Argentina – A Travelogue
I can’t recall the precise date; it was somewhere in mid-November 2014 when I received an email from the Indian Embassy to visit Argentina as a Cultural Diplomat to promote Indian Classical dance. What accompanied was a quick feeling of excitement as well as eagerness. The thought that it was just the opposite side of the globe occupied me for quite a while. Since childhood, Argentina for me meant just football much due to the legendary football player Maradona and this country’s natural beauty was also something that interested me a lot. My house in Kolkata is very near to the Saltlake Stadium which is famous for football matches. When in ’07 Maradona visited this stadium my whole extended family members went to see him except me. As young teenager I felt neglected. My mother gave me solace and said not to worry as a day may come when I will visit his country to meet him. Even that time it was a dream to visit South America and I could not believe that my passion which would turn into profession would take me to Argentina.
On 29th June I reached Ezeiza Airport, Buenos Aires at 10.30pm local time. The officers already told me to carry warm clothing and it was really cold outside the airport. Vivekananda, an official from Indian Embassy came with Emilio, the driver. Emilio seemed to be very jolly and started acting like my local guide telling and talking about Argentina, especially Buenos Aires. They took me to the ambassador’s house which was on the 40th floor-full of grandeur and beauty. Through the wide open glass window- whole Buenos Aires was visible just like decorated stars in a night of Christmas.
After one day Emilio came to pick me to the Embassy where I had an Interview with Mónica López Ocón Cultural Editor, Tiempo Argentino, one of the very important newspapers of Buenos Aires and another Interview was with Radio Niketan, Argentina’s one and only radio channel about India.
My first performance:
I appeared at ‘Club Serio’. It was my first performance in Argentina. The entire young crowd came for taking snaps with me after my performance. It was really a celebrated feeling. Their appreciation meant a lot. Next two days I conducted workshops at ‘Teatro Independencia’, the cultural hub in Mendoza. I thought it will be challenging to communicate to the foreign culture, but since music and dance have a universal language, so communication didn’t turn out to be a problem at all. Many of them wanted to continue Kathak dance with me. Ultimately my Kathak choreographies won hearts of many as I could feel through their reactions.
After coming back to Buenos Aires it was a quite a hectic schedule for me. I went to ‘CARI’,Uruguyay to conduct a seminar and was interviewed by ‘Revista de arte’. I performed in very prestigious ‘Manuel Belgrano Auditorium’ of The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Cancilleria) organized by ‘Indian Embassy, Argentina’ in front of many distinguished guests like Ambassador of India, Ambassador Japan , Ambassador of France, Consular of Columbia and other countries. I was felicitated by the Ambassador of France to Argentina. I was really enthralled by the speech about me by the Indian Ambassador Mr. Amarendra Khatua. He himself is a poet, classical dance enthusiast and music lover. The audience was really admirable and showed much interest towards Indian culture be it Shiva Stuti or a thumri of Lord Krishna. At least 150 people came to me after my performance there. Among them few were Young artists and Indian classical dance learners. Most importantly I met Myrta Barvie , the legendary Indian Classical dancer from Argentina who called me as ‘Meera Bai’. This kind of compliment from a star dancer made my day.
The next performance was at ‘Tres de Febrero’ in Buenos Aires for the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Education, Argentina. It was another important concert for me. Here I conducted another workshop with some lovely students. Paola, who herself was a Bharatnatyam learner translated everything into Spanish for their understanding.
I had the opportunity to visit another part of this country – the province of Chaco, Resistencia City. Here I performed for ‘Council of International Dance – UNESCO’ in association with the Indian Embassy. Here after a full day workshop I became Little emotional because I got the best students from all over Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay and their understanding level of Indian classical dance and philosophy were just like any other Indians. In the evening there was my concert along with other Argentine dance performances. Later that day, other dancers joined me for lunch in the hotel Amerian where I was staying. Our topic of discussion started with dance but ended with love and relationship. In Argentina 58% of births is to unmarried women. I met few ladies over there who are living happily with their boyfriend and kids. They told that they will think about their marriages after few years and then they may or may not get married. They were looking really happy with their “cohabitant” status.
Most beautiful moment for me was a special visit to Villa O’Campo, the house of Victoria Ocampo , which is famous for its list of distinguished visitors who came to Argentina invited by Victoria like Rabindranath Tagore. It was organised by Embassy of India. It is said that Rabindranath Tagore wrote ‘Vijaya’ based on Victoria.
On the same day, I performed at ‘Teatro del Viejo Consejo’, organised by ‘San Isidro Municipality’ in Buenos Aires. The translator, an Argentine girl Augustina was with me throughout my journey in Buenos Aires.
Apart from my performances I had enough chance to meet local dancers, local people, Tango dancers, have food in best restaurant and of course the Ambassador and other special guests were really perfect in their hospitality.
How could I come back without having a city tour in Buenos Aires! So, with Belen I toured by a roof top bus visiting many eye catching places. It was a sunny and windy day; so I had to wear woollen cardigan, blazer, full stockings, scarves everything to cover myself. Sunglass was another indispensible thing that I carried all along. We reached La Recoleta- the entire cemetery was laid out in sections like city blocks, with wide tree-lined main walkways splitting into pavements filled with vaults and tombs. This is the first time I spent a really long time in a cemetery. From here again we boarded a bus and went to see the Opera house. It was really huge. The first sentence I uttered looking at this was ‘‘Oh! Today onwards, this is another of my dreams added in the list where I want to perform one day in my life.”
La Boca, the neighbourhood was such a place that it can make your heart colourful and so was the market San Telmo. Another fascinating place was La Bombonera. The name is due to its shape, with a « flat » stand on one side of the pitch and three steep stands round the rest of the stadium.
I was really awestruck to see a sculptured flower made of steel. It was a gift to the city by the Argentine architect named Eduardo Catalano. But what I enjoyed most was the Palermo Lake.
Well, whole day we spent screaming out of joy like small girls hopping on and off the bus. In this whole trip I went to taste Argentine & Peruvian food in almost all renowned restaurants with the Ambassador. I ate chicken dishes, salad and ice cream desert. The Ice cream volcano cake was a treat for my taste buds.
Shopping and girls are synonymous. I was staying at the most fashionable and trendy locality. I had the chance to see many designer showrooms. They were too costly though very beautiful. I bought few leather items and wall hangings.
On the final day, I went to meet all the staff in the embassy and was feeling attached to them. While coming back, Emilio surprisingly told me that he will take me to few places, which I would definitely like. He took me to Cancilleria, the auditorium of Foreign Ministry, where I performed few days back. I took many pics (and of course selfies ). Then he took me to Rio De La Plata, the Silver Plate River. The solidarity can be so beautiful- the River reminded me the philosophy of a boatman “no one knows the entire ocean”. In that regard, nobody has seen or will ever understand every little detail of our soul –probably not even us. My dance has established my identity, made me stand and represent India and the Indian culture abroad, but I am still sailing with my small boat to explore the ocean…
About the author:
Sangeeta Majumder is a renowned Kathak Dancer from India and is the General Secretary of Strings N Steps. She organizes the ‘Strings N Steps Festival’ in New Delhi every year. She has received numerous awards for her prowess in Kathak and most recently has represented India as a cultural diplomat in Argentina in the year 2015. More about her can be found at http://www.sangeetamajumder.com/