FOR most of his life, Datuk Ramli Ibrahim straddled two worlds, which did not fully accept him.
In his Malay-Muslim community, he is shunned by fundamentalist individuals and accused of being an apostate for his interest in Indian performing arts.
In the Indian community, whose art he wholeheartedly embraced, he is looked down upon by some traditionalists who accused him of sullying their culture. There are also those who think he should bow out and step out of the limelight.
But Ramli never danced to the rhythm of his critics. For example, a recent contact with a university left him only perplexed. He was supposed to give a talk, but it was later canceled.
“It’s just religion that interferes with academia,” he said the sun.
His accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. His 40-year career as a classic Odissi The dancer and trainer won him the Padma Shri, one of the highest Indian civilian honors, in recognition of his contribution to dance and for the establishment of the Sutra Dance Theater in Kuala Lumpur, of which he is the president.
Ramli was drawn to the arts from childhood, nurtured by his mother Kamariah Md Zin.
He recalled an incident at his family home in Petaling Jaya while he was teaching a dance class and his mother teaching the children the Quran.
“I told my mother that since students only paid her 20 RM a month, I could give her the money so that she could quit.
“But my mother told me that she would stop teaching the Quran if I stopped my dance lessons,” he said.
Ramli, who grew up in Kajang, had his first chance to pursue the performing arts in Australia where he studied engineering after leaving school.
“I ended up spending 14 years in Perth where I learned ballet.”
He then went to India to learn the Bharatantyam, a classical dance from Tamil Nadu. He was also interested in Odissi, another form of dance indigenous to Odisha State.
Despite all the glamor, Ramli said his journey had not been easy.
“It’s pure hard work. There is this idea that my life is made up of parties, which is incorrect. How can you play after a party night? “
But four decades later, Ramli said appreciation for culture in Malaysia has deteriorated.
He cited his contact with the university as a good indication of how culture has become less valued. He believes that there is divinity in the appreciation of art.
“It doesn’t mean that there is a Hindu god in you,” he explained.
“For example, if you do the Mak yong or Silat, that does not mean that you memuja (worship a deity).
“We must embrace universal spirituality. It is a concept distinct from religion. Spirituality in us is divine.
Ramli added that the appreciation of art can start at a young age, and the Ministry of Education can take the lead in such an effort.
“At the end of the day, there has to be motivation. To get young people to appreciate the beauty of tradition, they must be exposed to it. For example, how many of our young people know about rebab (a lute-shaped stringed instrument used in the Gamelan together)? They probably know Lady Gaga better, ”he said.
Ramli knows the importance of nurturing a child’s talent. Thanks to the awareness program of his foundation, children aged 6 to 15 are trained in classical dance.
To date, more than 200 children have benefited from it.
He always receives his share of criticism but Ramli is unfazed.
“When I was young I thought I would die if I didn’t dance,” he said. For him, dancing is his destiny.
“Call it karma,” he said as he parted.