KOLKATA KALEI­DO­SCOPE

Marwar - - Contents - Text Supriya Ne­war

Alka Jalan has cho­sen to use her sprawl­ing bun­ga­low to pro­mote art and cul­ture. MARWAR talks to the spir­ited lady, who has given Kolkata one of its largest up­com­ing per­form­ing art and mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary cul­tural venues: the Alka Jalan Foun­da­tion.

Rather than make mon­e­tary gains, Alka Jalan has cho­sen to use her sprawl­ing bun­ga­low to pro­mote art and cul­ture. MARWAR talks to the spir­ited lady, now nearly 70, who has given Kolkata one of its largest up­com­ing per­form­ing art and mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary cul­tural venues that is bet­ter known as Alka Jalan Foun­da­tion.

About three years ago, be­ing the sole heir, Alka Jalan in­her­ited a her­itage bun­ga­low in the posh Bal­ly­gunje area of South Kolkata, be­queathed to her by her par­ents. She had lost her ail­ing mother ear­lier, and in 2014, she also lost her fa­ther, Si­taram Daga, who had posted a very suc­cess­ful in­nings as a tea man and had lived till the ripe old age of 91. Given its lo­ca­tion and am­ple­ness, Alka started re­ceiv­ing hand­some of­fers for the prop­erty al­most im­me­di­ately. But she was sure she didn’t want to sell the house she had grown up in, no mat­ter how lu­cra­tive the of­fer. She was sure she wanted to re­tain it as it was and do some­thing worth­while with it. Sug­ges­tions started trick­ling in. Her friends and fam­ily sug­gested that she turn it into a school, or a hospi­tal, or even an old age home.

Cul­tur­ally in­clined

“Some­how I wasn’t con­vinced,” says Alka Jalan, who now is nearly 70, over a cup of tea at her plen­ti­ful lawns, where we met on a lovely win­ter af­ter­noon. “In­stead of all that, I wanted the place to be a cre­ative hub, a cen­tre for per­for­mances, and most of all, a place that would ex­ude spir­i­tu­al­ity.”

But the lady did not have a plan. Quite can­didly, she ad­mits that she had not ven­tured into any­thing sim­i­lar ear­lier. So in­stead of ar­riv­ing at a con­crete blue­print by her­self, she started shar­ing her core idea with her fam­ily, friends and as­so­ci­ates and hear­ing out their ideas as well. “A start­ing point for me was that there was a trust that had been set up in 1982 by my par­ents, called Alka Jalan Foun­da­tion, un­der whose aegis, my par­ents had car­ried out some char­ity work. I was quite clear that go­ing for­ward, I would too. I was not ex­pect­ing mon­e­tary gains but wanted the trust to blos­som and do good work in the cul­tural and phil­an­thropic space,” she says.

An aus­pi­cious start

Ac­cord­ingly, dis­cus­sions and de­lib­er­a­tions com­menced which went on for the next six to eight months, un­til the Alka Jalan Foun­da­tion held its first con­cert on Au­gust 18, 2015: a soul­ful Dhru­pad per­for­mance by vir­tu­osi duo Pt Umakant and Pt Ra­makant Gun­decha. The au­di­ence was by in­vi­ta­tion only and con­sisted of friends, fam­ily mem­bers and ac­quain­tances who were in­ter­ested in In­dian clas­si­cal mu­sic. Given the open air venue and a baithak style set­ting, it al­lowed the au­di­ence to be in close prox­im­ity to the artistes, and the con­cert was much ap­pre­ci­ated.

It was an aus­pi­cious start, for soon af­ter, Good Earth, the life­style brand, came in and held an ex­hi­bi­tion of their wares. This was fol­lowed by a colour­ful, lively per­for­mance by the Man­gani­yars, who are tra­di­tional Ra­jasthani folk mu­si­cians from Jaisalmer and Barmer. Th­ese three dif­fer­ent events, all of which hugely ap­pealed to the au­di­ence, set the tone for fu­ture pro­ceed­ings and helped spread the word that there was a plat­form which was open to host­ing mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary cul­tural pro­grammes.

Look­ing back, Alka Jalan says, “I have been lucky enough to have en­joyed the sup­port of friends like Chetna Jalan and Dar­shan Shah, guid­ance from some­one as se­nior as Pt Vijay Kichlu and sup­port from my hus­band, Sud­hir Jalan. All of them have been in sim­i­lar fields for many years and helped us ap­proach and get tal­ent across dis­ci­plines, which in turn drew wider au­di­ences to the cen­tre.” Chetna Jalan is a vet­eran stage ac­tress and dancer, Dar­shan Shah runs the Weavers Stu­dio in Kolkata and Pt Vijay Kichlu is the founder of ITC Sangeet Re­search Academy, be­sides be­ing a clas­si­cal singer of ac­claim. A mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary cul­tural venue In only a short span of two years, the Alka Jalan Foun­da­tion has pre­sented nu­mer­ous se­nior artistes, in­clud­ing Pt Birju Ma­haraj and Pt Hariprasad Chaura­sia. It has seen dance per­for­mances and pre­sen­ta­tions by Usha R K, Radhe Jaggi, Anita Rat­nam and Mi­tul Sen­gupta. Po­etry ses­sions fea­tur­ing poet Ashok Va­j­payee and a das­tan­goi per­for­mance by Su­nil Mehra and Askari Naqvi on Is­mat Chug­tai’s writ­ings have ap­pealed to lit­er­ary au­di­ences. In­ter­ac­tive ses­sions and talks have been held with the mak­ers and cast of the ac­claimed

A start­ing point for me was that there was a trust that had been set up in 1982 by my par­ents, called Alka Jalan Foun­da­tion, un­der whose aegis, my par­ents had car­ried out some char­ity work

Hindi film ‘Pink’, with ac­tivist Ruchira Gupta who runs Apne Aap Women World­wide, as well as with the Brahma Ku­maris. “None of our events are ei­ther tick­eted or sponsored. We take care of ev­ery­thing our­selves,” she as­serts.

“With a va­ri­ety of pro­grammes, our au­di­ences too have grown wider,” com­ments Suk­sham Singh, her friend who joins our chat. Singh has been closely as­so­ci­ated with the foun­da­tion. “As much as we’ve had cel­e­brated per­form­ers come and grace our stage, we’ve also had some younger but richly tal­ented mu­si­cians and artists en­thral our au­di­ences,” she adds.

Whilst the lawns are used dur­ing the cooler months of win­ter, the ses­sions shift to a spa­cious in­door hall when the weather is in­clement. The Alka Jalan Foun­da­tion also runs a home­opa­thy dis­pen­sary at its premises for the un­der­priv­i­leged which gives out medicines for free. A spe­cial­ist bone-set­ter and an acupunc­tur­ist also visit the cham­ber and are much sought af­ter.

De­spite a lean team, ad­min­is­tra­tive is­sues such as per­mis­sions for park­ing from the traf­fic po­lice, stage set-up, sound and decor and other lo­gis­tics are han­dled quite smoothly. There is hardly any pub­lic­ity of any of the pro­grammes, ex­cept for a face­book page, e-mails and word-of-mouth pub­lic­ity. De­ci­sions on whom to in­vite and the kind of pro­grammes that are to be held are bounced off within the team and a close in­ner cir­cle, though the fi­nal call rests with Jalan.

“We re­main open to ideas as long as they cul­tur­ally res­onate with the place. I sup­pose that is why even in a short time, our cal­en­dars are full and pro­pos­als keep com­ing in,” says Jalan.

A spir­i­tual per­son

On a per­sonal note, she adds, “All my life, I’ve seen my fa­ther stay closely as­so­ci­ated with or­gan­i­sa­tions such as ISKCON and Ra­makr­ishna Mis­sion. My mother, on the other hand, was a quiet, homely woman. I have also been spir­i­tu­ally in­clined my en­tire life and have even fol­lowed cer­tain gu­rus.”

Is there, how­ever, a dream per­for­mance or an ideal that she as­pires to for her cen­tre and the foun­da­tion. “I’ve al­ways liked the Bikaner House in Delhi. That could be a model. And I’d love to get Coke Stu­dio to per­form. But I’m happy to take each show, each per­for­mance at a time. I’m not re­ally a plan­ner,” she signs off.

Clock­wise from top, left: A baithak with Padma Vib­hushan Pt Birju Ma­haraj, along with dis­ci­ple Saswati Sen, or­gan­ised by the Alka Jalan Foun­da­tion; Alka Jalan; Dhru­pad singers Ra­makant Gun­decha and Umakant Gun­decha (also known as the Gun­decha Broth­ers) per­form­ing at the Alka Jalan Foun­da­tion

Top: A mu­si­cal ex­trav­a­ganza by the Man­gani­yars, who are in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned folk artists from Ra­jasthan Bot­tom: A das­tan­goi per­for­mance by Su­nil Mehra and Askari Naqvi at the Alka Jalan Foun­da­tion

Top: An art ex­hi­bi­tion hosted by the Alka Jalan Foun­da­tion

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