By V Ramnarayan
Gopalkrishna Gandhi must be one of the finest public speakers today. If his prepared speeches are carefully crafted and brilliantly executed, his impromptu lectures are spontaneously witty and thought-provoking. An excellent example was his keynote address at the silver jubilee event of Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India (ABHAI) on Wednesday at Narada Gana Sabha, which he seemed to deliver without the aid of a scrap of paper.
For starters, Gandhi was in excellent voice that evening, a key requisite for a successful speech. He also seemed to enjoy a certain early bird advantage in his experience in childhood as a watcher of dance drama productions at Rukmini Devi’s Kalakshetra. While recalling the uplifting performances of A Janardhanan as Rama in the Ramayana series, he marvelled at the moral-spiritual power of art, describing how the ethical dilemma of Vali vadham could be aesthetically rather than rationally resolved.
The masterstroke of the lecture was the metaphoric device Gandhi employed to bolster his argument that observation was a vital aspect of the transmission of knowledge, with particular reference to art education.
Taking the audience on a trip to the past, to the making of Mrigaya, an award winning film by Mrinal Sen, whose greatness had to contend with living in the shadow of fellow Bengali Satyajit Ray. While recalling that a tribal chief was invited to observe and critique the archery technique of the young protagonist (Mithun Chakraborty), the speaker told us how the director’s initiative enhanced the authenticity of the scene, thanks to the visitor’s acute observation.
When Gandhi stressed the importance of documenting the teaching and shared learning of the many members of ABHAI, it occurred to me that his own speeches on a variety of topics are equally worthy of preservation.