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Thadhiginathom - Part 14
- Zakir Hussain
English translation: Dushy Gnanapragasam

July 19, 2020

(Reproduced with permission)

She smiled, the statuesque beauty!

Names - For some people, their given names seem perfectly apt. For many, it's the opposite. Some people's names make you wonder if they were named because of their achieved fame in a certain field or if they achieved fame in that field because of their name. Some names inspire respect even as you read them. When one reads the names of Gandhi, Theresa, Periyar and Ambedkar, one is reminded of their contributions and service to society. The names of some others make you feel exasperated with the thought, 'Why would anyone give this person this name?' Such will be the level of disparity between their name and their personality. This is what Sundarar said in his Thevaram when he wrote:

"miDukkilAthAnai vImanE viRal
vicayanE villukku ivanenRu
koDukkilAthAnaip pAriyE enRu
kURinum koDuppAr iliai"

Roughly translated, it means: Even if one praises a person of no strength or pride saying, "You are like Bhima, you are like the valorous Arjuna the great archer" or if one praises an uncharitable person saying, "You are like Pari, the philanthropic king," it is of no use.

"Hey, stop! Where's your ticket?"
I was startled when the gatekeeper at the entrance asked me this.
"Sir, I'm a student of Chitra Visweswaran," I responded with hesitation realizing I was yet to join her class.

"Alright, but you should have told me that before you tried to enter. If you say you're Chitra madam's student, we would allow you in."
"Sir, may I go in now?"
"Yes, go."

I entered the Sri Krishna Gana Sabha in T. Nagar feeling elated as if I had just won the one lakh jackpot on the one rupee lottery. It was not air-conditioned in those days. The bamboo chairs, the not-so elevated stage, a soothing sound system, and a non-glaring lighting system were its strengths. Sri Krishna Gana Sabha was to dance what Music Academy was to classical music. This organization has helped me immensely in my dancing career and in my lectures on Nachiyar Thirumozhi. It continues to help me to this day. The only credential I required to enter any of these sabhas was the fact that I was a student of Mrs. Chitra Visweswaran. Such was the height of her popularity. To this day, many identify me as a student of Chitra Visweswaran. Probably because I did not have a family of my own, she and Visweswaran athimber were my only family for a very long time. They became my identification. At that time, it was a source of satisfaction for me.

On that day, she was performing solo. As soon as the opening hymn concluded, the Tisra nadai Pushpanjali - set to the three syllables of Tha-Ki-Ta began. After Mr. Visweswaran repeated it twice, on the third repetition she entered the stage like the southern breeze had brought with it a million brilliant flowers on to the stage. Adorned with a bright smile, large dangling earrings bouncing off her cheeks, modest make-up, adequate jewelry, a single pendant on her forehead, and sufficient amount of flowers in her hair, she arrested everyone's eyes with her beauty. The audience started applauding and appreciating her mere entry onto the stage. Her biggest strength was that she was able to exploit the entirety of any stage no matter how big it was. She is one of the reasons why this style gained in popularity. Without her enthusiasm and smile diminishing even an iota, she enthralled everyone for two hours by allowing them into her world of dance. The theatre was rocked with a standing ovation as soon as it ended. I have seen this very same thing in Salem. But that was a dance drama with seven dancers. This was a solo performance. Artistes who are appreciated in such an overwhelming way by audiences are truly blessed.

After the show, Chitra madam was conversing with people amongst a large gathering. Many knew her well enough to call her by name. She too inquired of their wellbeing with genuine concern. I was surprised to see how an artiste could personally know so many of her fans and their families. My mind registered whatever I saw, not realizing at that time that these were learning opportunities for me. When the crowds subsided a little, I approached her.

"Madam, the program today was superb. There are no words to praise it."
She smiled at me giving me her trademark response though I was little known and was not even worthy of praising her.
"Is that so? Thank you, Zakir."
I was struck by lightning. 'Wow! She remembers my name.'

On a later day she confided in me, "The reason I didn't forget your name is I have a friend by this same name. He is the tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain. When you showed up with the same name, I decided I should accept you as my student."

On that day, I thanked my father for giving me this name. I began to like my name.
(July 18, 2020)

To be continued...

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