Making the graceful switch from dance to art

When it comes to dance, she is a true legendary icon. But little do people know about her closed-door penchant for painting. The doyen nonagenarian danseuse Amala Shankar never fails to surprise as a multi-faceted artiste even at 95. Although she has had professionally hung her dancing shoes long ago, yet her feet remain unfettered and her feeble-frame undeterred to rediscover herself and redefine her persona with a new spin.
A woman of substance indeed, she has ably kept alive the pristine legacy of the Shankars even to this day. Having imbibed a set of good old values in herself only to spread the word around either inside her own ballet troupe or later amongst the students of Shankar Performing Arts Institution through a medium of strong ethical education, Shankar always believed in advocating a strong foundation of moral science in order to nurture humanity over well-accomplished machines.
Having started painting when she was in her 70s, Shankar’s indomitable spirit is still indefatigable in her silver years. She is full of enthusiasm to start a new life or “nabajiban” to showcase the art she has done over the last 40 years. Nabajiban is the solo exhibition of Padma Bhushan Shankar’s paintings, recently being displayed at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kolkata. With a showcase of over 50 paintings at the Central Gallery, one can unmistakably spot an element of aesthetics, composure and spiritualism in her artworks. She is known to use her fingers and nails only to produce some great landscapes, temples, deities and caves, which remind us of the great heritage of India’s ancient art. She also lays a great stress upon religion, which is one of her key inspirational themes.
With a heart to work on women in the near future, Shankar believes that the fairer sex has always been an emblem of Shakti — force and will-power.
Having never walked along a pre-planned course in her life, the veteran dancer has always accepted whatever came up her way with open arms. “That’s the challenge of life. You have to just cleverly field the ups and downs it constantly throws at you,” she emphasises. Encoded with esoteric messages, her art-specimens mostly carry godly images, signs and symbols. There is a church, a mosque, a temple or Lord Jesus Christ, Lord Buddha, Lord Vishnu, Lord Ganesha, the dancing Nataraja or the duo of Shiva-Parvati on her canvas. “May be, there’s always a hand of God persuading Maa (mother) to draw those images. She also unconsciously envisages the faces of great philosophers, poets and stalwart teachers like Socrates, Pluto or Gurudeb Rabindranath Tagore or the mythological Saptarishi, while sitting with a brush and a palette.
Only a divine muse can make this event possible on the paper. “She always says she doesn’t know who’s actually painting them, but has an intuitive hunch that an unseen external force seems to be at work within her. And everything happens in a lightening flash,” fathoms daughter Mamata Shankar, also an ace danseuse and a popular actress herself. “Maa is not a trained painter, but a skilled one in her own right. From delineating intricate, floral alpona (decorative) designs to whipping up a culinary dish or dressing up salads and garnishing them to preparing the sweet Bengali delicacy called payesh with milk and rice, Maa takes every piece of work to an artistic level altogether. Despite her ripe age and
declining health, she is still so creatively inclined. She never rests from learning new things in life or picking up a novel craft from any corner of the earth. She is ever eager to explore the uncharted seas,” she further raves about her respectable mother.
She indulges herself in the art of reproducing the best out of waste.
From painting on a window-glasspane to wall-surfaces with a broomstick, a wicker-piece, an old and used toothbrush as a sprayer, a pinch of moist calcium-oxide or quicklime — Shankar often rehashes common home-articles of daily use for her art.
Still remembering having gifted a piece of painting to her son Ananda (late noted composer-tutor Ananda Shankar) on his birthday almost 20
summers ago, Shankar said with an afterthought: “That’s the most beautiful portrait in the world: a son being comfortably snuggled in his mother’s lap.” Fond memories never fade into oblivion, it seems.

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