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From K-Pop to kudiyattam

Twitter brings me news of many things. This evening I finally explored what was all this about "Gangnam Style", words that I'd seen repeated numerous times, and discovered the phenomenon of K-pop. If I were the right age and had an ear to other kinds of media, or had teenage kids in the house, I certainly wouldn't need Twitter to find out about that, but it's good that I haven't insulated myself completely. I watched a couple of catchy youtube clips and satisfied my curiosity. It isn't something I'd go in for, but it's refreshing to re-discover that Europeans and Americans no longer dominate world popular culture as strongly as they once did.

Then there was David Shulman's amazing article in the New York Review of Books about kudiyattam, an epic Kerala drama form, which is about as far as you can get from K-pop. It's a disappearing genre in which plays can last 150 hours and go on for weeks. This summer, thanks to help from the Hebrew University and the Rothschild Foundation - but probably thanks mostly to Shulman - that's exactly what happened. A 29-day play that hadn't been staged for two generations was revived and staged for a group of Sanskrit and Malayalam students.

Says Shulman: "Sitting through a play that lasts 130 hours might sound a bit exhausting, and at times, of course, one’s attention wanders. There were moments when I, like others, would fall asleep to the hypnotic beat of the mizhavu drums and wake minutes later to a world of bewildering, even outlandish, color and movement. Still, this performance changed my life and, given a few hours, I could even tell you how. I doubt that I’ll ever again have the opportunity to give myself entirely to a month-long performance that inexorably builds up to a climax of truly unimaginable power."

Three summers ago, I met him at the airport on a similar trip out to Kerala. We were going to Chennai and he, with a group of students to Kochi. And at the end of the journey we happened to meet again at Amman airport. I'm sorry in a way that I didn't keep up my Sanskrit studies and take part in such adventures. But I'm happy that David Shulman is there, helping to keep alive the culture of Andhra and Kerala, when he's not braving the tear gas of the army and violence of settlers, on expeditions to West Bank villages.