Tahmina Shafique The Complete Portfolio

8Aug/080

And the bells ring on, in my feet

If her passion for dance could be justified by words and even brought to close proximity to how she feels about dancing, the celebrated dancer Minu Haque would perhaps gladly write many many books on them.

‘It seemed like we were meant to be- dancing and I,’ she says smiling, as the afternoon sunlight streams in through the colourful curtains of her apartment in Dhaka. Her big, doe shaped eyes sparkle with this inexplicable joy at having to speak about her work and her future plans in restoring the heritage of pure classical dance in Bangladesh.

Right she is, she is perhaps a born dancer, and you can see it in the way her fingers move, the way she steps up or sits- her every posture is characteristic of the aesthetic dancing queen. ‘I was always inclined to colours and shades and I always incorporated it in my every dance, every choreography, every beat to which we danced with bells on our feet,’ she tells me.

Born on June 1, 1953, Minu Haque grew up in a family that valued art and culture immensely. Passion was something that was natural in her family, she says. And why not? Minu is the daughter of her father, her sister is the celebrated thespian Shimul Yousuff, her late brother-in-law Altaf Mahmood, the legendary music composer whom we lost during the liberation war, needs no introduction at all.

‘My father insisted had a powerful voice and I still remember the prayers that he used to sing. My mother also had a beautiful voice and I cherished the sound of her singing from the Qu’ran each morning. They both believed in religion but at the same time, they also stood strong in holding on to art and culture.

My father we learn singing and dancing, that too at a time when such practices were not approved by many,’ she says proudly.

Minu and her five brothers and two sisters shared an idyllic childhood- singing, dancing, studying, and growing up in a cultural environment. ‘Those were the best parts of our lives,’ she remembers fondly.

Minu started dancing from the age of six- and like her sister, she was a regular participant in radio programmes. ‘Back at the time, these radio programs were organised so well, and even though it was only audio, we would still dance- and the whole element of commercialism was absent back then. And perhaps that’s what exactly kept us on the dance stage so firmly. We did not bother about the money. And even though it was difficult to carry on with that limited income, we were happy.’

Minu speaks of her first tutor Dulal Talukdar, an exceptional dancer who was in the Bulbul Academy of Fine Arts in those days. It was from there that Minu graduated with a diploma in classical dance.

But her dancing career had seen many halts, the most prominent being the events in 1971, that left her family shattered, the scars of which linger on till date. ‘I do not think I can ever explain those events in words or be able to justify any of it today,’ she says softly. ‘It is so difficult to explain how jarring it was to be a woman and hide away for safety. As I was a dancer, the Pakistan Army had come to our house asking me to perform in cantonment, but I refused outright. On their third request, when I refused, they threatened me but that really did not change my perception of Pakistani Army or my decision, but at the same time I knew I had to run away.’

It was during that time that she hid in places for safety. ‘Back then groups used to be formed for escaping and I was going to be sent with Altaf bhai and others, but it was afterwards decided that he would join us later as he needed to record his songs, and it was sheer fate that I left, and right after that he was killed,’ she says looking away.

Thirty-eight years on, it still aches the same, yet she feels that period only made her stronger as a person, and her passion for dance only increased. ‘I continued dancing and worked with young dancers in restoring core classical dance. That is something that is fading away today sadly,’ she says.

In an attempt to keep the dancing culture alive, Minu had to struggle a lot and the struggle continues till date.

In 2001, Minu along with her family formed ‘Nrityashara In search of Heritage in Dance of Bengal’ a platform under which different dancing schools are run by artists like Tamanna Rahman, Munmun Ahmed, Kabirul Islam Ratan, Anisul Islam Hiru and others who focus on specific areas of dance- Kathak, Monipuri, modern and folk, Bharatnatyam and more.

Minu’s school Odyssey that is now running for years focuses on classical dance.

‘I feel, for a dance, every move, every step, posture, outfit- everything must present that aesthetic look and aura of the dancing spirit,’ she says passionately. ‘It is that essence that I would want the younger generation to take forward.’

The absence of sponsorship and support from the corporate sector, halls and organisations, make such initiations more difficult than ever, she says with a hint of disappointment.

‘We keep fighting, keep taking funds from our own and try to move forward. One of the most disappointing issues remains to be the fact that there are no halls for dance performances as such, and it must be a dance drama for you to be able to run it. And while the National Museum is available, the cost is too high. Moreover, there is whole issue of how can we keep this young and talented group here without supplementing them financially?’

Most of these young dancers that Minu and others work with come from remote villages or areas, and they must be given a little amount so that they can afford to continue dancing. ‘Despite the many challenges, we have made it a point to run our programs- our initiative to restore this rare art is not going to stop,’ she says.

Every month on the 16th (indicating the date of freedom), Minu and the group run their program at the Teachers Students Centre (TSC) of Dhaka University for a ticket of taka 10.

The theme for each month is in line with the cultural relationship- in February- the theme being language movement, in March, the theme was independence, later Pahela Boishakh, Rabindra and Nazrul and in July it was Monsoon.

‘It is difficult to find halls, or to fund each one of these events that are run by the whole group, but at the same time we know, that the dance must go on- and this art needs to be kept alive.’

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