PAVITHRA JAYARAMAN, DANCER
I started learning Bharatanatyam when I was five years old in Kalamandalam, Kolkata. My mother had learnt Bharatanatyam in her younger days and so by natural extension she enrolled me in it too. I loved it from the get go. I continued to learn in Chennai after my father’s transfer there. When I reached standard 10 at school, the dance classes stopped. Not because I needed to focus on my academics, but because the teacher who used to come to our community stopped coming! Somehow, the quest for another teacher or another class never materialized and I got fully sucked into the academic world of board exams, preparing for engineering entrance, college and then Masters in the US. And then unbeknownst to you, you get further pulled into the eddies of a corporate career. 20 years of academic and career pursuits, marriage and two kids later, something started to stir within me. Of course, in keeping with the ‘matrilineal custom’, I promptly enrolled my daughter also in Bharatanatyam when she was 5. The familiar sounds of the “Thattu Kazhi”, the rhythmic beats of “Theiya Thei”, the jingling of the “Salangai” opened a floodgate of memories of my own dancing in my childhood. And something stirred within. I wanted to get up and dance. Even as I was pregnant with my second child, I slowly started to do a few dance steps to see if I still had it in me, big belly notwithstanding. Six months after I delivered my son, I finally took the plunge and approached my daughter’s teacher, Smt. Thejeswini Raj in New Jersey. She agreed to take me on but on a condition that I start from the very beginning due to the long break. It was not easy. There I was amongst 5 and 6 year olds, my body crying out in pain while the little ones were jumping around like there was no gravity.
Bharatanatyam is a very taxing form of dance, even for one who is in constant practice, but for someone who resumes it after a long break, added to the reality of the big four ‘O’ barreling down rapidly like a train going downhill, it is multiple times harder. Memories of my dancing without any effort, with nary an ache in my body and never-ending stamina in my younger days were so firmly etched that it was very hard for me to come to terms with the realization that I was no longer the same person or body. It hits you even harder when you see the 10 year olds and 15 year olds dancing right next to you effortlessly bending, contorting and leaping, all without breaking a sweat or even panting. Moreover, as a full time working mother of two (one of them being a newborn), inserting this additional demand on my time came with its own set of guilt trips. There were times when I was in dance class and I could feel the weight of my engorged breasts and very faithfully, the nagging guilt of leaving my breast fed infant at home tailed right behind.
Despite all these insecurities, feeling grossly inadequate, time pressures and pangs of guilt, I pursued relentlessly, practiced every day to build back my body postures, stamina and discipline.
8 years have passed since I resumed my dance. I am with my present Guru Chitra Chandrasekhar Dasarathy in Bangalore and part of her Ameya Repertory and proud to say that I have given several performances on stage both as part of her repertory and as a soloist in various cities in India. I also completed my Master of Fine Arts program in Bharatanatyam from SASTRA University, Thanjavur under the tutelage of Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam and have started to teach in Bangalore.
Without the rock solid support system from my family, I would not have been able to travel this far.
I have certainly come a long way, but I also have a much longer way to go. I still feel the insecurities and inadequacies especially as I see more and more younger crop of dancers dancing so lithely and beautifully, but my extreme passion for this art form keeps me going. I know I am not perfect by any stretch of imagination and I also know my limitations that come with age, and that it is going to become increasingly tougher for me to keep up with the rigour of this dance form. But I also draw inspiration from the many well-known dancers who in their mature years still put up a striking performance. While I know that I cannot do what a 15 year old can do, but I also know that at my stage I can bring something that a 15 year old may not be able to – a different level and depth of understanding, interpretation, perception and expression that is drawn more from my own life experiences, lessons and understandings picked up along my journey.
Bharata, in the Natyasastra, says that the performing art forms are not just art for art’s sake but have a higher purpose in elevating and uplifting society. The art forms in our culture are performed as an offering where it is more about the dance rather than the dancer. When the identity of the performer itself starts to dissolve, where is the question of feeling insecure or imperfect? Of course, to get to this stage does demand extreme rigour where the body is trained to be forgotten.
What I take away ultimately is that it doesn’t matter at what stage of life one is in, but it is never too late to plunge headlong into your passion regardless of how ready you feel. While it is pragmatic to recognize your own limitations it is equally important to not let it pull you down. Taking the help of one’s support system to juggle your responsibilities helps tremendously. With a firm conviction that everyone has something of beauty and value to add to humanity, it is entirely possible to find fulfillment, joy and contentment in the pursuit of our passion.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wonder Women World.