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Thadhiginathom - Part 9
- Zakir Hussain
English translation: Dushy Gnanapragasam

July 12, 2020

(Reproduced with permission)

Smooth sailing on calm waters

'Time' does not wait for anyone. Those who board the right ship at the right time are the ones who completed their journey successfully and returned to the shore. The journey may face many adversities. Storms may even change the course and direction. Regardless, some are guided by faith in themselves and others by faith in a higher power to achieve their goal. Notwithstanding whom they place their faith in, it is their diligence that is essential for success. Even if one attains success by a stroke of luck, if they do not persevere, they will be trampled on by the march of time and left behind destroyed and forgotten. I suppose this was what was referred to as fate by those who understood the importance of hard work.

As soon as Chitra madam's dance recital ended, the curtains closed like a gentle rain. I along with the organizing committee surrounded the dancers like a wall of protection. Starting with our Principal and our college correspondent everyone took their turn taking a photograph with Chitra madam. Mr. Visweswaran was also surrounded by a large crowd. He was signing autographs and chatting cheerfully with even those who were complete strangers to him. It was a surprising sight to behold. This humility was a defining feature of his unique character. He would strike up a genial conversation with complete strangers, without regard or discrimination for gender, as if he had known them for years. In fact, his personality is diametrically opposed to that of the appearance of reserve that Chitra madam exudes. Many in the audience competed against each other in trying to get Chitra madam's attention for an autograph. Many of my classmates of the 'female persuasion' thrust their booklets at me and pleaded with me to get an autograph for them. I felt proud in that moment, that I was standing next to a celebrity. So, I obliged. I remember spending more than an hour in this endeavour. When I think of the manner in which Chitra madam engaged with everyone without exasperation or exertion, I feel that many like me today deserve to be mocked for our pretentious nature.

That night was a personal Ekadashi for me spent sleepless and in meditation. I found a quiet corner on the rooftop patio and sat there reminiscing about everything that had happened that day. Those were the moments in which I reached the extent of contentment. The moments in which I pierced within myself to explore and being unable to identify what I was looking for, felt abandoned and alone in the universe. Why am I here? What am I to become? Why am I unable to cogitate? Why did I learn Sankarar and Ramanujar? Is it only I to whom the Quran and the Bible seem like the same text? Why do I not perceive the difference between mandir and masjid? What is the purpose of this education? If it leads to employment, will my mind be satiated? Will I be recorded in the annals of time? Or will it wash me away to be dissolved? I fell asleep in that bare space, unable to find answers to my many questions.

I was made rudely aware of the dawn by the sun on my face. I hurried to my room, showered, got dressed, and ate. I remembered requesting for a photo with Chitra madam the previous evening, and the Principal and others forgetting my request. Did Chitra madam not have a lecture demonstration at a school today? I decided to go there and have my picture taken. Since the school where the event was to take place made all the travel arrangements for Chitra madam, I took a city bus and arrived at the school. There too a large gathering - including the parish priest as well as missionary nuns and priests - sat spellbound by her virtuosity in dance and proficiency in the English language. This day, like yesterday, did not present me with an opportunity to take a photo with her. Regardless of where that star went, people thronged around and waited patiently to speak to her; merely to see her. People celebrated the likes of Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Sudharani Raghupathi, Alarmel Valli, and the Dhananjayans who were shining stars in the galaxy of dancers as the images of the deities in temples. Those were the days when the dance universe had created a halo above itself.

Thirty years ago, if you needed to take a photo, you needed a camera and someone who knew how to operate it. It was important to accurately estimate the lighting and the distance. The list of required basic skills is long with details such as the knowledge of how to install a film roll, how to extract it properly, and how to get it printed through a studio or on one's own. Many organizations employed people with such skills on their staff. Organizations who could not afford such persons on their staff, paid individuals based on their time spent and the number of film rolls expended. Even if you were fortunate to be photographed by such a person, it was important you knew their phone number or their address. Otherwise, that photograph will dissolve into ether and you will never get to see it. Many of my photographs that were washed away like this by the tides of time are only found etched in my memory.

Here too, I was disappointed. Without providing me with photographic evidence to prove that I had met a dance virtuoso called Chitra Visweswaran, 'Time' winked at me with a mysterious smile...
(July 8, 2020)

To be continued...

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