Kathak: The joy of flight

Published: October 26, 2011
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Internationally recognised kathak dancer Nahid Siddiqui has won numerous accolades in Pakistan and world over. PHOTOS: FILE

Internationally recognised kathak dancer Nahid Siddiqui has won numerous accolades in Pakistan and world over. PHOTOS: FILE

Internationally recognised kathak dancer Nahid Siddiqui has won numerous accolades in Pakistan and world over. PHOTOS: FILE Internationally recognised kathak dancer Nahid Siddiqui has won numerous accolades in Pakistan and world over. PHOTOS: FILE
KARACHI: 

One of the finest kathak dancers and choreographers, Nahid Siddiqui is recognised internationally and has received numerous accolades including Pakistan’s highest artistic merit, Pride of Performance (1994), Time Out Award (1991), The Digital Award, British Cultural Award and International Dance Award, among others.

The Express Tribune sat down with her for a chat whereby the celebrated dancer shared details about her artistic background, promoting the art scene of Pakistan and planning to open a dance school in the country.

What is classical dance for you?

The word ‘classical’ needs to be broken down and defined properly. Everything in performing arts started from folk, for instance, those who trace their origins from Orissa, India, can dance to the Odissi tune. Kathak, on the other hand, is about grammar, vocabulary and style. Once you embrace it, it becomes a part of you. It’s like a circle and you keep evolving within it.

For me, classical dance is something divine as I enter into another world when I perform. I don’t just dance, I feel dance and treat it as an act of devotion.

How open is our society to classical dance as compared to the 1970s?

I believe until there is a criterion of incorporating classical dance in school curriculums, there will be no acceptance of dance in society. Unfortunately, after partition, dance — as part of subcontinental culture — was conveniently disinherited. My mentor once said, “Only fine arts can give fine brains.” It’s quite sad that the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) is not promoting arts and culture.

How was it living in exile and coming to terms with the fact that you can’t perform in your country anymore?

I was banned and blacklisted in 1979 and was forced to fly to England but I carved a niche for myself there and in other European countries as well.

However, after returning to Pakistan in 1984, I performed every year from then onwards. Dancing is like breathing to me. No one can take that away. I remember, once famous poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz saw my performance and told me to be a reformer and play a part in changing the system. That advice has stayed with me and, hence, I carried on with it.

Given the current state of the country, do you think there can be a revival of dance in Pakistan?

How does one expect arts to flourish in a society plagued by poverty? However, I
believe that hope and struggle to revive it should never die.

Would having an academic curriculum on classical dance revive the dying art in Pakistan? 

Yes, definitely. It’s done all over the world. When people learn and impart this knowledge, I think it will save classical dance from a gradual death. I plan on opening up a dance school in Pakistan, but currently I’m looking for supporters. I believe Karachi can be a turning point as it’s a cosmopolitan city and appreciates culture more.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2011. 

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Reader Comments (16)

  • Ali
    Oct 26, 2011 - 9:14PM

    Well done Nahid Ji, we are ALL so proud of you. InshAllah your dream of a dance school will come true, i will definately support it. God bless and protect you – Ameen.

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  • Rajendra Kalkhande
    Oct 27, 2011 - 1:13AM

    “Unfortunately, after partition, dance — as part of subcontinental culture — was conveniently disinherited”

    After reading above statement I ask the people like Mr Orya Maqbool Jaans of Pakistan, if Muslims gave all classical music and dance to India then how come its disappearing from Pakistan? In India we have all forms of dance and music flourishing everywhere. Almost all girls learn classical dance. Bollywood dance music has even been adopted by fitness clubs in western countries. Its irony that Peshawar and Lahore gave bulk of artists to Indian film industry and now Pakistan is struggling to save her own film industry. Let us face it, one needs just fistful of soil to germinate a seed, but much more ground to develop into a tree. Pakistani artists will always need Indian mass if they wish to grow.

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  • SM
    Oct 27, 2011 - 2:06AM

    Dear Naheed, The dance school is a good idea. Pakistan is struggling for its identity and many of its problems are rooted in it. If Pakistan embraces its past i.e. it is a country of Indian Muslims, the societal acceptance of militancy can be resolved slowly. If you are really serious about it funds can be arranged domestically and from abroad.

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  • G. Din
    Oct 27, 2011 - 2:29AM

    “How does one expect arts to flourish in a society plagued by poverty? “
    What has acquiring knowledge and excelling in art to do with the economic status of an individual? Which arts do the Sauds excell in, with all their oil wealth? None! In fact lack of resources may spur such efforts.
    I greet you, however, for your interest in kathak belonging as you do to a religion which, in no uncertain terms, sneers at all art except calligraphy!

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  • nahid siddiqui
    Oct 27, 2011 - 8:01AM

    @G. Din:
    i did not only talk about poverty in the sence of money or material, i feel that nations devoid of culture are really poor as the richness of a nation is recognised by its culture, ADB ADAAB.

    nahid siddiqui

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  • Oct 27, 2011 - 8:16AM

    Whoa! This news made me fall from my Chair.

    Many reactions come to mind.
    1) Once again got to admire India which has not one but several fine arts related to dance- Khatak, Bharatnatyam, being the most popular ones.
    2) Wonder how this art has travelled and survived so many hostilities of partition and intolerance from the Pakistani side.
    3) Disgust at how she was driven out of the Country for the crime of being a master at something so Indian.
    4) Admiration of how she chose to come back to Pakistan in spite of all the challenges to her security.
    5) Pity that Pakistanis reject their Indian heritage so much to actually drive her out of the Country.
    6) Glad that I will NEVER be driven out of India for singing Sufi Music or learning Pakistani arts(Not that there are many that India doesn’t have already)

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  • rehmat
    Oct 27, 2011 - 10:49AM

    “Given the current state of the country, do you think there can be a revival of dance in Pakistan?
    How does one expect arts to flourish in a society plagued by poverty? However, I
    believe that hope and struggle to revive it should never die”

    First of all deep respect to the author for her effort to keep this art form alive in Pakistan. I do not however believe that poverty prevents people from learning arts. In India where people are as poor as Pakistan it is common – particularly in south India for girls to either learn classical music or classical dance. The classical music artistes also have a lot of respect in society and enough of audience to live life in great comfort if not outright luxury.

    I hope the days return to your country as well where fine arts are valued not just by a few elite but by awaam.

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  • goggi
    Oct 27, 2011 - 1:49PM

    I have great respect and love for Nahid Siddiqui Sahiba. She is a very talented and charismatic artist.

    Material poverty is not a stigma and Pakistan might somehow come out of it with hard work. But mental and intellectual destitution, deep hatred, repulsion and disgust for our millennium old cultural roots, is the worst crime a nation can impose on itself.

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  • Timm
    Oct 27, 2011 - 9:49PM

    i love that

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  • Oct 29, 2011 - 3:54PM

    @Ali:

    Thanks a lot for your good wishes.
    I need them always.

    nahid siddiqui
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  • Oct 29, 2011 - 4:03PM

    @Rajendra Kalkhande:

    Dear Rajendra

    An art and the artist of the heritage which belongs to both india and pakistan,
    should never be seen as a threat to each other.
    In fact, i want to spend my time in both the countries to spread the message of peace and harmony, which can only be possible through our arts.................
    Arts has ...no boundaries....no language......no barriers.
    I wish we became more accepting and loving towards each other and soon be able
    to cross borders without hesitation to enhance each other's souls.

    nahid siddiqui
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  • Oct 29, 2011 - 4:06PM

    @SM:

    Iam glad to hear that funds can be arranged?
    I know that pakistan is not stable at the moment,
    but then where do i go?
    I need help in this serious venture and support of friends like you.

    regards nahid siddiqui
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  • Atiya
    Oct 29, 2011 - 4:11PM

    Great to read the interest Nahid’ji’s article has generated – we need more responses though from within Pakistan. Let us all play whatever part we can in making the dream of a well resourced Kathak school come true for Pakistan. Nahid ji’s work has inspired so many dancers, many of whom are leading the artform in the UK, both in the classical world and those who have moved to the contemporary work. It would be a tragedy if her approach to kathak was not grounded and taught to future generations.

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  • Oct 29, 2011 - 4:21PM

    @BruteForce:
    Dear Brute

    Ignorance about something stems out of lack of knowledge.
    I do understand what our journey has been after the partition.........

    1,non acceptance of each other’s existance
    2,arts like ”KATHAK” have never been part of our education system,
    so people do not realise either the immportance of this factor,or
    the necessaty.
    they are confused badly about thier social identity.
    3, I always say that ” WE ARE THE CHILDREN OF A BROKEN HOME”
    yearning to be with each other but our parents divorced each other.
    4, Beauty does not only belong to a certain part of the world…..its to be
    shared by all.

    nahid siddiqui
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  • Oct 29, 2011 - 4:43PM

    @goggi:

    My Dear Gogi

    I agree with you.
    The new identity that we are trying to own is obviously
    the rejection of our past................
    SAD.

    nahid siddiqui
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  • Oct 30, 2011 - 4:49PM

    @nahid siddiqui:

    I wish you well. Do spread the Sub-Continent’s culture all over the World. Best of luck.

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