person who has tracked my entire career. She must have reviewed me in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s. I have grown reading her pieces and cherishing them. She always spotted talent. She had a knack for spotting the spark in people and goading them to pursue it further. She would talk to young dancers and discuss various ways of presenting a piece. With that level of knowledge base in place, we all heard. As young dancers, when my generation was trying to push the frontiers and see what’s possible, she was one voice who always supported experimentation. She would ask us to go ahead and think out of the box while presenting one’s artform. This, in the times when a lot of writers were talking of the purity of the arts. She supported my experimental works and it was refreshing to find a critic who valued innovation.
And how can I forget that grace. Grace isn’t a virtue anymore and one sees so much opportunism all around. But she reminded you of small courtesies. How to live your life with rasa. My husband Rajiv and I would often meet Serbjeet (well-known painter and Singh’s husband) and her, and we would laugh all the time. We would dissect recipes and do yoga. Serbjeet would make fun of her need to exercise at 4 am. He was ‘anti exercise’ and she was all about exercise.