Whilst rehearsing for my upcoming performance in London, I sat back and thought about Bharatanatyam for a while...What drew me to it as a child? What kept my passion incessant once I grew up enough to look beyond my childish passions? What draws me to it even today, to drive me to risk an obviously precarious career in it? Why do I love it so much? Why do other people not love it as much as I do? Millions of questions that were begging to be answered. Questions that I'd attempted to answer before and drawn different conclusions for, each time.
When I was little(nearly 5 years old), my parents took me to several dance performances, and there was one that I didn't fall asleep in the middle of (its not that the other performances bored me..its just..most performances were past my bed time then!). It was my guru, Leela Samson's performance. I watched her, entranced. By the colourful costume, the shimmering jewellery, and the sheer grace, and perhaps I understood a little about the depth and grace too.
I pointed to her and said "Mama, I want to do that!" And so it all began. Years and years of struggle and learning. Till I was about 12, I unquestioningly loved it and danced it - in class, at home, even on the beaches of goa in a tiny little swimsuit.
It was when I was 12 that peer pressure stuck it's head out and I began to open my eyes. My friend said to me - We all have something - I've got my basketball, shes got her golf, she's got piano, and you...have your Bharatanatyam. I wasn't impressed. I didn't like the label at all. In school, I had other things I wanted to be passionate about. I wanted to be "cool" too. And I thought for a brief period of time, that Bharatnatyam was not. Because no one did it. I felt like I wasn't a part of my peer group anymore. I wore kurtas, while others wore tank tops. And nobody wore saris! I had unmanageably long hair while others had swanky haircuts. I had kajal(eye kohl), while others gave me slack for it for having the remnants of it left in my eyes at school. I was going to dance performances, while the others went to the latest movies. I had to leave in the middle of day long 'parties' because of dance class, while the others played truth or dare. I missed all the fun, I thought!
It wasn't long before I found out that that was my identity. I became proud of what I had become outside the dance class, because of what I did, in it. And I began to symbolically show the finger to what people considered to be cool. I liked my long hair, my bindi, my kajal, my kurta, and the values I'd inherited because of dance classes three times a week for the last 10 years. And it wasn't long before people caught on. Or perhaps the trends changed for whatever reason.
I began to perform 'professionally' with my guru at that time. Whatever little money I made (which was a lot for me!), I used to hand over to my parents to put in the bank account. I didn't spend it. It was around this time that I also started really doing Abhinaya. Dance pieces that had a story to it, and that required 'acting'.
My Arangetram was one of the most important days of my life. I remember every minute of it, from the moment I woke up, till I moment my head hit the pillow at night. And without sounding too arrogant, I was relieved and happy that it went off well. And without sounding too proud, I knew that all the hard work that I had put into it had paid off. It wasn't a perfect Arangetram. I was nervous at the start, and obviously my abhinaya wasn't as mature as it would be 5 years later, but at the age of sixteen..I still felt at peace on stage. And I was happy that I didn't make any mistakes, get nervous and blank out, or fall flat on my face.
And over time, I wondered why such a beautiful art form, and others like it were being completely taken over by Shyamak Davar and Bollywood. While being a Bharatanatyam dancer was now considered oh-so-cool, I wasn't happy. Because still, no one tried to understand it. And that's when I started seeking answers.
Bharatanatyam is very stylised, and so I understand when people say that they can't understand it. But it's like any other art form. If you follow it for long enough, the grammar becomes familiar, and you can understand it deeper. It's not an impossible task. It just requires a bit of interest. And that's not very difficult. The movements require only an understanding of beauty and an appreciation of geometry. The hand gestures aren't infinite. And moreover, the feelings and emotions we display on stage are real emotions that we feel and express every single day. And that's why I think Bharatanatyam trascends time, and is not a 'victim' of stylisation. Rather, it is a stylised expression of what we all have felt before and will feel again, from the time we are born till the time we die.
I don't know if I will ever be good enough to take the stage by storm. And just last night, someone in a LIPA studio asked me if I was going to make it as a dancer, considering that there are millions of other dancers just like me, with the same aspiration to dance. I just said - "I don't know..but I'm going to try!"
I don't care much about fame at all, and I know that Bharatanatyam as a means of livelihood is a luxury only a few exceptionally talented dancers can afford. But I know how I feel when I'm on stage.
I'm not looking to be a "famous dancer". I just hope that one day, some day..I will perform on stage, and someone sitting in the auditorium will be moved by it.