Putting their best foot forward

Putting their best foot forward

From the albums

Putting their best foot forward

This photograph was taken in 1959 at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi when I had performed there with my dance troupe from Sanathana Kalakshetra. We were happy to be in the presence of the then President Rajendra Prasad.

 We were five girls — Veda, Sulochana, Gita, Sachi and myself. I was barely 15-years-old. Sulochana, Veda and I were studying at Maharani Lakshmi Ammanni College For Women. 

Gita was studying at Mount Carmel College and Sachi was in high school. We missed school for more than a month when we went for this performance. The colleges permitted us, as in those days, going to Delhi for dance was a proud moment for them. I remember the class giving me a standing ovation when I returned.

 Our mothers accompanied us and we sang songs, played games and chatted with each other on the way. When I look at the photo, I see that Dr Rajendra Prasad has a kind, warm expression. And that is how he was in person too. V S Koushik, our teacher, was also one of the main dancers. He is popular for choreographing ‘ragam, tanam and pallavi’ and adapting it to the bharathanatyam style with complex footwork. This is the piece that we performed at Rashtrapati Bhavan. We were in awe of the city, especially Rashtrapati Bhavan. I remember performing in front of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru too. He asked me in Hindi if I was from Madras. Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi also sat on the grounds of her residence, Teen Murti Bhavan, and watched us dance.

Dance is my passion and I am very fortunate to have studied under exceptional tutelage. In the 1950s, unlike today, there were only a handful of bharathanatyam teachers in Bengaluru. Classical dance emerged from a dark period, under the adverse effects of British colonisation and social prohibition. Girls from ‘good families’ simply did not dance.
     We were lucky as our families knew the importance of arts and were socially progressive. V S Koushik was a real taskmaster as well. There were times when we would just listen to him talk and spend hours watching each other practice. Through these dance classes, all five of us gradually developed lifelong friendships.

There was symmetry between the grace, vibrancy and geometry of the dance we learned and the nature of the environment around us. Life truly imitated art in Bengaluru as growing up here was a beautiful, dreamy experience. I studied at Maharashtra Mahila Vidyalaya for high school and completed my Masters from Central College. Throughout these years, I attended the same dance class which was located on Harding Road, behind Mahila Seva Samaja.

      Walking in the city was taken for granted. It was truly a pedestrians’ paradise. The circles and broad avenues nearby were fashioned as if the ancient Romans had planned them for their great chariots 2,000 years ago. Walking to class and crossing the streets in Basavanagudi near our house was a breeze for children as the traffic was light and sporadic. I walked to Maharani College when I missed the No 11 BTC bus (which we called ‘Bye-Bye, Ta-Ta, Cheerio!’ for its propensity to barrel right past us), which went from Gandhi Bazaar to  18th cross, Malleswaram.

I remember that Avenue Road, now K R Road, had a canopy of huge trees. It was a refuge for the hoards of monkeys and birds. I remember seeing many green parrots, sparrows and koels on trees. Since most of the houses nearby had big yards with fruit trees, there was a steady supply of food. Our house was a spacious bungalow that overlooked Vani Vilas Circle. A vast expanse of greenery shaded the big Vani Vilas Circle, with wide footpaths and parks in four corners. I recall the five globes of the lamp post in the centre of the circle and the flowers that surrounded it. The gulmohar trees were enchanting during their flowering season. We would play with the buds and pretend to swordfight with the long seedpods.

I got married in 1968 and moved to the USA. Dance is my passion and I continue to teach dance even today. I still have a house in Basavanagudi, where I spend time every year. Veda left our group in the early 60s to study in New Delhi. She is a sociologist. Sulochana is now a dance critic. Sachi got married and stayed in Bengaluru. She has now devoted herself to the study of Vedanta. Unfortunately Gita passed away.

So much has changed since those days. However, what has remained steady is my dance and the companionship of these lovely girls for the last six decades.


(The author can be contacted at malinidance@hotmail.com)

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