Friday, December 23, 2011

Myrta Barvie, Argentine icon of Indian dances

Myrta Barvie believes in Karma. When I asked her what inspired her to the world of Indian classical dances, she took a deep breath and looked at me serenely- like the Gurus do when their disciples ask philosophical questions- and said, ¨ It is the Indian Karma. I was seventeen years old when I was introduced to the legendary Rukmini Devi who visited Argentina on a theosophical mission. I was inspired by her. I realised instantly that India was my Karma. I was so thrilled when Rukmini Devi offered me a scholarship to study in Kalakshetra. I jumped up at the offer and was on the next flight to Chennai. Oh how the time has passed.. It is fifty years¨
Myrta Barvie has dedicated five decades of her life to Indian dances and has become an icon. She has had an illustrious career as a dancer, teacher, choreographer and writer.
Here is Myrta compering the dance programmes at the IV Festival of India in Buenos Aires on 5 December 2011.
Myrta has not only mastered Indian dances but has also become an Indian in spirit and personal life. She says she had two dreams; first to become a dancer and second to know India, the land of ancient culture and spiritual wisdom. She is happy that both her dreams have come true together. She starts her book on Indian dances saying, ¨My relationship with India has always been special. My long stay in India had been beautiful, interesting and profound¨. She has learnt Sanskrit and has read the works of Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramana Maharishi and Yogananda, among others. She is a vegetarian and avoids alcohol. She leads a disciplined Indian life in Buenos Aires, the city of distractions. And she has been successful in enforcing with an iron hand a strict discipline on her young Argentine students too. She is very particular about maintaining the purity and sanctity of the traditions of the classical dances of India.
Myrta with her disciples, who tremble in her presence...
Myrta started learning ballet at the age of eight and became a professional dancer in the ballet group of the prestigious Colon Theater of Argentina. She trained in Bharatnatyam in Kalakshetra and did her Arangetram there. Later she learnt Odissi from Guru Keluchara Mohapatra and got a Nritya Visharad degree from Kala Vikash Kendra in Orissa. She went on to learn Kuchipudi at the Kuchipudi Art Academy in Chennai, from Master Vempati Chinnasatyam.
Myrta with Rukmini Devi in Kalakshetra

Myrta has performed Indian classical dances in Argentina and other countries of Latin America as well as in Europe, Asia, Middle East and USA. In India, she has performed, among other places, in the palace of Maharaja of Baroda and in the Rashtrapati Bhavan where she was received by Presidents Radhakrishnan, Zakir Hussain and Zail Singh ( photo below)
Besides introducing and popularising Indian classical dances in Argentina, Myrta has instituitionalised Indian dance tradition by training others. Her disciples Natalia, Silvia, Indira and Leonara have become teachers and established their own schools. They are also devoted and committed to Indian dances, culture and spirituality. There are over thirty Argentines learning Indian classical dances in Buenos Aires. Every month, there is atleast one programme in the city.
Myrta has written a book on Indian classical dances, in spanish language, published by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) in 1996. This is a kind of text book on Indian dances for spanish language speakers. In this, she has covered all the classical Indian dances with details of technical and aesthetic aspects.
Here is the cover of the book with her picture.
Myrta is visiting India, at the invitation of ICCR, to update her book with more research and information. She will be in Chennai for one month from 27 December and in New Delhi for the next two months. While leaving for India, she told me she was ¨going home¨. She was nostalgic about the aroma of jasmine flowers and south Indian filter coffee, the sound of sanskrit mantras and the sight of the big banyan tree of Adyar.
I got carried away in the long conversation with Myrta and made a faux pas when I commented, ¨ Sixty years of dance.. still look young..¨ She gave me a look.. like Durga..For a moment I thought I was going to be burnt and vapourised. But she regained her composure quickly and said with a disarming and charming smile ¨ yes you are right. The long and regular practice of dance has kept me fit and young¨. It reminded me of the reply of an Argentine friend when I asked him the reason for the crisis in Argentina from time to time. He said, ¨ In Argentina, the women do not admit their age and the men do not act their age¨.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

IV Festival of India in Buenos Aires 3 – 13 December 2011

Encouraged by the success of the three previous festivals in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and in response to the popular Argentine request for ¨Once More¨, the Embassy organised this Fourth Festival on a larger scale this year.

Handicrafts Exhibition

Forty Indian companies participated in the Exhibition, organized by the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH). The Exhibition was held at the Borges Cultural Centre, the prestigious venue at the heart of the Buenos Aires city. The Borges Centre looked like Chandni Chowk with thousands of Argentines shopping, trying out the Indian ethnic dress and accessories bargaining with the Indian exporters

Live Demonstration of Handicrafts

Eight artisans from India did live demonstration of handicrafts making in the Borges Centre with works such as textile and glass painting, wood, metal and stone crafts. There was even an Indian astrologer who was using a laptop for predictions.

Tagore´s 150th Birth Anniversary Celebration on 10 December ( separate blog on this)

Rabindra Sangeet

The 4-member Rabindra Sangeet Group led by Ms. Sreyashi Mitra gave concerts at the Borges Centre as well as in other venues.

Bharatnatyam, Odissi and Kuchipudi dances

These dances were performed by Argentines.The performances were held in Borges Centre and other venues.

Open Air Cultural Programme on Sunday 4 December

In collaboration with the City Government of Buenos Aires, an open-air performance of Indian classical dances was held at the historic ´Avenida de Mayo´ (Avenue of May). The traffic at the Avenue was closed and an audience of several thousand attended the event.

The famous Argentine Yoga pop music group ¨Yoga Rave¨ gave a concert.One can see below the Argentines swaying to the music of Yoga Rave.

Open Air Yoga Show on Sunday 4 December at Palermo

A Yoga show was organized with a large group of five hundred at the Planetorium Park at 11 a.m. This was done in collaboration with the various Argentine Yoga Schools and the city government.

Bollywood Dance

This stole the show wherever it was held. This was performed by professional Argentine groups. Manisha Chouhan, one of the teachers is dancing in the picture below..

Manipuri Dance

The Manipuri dance group of Priti Patel performed at the Borges Centre as well as in other venues.


Seminars on Indian culture, literature, Ayurveda and spiritualism were organized in the Borges Centre auditorium during the Festival period. The speakers were all Argentines.

Film Festival

Indian films with Spanish sub-titles was shown everyday during the Festival period in one of the auditoriums of the Borges Centre.

Food Festival

This was organized at the Hotel Sheraton, Buenos Aires. The Ministry of Tourism of India sent two Chefs.

Photo exhibition

Photos on India by five Argentine photographers were exhibited at the Recoleta Cultural Centre.

Golf Tournament on 12 December

There is a separate blog on this.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Copa de la India Golf Tournament in Buenos Aires

This was the Fourth India Cup Golf tournament I had organised (12 December) in Buenos Aires at the prestigious Jockey Club which has two 18-hole courses: Red (Colorada) and Blue (Azul). We played in 9 holes of Red and nine holes of Blue. The Colorada is one of the top five golf courses in the country. The 2010 Argentine Open was held here. It was designed by Alistair Mackenzie, the same golf architect who designed Augusta National of USA, where the Masters is played.

The Golf Tournament was part of the IV Festival of India ( 3-13 December) which concluded yesterday. The India Festival has become a Brand in Buenos Aires. The Borges Cultural Centre where we had the handicrafts exihibition and sale by 40 Indian companies looked like Chandni Chowk of Delhi, with thousands of people bargaining with the smart Indian exporters who quoted prices ...looking at the eager eyes of the Argentines.

The winners were given hand-made trophies made in India by the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts( EPCH). The raffle winners loved the Bronze statues of Ganesh and Nataraja gifted by EPCH.

There were 30 items which were raffled including Dinner coupons at the Indian restaurants, Indian handicrafts and most importantly two return airtickets to India by Qatar Airways. Four more tickets of Qatar were raffled at the India- Latin America seminar and at the Festival Gala on 5 December.

In the cocktail, we served the Chateau Hana wine made by Aziz Abdul ( my blog on him and Biriyani and Indian snacks from Tandoor restaurant. Mahindra Tractors were prominently displayed (among other Indian products) to catch the attention of the club members some of whom own many thousands of hectares of farms. Godrej, which has bought two Argentine companies distributed cosmetic bags with sunscreen lotion and other products. Economic Diplomacy....

The players were wearing proudly the Incredible India caps made (in style) by the India Tourist Office in NewYork.

In my speech, I could not resist the practice of my usual Latino jokes..
There are three kinds of players of golf and sex..
amateurs play 3 times..a week
professionals play 7 times..a week
married guys play 12 times...a year

This is my last Copa de la India in Buenos Aires. The memories of my golf in 65 courses in Argentina and the moments I shared with the Argentine amigos on the fairways and the 19th hole will stay forever. Argentina is the best country for golf in Latin America. Besides having the largest number of golf courses ( about 300) there is an eco system in Argentina which makes the golf experience unique. Firstly there are a number of internationally successful professionals to inspire and lots of low handicap amateurs to compete with. Secondly, the quality of golf courses and the clubs are excellent and elegant. Within 70 km of Buenos Aires there are around 100 golf courses many of which are part of country clubs where the amigos have weekend homes. Thirdly, there are a number of golf companies which organise tournaments throughout the year. The Tuesday edition of La Nacion and Buenos Aires Herald publish a Golf Agenda with the list of tournaments for each week. I have a number of enthusiastic Argentine amigos who are ready to play on any day of the week ending with ¨Y¨.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

celebration of 150th anniversary of Tagore in Buenos Aires

Tagore would have been immensely pleased with the way he was remembered in Buenos Aires on 10 December. There was Rabindra Sangeet by Sreyashi Mishra from Kolkatta, talk on Tagore- Victoria Ocampo by Axel Maimone, the Argentine scholar and recitation of Gitanjali poems by Gustavo of Hastinapur Foundation, Argentina. The setting for the celebration was perfect. It was in the garden of Vila Ocampo, the historic residence of Victoria Ocampo, where Tagore had met her and stayed as her guest for two months in 1924. The magnificent mansion with its beautiful garden, majestic trees and exotic flowers was shining in the golden rays of the evening sun. Even the the birds and insects in the garden joined in the celebration with their excited chirpings and singing.

Gustavo reciting Gitanjali...

In my speech I quoted this Tagore's poem,
Exotic blossom
I whispered again in your ear
what is your language dear
you smiled and shook your head
and the leaves murmurred instead
The audience had the opportunity to listen to the murmurrings of the leaves of the garden to the music of Rabindra Sangeet and the poems of Gitanjali. This splendid house and the fantastic garden filled with flowers had inspired Tagore to write his Purabi poems. The Exotic Blossom which had inspired and rejuvenated Tagore was Victoria herself.
Axel Maimone talking about the romance between Tagore and Ocampo

Victoria had inspired Tagore not only to write the Purabi poems but had also encouraged him to paint. She organised the first exihibition of Tagore's paintings in Paris in 1930 using her own funds and contacts.
Rabindra Sangeet by Sreyashi Mishra.

After the visit in 1924, Tagore and Victoria had exchanged a number of letters. Tagore had addressed Victoria as Vijaya and called her as ¨my bhaloabasa¨. Victoria started her letters with ¨Dear Gurudev¨ and ended with ¨your Vijaya¨. The easy chair which she gifted to Tagore is still in the Shantiniketan museum.
The Tagore- Victoria encounter was not just personal between the great poet and his admirer. It was the beginning of the literary and cultural encounter between India and Latin America. .

More on Tagore and Victoria in my blogs

Ketaki Kushari Dyson has written a book ¨In your blossoming flower garden¨ describing in detail the Tagore- Victoria relationship and reproduced their correspondence.
The Tagore celebration was part of the IV Festival of India 3-13 december, organised by the Embassy of India in Buenos Aires.
Gustavo recitation..