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A Maestro Idealized

Shanta Serbjeet Singh

By Saswati Sen
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 216, Rs. 995.00


The book in reference is a coffee table, well-illustrated memoir entitled The Master Through My Eyes. It is by Saswati Sen, herself a well-known dancer and prime disciple of Birju Maharaj for as long as thirty years and more. She has spent this time, from her initial baby steps in Kathak with Guru Reba Vidayarthi to full scale training with Birju Maharaj, at the Kathak Kendra, the National Institute of Kathak dance in Delhi. This, the first phase of her professional asssociation which lasted until the Guru’s retirement from the Kendra in 1998, has continued to date into the second phase, the setting up of his private teaching institution, in Delhi, Kalashram.   While Maharaj’s well-known dancer sons, Jai Kishan and Deepak, his daughters, Anita Kulkarni, an artist and Mamta Maharaj, an accomplished dancer herself, not to forget his nephews, the equally well-known dancers Kishan Mohan and Ram Mohan, sons of his famous uncle, Pandit Shambhu Maharaj, and their wives and children are all off-shoots of this one phenomenal banyan tree, it is Saswati who is easily recognizable as the trunk, often putting me in mind of the famous banyan tree at Kalakshetra. It is she who runs both Kalashram and Maharaj ji as her full-time ‘babies’. It is she who is manager, administra-tor, handywoman, dance repertory head, business partner and ‘param sakha’ of both Birju Maharaj and Kalashram.   So far so good. All this is well known and well documented. It is when one turns to Saswati’s book for new information, or some hitherto unknown fact or fresh insight into at least the life of Birju Maharaj, if not the times, that the problems arise. Even simple biographical data is carefully, and inexplicably, edited. For instance, Saswati tells us, Birju Maharaj, the youngest, (presumably) of Guru Acchhan Maharaj’s eight children, had three older sisters who looked after him with love and care. What about the two (again, presumably) brothers? They just don’t exist in the book. While we know a lot, from other sources, about the famous troika of the three brothers of the older generation, the eldest being Guru Acchhan Maharaj, we know nothing about the two brothers of Birju Maharaj. Why? If the brothers did not get along, surely that fact could have been mentioned, at least in passing.   When Birju Maharaj came to Delhi from Lucknow, a bacchha at the age of nine ...

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