When I was in school, I was thin and angular and never got selected for any of the dance items that featured in the programmes organised for the annual day celebrations and so on. I always did have a sense of rhythm though and never lost a beat. I would often be asked to join other girls to mark time on the stage, as the school marched into the assembly hall, in class-wise rows, to the accompaniment of music. We were given small cymbals and bells and castanets( I think that was what it was called) and so on .Mother Gabrielle, our headmistress, had a great love for all the arty stuff and she wanted us young lasses to imbibe of all that, as much as she could instill in us .The strains of the “Baby elephant walk” still makes me feel nostalgic.
I was also asked to lead the drills and exercises that were performed to the accompaniment of music. I swear that my sense rhythm was perfect .But all of that didn’t apparently count. I guess I didn’t have the “laasyam” or whatever. The only time I got anywhere close to being included in a dance was one in which different states and achievements of our nation was depicted in dance form. The girl who was supposed to be dancing in the role of the soldie,r fell sick and didn’t turn up. As a disaster management measure, I was asked to “march ‘ in on to the stage and “march” around the stage till the music meant for the part played out and then I was to fall in line with the rest. My bit , fortunately for the whole group, came right at the end and there was no way I could have jeopardised the success of the other participants. So that was it, no graceful arm movements ,no intricate footwork, no “bhavas”, no nothing.
I’ve always loved dance. So, straight in the mould of those parents who vicariously try to live out their unfulfilled desires through their offsprings, I gently prodded and pushed my little daughter into learning dance. Her teacher, Jayashree was a young , graceful girl, still in college then, who totally loved the dance form. Her mother and her elder sister were also into dancing and Jayashree managed to transfer her love for this art form into my daughter’s sensibilities during the eight years or so of her learning. Sadly, studies and then the compulsions of her career put an end to my daughter’s training. Her teacher, gladly, continues to train young girls in the U.S.A, where she had relocated to after her marriage.
I guess it must have been the twin desires of visiting a place totally devoted to dance, as well as wanting to observe the architectural ambience of the Gurukul, that urged my daughter to plan this trip to Nrityagram, established by Protima Bedi, in May 1990. She is an architect by profession and had interned at “Costford”, an institution set up by the renowned architect, Late Laurie Baker, in Trivandrum. Gerard D’Cunha, who designed “Nrityagram” is a disciple of Laurie Baker and you can see the stamp. An earlier visit had not worked out as the school had closed down for their Summer break. Luckily for me, this time around , I got to accompany her.
The whole place was so earthy in its feel. Who would’ve thought that the young woman who gained instant fame by her “streaking” on Juhu beach, would have the vision and the sustained commitment to create such an idyllic , serene, harmonious environment where everything seemed to be attuned to a secret music Even the trees swaying in the breeze seemed to be moving their limbs in inimitable grace. Nrityagram is dedicated to Protima Bedi’s Guru Shri Kelucharan Mahapatra
Far away from the concrete jungle that Bangalore city is fast turning into and out of the chaos of the traffic, the way to Nrityagram wound itself through rustic roads , surrounded on both sides with a lot of greenery, till we reached the ten-acre Gurukul in Hesaraghatta.
The whole place was so earthy in its feel. The parking area, office building, the hall where the dancers trained and rehearsed, the living spaces for the students, the guest cottages, are all built from granite stones of different shapes and sizes, cut to the needs of the structures, in simple, basic, compact contours, but so very aesthetically appealing. The elements seemed to have unobtrusively got together to create the idyllic, harmonious surroundings, where everything seemed attuned to a secret music. Even the trees swaying in the breeze appeared to be moving their limbs with inimitable grace.
Who would’ve thought that the young woman who gained instant fame with her “streaking” on Juhu beach, would have had the vision and sustained commitment to establish something so classically beautiful . Protima Bedi had dedicated this institution to Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra from whom she had started learning the dance form of Odissi , a the age of twenty six.
As we approached the office area for making the payment for the visit, the sound of music and the rhythmic stamp of feet on the dance floor, floated in the air. We were told that visitorswereallowed to watch the students practise.So we walked towards the direction where the sounds came from. Lissome girls clad in beautiful cotton saris with blouses matching the contrast borders of the saris, were moving around the dance hall, their hands and feet in perfect co-ordination, or so it seemed to me. But not to the teacher ,Bijayani Satpathy, who was conducting the class. She stopped them again and again, to gently ,but firmly, rebuke and correct their mistakes. She is at the helm of affairs at Nrityagram presently.A disciple of Protima Bedi, she had taken on the role of taking forward her mentor’s legacy.
We sat entranced for the next couple of hours, as after winding up the class, Surupa Sen , the artistic Director at Nrityagram, and then Bijayani Stpathy took the floor, rehearsing for some upcoming performance probably. Amazing grace it was!!. Words cannot express what they did through the mesmerising movements of their hands and feet and the versatility of their expressions. Even the little one, my grandson watched engrossed for long spells. Of course he was equally fascinated by the festoons that was hanging in the passageway and which were moving in the breeze.
Surupa Sen and Bijayani Satpathy have been complementing each other in various performances within the country and abroad, Their association , over a considerably long period, is in itself something wonderful in a field, where egos and temaperaments of artist,s do not boast of any genuine camaraderie .
We didn’t get to see it and in fact, I didn’t even know of it, but Surupa’s house , also designed by Gerard D’cunha is also within the Nrityagram complex. From the pictures in this link, it does really look beautiful
The only thing that one found jarringly out of place was a board that said “Raymonds Gurukul”, outside the dance hall. They must have helped and it surely is nice of them to promote the arts, but need they have insisted that this be known ? Anyways….there are all kinds of giving , I guess.
Some live long after they have left these shores .Her life was as eventful as her death .Protima Bedi was a feisty rebel. She lived, she loved , she lost, she grieved, she distanced herself from all that she held dear and then an earthly tremor put an end to it all……except that you can still feel her presence in the spaces within the stone walls and along the pathways lined on both sides by trees, amongst the whispering branches and in the sounds of anklet bells that tinkle , in Nrityagram.