Dasappa Keshava moved to Switzerland in 1975. In over 44 years of being so far away from all, that’s Indian – he has integrated very well and established Indian dance culture by way of Kalasri. He tells Manasa Mukka and Aradhna Sethi more about life here and how much it’s evolved!
Right from his childhood, Keshava has been interested in Indian mythological stories, music, dance, drama and in the philosophy of yoga. Besides going to regular school, he enjoyed practising all of these every day. He says, “I have practiced Hatha Yoga and learnt Sanskrit in my childhood. We had a family tradition of reading the ‘Bhagavada Gita’ every morning. I learnt yoga from my father at first, and later from Yogiraj Sri Deshikacharya of Mysore for many years.”
He reminisces, “As a young boy, I used to play different roles in Kannada plays. After my Diploma in Mechanical Draftsmanship in 1962, I could not think of working in an office or in the industry, so I decided to join the fine arts college of Mysore University and studied the art of classical dance under Guru Padmabhushana, Dr K. Venkatalakshamma (a doyen of Mysore dance style) for six years. After the formal completion of my university education, I continued learning the ancient art from my Guru for many more years and studied other dance styles of India from eminent gurus. This helped me to add innovative accents to my dance productions.”
The fact that Keshava secured the first rank and gold medals in all diplomas, degrees and the Vidwath (Karnataka Government) examinations, clearly shows his passion and perfection in his chosen field.
He went on to procure diplomas in playing the Mridangam and Veena and also in dramatics.
A meeting that led to destiny
Keshava met Esther Jenny in India when she was learning Yoga from Sri Pattabhi Jois in Mysore and Bharatanatyam from Keshava. Esther soon became Keshava’s fiance and invited him to teach dance and yoga in Switzerland. Together, they started the Kalasri Academy. While Keshava planned to leave his homeland, India, Esther busied herself to set up and organise his teaching sessions.
“I was very excited. I held many notions about the unknown situations in a European country when I landed in Basel, Switzerland at the end of December 1975. It was so cold! The people were well-dressed and had different coloured hair. The fascinating snowfall, clean roads and buildings… I felt as though I was in a movie,” he recalls.
“I did not know any of the Swiss languages and not many people spoke English at that time. I just had a slight idea about Switzerland from Esther. I was totally unprepared. And at that time, one saw very few brown or dark-skinned people and very few Indians. I can’t say understanding the Swiss systems and people was easy. However, because of my background and the education that was given to me by my parents, along with yoga that I had practised from childhood – I learned to dare, and consciously face the hurdles in a natural way. I was quite adaptable”
Early years in Switzerland
Soon after reaching Basel, he began teaching Swiss children and adults and started doing dance programmes with Esther. It was all very new to the Swiss – and they were very open-minded about the Indian culture. He smiles, saying, “They called our art exotic, sensational, interesting and fascinating. In a short period, I learnt to speak both German and the Swiss dialect. Communication became easier and many Swiss theatres, communities, cultural organisations and Indian associations invited us to perform. We were interviewed on radio and TV shows and received very positive reviews and critiques by well-known journalists. This helped us to continue our work and to spread our art and culture in Switzerland. I am happy that I did it.”
Creating a place for himself
“I believe it is my authenticity, continuity of my sincere hard work and my professionalism that has helped me create my own place in both the Indian and Swiss communities. I just wanted to be an artist and express my thoughts and feelings. I wanted to share the joy with others, realise human qualities and understand the philosophy of leading a peaceful life,” he says, thoughtfully.
“I feel good that I could continue my cultural work and I’m proud of the art and culture India has. I came to Switzerland with the intention of propagating my art and culture here and did not give up on my idea. I have adopted many good things in life, but have remained Indian. Fortunately, I did receive encouraging feedbacks and support in different ways, and that helped me achieve a lot. My family members are also involved in doing the same work with me and we live on this wonderful profession,” he adds with pride and joy.
“I’m very satisfied with it all. Of course, I miss my homeland and my Indian family, but I go there every year to meet my family members, learn and gain more knowledge in the art, meet great masters, work with musicians, to give dance shows, collect costumes. etc.,” he says, reflecting his attachment to India.
As a parent…
Both Esther and Keshava have always been involved in dance, music and yoga. Naturally, their two daughters and one son were influenced by their cultural activities. He says, “As a father, I never forced or insisted that my children should follow my way. They grew up in that environment, began to perform with us at a very young age; especially our daughters Anjali and Sumitra. They joined us with full passion. I believe that they are talented by their birth. They have also studied and secured masters in other subjects at Basel University. However, they have decided to take Indian dance as their profession. My son Ananda danced with us as a little boy. Later, he started working successfully for a Swiss bank.”
Over the years, the family has been well accepted and appreciated in their profession of embracing the arts – not only in Switzerland but also in other parts of the world. Humble pride ensconces Keshava as he says, “Our cultural service is recognised by the Indian Government and I am humbled to receive some of the prestigious awards by many Indian cultural committees.”
He ends our interview saying, “Dance, music and yoga are my passions and my life, and I am happy with that. I never thought of changing my route. By practising yoga, I have come to realise what happiness truly is… ‘santhosha’, as also what real satisfaction is – ‘trupti’.
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