The sun of a gentle soul illuminating the stage
- Parthiban Palani

December 16, 2005

It was the 235th dancer I was going to see in 2005. After the pain of navigating through Chennai's notorious traffic jams on the roads that are only suitable for off-road vehicles, I finally arrived at Rama Rao Kala Mandapam. A bit late. The published schedule did not even give the guru's name. I wondered, "Who is this young unknown dancer?" It was difficult to navigate between 4 different performances happening at the same time in the city. The thought crossed my mind that "the December season has started."

It was raining and cool. Stepping inside the Rama Rao Kala Mandapam hall, I immediately felt as if I entered a big fridge. "+18 C only," I thought. "Nobody even in Europe uses air conditioners to chill the audience to a semi-frozen condition." The dancer, though, was very happy with the freeze. The stage was thoroughly and beautifully decorated with intricate garlands and bouquets of flowers. "Looks almost professional," I thought. Madurai Mudalidharan with his world-class orchestra was there on the stage, seemingly not even aware of the horrible microphones and pre-historic loudspeakers that blared their music far beyond any limits acceptable for any music-appreciating ear.

"Did she study Mohiniattam too?" I wondered, as the young danseuse, oblivious of the few dozen of her spectators, was literally flowing on the stage with the unimaginable grace and containment, as if every move was springing from the depth of her soul. A trained eye could distinguish the extremely smooth and delicate transitions from one expression or gesture into another - with so much control that sometimes it limited the amplitude of the movements and slowed down the recital. "Stage fear?" another thought crossed my mind.

The 12-year-old R Jai Quehaeni was as if flying in the air, as if afraid of hurting the stage. Her feet were moving so gently that a hardcore critic would say that "her footwork has to be more firm, crisp, and should follow the talam more accurately." Of course, in front of all that noise from the loudspeakers, there was no way one could hear the sound of her salangai. The choreography was not the most complex, of course, but everyone forgot about all the apparent shortcomings, as the spectators were enchanted with her soulful inspiration and charming spontaneity that one could hardly find in the most professional dancers' performances who all too often merely try to impress the spectators with the showmanship of their overstretched faces, sophisticated but unnatural gestures, and some elaborate semi-acrobatic tricks.

Although the lighting of the stage was plain, the gentle sunshine on the gentle soul illuminating the stage was much more impressive than what a most sophisticated lighting engineer could arrange for. I could no longer focus on analyzing the danseuse's formal technique. The gentle Jai Quehaeni was irradiating the bliss in her soul, and the warmth of its rays completely disarmed the critical part of my brain. "Not a star but more like a real sun!" was the impression. I was spell-bound and could not leave the hall until the recital was over. It is a pity that only a few dozen spectators had a chance to enjoy such a wonderful event.

"Is she supposed to become a doctor too?" I asked her grandfather, the Chairman of International AIDS and Cancer Hospitals Trust. "No," he said, "We want her to become a full-time dancer." Something inside me felt relieved and happy.