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An event to cherish
- Padmaja Suresh, Bangalore

November 3, 2006

Kalpataru Kalavihar had the unique opportunity to perform before the President of India, His Excellency Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi on October 27, 2006. The event has left an indelibly memorable impression in the minds of our dance troupe. The senior disciples of the institute and the dance students of Kalachaitanya charitable project, belonging to government schools, the orchestra and make-up team members and some of the parents who had accompanied the group, all had an experience to be cherished for a life-time.

On the morning of the program, we had a full rehearsal at the Delhi Kannada Sangha Auditorium who had hosted our stay. Next on the schedule was a conducted tour of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Getting inside this enormously grand structure itself is quite an elaborate procedure with impeccable security measures. But more than worth it for the incomparable design, architecture, classic beauty and spectacle spread over 330 acres. We were able to see the museum, banquet hall (seating capacity for 104), the Durbar hall with stately Persian and other paintings on the walls and dome, the frescoes and statues of Lord Buddha -Avalokiteshwara of Vietnam and the Boddhisatva, Indian deities like Ganesha etc. They were all mesmerizing. The kitchen museum is also a treat to the eyes. The busts of all past Presidents of India and various miniature paintings and large murals adorn the walls. The Moghul Gardens which are open to general public between February and March looked lush and picturesque.

The program venue was in the basement. The auditorium is rather small with a seating of just 100 people. As we were giving the final touches to our costumes, make-up and stage sets, we heard that the President would arrive shortly from his private elevator. He arrived with a radiant smile. We took his blessings and he asked for the names of everyone. Then he was escorted to the front most seat. The program commenced.

It was a worshipful atmosphere with Vedic hymns followed by tunes from other religions, depicting prayer. And then was the important portrayal of religious disharmony. Amidst all this came the poetry of Subramanya Bharatiyar: "Why do you worship thousand Gods when there is just the One Truth and that We are all One in essence." Saint poet Tiruvalluvar echoes the same spirit. The first number seemed to be easy for the President to follow and he thoroughly enjoyed it as it was one of his favorite poems and in his mother tongue as well. The next was a typical fast temple ritual dance number on Shiva and Shakti by senior students and the whole stage vibrated with energy and aplomb. There was a hearty applause.

Last came the most endearing part for the President who genuinely loves children. The little group presented Balakrishna kreeda which had episodes of Makhanchor, Kaliya Mardhan and Rasaleela. Conclusion was with the Geetopadesh. The performing team - Padmaja Suresh, students-Aparna, Sheela, Shreya, Rhea, Vaishali, Riddhee, Neha, Vijayalaxmi and Government school children from project 'Kalachaitanya' - Geeta, Shilpa, Sumitra, Ankaiah, Shiva.

After a thunderous applause from the audience, the President took over the stage and offered his felicitations to our group and interacted for about 45minutes over tea. He gifted a memento, a gold plaque with the image of Rashtrapati Bhavan and his name.

The President of India has immense appeal to everyone and draws people like a magnet with his sincere smile, nods of acknowledgement and appreciation, and humble, graceful and above all amicable demeanor. He appreciated the verses of the dances. He had lots of patience with all the kids to sign autographs one after another. He inquired whether all of us were filling our plates with snacks although he did not himself eat anything at all in spite of being offered many times. He did not mind even a bit that all the children and others were clustering around him.

Then he left, simple in every way and yet most enchanting is his charm. All of us were more than touched by his infectious smile, his humane and down-to-earth nature and truly majestic personality. Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam is a rare phenomenon and we wish that there can be more such great men on earth and above all in our country, in a position to lead.

Bharatanatyam dancer Padmaja Suresh is the Director of Kalpataru Kalavihar.

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