The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Feet first in a life of rhythm

Manjulika Roy Choudhury

Her students are elated, her peers excited. A Notation System for Indian Dance, the book Manjulika Roy Choudhury has written and released last week, promises to be a reliable guide for all learners of Indian classical dance. For the kathak expert, the book is a labour of love and an effort spanning two decades.

At age 76, Roy Choudhury comes across as uncommonly active and vivacious — balancing research work, kathak classes and hearth. She can’t remember when she was initiated into dance. “It has been a long time… I was probably around six then,” she reminisces. At a time when dance was not something that middle-class Bengali families encouraged their daughters to learn, Roy Choudhury’s talent was nurtured by her parents. “They faced a lot of flak for this but they have always stood by me,” she recalls fondly.

Having finished her BA from Scottish Church College, Roy Choudhury joined Calcutta University for her masters in Bengali. She trained in kathak under Ustad Jhande Khan and later picked up Bharatanatyam and Manipuri.

While developing her individual style, Roy Choudhury started experimenting with choreography. Invitations to perform at music conferences across the country started pouring in, too. “In 1945, I staged Bandini Bharat, a solo performance with a strong patriotic flavour, at the Allahabad music conference. The audience gave me a standing ovation. But it was pre-Independent India then and I was banned from performing the piece at the Benaras music conference,” says the first Ph.D-holder from RBU’s dance department. She has travelled to Java, Bali and Myanmar on dance assignments.

A brief sabbatical followed her marriage during the strife-torn Independence days, but Roy Chowdhury soon got back on track, choreographing for schools and colleges. A decade later, she joined RBU’s dance faculty, where she served for 32 years. Roy Choudhury has also been on the panel of interviewers for Calcutta Doordarshan, Visva-Bharati and the UGC.

“It was during my tenure at RBU that I started toying with the idea to write a book on dance notations. The girls often used to forget the steps and would ask me to repeat them. I felt that they would benefit if they had some sort of a guide to fall back on,” says Roy Choudhury, who started work on the project in the early 80s.

Now, at her Lake Town residence, the kathak expert is engrossed in compiling a Bengali encyclopaedia on Indian classical dance. And hand in hand goes her classes at Sur O Chhanda, the oranisation she has been running for nearly 10 years.

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