Steel magnolia

Steel magnolia

Kuchipudi exponent Shallu Jindal is prepared to throw open the doors of the Jindal Arts Institute, which will be a centre for all kinds of performing arts. In conversation with Saimi Sattar she elaborates on why classical arts are important for children, her plans to set up a leadership academy and her multi-faceted approach

The space is huge and there are workers all over the place giving last minute touches to the sprawling building of Jindal Art Institute (JAI). Ushered into a room on the first floor, the place has a vibe, which despite the continuous work on the ground floor, is calming. A dream project of Shallu Jindal, Kuchipudi dancer and wife of Naveen Jindal, industrialist and former Member of Parliament from Kurukshetra, it is set to be a multi-disciplinary centre for performing arts which will be inaugurated today. Sessions will start from August 13.

Shallu has a vision that certainly belies her petite frame. Dressed in a simple red and mustard salwar kameez, she settles down in her office to elaborate  upon the way she intends to utilise the space. She says, “I am a classical dancer myself so it has always been a dream to open an institute which nurtures a multiplicity of art forms. There are a lot of dance schools in Delhi but they specialise in only one art form. Raja and Radha Reddy’s Natyataringini, where I learnt Kuchipudi, is primarily intended for  excellence in one genre. So I always wanted a space where everyone —  children and adults — can come and choose from a variety of disciplines. A Kuchipudi dancer might also want to learn lyrical contemporary or Kathak, for instance. And that is the kind of fluid format that I wanted.”

Shallu herself is a purist, so when she performs, she follows the principles of Natya Shastra and whatever is allowed within it. “Now young children want to fuse genres as they want the freedom to express. I don’t mind it being done within the genre of classicism. Like you can’t have Kuchipudi and hip hop but maybe with Flamenco, as its base is classical. Similarly Kathak can be fused with tap dance. And that is where the varied faculty of the institute can come  into play.”

Besides the physical structure, a faculty too has been put in place. So Mohiniattam will be taught by Jayaprada Menon, Odissi by Kavita Dwivedi,  Kathakali by Nagajyoti, lyrical contemporary by Sadhya Santosh Nair and Kathak by Vidha Lal’s main disciple, Ira Dogra. “Vidha Lal ji has also promised to come and take classes whenever possible as she travels a lot.” The institute will incorporate classes for yoga and zumba as well.

Sessions will be conducted during early mornings, afternoons and  evenings as well as the entire day over weekends to suit each individual’s varied schedules.

One of the reasons that Shallu is inspiring widespread participation is because as chairperson of National Bal Bhavan, she has seen the transformative power of an amazing array of arts and crafts  workshops on children from underprivileged backgrounds. “Contrary to perception, these children are interested in pursuing classical singing, dancing and take to instruments easily  as opposed to children from the city’s public schools. Somehow they seem connected to their traditional roots,” she tells us.

Interestingly, Shallu started her journey as a Kathak dancer and graduated in the subject from the Punjab University.  She went abroad for further studies and returned to get married in a very traditional family and never thought that she would pursue dance. “I got  busy with my husband and was visiting his steel plants. My children Venkatesh and then Yashasvini were born,” she says. But fate had other plans and intervened. When her son was six and daughter three, Shallu went on a visit to Tirupati, in whom she has a lot of faith, and met Kuchipudi guru Raja and Radha Reddy as well as Kaushalya.  “I recognised him and went up to talk to him. I told him that I am a Kathak dancer and it was  a privilege to meet him,” she recalls. They exchanged  numbers before leaving. “I got a call after a month and it was guruji on the line. He asked, ‘tum meri shishya kab ban rahi ho?’ I told him that I would meet him.”

She started learning Kuchipudi initially to keep fit. Encouraged by her guru, she started getting offers  to perform in festivals and private events. “We are  just a medium. God had meant me to be a Kuchipudi dancer,” she adds.

Despite the traditional set-up in her in-laws’ place, her husband had no qualms about letting her perform. “Now my in-laws are enamoured by the fact that I am a classical dancer as many people come to them and say that I am preserving an ancient art form. This has earned respect for me in the family.”

Shallu feels that learning a classical dance, singing or picking up an instrument is essential for children for several reasons. “You learn patience, commitment, focus, resilience and more. These values eventually become your character.”

The values have clearly held her in good stead as she has done a lot of varied activities, including climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. “Your oxygen level has to be  really high when you climb a mountain and my dance training ensured that.” And there is a reason why she believes that the opportunity was made available to her. “I totally surrender to the will of God. I give everything my best shot and leave the rest to karma.” She had always wanted to climb a mountain and  when approached by a group of friends based out of Mumbai who were planning the ascent in  aid of cancer, she agreed. “They were getting people from different fields of life and wanted a dancer.  Film maker Kabir Khan, VJ and anchor Maria Goretti too were part of the group,” she says.

Shallu trained extensively for three months where she jogged three-four rounds in Lodhi Garden and climbed six storeys of stairs six times (that is a mind-boggling 36 storeys every day) at the Rajasthan Bhawan opposite her house on Prithviraj Road. Her efforts paid off and she did summit.

Shallu is a woman of many shades. She has authored two books. She loves children and the book called India: An Alphabet Ride is for parents to explain what the country is all about.

Another is a pocket-sized book of quotes by philosophers, speeches, poetry, which signify India and are important to her. The book called Freedom has a small tricolour as a bookmark as she feels the flag is a unifying factor for everybody. 

This naturally brings us to her husband’s initiative, the Flag Foundation of India. “My husband struggled and fought a case for 10 years for Indian citizens to get the right to fly the Indian flag,” she says. After winning the case, the foundation was putting up flags everywhere but initially Shallu never gave it much importance. “This was despite the fact that many people told us that we feel so good when we see the flag in the morning. But when the Connaught Place flag came up, it changed my point of view. I have gone there at 10 pm during a full moon and seen people sitting there and taking selfies with it or reading about the flag. I realised that they must feel some kind of secular pride in the flag which signifies so many different things.”

Shallu refuses to sit back and rest on her laurels. “Personally I want to keep on doing more things. We are in the process of setting up a leadership academy for girls in Sonepat where the OP Jindal Open University is located. Set up on the lines of Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, it would bring out the leader in every woman. And who knows, we could have the next Supreme Court Chief Justice from here,” says the woman of substance with a laugh. Amen to that.



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