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      “In India, everything is extremely difficult” Interview with Angelica Helena Marinescu

      What better day to publish this interview than International Yoga Day? Known in particular for promoting Indian culture in Romania, Angelica Marinescu has a double PhD in Sociology and Communication, several Master’s degrees and is the author of a book and several studies and articles published in journals and volumes of prestigious institutions in Romania, Belgium, France and India.

      Cleopatra David: I have found from my own experience that the internet and social media create an illusion around a personality and what is seen is not always the most important thing a person has to show. I met you as the organizer of Namaste India and as a dancer. But Angelica Marinescu is a sociologist, researcher and a speaker. How did you go from studying sociology to Indian dance? Was it another research topic?

      Angelica Marinescu: I graduated from the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures at the University of Bucharest, where I studied French language and literature. After university I worked for a while in Bucharest, then I went to Italy, with a contract at a railway company in northern Italy, in Suedtirol. Italy was a growing experience, I learned that I have rights, I became sociable, I learned how to manage projects and deadlines, to work in a team, to coordinate a team. I was part of what was called the ‘Trains Operations Room’, which meant that I had about 30 train drivers, including a lady. All militantly educated. Running passenger trains is a job where you learn to be responsible, no mistakes are allowed, we went through a three-month training period before we started working. These people were always professional with me, I never had any problems, on the contrary, I felt respected and appreciated. Italy is a lesson in a positive way of life, in fulfilling one’s abilities, wishes and dreams. I was able to fulfill my dream to travel more, to drive my own car, to learn horse riding for example. And first of all, to trust the people and their friendliness, because Italians are really friendly and helpful. In Italy I also learned to appreciate my relationship with my family and this was one of the reasons why I decided to return to Italy in 2007, because I felt I was wasting precious time away from my family.

      Sociology was a form of knowledge that gave me the power to understand reality, not fiction

      Although I was returning home, I found that it wasn’t easy to return – I was no longer in contact with anyone, everyone’s lives were different, a kind of difficulty of reintegration I felt the first time. It’s like coming home, but the house is so different that you have to relearn how to get by in it. I decided that the easiest way would be to pursue this idea of fulfilling my dreams and I enrolled for a Master’s degree in International Economic Relations at the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest. In the meantime, I discovered another interesting master’s degree at the Faculty of Sociology of the University of Bucharest and decided that I could study in both. After the start of the semester, I thought it would be useful for me to do a Master’s in Journalism and I enrolled in the Faculty of Journalism and Communication Sciences. It sounds almost comical now, but at the time I had the impression that I had discovered a way. Somehow, I managed to manage, successfully, all three. During my studies, however, I discovered this key to understanding reality that is sociology. To a mind accustomed to literature, sociology was suddenly a form of knowledge that gave me the power to understand reality, not fiction. I simply fell in love with sociology and anthropology. As part of this sociology master’s degree, I received an Erasmus scholarship to France, where I followed another master’s degree, M2, in Arts, Lettres, Philosophie, at the University of Bourgogne and this created a strong link with my basic studies. In the summer of 2008 I received a scholarship to a summer school in Italy in political studies and in that summer school my paper was awarded the prize of Best Concept Paper, I was recommended to continue with a PhD, because I have talent as a researcher, the renowned Professor Bianchini of the University of Bologna told me at the time. I guess I believed him, in 2009 I was admitted to the Doctoral School of Sociology at the University of Bucharest. The POS-DRU scholarship and an AUF scholarship allowed me to spend two years back in France, where I had access to the library and resources to complete my thesis in a timely manner. I managed to publish my research with L’Harmattan last year.

      Now, let me go back in time a bit: how I came to India and Indian dance. In 2009 my grandmother died, and I went into a kind of depression. I then searched within myself for something that would please and challenge me the most, so that I could strive to continue my life in light and harmony. I found this dream from my teenage years of learning Indian classical dance. I wrote to the Indian Embassy in Bucharest, and the Cultural Attaché at the time, Mr Manohar Lal, replied and recommended several names of classical dance teachers. But at that time the only one available was Loredana Ungureanu, who was teaching semi-classical dance and I decided to start from there. I ended up with her on stage at a Tea and Coffee Festival at the Shutu Palace, and the experience of dancing in front of an audience was so intense and delightful for me that I decided I had to continue on this path of dance. In the same year we started a collaboration with the Embassy of India, first for a show and then for the Festival of Indian Culture in Romania, Namaste India. Of course, these events are actually the fruit of an interesting and beautiful collaboration with Iuliana Nălățan, who is a very good organizer and with whom I have collaborated very well over the years and to whom I am really grateful for everything she brought into my life with these events.

      C.D. Indian society has many aspects and many layers. It is India of big cities and they are very different from each other, rural India and tribal India. How deep did you get into these layers?

      A.M.: I first went to India in 2013, straight to a Bengali village in the Ganges Delta, Sundarbans. It was a kind of reward for the help I was able to give for a few years to Indian globetrotter Somen Debnath. The creative effort I put in to help him in giving more visibility to his journey around the world was a kind of joy to work for a person doing something exceptional with a kind of modesty and naturalness that changed my way of thinking. I remember asking him then what his deity was and he looked at me, smiled knowingly and said, “People are my God!”. Because he travels with the help of the people he meets, they feed him, give him a place to sleep and money to continue his journey, in addition to the friendship and attention so necessary for someone who travels the world for 16 years (2004-2020). The Bengali village is an almost heavenly world, lush vegetation, kind and beautiful people, neighbourhood that matters, amazingly good food…close family relationships and a care that I never had at home either. I wrote about it in a book, India. Subjective ethnography or pseudo-guide of ceport, published in 2016.

      We arrived in India during the biggest Bengali festival, Durga Puja, in October. It’s still monsoon time in India. What impressed me then and I later turned into a research using the field diary was the connection between the Hindu and Muslim communities, each of the community members participating in the religious celebrations of the other community.

      Indian dance is Bhakti, it is a form of prayer, of communication with the Divine.

      In 2016 I returned to India to truly fulfill my dream of becoming an Indian classical dancer. I gave up my two positions, assistant and lecturer, at the University of Bucharest. After attending a conference in Mumbai, where I spoke about the Indian Diaspora in Romania, which the organization of the festival gave me the opportunity to get to know closely, I left for the East of India, to a place unknown to me until then, where I didn’t know anyone, but where I discovered that it would be the most prestigious school of classical dance in the Odissi style. We left for a town called Bhubaneswar in the state of Orissa. Truly the most prestigious school, Srjan Odissi Nrityabhasa was founded by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, who revived the tradition of this style of dance. I suddenly found myself in the world of professional Indian dance. From the first couple of months all I remember is the hours of dancing, all day, with breaks for lunch and sleep. And the continued joy of learning and growing a little every day in the world of Indian art and philosophy. With the transformation of the body, came the inner transformation and with the technique of dance, the discovery of forms of worship of the Divine in dance and not only, which is called Bhakti, because Indian dance is a form of prayer, of communication with the Divine.

      We also discovered that we had arrived in the city of three paradises, Bhubaneswar, one of the most important pilgrimage sites in India. More than 700 elaborately decorated temples define the city’s spiritual geography. It is a garden of joy, a place of spiritual reverence, a place of continuous discovery and self-discovery.

      In 2017 I returned to the same school, with a scholarship from the Indian Government, which allowed me to deepen this form of Indian classical dance over a period of three years. It still seems to me a divine gift.

      C.D.: I spent a short time in India, but I could observe that the way of life of the Romanians, their family relationships, their way of reacting, are closer to the East than to the West-European one. Is it because of our geographical position and Ottoman influence?

      A.M.: I think we have an Eastern European way of life, neither Eastern nor Western. I grew up in a village in Moldova, Cașin, in Bacau county. This has forever educated me to accept any way of life and any people as good and equal to me. Because village life during the communist period was difficult, but people found resources to communicate, to continue their traditions, to survive together. On a higher level, I think we are a beautiful and unique blend of east and west, of indigenous and assimilation, a kind of crossroads of rich cultures from which we have borrowed. I think we need to learn to appreciate ourselves, to be happy with what we have and to make the best of what we have. That’s what I understood in India: everything is extremely difficult, from the climate, to family and inter-human relationships, but these very things become the art. Everyday prayer becomes dance or music or sculpture. And it’s nothing easy, it’s all perpetual, difficult, accepted dharma work, what you’re given to do and they do it as best they can.

      C.D.: India was for me, among other things, the country where I learned to put the mask on my face when I’m sick and I’ve been doing it for over 10 years. How is India fighting the epidemic, knowing that the population is very large and crowding is the norm there?

      A.M.: Because I had to stay here because of the scholarship and it wasn’t an easy decision, I followed the news quite a bit and during my time at home I continued to do my dance practice as a form of sadhana. I live in the house of one of India’s most famous artists, Guru Padma Shree Kumkum Mohanty, who has made sure that nothing is missing and that all rules of hygiene are observed. In Orissa people are understanding and quite willing to obey orders. Bhubaneswar was for this reason one of the cities declared safe quite early on. People did not leave the house at all while the quarantine was in place, and subsequently wore masks, ensured hygiene in public spaces and were extremely careful.

      India is a difficult mother, but she gives you everything you ask of her in a way that exceeds your expectations.

      C.D.: India is a seductive country, but it has many challenges, especially for women. What do you miss most when you are in India and what do you miss most when you are in Romania?

      A.M.: India is still a country with a patriarchal society, but willing to admit its own mistakes and improve. It is not easy to be a woman in India, especially after marriage, when a woman becomes the new member of the family she enters, almost abruptly breaking ties with her own family. Women still touch their foreheads in the hope of good fortune and a lot of religious rituals are aimed at finding a good husband and family. Family arranged marriages are still a common and valued practice, showing devotion to one’s parents’ decisions, love marriages have slowly become accepted.

      After you live in India for a while, it gets inside you. You become one with her. She’s a mother who won’t let you leave her side. She’s a difficult mother, but she gives you everything you ask of her in a way that exceeds your expectations. In India you find that you are beautiful, that you are loved, wanted, because Indians appreciate beauty, whatever its form, and relate in emotional-familial patterns. When I am not in India, it is with me as an alternate space, I continue to breathe its air, to experience its sunrises and sunsets, the intensity of the encounters and the awe with which I go through each day here.

      Of course I miss my family here, I miss the social spaces and friends, the bathtub and the permanent hot water. And a lot of tastes that only exist in Romania.

      C.D.: Among the many languages you know is Bengali. Why Bengali and not Hindi, for example? Does it have to do with it being Tagore’s language?

      A.M.: I started learning Bengali after visiting Sundarbans. But I am now ‘struggling’ with Oriya, which has difficult sounds to understand. Hindi is spoken in the capital, but each Indian state retains its own language, although everyone knows Hindi and English fairly well, thanks to the colonial period. But I want to learn Sanskrit.

      C.D.: What is the study/research topic you are currently working on/project?

      A.M.: The religious and spiritual richness of Orissa, the constant visits to the temples and their surroundings have led me to the field of sacred art and religious studies, in connection with Yoga and Sakta traditions, in which I am fascinated.

      I initially discovered two worlds in Orissa that I found interesting: the world of indigenous, tribal communities and that of Buddhism. I felt I could contribute to their understanding. I had the good fortune to meet two professors with whom I conducted theoretical and field research, which resulted in two special editions in two research journals in Romania, one belonging to the Institute of Sociology of the Romanian Academy, and one to the Faculty of Sociology and Social Work. I was also part of a special edition of MargASIA magazine, with an article on the sacred Buddhist sites of Orissa.

      The dance itself opened my understanding to researching Indian aesthetics. Although I have been interested in this field for a long time, I began to delve into this extremely difficult and vast subject when I got close to one of the most appreciated dancers in Orissa, Sri Rahul Acharya, who is an avid researcher, a connoisseur of the Sanskrit language, of the Śastres, a seeker of the roots of Indian spirituality and art, a yoga and religious practitioner beyond ordinary human understanding. Although he is younger than me, the wisdom he possesses, as a member of the family of the royal teachers of Orissa, Raja Guru, to which he has added his own need for knowledge, has defined him for me as a Guru. They accept very few students. It was an almost unexpected joy when he offered to teach me not only the dance form he practices, but also the theory related to the aesthetics of dance and, beyond that, the spirituality inherent in classical dance and Orissana history and literature. It has become an extremely interesting collaboration, because he knows what I have not been able to discover on my own in my three years here, and I am a curious researcher and student, which constantly challenges him so much that we build this research together. With Rahul Acharya I discovered the tradition of Gotipua dance, a form of dance originally practised only by boys, subsequent to the temple dance, in which women educated in art and philosophy, called Devadasi and Maharis danced for the Deity of the temple, in Odissa for Jagannath.

      In the meantime, I am writing the biography of Ms. Kumkum Mohanty, holder of the high distinction of Padma Shree, one of the finest Odissi dancers, still unmatched in the expressive dance form called Abhinaya . It’s a historical and human foray that I didn’t dare dream of when I arrived here, Guru Kumkum Mohanty being one of the most interesting people and personalities, the one who made Odissi dance accepted among other forms of Indian classical dance, her life and the evolution of dance intertwine in the richest and happiest way.

      Source – www.adevarul.ro

      Author – Cleopatra David

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