Madras and Mudras

Here is an article by Anita R Ratnam which I hope you will enjoy as much as I did:-

“As a teenager, I would stagger out of bed bleary-eyed and face another day of school and dance classes with Rajee Narayan. My Arangetram in 1964 was at the Abbotsbury marriage hall (now the site of an abandoned hotel complex). The occasion was my uncle’s wedding reception.

The performance was two hours long and I was eight years old. Just five days earlier I had slipped down the stairs and hurt my back and could not bend like Kumari Kamala (an inspiration for an entire generation to learn Bharatanatyam) in the snake dance! I was crushed but tried to make it up with my Ava Gardener smile. After five costume changes applause, my father rushed backstage and scolded my guru for making me sweat so much!

I remember tailor Aiyyelu coming to our present home on Cenotaph Road to take measurements. My sister Pritha and I danced together whenever she decided she could divert her mind from her first rank in class exams. My mother Leela was an innovator in colours and costume design and created several outfits that Aiyyelu understood with his quicksilver mind.

Performances were always exciting. An assortment of celebrities sat in the front row . My mother or one of my gurus, Adyar K Lakshman and Madurai N Krishnan, would pop in informing me about the various VIPs who arrived but all I wanted to know was ‘‘Has Subbudu come? Has NMN come?’’ The two dreaded dance critics of Indian Express and The Hindu.

December 1971. The greats MS and Bala in the audience and me backstage. The occasion. The opening session of the annual Music Academy Conference and a dancer appearing after several years to open the session. Years later. The morning prayer under the banyan tree at Kalakshetra with Atthai (Rukmini Arundale) and Sankara Menon attending. Dreaded ‘araimandi’ sessions with Sarada Hoffman and lovely dance classes with Neila Sathyalingam and Jayalakshmi teacher. A stern Atthai summoning me and asking me to take part in one of the famed Ramayana dance dramas as Kausalya — mother to Janardhan sir’s famous Sri Rama. Heart fluttering each time I had to repeat a movement and Sarada teacher barking “innum ukkaaranum ( you have to sit lower)” until my long legs could hardly make it out of the class sessions.

Dance means Madras. Sweat. Heat. Sound of wood on wood. Tamil, English and Malayalam melting in the sweltering heat. Paint, lights, applause or walk outs. Reviews and gossip sessions with Sruti magazine’s Janaki. Mylapore, North Mada Street, checking out new costume jewellery at Sukra.

Today. New costumes planned for a new production on the Lotus. The land phone and the mobile ring simultaneously. My kids yell their annual mantra, “Amma! Please leave your dance for one December and come with us on a holiday.” My mother looks at my wall filled with awards and honours and calmly declares, “All okay, but when are you getting your Padma Shri?” “

Source: New Indian Express (Click for more)

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