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ForbesLife India/Think | Apr 30, 2014 | 3998 views

Shallu Jindal's Gift of Dance

She dedicated years to contemporise Kuchipudi. Now the danseuse wants to give girls around her husband's steel plant a chance to express themselves by learning the art
Shallu Jindal's Gift of Dance
Image: Amit Verma

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hallu Jindal believes strongly in destiny. Take her marriage to billionaire industrialist and politician Naveen Jindal. A common friend had introduced the two patriarchs—the late OP Jindal and Abhay Kumar Oswal—and had suggested a “match-up” between their two progeny. But Naveen, who had just come back from the US after completing his management studies and was immersed in his fight to allow citizens the right to hoist the national flag, was not interested. The Oswals thought that was the end of it.  But almost a year later, OP Jindal called up Oswal to ask if they were still interested in the alliance.  They were. And this time, Naveen was ready. He asked Shallu just one question: “Would you be willing to shift to Raipur [the capital of Chhattisgarh, where Naveen now runs power and steel plants]?” Shallu’s answer was in the affirmative and the two tied the knot in 1994. “It was destiny. Otherwise, in that one year in between, I could have got married to someone else,” says Shallu, who will be celebrating her 20th wedding anniversary in May.

Destiny’s hand was again at play in 1999, when Jindal, now busy as a mother and partner in her husband’s many initiatives, was on a pilgrimage to Tirupati. As she waited for the gates to open early in the morning, Jindal saw famous Kuchipudi exponents Raja, Radha and Kaushalya Reddy, also in the queue. A trained Kathak dancer herself, Jindal had, as a child, once seen Raja and Radha Reddy perform on stage. Since then, “I’d been a fan. I went up to them and introduced myself and said that I loved watching them whenever they performed in Delhi. We exchanged numbers,” recounts Jindal. As the temple doors opened, the new acquaintances spent an hour together performing the puja.

A month later, Jindal got a call from Raja himself. “Guruji” was asking her to take up dancing again. “He said that there was a divine reason behind us meeting in Tirupati and that Kuchipudi was my calling,” says Jindal. She agreed and, within three years, the eager student was giving her first Kuchipudi performance at Delhi’s India Habitat Centre at the age of 32.

It has been 15 years since that meeting at Tirupati and Jindal has no trouble now naming Kuchipudi—and not Kathak—as her passion. “I have decided to dedicate my life to promoting Kuchipudi,” says the 43-year-old, who practises her art for about three hours every day. A strict regimen of good sleep, meditation and exercise keeps the mother of two dance-fit.  

The disciplined life, though, is not new to Jindal, who also learned Hindustani classical music as a child. As then, her present teachers also rank Jindal highly. “She is one of the few who have excelled. The only way to do well is to work hard and Shallu is very hard-working,” says Kaushalya Reddy.
 
Jindal’s pledge to promote Kuchipudi has manifested itself in two distinct ways. One, Jindal, under the approving guidance of her gurus, is experimenting with the dance form. While in traditional Kuchipudi the accompanying vocals are sung in Sanskrit and Telugu—a nod to its origins in Andhra Pradesh—Jindal performs to Hindi and Urdu songs as well. The intention is to contemporise the dance form and take it close to the audience, especially those who don’t understand Telugu.

Second, Jindal is setting up schools for the performing arts. “I want to create a gurukul where students from all parts of the country—especially from the villages and irrespective of their economic status—can come and learn an art,” says Jindal, who is president of OpenSpace Jindal Foundation, besides heading the CSR arm of her husband’s Jindal Steel & Power. The philanthropy arm of the family is a “platform for the development of cultural, artistic, educational and intellectual or any other form of expression”.

A LARGER AUDIENCE

For any performer, appreciation from the audience is the sweetest form of recognition. But Kuchipudi, perhaps more than any other art form, calls for a learned audience. And Jindal is clear that she was not looking for perfunctory claps at the onset or the end of every performance.

“There are moments during the recital which, I know, are worthy of applause,” she says. But when they go unnoticed, all but the most stoical of spirits could be excused for feeling disappointed.

So when Raja Reddy, charmed by renowned Sufi singer Abida Parveen’s ‘Jab Se Tune Mujhe Deewana Bana Rakha Hai’, choreographed a particular routine to the song in 2013 and asked Jindal if she would like to perform to it, the disciple jumped at the opportunity. Jindal would go on to perform to Meera Bai’s bhajans (including a version by another Pakistani great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) and poems by former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam, all of them set to her gurus’ choreography.

This article appeared in the ForbesLife India magazine issue of March-April 2014
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