The professor from Berklee College of Music in Boston came to speak at the annual conference of mythologists in Vilnius. She also gave several classes to local students and kindly agreed to talk for a record. The conversation occurred at a busy pizzeria in the Old Town of Lithuanian capital.


Do you consider yourself an artist?

Yes, I do. I’m very passionate about my art. I’m a visual artist.

A visual artist.

Yes, I am.

So what do you produce?

I do installations, and I work with fabric, glass, shattered glass, and mirrors. So that’s what I do, mainly. That’s my main work, but I now include a text within the work, and also because I learned to dance, I include some movements into the installation.

So it’s a one-time performance?

Yes. And before I do the installation, I have these small parts to kind of get ready for the big installations. So I usually put it together. But quite often it is a one-time performance, and it depends on the gallery.

Like a thing. [Laughs]

Yeah. But those are more traditional; I’m more contemporary. [Laughs]

I’m not talking about a visual resemblance of Mandala but as a concept. Once made, but then it was destroyed.

That’s true.

Nowadays, we may have a video recording of it. [Laughs] So my next question would be about the combination of being an artist with working at the same time as a scientist?

Yes. I usually write. My research is mainly on the writing part. Because of my background in art history and philosophy, I started doing a lot of research work, especially in Indian art — how art has changed after colonialism, and how we have become so , so modernistic from what we were. We have changed so much.

People of my generation don’t even know that we had such beautiful traditional art like sculptures or any of those beautiful temple sculptures. The British thought it was very explicit and very sensuous, so they banned it in India. They also banned the dance in India. So for me, it was a whole idea of reviving and writing about it, so people will look at it with positive eyes rather than looking down upon the art. For me, that was very important. That’s why I started writing.

That’s interesting. But it may sound as your subjective view towards history. Probably there could be another person, say from London, who thinks differently about the same stuff here.

Yes.

I wonder, what prevails in your daily activities? How do you combine your mind of the artistic origin with a scientific approach? The method of science is very definite.

That is true. So, why I felt the total change of the aesthetics, is because when you go back to the ancient texts, like all the , which was there. If you read those texts, they’re so beautiful, and you cannot look at those sculptures with a different eye. You have to open your eyes to look at it with pleasing aesthetics, which is of Indian origin, of Indian aspect, not with a Western perspective. So that was the problem with the British. When the British came to India, what they thought looking at the sculptures around the temple…

Which sculptures do you have in mind now? Khajuraho?

Yes. Khajuraho and also most of the traditional temples. All the sculptures were very similar at that time.

Just for the sake of clarity, in what text? You also mentioned Sanskrit texts.

Yeah, Sanskrit texts. So we have many ancient texts. One was the text on dance and music. It’s called .

What is it about?

It is about dance and how the dance was done in front of the temples.

Tell me more, please. So what was the purpose of writing about the dance?

About these texts? These texts were written as an aesthetic text. And it was mainly based on those aesthetic texts, the sculptures, and all the dances. So there was a text for sculpture, there was a text for painting. And these are like the IV-V century.

The IV - V century. So, somebody has written text, and another person made the sculptures?

Yes, in Sanskrit. And the text was considered as just as a template to build, to create.

I didn’t know anything about that. I can imagine a sacred text from various civilizations, and this sounds like a manual.

No, not a manual. That’s what I wanted to correct. They would talk about what is the vision of Indian art mainly. And so for the sculptors, it was like an inspiration to create those. So when we look back, and as growing up, they became “very Victorian” is because all those sculptures were reinterpreted with British eyes. So the aesthetic was given a wrong interpretation. So I wanted to go back kind of and tell what those interpretations were. Even the philosophical text was talking about a different aspect of these things. Not in terms of they are wrong. The version of the texts sold in the West was so wrong.

The texts of are rich. If you read the original text in Sanskrit, it talks about life, about existence, about different cultures, but what is sold in the West is the debased one — just taking only the aspect of that part but nothing else. And so it became a very debased aspect, and that is what the British started selling. And they even told us that we Indians could not have self-rule because we are so involved in these things that we are not masculine enough to rule the country. And of course, that was a part of colonization.

They wanted to call us, what you say, barbaric and uncouth in many ways so they could colonize our country. And so that was the whole thing. But then when you look back and when I started studying art history — when you study art history, you learn those different texts, the old texts. And I also studied Sanskrit just to read those texts rather than reading the translation so I could get the actual.

That’s very interesting. So, we have three different positions from three different periods. One is the original period — you mentioned, the IV - V century. Another one is British colonial Europe and the approach towards art and perception and aesthetics. And then we have the . How would you describe the features of each?

Let’s talk about the whole idea of art. In the ancient or the traditional period they believed in three realms. The first realm is known as Kama Luca. Kama in Sanskrit means love, passion, desire, and anything that one does, whether it is art, medicine, sculpture, dance, music, one has to have a love for doing it. That was the first thing. Only when you have a passion for doing it, will you do a great job even if it is medicine or mathematics or whatever. So that was the first realm.

The second realm is that once you have that love and passion, then you will give shape to it. So it was called . Rupa means “form”. You give form to your desire, and you give form to your love. So you can try to get your education in music or whatever your interest is like. Thus that is giving shape.

The third realm is what is very difficult. The third realm is where you become so involved, that you become selfless. It’s a stage where you’re so immersed, so passionately engaged in your work that you become impassionate about oneself. That “I” is taken out. If you reach that realm, then you are like a Maestro. You’re creating a great work of art because your ego is not there. Your I is not there like that. That is aside.

How does that fit with the whole concept of Hinduism?

That is a principle idea. So that’s why, even the art, let’s say for Khajuraho. Those sculptures have no masculine, feminine, and there is no gender. It is all so involved with each other that it is that realm of oneness. That is what they were trying to show. But when you look at it with masculine, then, of course, you’re going to look at it with today’s eyes. But that’s the problem.

Okay, so let’s move now to the British.

Yeah. So when the British came, they couldn’t understand even in our paintings because they are looking with Western eyes and they couldn’t understand our cyclical aspect. We believe in the cyclical element, where we think that we always want to better ourselves. So for us, all Indian gods, even the Hindu gods, are all too human. They’re just like the Greek gods. They’re images, but the mythical stories talk about, just like the Greek myths — the divine images are stupid, wicked, sensual everything. They’re just like human beings.

Who follows that approach with gods and humans?

The Hinduism. That was the first original way of life in India. The first way of life.

Is there just some observation in that, when you say “too human” or an appreciation?

“All too human” is a phrase used in philosophy, which means that gods are just like us, just like human beings.

They’re not superior beings. They’re just like us. So that means all our emotions — we have the desire, we have bestiality — all those emotions are there in the gods too. And they deliberately made them like that so that the mythical stories give a message to better ourselves. Even if you do something stupid, you always have a chance to better yourself when you reflect on it. That’s the idea of that story. So that’s what “all too human” means. They say that gods are not superior beings; they are just like us. And they teach you different stories in that sense.

And British colonialists?

When British colonialists came, they didn’t understand that aesthetic. For them, they were looking at it with Western eyes. British people are very proper. I mean, they are so appropriate that nothing should be naked; for them, all letters are improper. So when they came, they couldn’t appreciate, or they couldn’t fathom the idea of how can we have such sculptures around a sacred space. So they couldn’t accept it, and they thought we are so indulged in those things and that we cannot govern ourselves. Of course, it was a tool for them. They also taught that the men were not masculine enough to rule, and they call the Indian women as dark witches and don’t look at them. They ruled us for nearly 300 years. The good part of it is that I can speak English, I should say, [Laughs] but the other part was that we lost a lot.

Now, modern Indians — unless a person like me who has studied and can appreciate it, the modern new Indians in mass, when they go to the temple, they won’t stand and look at it and appreciate it. They’ll walk fast because they’re so ashamed to look at the sculpture, for example. We have become so moralistic, so Victorian in our ideology. When I was growing up in school, for instance, I had a conduct Moral Science class every day where they would teach us how to sit, how to eat like the British.

Was it named a moral science?

Isn’t that interesting? [Laughs] So for me, those were very questionable. So I went to college and started doing my degrees in fine arts and art criticism. I came across these texts after school, and then I thought this was so interesting. I wanted to bring it out and show the actual essence of these things. So I started doing my research, and I studied Sanskrit so that I can read the original texts rather than reading the British translation, and I went back.

My Ph.D. dissertation is about the ancient times to the present, how much we have changed, post-colonialism, and how we look at our art. That’s why my titles of the book are, for example, one of my books is called “Seductive aesthetics of post-colonialism.” And the reason is that I was talking about how we have changed. Then in today’s world, what is interesting is, of course, the majority mass of Indians, they look at our art with these eyes, but because now there’s an interest in Indian art, there is also another particular set of people. But that interest is with exoticism. Again, they’re not accepting us for the actual aspect, but now it’s so exotic. It is something new.

Are you talking about Westerners?

Yes, exactly. They’re still not looking at it.

Yeah. But that’s interesting. So now you’re able to compare. You’ve just described the typical or average Indian attitude. Perception, democratic values, and culture are developed to a specific new phase of people from the West (for example, Boston, where your students or colleagues go). How do you see them? Are they capable of understanding?

They are capable. So that’s why I wanted to write.

You are capable because you put a lot of effort to achieve that.

I teach Indian art and culture in this school. So I think by doing that, I feel at least I give a percentage for the people to understand and appreciate art. So that was my passion.

Is there a difference between tourists from another Indian city visiting Khajuraho and a group of tourists from Chicago? Is there a difference in cultural understanding?

There is a difference unless the person is taught correctly. There are guides in Khajuraho. So they would take them, and they would deliberately tell the wrong aspects. That is where the problem is, but one cannot help it. So I took my students to an artistry course in India, and of course, because I know, I will teach them the right way. Still, I saw the guides who are taking them, and they will deliberately — because if they’re foreigners — they’ll carefully show them the wrong ways of reading the art around it.

Yeah, the wrong ways of any context.

Any context. Exactly. That’s why I tell my students that I draw a fine line between eroticism and pornographic. It is erotic. It is not pornographic. There’s a big difference between the two.

Oh my, I remember ’s description of that line between eroticism and pornography.

Yeah. There’s a fine line.

[Laughs] And that’s what’s funny is one of the protagonists of his novel said that pornography is when the pubic hair is revealed.

Okay, interesting. I like that. [Laughs]

So there could be a difference in approaches, different lines. [Laughs]

Right, that is true. I find there’s a fine line because the intent of those sculptures was not that. The purpose of it was to show that the abundance of oneness. That’s why there is no difference between gender. It’s not genderized. If you read through the sculptures, it’s plentiful. It’s abundant, but it’s not genderized.

Yeah. When you talk about a specific sculpture, of course, it’s easier. Do you have a universal description of that line between eroticism and pornography?

Universal description? I like that. I would look at it in terms of the concept, because for me, it is a question of oneness, whereas a pornographic aspect would be more with the intention of sex. There’s a big difference, isn’t it? So that is the long line which is drawn around those temples. So when you look at it, not with the eyes of pornography, you will appreciate it. Then you will see it is sensuous, and it is explicit. I wanted to make that distinction. And then, when you look at it, you will see that the beauty of the sculptures is sensual; it is more cosmic than anything else. There are many other things too. It’s not just those sculptures. Like for example, I don’t know if you know about the image of Kali?

Yeah, I do. Durga.

Yeah, is another name of her. So, Kali was such a great, mighty, omnipotent, omniscient image. But the problem was, when the British came; they couldn’t fathom the idea that Kali was always dressed in space. Dressed in space means naked, but she’s shown black, right? And she has just a garland of skulls, and her tongue is out dripping with blood.

But the mythical story behind that is that all the three gods, like , , and — the creator, the preserver, and the destroyer — they couldn’t see through the Maya. That is what they say. There was this demon who prays to Shiva for a long time, and Shiva thinks: “Oh, he’s become great, and he’s kind.” So he comes down, and he asks the demon, “What would you like?” And the demon says, “I want to be able to take different forms, disguise myself into different forms, so that nobody can find me.” And Shiva didn’t even think twice about it and said, “Okay, I’ll give you the wish.” And the demon gets the wish. Now, the demon was so cunning and conniving. Nobody could kill him, because whenever somebody wanted to kill him, he would hide in a different form. He would take the shape of a buffalo or anything, and then nobody could find it. So that’s what he asked. Then Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma, they didn’t know what to do, and he was taking over the entire universe. So then they came up with a plan, and they created with all their forces this omnipotent, omniscient, Durga, or Kali. She was so powerful that she could see through any disguise. That’s what we say. She could see through any Maya, meaning “any illusion." Any veil of Maya, so she could see through it. And she sees this demon hiding inside a buffalo. And so she pulls him out of the buffalo and kills the demon. So that’s why we always say that Kali is such an omniscient goddess that she could see through the Maya. So she’s also named as , another name.

And in another story, another demon asked, “Whenever my blood drops on the ground, another image will come up.” He is immortal, right? So then why is Kali in that form? The black one and with a skullcap. She’s holding a skullcap because she kills, and she drinks the blood of the demon. So not a drop falls. That’s why her tongue is shown, and she has a skullcap, and she wears a garland. So that is the story. That’s the image for that story. But the British didn’t know, and they were like, “Why are we praying to this massive, grotesque-looking diabolic goddess with blood dripping?” She’s, in one hand, holding the head and in another, she’s holding the skullcap, and she’s drinking the blood.

But if you know the story… Once you know the story, then you understand, because she was not allowing a drop of blood to fall on the ground, right? But if you don’t know the story, then anybody who will see that will think, “Oh, that’s so monstrous-looking.” But that is the idea of Kali, and they deliberately make her a deep black one. Because she also represents time, the black time kind of a thing, the dark time. So if you understand those nuances, then you’ll know Kali is a high figure.

Look at the modern Indians, the neo-colonial; they wouldn’t even name the child Kali, because they have this wrong idea which was fed by the British. Also, a great psychoanalyst wrote in his book — if you are a strong woman, powerful, you are like the Kali figure who’s castrating the male. So the interpretation is so changed by the Indians themselves. That’s my problem. I always taught and showed what the actual story is so that people will know, especially in the West; the interpretation is so changed.

Have you seen the movie “Temple of doom”?

No, I’m not sure.

A Western actor did a whole series, “”, and anyway, in that movie, he shows figure, and he shows one Indian priest pulling the heart of young children just for sacrifice. But that’s not ours. That is not true. I mean, but what does a Western mind get? You know, they think that’s what we do.

Yes, I can understand your frustration.

Those are the things. And there is an artist in America who does performance art. So what she does is she represents herself as this Kali Davey, and she’s a porn artist who’s become an art artist, and she’s become popular in America. Her name is , and what she does in her performance, instead of like the Kali having the different weapons from Shiva, she does this performance with varying toys of sex in her hands. And I think that, see, now I’m not religious, but that’s wrong too, right? That’s not the idea.

Well, it might be okay if it’s aesthetically...

Exactly. So it’s not aesthetically presented. I don’t know. At least in my opinion, of course.

It’s interesting, yeah. I also want to talk with you about this, because when you describe your research in traditional Indian art, there’s always a spirituality and the religious doctrine behind, and that’s a strong fundamental. A modern or contemporary art often lacks that. In your example, this lady — she exploits the religious doctrine. Love and vitality have many aspects, and one can try to substitute traditional images with explicit sexual symbols like sex toys. If it gets a response from the audience, then it works. And in this particular case it obviously works, because it’s getting popular. But if we can’t probably create a new spiritual doctrine easily nowadays, what would be your advice for a contemporary artist?

Oh, for me, in that particular instance, I’m not against what she’s doing as a performance, but I’m against how she used the concept of Kali in it.

But why? Is it because she’s wrong in her perception? Or…?

No, because she’s wrong in the perception. That doesn’t represent what the concept of Kali is.

And it becomes kitsch then.

Exactly. The same thing with, you know, the great model, ?

Yeah.

Yeah. So she, for a Halloween party, dresses up like Kali, and that’s a Halloween costume for her.

But I can, perhaps, dress for a carnival as Jupiter or another Greek god or a Roman god.

I agree.

And that may be very funny or quite stupid, but it might even become an art in a way.

Yeah, so I think my problem is, maybe because I come from India, and perhaps it is because of all that we have gone through — the invasion, colonialism, and how we have lost so much. So even now, in today’s context, I don’t want to be recolonized with the wrong interpretation. That is my problem. I want people to understand it with respect.

We will follow a little bit on that. But let me give you another quote. One person said this in a different context. He said that if someone wants to use some element from ancient tradition, say, a technique. He was talking about methods of meditation, mindfulness, focusing. When you extract some spiritual technique from an old, ancient, spiritual, or religious tradition without paying attention to and understanding where it is coming from — you’re acting like stealing electric power from a street or a stairway. Still, sooner or later, the police will come. They’ll find you, and you’re going to pay for it. And I was thinking about that, whether it’s true or not, because perhaps you don’t necessarily need to completely immerse into those ancient traditions to understand and use them in modern life.

That I understand. But at the same time, I don’t want to be insulted. That is my problem. I find it not anti-religious or anything because I’m not at all religious. But for me, I find it insulting. I think that must be the problem for me, at least.

Maybe you could give a bit of compassion to British , who got insulted, when they first saw with the sculptures?

Yes. That’s because they couldn’t understand. I can accept what they went through. But today, we have so much out there, so much written in different lights. I think you should know a little more about what it is rather than just doing it because she’s doing a work of art.

Yes. And just in principle, can you assume that there could be some way of creating a piece of art with sex toys and Kali image but with more profound respect?

Of course I can. Definitely.

Yeah, I appreciate that. I like the way you described earlier the line between erotic and pornography. So just recently, I was at an exhibition for an American exhibition by a Russian-American artist Ilya Kabakov. The title of the exhibition was “Not everybody will be taken into a future,” meaning there is a lot of art being created every day, but only very few pieces will be considered worthy in the future. There is an installation of a train leaving away from a station, and on the track, there is a pile of paintings and sculptures. And that’s captured in a way. There is a line on the train saying: “Not everything (or not everybody) is taken into the future”, and the train goes away. So that’s simple, but it’s great to think about. What do you think regarding the criteria of what makes art live into the future?

Yes, that’s very good. I think he has a point. I believe that even with as much as you can do, it’s not like everything that you do is accepted. I mean, you can try hard. Like I will try my best, but I can only do so much. I cannot change somebody’s mind completely. So I can only do so much of what I can give, but I try my best. The classes I teach, and that’s what I write. The title of my dissertation is “Ashamed of our nakedness. Is there a naked body?” I’m questioning because it’s all left to how you perceive. It’s how you see if it is a naked body. So for me, that’s how I started.

But here, as an art historian or even a conceptualist, not an artist. I am talking about your art. You’re doing one-time performances.

That is true. I do one-time performances, but I also do — I know it’s hard. I do so many different things. Like the book coming out, I did one page of the artwork, my graphic artwork. It’s kind of a drawing as well as a photo-mixed kind of media on one page; on the other page are my texts.

Beautiful. So is it still in progress?

It’s in progress. It’ll probably come by next year. It’s with the publisher, and they’ve gone through it. They’ve accepted it. It took time because every alternate page is an artwork. So for printing, it’s not easy for people, and I was very particular that it should be printed well because it’s my work, and I wanted it in a certain way. It’s like a conversation between the picture and the texts which are there. So those are not installations. They are permanent. So it depends on how I change, like face-to-face.

I do installations because I do collect a lot of these — I want to say junk, literally. [Laughs] I’ve some fascination with mirrors and shattered glass, and I collect them, so when I got the idea, I installed them together. So it’s both. I started writing because I wanted to promote a correct understanding of the work. That was my main intention. And that’s always been my goal. I want people to accept and respect what was before. Don’t debase us in such a manner. [Laughs] That was the whole thing. I guess that’s because I’m passionate about it. [Laughs]

I did an exciting workshop yesterday in Vilnius. There were at least 25 to 30 students in the class. I told them of how dance started, how it evolved, and how it was banned by the British. The dancing was banned entirely by the British, saying that it was vulgar and sensual, and they thought it was debauched. So they banned it and then it was revived again during the nationalist movement. So we have a history too. So I was telling them that. And then I also told them the mythical story of who the first dancer was considered as Shiva in the form of . So I told them the story of Nataraja, and then I showed them a small little piece in praise of Lord Shiva. Before you perform, you do that, because he’s considered as the Lord of dance and music. So I did that piece, and one of the students from the group said, so when you teach the dance, that means it is religious. So I was put on the spot, and I wanted to say “yes”, but at the same time, I said, “It’s not, you can dance without religion”, because it’s there’s a fine line between religion and spirituality, right?

I don’t think she got the essence of spirituality, but she insisted that it is for Lord Shiva. So I said it is only in praise of Shiva, but it’s nothing to do with that. I told her that I only look at it as just an aesthetic aspect, and then I said, “How do these images come about anyway? They’re all artists’ interpretation.” It’s not like there is a Shiva. It is just an image. It has become a god today. I mean, because Hinduism has become pretty fundamentalistic and it became an image of a god.

To begin with, it was just a way of life and then how it changed into religion, and suddenly now we’ve become fanatics about it. But she was very persistent, so I told her about an experience in the States about one student who would refuse to dance because of the similar reason. And other students also wanted to learn about Shiva, but she said, “I will sit down.” So I said, “Don’t worry. We can do something else. There are a lot of compositions which are just movements, just a conversation. It does not necessarily have to do with a god or anything.” But I didn’t expect that. I understand from where she’s coming. Maybe she’s coming from a Catholic background. Possibly.

Possibly, but not necessarily. It is like a regular question, and you mentioned that you are not religious. Still, now I see you consider spirituality broader than religion, because it was probably not institutionalized by the British. Then it became a religion in some stage, and you may see it differently again. And sometimes you need to find and explain your artistic relationship with the religion.

Exactly. How you do it and how you take it. I also told them that there might be many dancers who would take it as religious, and you don’t know, right. You cannot expect this, but it is. So, it was interesting, but I didn’t expect it here, especially from a young crowd. So, it was interesting.

Well, we can observe some religious Renaissance here, especially after the Pope’s visit. So he inspired many young people, who want to feel, at least for some time, truly religious. [Laughs]

Oh, I see. That’s right.

And that’s okay.

Yeah, it is. I said it’s okay. I told her it’s absolutely fine. There were two or three other girls who wanted to learn, because it’s a tiny thing, and it’s nothing. It just says, you are the universe; you are the body because he’s a dancer, and basically, dances to wipe out ignorance. I was explaining what it means and what this dance meant. So, it was interesting how she took it. It was an excellent experience to learn, and when you’ve put on that spot, how would you answer to a student, it was an exciting task. That was pretty neat.

Have you ever performed dancing naked?

No.

You don’t need that to present your views. [Laughs]

I don’t think so. No, I don’t. Maybe I don’t have the guts to do it. That’s possible too. I also questioned myself; perhaps I’m also brought up in such a Victorian way that I may not have the guts to do it.

Would you consider this as a sort of achievement?

To do it? No, I don’t think I have to go to that extent to say something. Because I draw and paint and I don’t think I’ve ever had a moment to feel that I have to do it in that manner. I’ve never thought of it, nor have I had the intention of doing it. I think I love all the fabrics and jewelry, so I always adorn myself. So I never have come to that extent.

Then I wanted to ask you about the effect of visual recording. Previously, the dance could not be filmed. There was no technology. Now it’s readily available. Did it change the choreography of the traditional Indian dance?

Oh, it has evolved. There’s a massive change in how dance is performed. That’s what I was trying to tell them yesterday; when it started, it was always considered as an offering. See, that’s where the religion aspect comes. Usually, the temples have a space in front, and you typically perform in the front, and the audience sits like in a semicircle. So that has changed, and it’s become a stage performance.

It has also become a studio performance, mostly. So it’s evolved, when television came about, there was a significant change in the performances, even the way it was performed. You have to attain certain angles for the camera. So it was interesting that changed the way it is performed. Now cameras have become so great, so they are going back to that traditional way of moving and performing because the camera can follow. So it’s an exciting change in that sense.

I see. In that way.

In that way. And in terms of the concept, I would say there are more conversational pieces today. It may not be about a certain god or anything. It can be more about the day to day genre.

So dancers take part in a conversation, or is it with the audience?

No, it’s not like that. It’s a dance, but when I say conversational piece, it means it’s a dance about something very colloquial. Like for example, a composition can be like a tiff between two lovers. It will be a conversation piece, so in the dance, you’re showing a drama there. She was waiting, and the lover comes back, and then she had questions, “Why are you so late?” Because he was having a great time somewhere else. And then she says, “No, I won’t allow you in. Why are you coming now?” So it’s a very present-day story rather than a story of gods. So it’s like a contemporary story narrated like a conversation, like a talk.

I assume that gods can also converse. At least, they did in old times?

Oh, they did. Here I’m showing it like a “Hero and Heroine”.

And is this more ordinary?

Yes, exactly. An ordinary genre of people.

Like a soap opera? [Laughs]

Yeah. But it’s not shown in that way because it is more in the same style. These pieces were written way before in Sanskrit. These are compositions that are written to show rasas: to show anger, to show happiness. So these are small compositions, which are ancient to me, but they’re using it more now in dance than they used to do before.

Oh, really?

Yeah. But they’re all old compositions written by great masters. It’s become more popular to narrate them now.

That’s good.

Yeah, it is good. There were faces of elitism in classical forms. That elitism is, they’re trying to bring it down so that everybody can understand. That’s why I said conversational pieces. Otherwise, it was so elite that the general mass cannot understand the classical elite forms.

That’s also a universal issue in art.

Right, that’s true.

Maybe you have considered it yourself making your installations?

Yeah. It’s not easy for everyone to like it. It’s coming down a little bit but not extremely down because then it’ll become like any cinema or any Bollywood. That’s fine. These are all very ancient compositions which were not even — it’s so refreshing to see that even in dance, the women had so much freedom in those compositions. But that has changed as we evolved. So it’s interesting that those days women had more power than what they have today. So it was kind of exciting to see that.

Great. I see that you use this enormous resource of Indian tradition.

I do.

And it’s so vast, you can endlessly explore.

Exactly. It is so vast, and we are losing out so much. That’s exactly what my paper was about. I was talking about Kali and how it has changed, how the interpretation has changed at various times, coming to the present.

Fine. I guess, maybe that’s almost it. To pay a tribute to , who has introduced us to each other, I want to ask you a question, what would you consider the most important thing he taught you?

I came to , Michigan, on the . When I came there, it was a more accessible place to do research. When I was in India, there were so many restrictions for so many things that I wanted to get out. So I came back for my Ph.D. after the Fulbright, and I came to Ohio, and it was by chance, I met Algis because I was not in the philosophy department. I was in a comparative act department because I was more of a visual artist.

Did you start your research in India?

Yes.

And then what were you doing in Ann Arbor?

I came on a Fulbright. I got a fellowship in art history.

For how long?

I was there for two years.

But didn’t you do your Ph.D. there?

No. I couldn’t finish my research. You have to have certain credits. I was already teaching in India, so I came as an exchange fellowship, like a person giving more talks rather than as a research student. So I decided to go back. I was teaching in India, so I came on leave to Ohio, and I joined this Comparative art department in Ohio, where Algis is, in Athens. That department was a comparison between theater, music, and visual art. So it was elegant, and that’s what I wanted to bring together.

But the faculty there was — oh my God, there was one person who was such a racist. [Laughs] I’ll never forget. She was from Texas. She was terrible to me. She didn’t know much about India, and she couldn’t accept that I could speak English and I was teaching in English. So it was very hard. Because of my interest in philosophy, somebody said, “Go ahead and go to the philosophy department and meet Algis, because he knows about Asia.” So I said okay. So one day I decided I’ll go to meet him. And that’s how I started. I saw that he understood what I wanted to do. So I started taking philosophy classes. I took more classes there than in my own department.

I took classes from him, but these people wouldn’t allow me to finish my Ph.D. They didn’t want me to do what I wanted to do for what I came. So I decided to leave Ohio, though I kept in touch with Algis. I got a full scholarship at a State University of New York at Binghamton, and I transferred. I was only doing my research. I finished my dissertation in a year and a half in New York. Algis was on my committee. I don’t know if you know ?

Yeah.

He was there, he was a reader, because we had to have two people from outside. In this university, the faculty was just excellent. They understood what I wanted to do. So it was great. I finished it because of that. Like I could do this purely right. I defended in a gallery with all my artwork, and my defense was a performance. So it was kind of interesting. I blocked my text and my dance and my visual all together in one. I consider Algis as my mentor in many ways, because he helped me out to get out of that.

More than that, I learned so much from him. He would always say, “You are also so British.” He would always tell that to me. “You have to be more cosmic.” [Laughs]

That’s very Algis, yes. [Laughs]

[Laughs] Exactly. So I think he knew I was going to talk to him. He opened my mind to more perspectives, different perspectives, which was enlightening for me. So I respect him for that.

You also benefited from that sort of cosmic approach.

Very much.

So, he did not encourage you to take a closer look at your Indian essence, but broader than that.

Wider than that. I also learned phenomenology from him. I thought there’s so much of a connection between phenomenology and Indian philosophy. For me, it was great. Even though I went to Ohio and I didn’t finish, I think I got more than what I want by meeting him. I still keep in touch, even though I meet him in Lithuania more than in the States right now. [Laughs] But I always keep in contact.

He wrote an intro to your book.

Yes. I sent him my work to have a second reading. He still is a mentor to me, in that sense. So even though I was not directly his student, not in his department, I have learned so much and widened my perspective. I think that’s very important. There are no words to describe what I have learned from him.

That’s a beautiful story. It sounds like an accidental encounter.

My department, it’s unbelievable. They were so racist, and I couldn’t take it. I remember this lady telling me, “You stink; you have to change your bath soap.” Can you believe that? I mean, that is so insulting.

And that was already in this century?

I’m talking about 1996, 1997. That was very shocking to me.

Do you observe any change in this kind of attitude in recent years?

There is a change, but there are also some of those subtle nuances.

I wouldn’t expect it to change radically.

No, not yet. But there is a change. People accept you and give you more respect. But sometimes there are certain stupid things which you come across. I do not deny the fact, but that’s part of it. You cannot help it. [Laughs]

Yes. There is a lot of stupidity around.

There are some foolish things. Like I go to a shop, an ordinary shop, if I wear Indian clothes, the person will talk to me slowly and loudly as if I don’t understand English. And I’m thinking, am I going to tell that person, “No, no. I have a Ph.D.” [Laughs] I’m not going to say to her. But it is so hilarious to think that if they talk slowly and loudly that I will understand. But it’s the same language, whether you speak slowly or not. [Laughs]

You should appreciate Americans talk to you. [Laughs]

[Laughs] It’s hilarious. So those small things I still encounter. But it’s okay. You have already made a decision when you live in another country. But there is racism in India too.

India has everything.

So when did you go to India?

There were several times, but I didn’t know India very thoroughly. I was on a tour once and on brief vacations. I was traveling in , and then I went to Varanasi.

You were in Kerala? I’m actually from Kerala. [Laughs]

That was a fantastic trip. There were four of us, two couples. That was already in 2000 or 2001. So like 20 years ago. I just realized that it’s so resourceful, so diverse.

So diverse, yes. That’s right.

But later, when traveling, I did some reading, and I realized that it’s a place where Buddhism got its origin. Before Buddhism, there was also a vibrant tradition, with even before that. So when you try to put everything into your head, it’s a lot. I read . I liked his “Ardor” very much. He’s written a few books about the origins of Western and Indian culture.

And thanks, this was very interesting. I think it’s good to bring more of Indian tradition, a spiritual tradition in different manifestations to Lithuania. We will benefit from that. It’s so good that you came.

Thank you.

I look forward to your book, and it sounds all cool.