‘Dheem, dheem tad dheem, kitatak ta da gin a tat dheem...’ and so went on the beat on mridangam, thallam and flute, accompanying the singer singing Krishna Ni Begane Baaro. On the centrestage was a performer looking ethereal and enthralling the audience with a perfect rhythm while she happily transformed herself into the mother of Balagopal in her nritya with every bhava and taala required.
She is Prerana Sahane, the young Bharatanatyam dancer from Pune in Maharashtra.
What sets her apart from other hundreds of Indian classical dancers is that she is a special woman. She lives in a world of silence and quiet. Since her childhood she hasn’t heard a single sound or spoken a word. She is hearing and speech impaired.
But, looking at her on stage or elsewhere, it’s just impossible to feel or know about her disability till her mother and mentor, Ujjwala, mentions it. When she is on stage, one has to look closely and notice her dance guru, Shumita Mahajan, sitting in the pit at the centre of the stage along with technicians, instead of sitting on the right side on the stage where the other accompanying artistes are sitting and performing. “She doesn’t miss the beat because I guide her from my place in the pit with my hands,” explains Shumita, who has been teaching and guiding Prerana for nearly two decades now. Prerana is the only special girl that Shumita has been guiding in her 25-year-old dance school, Sadhana Nrityalaya.
She admits that every special child can’t be Prerana. “Even every abled child who comes to learn dance isn’t as talented as her. Looking at her talent and dedication, it appears as though she was born to dance,” says the proud guru. She hastily gives credit to the dancer’s parents in taking her to where she is today by sheer hard work, perseverance and courage.
Daughter of high school teachers, Prerana had suffered severe paralytic attack when she was just six months old, making her immobile below the neck. Ujjawala and Keshav decided to give their best shot to get their only daughter back on feet. With continuous Ayurveda treatment she started walking by the time she was three years old.
“In our focus to get her mobility back, we didn’t pay attention to her other sensations, and by the time we realised it, her hearing ability couldn’t be regained,” recalls her mother Ujjwala, a PhD holder, who decided not to enrol her kid in a special school as she wanted her to learn everything like any normal child. It was at one of the cultural functions in her school that she felt that her young child, too, might dance, as she had seen Prerana dance in her own ways whenever she saw someone dancing on TV. So, along with her husband Keshav, she approached Shumita. Shumita, although reluctant at first (as she hadn’t taught a special child before), agreed to give it a try.
To help their child, the parents even shifted home so that she could be nearer her dance teacher and not miss a single class. “Even if it was raining or even if she wasn’t well, her father saw to it that our daughter never missed her classes. And that has helped Prerana reach her dance zenith today,” explains her mother.
After her arangetram in 2007, along with her studies and participation in sports, water-colour paintings, writing poetry, Prerana has been performing in Kolkata, Pune, Mumbai etc. She has appeared on TV channels Star News, ETV Marathi, DD1 and others.
Recipient of few awards, the 30-year-old Prerana and her mother have a genuine complaint against the society and the government. Ujjawala says, “Our daughter is really talented. She needs encouragement. By inviting her to dance and paying her Rs 100 or Rs 200 is insulting her. Compare her to some of the Bollywood stars who don’t know anything about dance but are paid lakhs and sometimes crores. Yes, they are popular. But these kids need more encouragement. She needs to sustain herself.”
Along with her guru, Ujjawala explains that Prerana has passed four years of exams of Bharatnatyam from Akhil Bharatiya Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. “But, because of her disability, she isn’t allowed to take the fifth year’s Visharad exam as it entails verbal testing. She can write down her replies to the questions! We are protesting to modify these exams so that students with similar disabilities can pass the exams. A person’s disability shouldn’t be the criteria to debar them from taking examinations,” protests a hurt and angry mother.
Prerana, now married for a year to a special man with similar disabilities, plans to hold her painting exhibition soon, in Pune. As her parents say, “Our daughter is talented. She needs encouragement, not charity. Her silent world is of dance. She is quite self-sufficient to live on her own. All she needs is a different attitude from the society.”