This project was called: THE UNESCO-APPAN “POST-TSUNAMI STRESS THERAPY AND REHABILITATION THROUGH THE ARTS PROGRAM” and senior therapeutic artistes like Kathak dancer Sallauddin Pasha, puppeteer Anurupa Roy, Bharatanatyam dancer Sangeeta Ishwaran, folk baazigar-artiste Puran Bhatt, led teams which brought back amazing stories of how stress-battered victims of natural disaster felt empowered by experiencing and learning the use of music, dance, theatre, puppetry and other art forms. Could there be a better way to re-connect with each other and their inner selves!
“Cultural therapy plays a big role in rehabilitation of the physically and psychologically challenged. With his dedicated work, Pasha is indeed the father of Indian therapeutic theatre. Cast away words like ‘disability’ and focus on the ability,” said S Vaidyanathan, himself a wheelchair bound individual owing to an accident. There are about 70 million differently abled in India and Guru Syed Sallaudin Pasha’s immense contribution to empowering them in the field of culture has been recognized world over. Here’s wishing him continued joy in his mission.
Pasha describes his early exposure to both dance and Hindu scriptures thus: “Every morning, on the way to school, I would be hearing the recitation of Suras through one part of my brain and Vedic patha with the other. After formal school, I would go to the house of my friend and classmate, the son of the man who ultimately agreed to be my guru, Shri Astaksharam Narayana Iyengar. A dyed-in-the wool Namboodri Brahmin who sported a chutia in the centre of his shaven head, like his son, he would allow me to sit outside the wooden threshold, the periphery to his room. From that vantage point, from the age of six till I was sixteen, I learnt Sanskrit, the Ramayan, the Mahabharat, the Bhagawad Gita, the Vedas and the Upanishad. The moment the clandestine class would get over, I would rush home for a Quran session with my mother. Since dance as a profession was frowned upon by them, I bought peace by agreeing to graduate in pharmacy. However, on the side I continued to train with great gurus, in Kathak with Guru Maya Rao for 15 years, in Bharatanatyam with the late Guru Kittappa Pillai for five years and with the late Guru Narmada for ten years. I learnt Carnatic music with Raman Mani and took training in Theatre from BV Karanth. Not content with this, I went on to acquire a 3 year Choreography Diploma from Maya Rao’s Natya Institute of Choreography, and also a three years Bachelor’s Degree in Choreography from the same school.”
Since then Pasha has chalked up an amazing track record of nearly 30 years in empowering, nurturing, training and giving dignity and equality to persons with disabilities around the world through more than 100 innovative choreography productions. Sufi Dance on Wheel Chairs, Bharatanatyam on Wheels, Martial Arts on Wheels, Durga on Wheels, Bhagawad Gita on wheels, Rhythm of Motion and Emotion, Buddha on Wheels, Ramayana on Wheels (performed by 200 children and adults with various disabilities in India and Europe), Krishna The Blue God (performed by 200 artists with multiple disabilities), Women of India: 6000 BC to 2000 AD (performed by 100 hearing impaired women), The Kind Tiger and the Sincere Cow (performed by children and adults with autism, mental retardation and palsy)…it seems like the list will never end!
Pasha has worked as an international scholar at Cornell University, USA, as special pedagogic Choreographer and Director for the Educational Department of Finland, as Artistic consultant and dancer for Sutra Dance Theatre, Malaysia, conducted workshops for special educators and dancers in the field of Choreography as a Healing Tool in India, Malaysia, Finland, United Kingdom and Italy. In brief, by showing the power of One, Pasha has made a lot of people, especially these Children of a Lesser God, very happy and ready to face the life that the gods have chalked out for them.
Shanta Serbjeet Singh, for twenty-five years, columnist, critic and media analyst for The Hindustan Times, The Economic Times and The Times of India, India’s most important mainstream English dailies, is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the premier Government cultural institution of India in 2000 and the same from Delhi Govt.’s Sahitya Kala Parishad in 2003 for her contribution to the field of culture.
She is on the Central Audition Board of Doordarshan, India’s national television, as well as the selection committees of several prestigious government bodies involved in culture such as The Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Department of Culture. She was a member of the Tenth Five Year Plan Committee for Cultural Policy and of the First National Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.
Singh has authored several best selling books on Indian arts such as ‘Indian Dance: The Ultimate Metaphor,’ ‘The 50th Milestone: A Feminine Critique,’ ‘Nanak, The Guru’ and ‘America and You’ (22 editions).
As elected Chairperson of APPAN (The Asia-Pacific Performing Arts Network) for the past nine years, she has individually organized and helped her team of eminent artistes to organize eight international symposiums and festivals in several Asian countries and in the United States. APPAN, set up in 1999 by UNESCO, has, with the collaboration of UNESCO, pioneered the concept of delivering stress therapy, in particular in disaster-prone situations such as the tsunami and earthquake victims. The pilot project of this series was done under her leadership in four Asian countries after the tsunami of 2005 and another for the cyclone affected of Myanmar in 2008. Singh is the founder-Secretary of The World Culture Forum-India and Director of WCF-India’s first Global WCF to be held in New Delhi in 2011.
Syed Sallauddin Pasha is one of the senior students of Kathak Guru Dr. Maya Rao. His innovative therapeutic theatre productions like wheelchair Bharatanatyam, wheelchair Sufi Dance, wheelchair yoga, Bhagawad Gita on wheels has been spreading the message of “socio-cultural equality” which is the need of the hour in the society…for both the differently-abled and able people. He has created a world of dignity-equality-empowerment to people with special abilities. He has effectively used arts to heal the society over the last three decades. He believes in the philosophy of ‘Seeing is Believing’ – after seeing his artistes in performance, no one can ever use the word ‘disabled’.
Syed Sallaudin Pasha, trained in Kathak and Bharatanatyam at late Guru Maya Rao’s institute in Bangalore, has for the past three decades carved a niche for himself by forming India’s first inclusive dance company promoting the talents and abilities of people with special needs. It has been providing an equal platform for artists who are differently-abled along with abled artists. Their special needs are no different from the rest of the society. As Pasha says, they have extraordinary talents which are often ignored. The company brings them into limelight and showcases their skills across the nation and abroad.
Sponsored by My Skill Foundation in Kuala Lumpur for the first time, Miracle on Wheels company had an engrossing performance at Civic Centre. The Foundation arranged five more shows in different cities of Malaysia. For the past six years the Foundation has been rendering yeoman’s service by providing young boys support, ‘transforming lives of high risks youth’, bringing them on right path to lead a normal life. ‘Tears of Joy,’ a brief documentary screened before the performance gave audience a glimpse into the lives of young people who after their wayward life – joining gangsters, attacking people, skipping classes in schools, moving in bad company – have their lives changed with help from the Foundation. The performances by Miracle on Wheels were one more apt choice to expose the youth to how the differently abled can overcome their inabilities and perform on wheelchairs with tremendous confidence bringing joy to one and all. My Skill Foundation has now acquired land and received financial assistance from the Government to build a permanent home for the youth for transforming their lives. Dr Sunil Kothati writes about Pasha in Narthaki.