'Her fatherland is Korea, motherland is India'
As the media party is hustled into planes and buses, taken from venue to venue for press briefings and off-the-record conversations, the feeling can grow that the fun quotient is sorely missing from overseas travel.
And when the prime ministerial visit lasts but a couple of days, as it did when he went to Seoul to attend the Group of 20 summit last week, it can get even more so.
Realising this perhaps, on the last night of our 2-night stay in Seoul, the Indian embassy had orgnised a Korean meal at a local restaurant for the visiting press party, and halfway through the clink of glasses and clangour of cutlery came the announcement about Beena Keum.
"She is a Korean who thinks Korea is her fatherland and India is her motherland." With these words the attention of the press party was diverted from Basel III, trade imbalances and such to a riveting half-hour of wonderful dance.
Bollywood's global influence is often overstated, but not so in Beena's case. While watching an Indian film one day, she said she was mesmerised by a sliver of dance that flashed across the screen. Fascinated, she went searching high and low for more information about it, but couldn't find anything. Finally, while studying in Sri Lanka, she came to know that the dance form was Odissi.
Armed with her suitcase and a few lines on dance gurus, she quickly packed her bags for Orissa for what was to prove a life-changing experience. In April 2005, she went to the Konark Natya Mandir of guru Gangadhar Pradhan, and knew she had found her calling.
After the dance she also wowed the press party in Seoul last week with her smattering of Hindi, Sanskrit and Bengali. Even as a student of French literature in Seoul, she said, she was fascinated by Hindu philosophy and India. Now dividing her time between Orissa and Seoul, Beena, in her late 20s, has also learnt to sing, and to play the mardal, the percussion instrument used in Odissi.
Press reports from Bhubaneswar earlier this year, when she performed in the Orissa capital in February, spoke of an audience bewitched by the sight of a foreigner immersing herself so in the local dance tradition. Last week in Seoul, too, the feeling was very much the same among the otherwise cynical newshounds. See the video alongside to know why!Text and video: Saisuresh Sivaswamy in Seoul
Image: A video of Beena Keum's Odissi performance