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Thadhiginathom - Part 15
- Zakir Hussain
English translation: Dushy Gnanapragasam

July 20, 2020

(Reproduced with permission)

A blossom yet to bloom

Dance - It is created by stringing many movements together. It does not discriminate between living beings and non-living things. If the movements are synchronized it becomes enjoyable. If synchronization is lost, enjoyment becomes difficult. The beauty of the dance depends on the beholder's environs and emotions. Of the many dances, the classical dance has transformed itself to adapt to many environments and ages, and has been influenced and conformed by the many masters who lived through those times. It reinvents and renews itself constantly to hold true the famous saying 'change alone is unchanging'. Those who lived fifty years ago did not dance like those who lived a hundred years ago. The dance that was prevalent fifty years ago is not around today. How will dance be tomorrow? Those who taught dance and those who learned dance - the two were from two different generations and each had their own stresses. It was the same way in other fields of art.

I gained some clarity of this art form by watching the dance of Chitra Visweswaran, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Malavika Sarukkai, The Dhananjayans, and other such leading artists. When one day after a program, Srikala akka said, "Chitra Akka asked you to come to class tomorrow," my heart filled with showers of joy.

"Why, akka? Is she going to admit me?"
"No. She is going to interview you to see how well you dance."
"What? An interview?"

The showers evaporated instantly. Oh god! Will I pass??...What was spinning that night was not just the ceiling fan. It was my head too. I reached there at eight in the morning. On the first floor was the vast classroom adorned like a poem with a red floor and complimenting curtains. At that time, Gayatri Ramakrishna was dancing the Vinayagar Kauthuvam. Many others were there including Srikala, actress Shobana, and Priya Raghuvir. As soon as they saw me, they asked Gayatri to wait and asked me to dance for them whatever I knew.

Kumari Kamala

'What? Dance whatever I know? Well, if their fate has cursed them to watch my dance, who am I to change that,' I thought to myself. I sang and danced for the song 'Thaye Yasodha unthan aayar Kulathudhitha' from the movie 'Kula Deivam,' which M.L. Vasanthakumari had sung and Kumari Kamala had danced to. My jarring voice and the 'dance I knew' had them struggling to contain their laughter as they looked at each other. My legs danced on their own in mortification. I have always thought that they were generous to spare my life on that day after witnessing what I had done in the name of dancing. It was such a painful and disgraceful sight. Even now, Shobana taunts me about it whenever she sees me. I would quietly escape from her with a smile. Chitra madam was displeased and she came up with a plan.

Chitra Visweswaran

"Gayatri! You perform for him the Nattadavu. Let's see if he can follow you."
As Gayatri danced, I performed the Nattadavu following her. I performed many other adavus in this fashion. In the end...
"Chikku, he is eager. But we have to spend time with him."
"Yes, akka," agreed Srikala.

Then, I was transferred to the adjacent room. There, as Priya Raghuvir provided the beat, I took my life's first step in traditional dance...
It was the first adavu of Thattadavu.

I looked intently at myself. Wow! Maybe I too have become a dancer in this world. That day was the 5th of January 1991. A Saturday.
Chitra madam entered that room again. I took the envelope with the fees and extended it to her. She gave it back to me.
"You do not have to pay any fees. Learn with interest. That's all I expect."
"Thank you. Er... How should I call you? Akka or Amma?"
"You can call me Akka, you can call me Amma, or however else you want. But please do not call me Aunty!"
We all burst out laughing. So, as for the other students, for me too she will be akka. From hereafter, she will be Chitra akka. No more Chitra madam.

I sat there for a long time after that, watching the others dance before going back to T.Nagar. As soon as I returned, my friends jibed me:
"What's up, boss? You have started dance class on a Saturday?"
"I do not wait for auspicious days and weeks, boss. Whatever Chitra akka says is what will happen. She has said she does not need fees."

I gave them back the five hundred rupees I had borrowed from them.
"Great, boss. Congratulations!"
They wished me without any expectations.
One of my roommates at that time was Vasudevan. He is still the assistant to Nalli Kuppusamy Chettiar. We reminisce about the old days whenever I visit the store.

So the boy from Thurinjipatti was now with the shining star of the dance world - without realizing her gracious shelter that enchanted hand was providing him.
(July 20, 2020)

To be continued...

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