Rhythm is everywhere. And it’s in us too, all the time,” Kathak dancer Mahua Shankar tells her elated audience at Delhi’s culturally unwavering Triveni Auditorium. Dressed in turquoise and gold, sparkling with polki jewelry and her rhythm-setting ghunghroos, Mahua captures the moment on stage as she begins to perform, putting aside the past boredom of the pandemic. Agile on her feet, gentle in her movements and playful in her expressions, she becomes a translator of allegories. She throws an imaginary ball in the air to watch it playfully dance, in choreographed eye, face and finger movements. She weaves like a leaf, floating to the ground.

She mimics a stylized argument with an invisible companion. This series of mini dances proves that rhythm is everywhere, even if it is not visible to everyone. Mahua has the ever-smiling Anand Maheshwari to thank for that.

For two years, Maheshwari waited for the rhythm to pick up. He is the founder of Culturally Active Delhiites (CAD), which organized the show 7 Essences of Music and Dance. CAD is dedicated to promoting Indian classical and semi-classical performing arts. Explains the man himself, looking very much like the Delhi culture with long salt and pepper hair,

“This production was started by Ustad Murad Ali Khan, one of India’s leading sarangi maestros.” Maheshwari, as versatile as his professions – corporate professional turned entrepreneur and financial expert – says the performers presented a full story woven through multiple forms of classical music and dance.

Ten years ago Maheshwari and his friend Suneepa reunited on a chilly January evening within the grounds of Mandi House, the city’s cultural ground zero and home to Kamani Auditorium, Triveni Kala Sangam, Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, the Little Theater Group, the National School of Drama and Rabindra Bhavan. Their conversation led to the formation of the Culturally Active Delhiites Facebook group on January 17, 2012.

As they invited and added like-minded members and friends, the tribe grew. In May 2012, at the insistence of member Madhu Narain, CAD entered the real world in the basement of Suneepa’s house in Chittaranjan Park. There has been no turning back since then until the pandemic closed the curtain for a while. This year’s annual concert was originally scheduled for March 28, 2020, but eventually took place on a Friday evening in September 2022 after Delhi made peace with the virus under many names. It was definitely worth the wait for Maheshwari and the audience.

The ardor of the performers is matched only by the adulation of the spectators. Murad Ali Khan is a sixth generation sarangi player from the Moradabad tradition; that evening, the gharana of Moradabad resounded in all its glory. There was jazz fusion exponent Fateh Ali Khan on the sitar. Just like Ashish Gangani, from the legendary Gangani family of Rajasthan – his brother is the famous tabla player Fatheh Singh Gangani – who has been playing pakhawaj since he was 15 years old.

Ashish is an alumnus of Kathak Kendra, the National Institute of Kathak Dance. Shuheb Hasan lent his soulful voice to the drumbeats of Ustad Akram Khan, a seventh generation tabla player. Kathak exponent Nupur Shankar complemented the musical ensemble with padhant, rhythmic syllable recitation, and Kathak technical bowl. The thing that tied it all together was Mahua’s performance.

A disciple of the legendary Birju Maharaj and ganda bandh shaagird (formal disciple) of the late Sarangi maestro Ustad Ghulam Sabir Khan, the kathak appealed to Mahua from the age of five. The award-winning performer teaches at her own academy, Guru Pradeep Shankar Academy of Promoting and Performing Arts, Delhi. Mahua, a gharana representative from Lucknow, shares: “Every time I play, the energy is different. Kathak is a difficult art form, as it has difficult rhythmic syllables, but the audience needs to understand its subtlety and nuances.

I am blessed to have learned from my Guru; I could adapt this a bit to my style. I learned playfulness from him. He also taught me to observe and assimilate. These qualities are essential to becoming a good performer. Even at 80, Maharajji was the king of the stage. We strive to be like him. »

Winter brings dance and music to the capital, to stages, homes and events. There’s a lot to look forward to – CAD regularly holds small-scale baithaks at members’ homes. “The packed house and the overwhelming response to the show gives me more happiness and confidence that the future of Indian classical music and dance is not so bleak,” Maheshwari smiles. The ghunghroos agree.