Handicap no hindrance to him

Handicap no hindrance to him

A few days back,  audience in a popular auditorium in Bhubaneswar in Odisha capital were thrilled and mesmerised by watching an Odissi dance number. For, the male dancer was not only giving an excellent performance but he was showcasing his talent, hold your breath, with one leg.

The physically challenged artiste was Guru Nityananda Das. “I am the world’s only classical dancer who performs with one leg,” says the dancer and teacher who lost one of his legs in a road mishap a decade and half back. 

Born in Bideipur, a village under Basudevpur block of north Odisha Balasore district, Das was interested in dance and drama right from his childhood while playing the role of Krishna in school plays. His love to become a professional dancer prompted him to run away with a professional drama group which had camped in his village to perform a show.

“While the drama group was leaving the village, I virtually jumped onto their vehicle. The manager of the drama company was initially reluctant but allowed me in after a lot of pleading and, of course, seeing my interest in dance. I was hardly 11 or 12 then,” said the popular dancer.

He got the first opportunity to show his talent when he met guru Bimbadhar Das, a Bhubaneswar-based dance teacher who was frequenting the drama company to teach dance to actors and also to choreograph the dance dramas. “He was my first guru and had played a key role in whatever I am today,” maintained Das.

Though he was doing well in the drama group as a dancer as well as an assistant choreographer, he always wanted to leave the company to further his career. Das finally left the group following a tiff with the manager in 1993 and landed straight in the house of Guru Bimbadhar Das. With his help, he enrolled into “Odisha Dance Academy”,  set up by another Odissi expert, Guru Gangadhar Pradhan.

   He did not look back after completing his stint at the academy performing classical Odissi dance items and choreographing dance dramas not only in live shows on stage but also in other media like TV and cinema.
 
 His career was about to take off when misfortune struck in the form of a road mishap in June, 2000. He met with a serious accident and doctors had to amputate his right leg. “I thought it was all over for me and I will never be able to dance again. I just wept for days together,” Das said. 

Ironically, just a year before the mishap, he had acted and choreographed a dance  drama in which he had played the role of a physically handicapped person. “You may call it coincidence. But exactly a year after that show I became crippled in real life,” said the middle-aged classical dancer. 

He was hospitalised for almost a year and after his discharge, he gathered strength to resume his dance, this time with one leg. It was, however, not easy.

His first comeback dance performance was on May  2005 --five years after the accident. And it turned out to be a huge success. The dance drama was appropriately named, “Pangu Langheta Giri (a crippled can cross a hill)”. “After the show, I felt as if I have been reborn. It was and it will always remain the most memorable day in my life,” Das said.

Since 2005, he has also been holding “Guru Dakshina” dance festival in Bhubaneswar every year through his own organisation called Kalashrama to promote and give a platform to physically challenged artistes to showcase their talent. “The intention behind the annual festival is to create an opportunity for the physically challenged artistes to exhibit their talent. And, of course, to keep alive the age-old Guru-Sisya paramapara”.   

Several physically challenged artistes from different states have already participated in the annual dance festival. They include a few well known names like actor-dancer Sudha Chandran, who, like the Bhubaneswar-based dancer, had an accident and had become physically challenged but successfully made a came back to continue her career in dance.

Das has already received a lot of awards and appreciation for his work. But he says he would like to cherish and remember one appreciation for rest of his life. “My second stage show after I made a comeback following my accident was in Rourkela, the steel township in western Odisha. After the show, a little girl came running to me when I was about to leave the venue. She hugged me and looked at the trophy the organisers had presented. Then she said, 'you don’t deserve such a little trophy. You deserve a trophy as big as the sky.' That was the biggest award for me and I will cherish it for the rest of my life,” the dancer observed.

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