IndiEarth XChange: In Conversation with Lalit Verma
The IndiEarth XChange this year saw the coming together of great minds from every wing of the independent arts industries – from artists to venue owners, filmmakers to festival directors, musicians to artist managers to media. With such a convergence of creative energy, it was inevitable that inspiration and ideas would be exchanged, artistic collaborations forged, creative relationships cultivated – such was the purpose of bringing together this diverse group of individuals who share a common passion for independent art in all its forms.
One such individual is Lalit Verma – owner of the art gallery and quaint little music venue Aurodhan in Kuruchikuppam, Pondicherry. It is Lalit’s passion for the arts that led him to found the town’s first art gallery, which would also go on to play host to a diverse variety of musicians from around the world and from every corner of India. We caught up with Lalit about the passion that drives his pursuits, the challenges that come with the territory, and about his experiences at the past IndiEarth XChange.
IndiEarth: Can you tell us about how you conceptualised Aurodhan, and what inspired its creation?
Lalit: Well I was working with the Tatas, and I realised that the Tatas used to do a lot of cultural activities – promoting art, music, dance – and that was what seemed changed human perceptions, human attitudes and what not. After I came to Pondicherry I started my art gallery, which attracted lovely people who were really passionate about their work. When those people started coming, we realised that we all loved music, but found that there was just one or two places where people could go to hear good music. And so we thought – why not start a place where people can come share their love of music? Right now I have an art gallery that showcases exhibitions from around the world – but the [music venue] was a spontaneous offshoot of that, that got us into other art forms.
IndiEarth: What sorts of musicians and artists do you curate to play at Aurodhan?
Lalit: We have a variety of programs – most recently we’ve had Parvathy Baul, Madan Gopal Singh, IndiEarth sent Christine Salem, we had Ziskakan, we’ve had Hindustani classical musicians like Vijay Kitchlu and Subhra Guha, dancers like Gopika Varma, we had Keiin Yoshimura from Japan who performs a traditional Japanese dance form called Kamigata-mai, Latif Bolat from Turkey who plays traditional Turkish mystic devotional music, Carnatic musicians like Aruna Sairam. We mostly lean towards spiritual music, music from a plane that is spiritual – we enjoy that sort of music. We’ve done over 400 shows in the last ten years. On the 13th [January] we are having this great group called Ability Unlimited – children with special needs who dance on wheelchairs. It’s unbelievable! They dance better than normal people! [laughs] It’s quite amazing that a small place like ours, actually has some of the finest artists come and perform. We program both senior artists and junior artists, as long as there is talent – music that I feel is good for raising art consciousness.
IndiEarth: What is Aurodhan’s vision for independent art and music?
Lalit: To raise the level of art consciousness. That’s all. When that happens, people automatically start becoming more harmonious with themselves, society begins to change, people become better human beings, and people achieve harmony. These kinds of activities unite people and bring about harmony within and without. That’s what I believe. Take for example one particular performance – a Muslim dancer named Ramli Ibrahim was performing a Hindu dance (Odissi) for a Christmas party hosted by a Sikh governor – can you imagine that? So everything comes together, you know?
IndiEarth: Do you believe enough is being done to promote independent art and independent musicians in India? Why or why not?
Lalit: I feel that the government does quite little about it. There is no philosophy, no principles, there is some element of involvement but very little, not like the kind of artist support one finds in a country like France. Here, people use artists, exploit them, paying them 5000 rupees for an artist performance? And a group of 14 – 15 people. It’s insulting to pay them so little. Sadly, I have also done so many performances, and not a single person comes to support us with funding – they do enjoy the shows, but it ends there. I set up a beautiful garden – you will see one day – I open it up for everybody, all the money that I have I spend to pay it back to society through art. But it’s an individual activity, this is what I’ve been doing for such a long time. But I cannot continue doing it unless I get funding, but somehow it’s continuing without funding until now. It’s magical! I think it’s the support of the artists.
IndiEarth: How do you see the way forward – in order to foster the growth of independent art and music in India?
Lalit: The urge for the Indian to express himself culturally far exceeds its requirement of having support. The urge is far greater than wanting any support, so it will flower wherever there is opportunity. It would just flower more beautifully if people become more conscious about appreciating these artists. Why not spend time with these artists so they also have time to grow? So EarthSync and IndiEarth’s activities are a huge catalyst to inspire people to do this.
IndiEarth: As a venue owner, can you tell us about your impressions and experiences at the IndiEarth XChange?
Lalit: It was the ultimate luxury – of actually meeting in one spot, so many people who do events, performances, interactions with people who would take forward culture and art in different parts of world. These consolidated activities of taking forward culture are also a way to unify the world. Politics have failed, war has failed, but one way of unifying people is through cultural activities. The work of IndiEarth who brought together so many individuals so they could interconnect – it was a fantastic movement to bring everybody together, so that something greater could happen.
IndiEarth: What for you was the highlight of the event?
Lalit: The musical highlights for me, there were two. One was Christine Salem, and the other was Tritonik. Both of them performed in my place after, so I was so happy, it was like a blessing! The talk by Prasanna was also a highlight – I was also looking for answers, because everyone is trying to do new things today, but doing new things just for the sake of it doesn’t make sense. For me it’s about having the wisdom of the past, using the latest technologies, and using that to create something original for the future. That’s what he did – he was taking these elements of jazz, and Carnatic music, and incorporating the latest technology – he used these elements very well.
IndiEarth: Do you have any future plans or projects in the pipeline?
Lalit: You know, I’ve always wanted to get into a state of blankness – because all the time there are so many things happening. I just realised that this year I don’t want to plan, because I truly believe it is already planned for me, and it will be a surprise for me as well as for everyone else around me! I did not know I was going to have Paravathy Baul on the 31st night, Madan Gopal Singh on the 30th, Bushra Shankar is going to perform on the 15th with Ramli Ibrahim – on my birthday – all these things are just magic! I didn’t plan them. The best thing for me is to have things happen effortlessly, or with less effort. So I don’t have any plans , but my calendar is quite busy I know! [laughs] I do have one plan though – for 2015, we are going to have a women’s performing arts festival. So that is definitely on the agenda.
For information on Lalit Verma and his venue Aurodhan, visit www.aurodhan.com