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Thadhiginathom: Part 5
- Zakir Hussain
English translation: Dushy Gnanapragasam

July 8, 2020

(Reproduced with permission)

Here comes the Goddess!

There comes a moment in every person's life when they encounter an event and realize 'this is what I've been seeking all my life'. Once that realization sets in, a new seeking begins within to find the reason why. On that day, I met the Goddess of Dance, whom I realize now I had been seeking all along. I awaited her without realizing that from that moment on, she would determine how the rest of my life's journey unfolded.

The first to emerge from the train was Mr. Visweswaran - with a slender build, six feet of height, and a complexion akin to that of a North Indian trader. We took the elegantly designed maroon and dark blue coloured suitcases from his hands and greeted him. I have never seen such suitcases in Salem before. Maybe they did exist in Salem but I did not know anyone who actually owned those. Many of my relatives had travelled to Arab countries for work. They would return with humongous suitcases that were big enough to fit a person in. When opened, they would reveal Panasonic and Phillips tape recorders, sarees taken from India and rebranded as Arab sarees, strong perfumes that never wore off the clothing once sprayed until the piece of clothing itself disintegrated, and great amounts of dates that the Arabs themselves discarded as not fit for eating. Those suitcases, packed airtight, were the ones I was used to. But these suitcases looked so elegant they must have been purchased in some Western country for a high price. Finally, after all the suitcases had been unloaded, Chitra madam emerged.

A shawl on her shoulder; an unwrinkled and beautiful cotton saree, flowing hair parted in the middle and clipped at the back to keep it from flying away, a brilliant red sticker Pottu, a rather large pair of earrings, a touch of lipstick, and a bright smile that could win over anyone. Bangles on one hand and a wrist watch on the other. We watched mesmerized as her five and a half feet frame descended from the train.

The first words out of her were, "Namaskaram, please take care of my students and orchestra." She always ensured that her troupe was well taken care of. I have grown to emulate her not only in my dance, but also in many other ways.

"Yes, Madam. We have made all the arrangements for them," said the secretary.
I did not budge even an inch away from her. Carrying her heavy suitcases on both my hands made me feel like I had been awarded the 'Padma Shri'. Later when I became her student, I continued this behaviour of staying as close to her as possible at all times.

Introductions began once everyone was off the train. In addition to Chitra madam and Mr. Visweswaran, there were seven students - Srikala, Rathika, Shalini, Priya, Akila, Kalyani, and Rama - and five orchestra members - Shankar, Unnikrishnan, Seetharama Sarma, Sethuraman, and Vadivel. I looked at them in awe as the entourage for a goddess.

We started walking towards the parking lot where a car and two vans were waiting. Chitra madam, Visweswaran sir, Srikala akka, and I got into the car along with the driver. The others got into the two vans.

"Zakir, is your college guest house a convenient place to stay?" asked Srikala who was already known to me.
"We have prepared it very well. But if you find it inconvenient, the Principal has asked us to book rooms at the hotel for you."
"You do know that we are vegetarians, right?" confirmed Mr. Visweswaran.
"Yes, Sir, I do know. Srikala akka provided all the details."
"Chiku, you're quite the organizer aren't you!" he congratulated Srikala.

I assumed Chiku was Srikala's pet name.
It became apparent to me that Chitra madam always spoke in English. When she had to converse in Tamil, her Tamil had a unique ring to it. Because she was born and raised in Kolkata, she spoke fluent Hindi and Bengali. Visweswaran sir spoke Brahmin Tamil. All of the students only spoke English revealing their upper-class upbringing. Srikala akka handled all the arrangements as an intermediary and made things accessible and convenient for us.

I found their high flowing English hard to understand. I sat there ignoring their conversation, a conversation I could not make head or tail of. Just travelling in the same car as Chitra madam made me feel like I had attained one of my life's goals. I was eager to boast of my good fortune to my classmates when I saw them next and revel in their envy.

When we reached the college guesthouse, we were greeted by the welcoming committee with garlands and shawls. It then dawned on me why Chitra madam had dressed so well to travel on a train. She always instilled in us that artistes should always take care of their appearance when in public. She was from a different generation. The generation today, me included, takes scarce care of their appearance. Many who meet me for the first time are suspicious of my ability to dance or speak Tamil. I usually have to resort to videos and photos to convince them. I travel everywhere - even travelled to Canada - with a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. I have heard that my own students make fun of this dress habit of mine. Well, I suppose "Not everyone can be a Chitra Visweswaran." Telling an artiste apart in a crowd is not such an easy task these days. Everyone blends in. The artistes are just an extension of the mass media.

Once all the formal and exhaustive introductions were done, it was time for me to take Chitra madam and Visweswaran sir to show them their room.
(June 30, 2020)

To be continued...

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