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Thadhiginathom - Part 7
- Zakir Hussain
English translation: Dushy Gnanapragasam

July 10, 2020

(Reproduced with permission)

Locks Dance in Unison

"Thandalai mayilgal aada, thaamarai vilakkam thaanga,
kondalgal muzavin Enga, kuvalai kan viziththu nokka,
thenthirai ezini kaatta, thembizi makarayaazin
vandugal inidhu paada, marudham veetrirukkum maadho"

wrote poet Kamban describing the dance of nature in Marudam land - one of the five species of lands in Tamil literature.

Roughly translated it means:
'While the Peacocks dance in the cool gardens on the shores of the pond; Lotus flowers hold their heads up high like lamps; thunder from the clouds play the drums; dark blue lilies watch as with admiring eyes of an audience; the gentle ripples on the pond part as the curtains; bees sing like the sweet sound of the fish-shaped lute, Lady Marudam was seated in her throne!'

Of all the fine arts, the one that requires the most preparation is Bharatanatyam. The dancer must first learn from a gifted teacher. The dancer should have the physique to be an effective communicator; the face to exhibit nuanced emotions; and the stamina to withstand extended physical exertion without difficulty. A long list of pertinent matters including make-up, costumes, jewelry, orchestra, lighting, a good sound system has to be well taken care of while performing. Above and beyond this, the stage being danced on is of utmost importance. The stage should be stable, even, and set away from the audience to allow for separation and circulation. The back of the stage should be secured with lumber, walls, or screens to prevent the performers from falling over. Once, a dancer known to me, lost sense of the stage's dimensions while dancing and ended up on her back at the rear of the stage. The vocalist refused to stop singing and she was forced to get up and continue her dance. But within hours of the performance she had to be taken to the hospital to treat an injury to her leg.

The stage that was constructed for Chitra madam at our college was fifty feet long, thirty feet wide, and constructed of concrete with pillars in the front for hanging light fixtures. A wall was constructed at the back of the stage and painted with the image of Madhan dancing with Rathi. Chitra madam entered the stage as if Rathi herself had come alive. The principal introduced everyone to her one by one. Last in line was my HOD. The Kannada speaking Iyer named Paramashivayya.

I was taken aback when he said, "Madam, Zakir is from my department. He is not much when it comes to studies; however he is knowledgeable when it comes to fine arts." I told myself, "Hey Zakir, you have some fireworks awaiting you in the classroom." I found out what was behind his snide remark when the exam results were released. I had failed every one of his subjects.

Chitra madam asked the Rathi-Madhan painting at the back of the stage - which our art teacher Mr. Sethuraman had toiled over for two days to create - be covered with a screen. She did not want the audience to be distracted from the dancer by the image on the background. Large, dark blue screens were ordered immediately with the condition they be ready by four o'clock. The orchestral space was identified and the spots for the student dancers were marked on the stage. Finally, she noted down the etiquette the audience should adhere to and appreciated the stage as being well built. This was the praise the Principal was expecting. He surveyed the HODs with a sense of pride and they smiled back in appreciation. We were overjoyed that the many days of relentless hard labour had borne fruit.

"Thank you, Madam. Our college has been honoured by your arrival. We hope to continue this relationship in the future as well," said he with a beaming face.
"For sure, Sir. We'll meet again before the show in the evening."
"Madam, this is a newly constructed stage. So, there is a small inauguration event before the performance. We would like you to take part in it as well."
"That will be difficult because I will be in costume by that time."
"Alright, madam. We will take care of it then," the Principal tried to hide his disappointment.

Chitra madam thanked everyone and took her leave. After escorting them to the guesthouse, and confirming lunch had been arranged, I returned to my room. Should I too not get ready for the festival that evening?
Oh! Have I not told you the name of the festival in my haste? It is 'Raghu Vamsa Thilagam," an epic on Lord Sri Raman.
(July 4, 2020)

To be continued...

I read it in one sitting. What a charming autobiography this is turning out to be! So honest and with a mind which harbours no prejudices of any type - so refreshing in the India of today, where people seem to be constantly expressing prejudices against caste, creed and what have you. Whatever I have read of Zakir's Diary has left me feeling very happy and confident about the future of my country.  I am so happy that Narthaki is bringing this out.
- Leela Venkataraman (July 11, 2020)

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