Today marks the birthday of renowned classical dancer, choreographer and dance teacher Shibli Mohammad. He also has a Bachelor's degree in Physics from Jahangirnagar University. Winning hearts both home and abroad, he was awarded the Indian Government Scholarship to train at the Bhatkhanbe Music Institute in Lucknow, India, and was later blessed with tutelage from Kathak legend Pandit Birju Maharaj at National Institute of Kathak Dance in New Delhi. Expanding his diversity and exploring western trends, the dancer went on to train in ballet and contemporary, jazz and tap dance at the London Ballet Theatre School. He, along with celebrated dancer Shamim Ara Nipa and noted cultural activist Muhammad Jahangir, founded Nrityanchal Dance Company. He has also received a huge number of prestigious awards, including the UNESCO award for Best Bangladeshi Dancer, the George Harrison Award for Dance, the Jaijaidin Award, the Bachshash Award, the Prothom Alo Award, and the Lux Channel i Award, among others. On his birthday, Shibli Mohammad shares his aspirations and more in a chat with The Daily Star.
Many happy returns of the day! How are you planning to spend the day this year?
Years ago when I was a child, I used to love celebrating my birthday. However, as years passed by, I started to realise that I am losing a year from my life. So, I started fleeing away from celebrations. Even last year, I went off to Kolkata just to avoid this celebration, but sadly, Shamim Ara Nipa, Shakila Zafar, Indrani Halder and Sukalyan Bhattacharya all gave me a huge surprise at Shukalyan's Bhattacharya residence. This year, I do not want to have any celebrations. While we all are undergoing such tough times, both economically and mentally, celebration just does not seem to come to me. I only pray that we overcome this situation and help each other as much as possible to sustain.
Speaking of your memories, how did you spend your birthdays as a child?
I had nine other siblings, and had never faced any struggle while my father was still alive. However, after he was brutally murdered by the Pakistanis during the Liberation War, we had to face a lot of hardships. My mother was gifted with fantastic embroidering skills and that became out source of living after the incident. The days of struggle really opened my eyes towards values and taught how to treat people equally. Today, when I see people hungry and sick in poverty, I get teleported to times when I was also living their life. While we all try to be successful, we often forget to help others and spread joy. I try as best as I can, but seeing others do the same is what will stir a change. The rebirth of humanity will be my best birthday gift!
How are your dancers at Nrityanchal Dance Company doing at the moment?
When the coronavirus pandemic first struck us in March, we received a donation of BDT 2 lakh from two supporters who have requested me not to reveal their names in public. With their donation and a bit of support from our side, we managed to keep our performers moving for a couple of months. However, now with no support from the authorities or the benefactors, many of our performers have turned into hawkers, rickshaw pullers, online sell executives and even home-cooks. Today, when I look back and see how I chose dancing over all other opportunities that came to me with open arms, I sit back and think to myself—who is there to share our owes and shelter us in need?
What message would you like to give to your fans?
I have had the opportunity to travel to nearly 53 different countries around the world, and I have always found people who are very virtuous, especially when it comes to helping others. While we chase name and fame, we tend to forget our good deeds are the only capital that we will be able to treasure after our demise. Today when I see government sanctioned food reliefs being stolen, murder and rape rates on the rise and people forgetting the true bond of brotherhood, I feel depressed. I ask all those I can reach, if brutality in not taking a day off even in this pandemic, do you think we should pause helping others just because we are forced to stay indoors?