My obsession with Classical dance began when I was in lower Kindergarten (L.K.G) . I learned (is that US English?) Kuchipudi back then.I have been an ardent rasika attending performances ever since. But I distinctly remember attending one such performance by Kum. Swarnamukhi.
That was when I was in first grade or still earlier. It’s such a long time ago, my memory fails. This performance was arranged by the Indian Air Force and my mama (uncle) being a Wing Commander was honored with a great seat. I was tagging along with him. I collected ever so many brochures and got them filed later. I saw her do a lot of Karanas, what to me back then looked like circus. I was so upset that she was dancing all the time and that they wouldn’t ask me to.
Then we shifted to Madras, the Mecca of Arts and to me the best place on earth, or atleast is during the season. I was 7-8 years old by then and went to learn Bharathanatyam and Veena at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. The sabha was very different then- back in 80’s. No AC , no architectural ramifications. A big shed with asbestos roof on Giriffith road, opposite Muppathamman Kovil. Both the places are now landmarks of Madras and the road is now called Maharajapuram Santhanam Road, if I am not wrong. But even then the sabha was an important one.
All of us who learnt dance in the tiny dance class attached to Krishna Gana sabha would dash in and out of the auditorium during those days. We would have watched hundreds of programs that way.I still remember watching Padma Subrahmanyam’s “Jaya Jaya devi”- I think. I remember watching Vyjayanthimala Bali, Lakshmi Viswanathan and so many more wonderful artists. I never wanted their shows to end.I don’t know if they allow that these days. But back then there weren’t doors-so…. Imagine 20 kids running into the auditorium and running out of it when the teacher called. I watched Smt.Chitra Visweswaran during the break in my dance class. She wore a yellow costume. I was so mesmerized that I told myself that I would learn from her one day. And eventually my conviction paid. But that happened much later…My many thanks to Sri Krishna Gana sabha for introducing me to the art of being an involved rasika and all the frills that come along with it. I also mean the canteen, not only the canteen.
While still at Krishna Gana Sabha I attented so many concerts in so many other sabhas or auditoriums. My mother was a dance enthusiast herself and would right royally take me all over Madras with my dinner packed carefully in a tiffin box. I remember a friend, “Vella” Priya, (that’s how they distinguished Priyas- there were so many of them) and her mom would also be with us in the cycle rickshaw when we went to the show. Eventually I met Priya at Chitra akka’s class in my later years (I mean my 20’s).
There was one of Ms.Padma’s concerts I attended at Vani Mahal and lo there was a power cut Just 15 minutes into the show. She didn’t panic or anything. She just said that all of us should join her in a bhajan and pray for the show to continue. Saying so she sang in her sweet voice-something I remember till today.
Going to concerts as a learning experience was one part of it, dressing up for it was another. My Pattu pavadais( silk long skirts) and later the dhavanis(half sarees) and sarees were very carefully chosen. Jasmine, mallipoo was specially ordered.You could find a dance student when you saw one. Their aesthetic ethnic wears and big jimmikis were their torch bearers.
I have watched all of Chitra akka’s performances during that time. Mary Magdalene, Panchali Sabhadam, Ramayanam ( this one at Ayodhya Mandapam was so wonderful.) and so many more. Her varnams “Angayar kanni” on Devi and ” Srinivasan perumai” are etched in my memory. All our dance class mates would hurriedly say a hi to each other before the show. We never even moved a finger during the shows., let alone talk. When our Gurus did well we shed tears of rasanubhava.
I have watched Anita Menon (Chitra’s disciple), so many of Guru S.K.Kameswarans and Smt. Ranganayakai Jayaraman’s disciples, a couple of Smt. Krishnakumari Narendran’s students too! I never got to watch much of Sudhrani Ragupathy- don’t know why??? I missed it actually.
I came back home after these performances and started mine in front of the mirror. If I enjoyed the program I would animatedly describe everything about it to anyone who cared to listen (usually my poor dad) and if I didn’t like one I would mimic the dancer all along. There were times I carried a notebook to jot down points for further recall.
Recently I got to watch Shobana at the changed Krishna Gana Sabha doing Shyama with her troupe. I also watched Priyadarshini Govind’s solo performance at MCTM auditorium. Would love to watch the Kalakshetra’s Dance dramas again. I also yearn to watch Prof. Chandra Sekhar, Mr and Mrs. Dhanajayan, Leela Samson, Rama Vaidyanathan, Anita Ratnam. Would love to attend the morning lec-dems.
But I get to be here at Indonesia, typing away at my computer , wistfully reading the previews and reviews all scattered over the net.
I will let you know more about how it all started in the first place…