February 29 - a significant date

February 11, 2008

When do you wish a person who was born on February 29? Feb 28 or March 1? It is rather difficult, except when it's a leap year, like this year!

February 29: There are only two dance personalities in India born on this rare day.

Rukmini Devi Arundale who broke new ground, reinstated Bharatanatyam and created Kalakshetra. And Ashish Khokar, also a revolutionary-of-sorts for his direct and bold style of dance writing. His numerous columns and over 30 books make him someone different. He has created India's first exclusive dance publishing line with attendance and Ekah bios.

Ashish's father, late Mohan Khokar - pioneering scholar, founder-head of Dance Dept of Baroda University, Secretary of Sangeet Natak Akademi under KPS Menon, creator of India's biggest dance archives - was Rukmini Devi's first male student from north India.

He left his native Punjab (Lahore then) and took a ten day train trip to land at Rukmini Devi's abode. For him, she gave special instructions to the hostel kitchen: "Make chapathis for this lad from the north. How can he eat rice thrice a day, in some form or other?" Such was the bond between gurus and shishya, then. Periya Sarada was shy to teach him meanings of padams and instead sent him to Adyar Library to read and understand texts. That he ended up creating India's biggest dance library, shows his spirit. Ashish Khokar now brings out many books based on rare materials from that Collection. (www.dancearchivesofindia.com)

Ashish as a youngster (never ask a leap yearean his/her age!) corresponded with Athai and typical of a teenager raised several issues: animal rights, being vegetarian and sharing his birthday with her. It was her humility and greatness that she wrote back in one letter: "To write is an art. When you write with intelligent questions that have humour, it makes the task of responding happier! I get many letters (those days emails hadn't been invented, we are talking of 1977-83) but the ones I reply to first are ones that are humourous, funny and direct. Please keep this correspondence going!"

"Truly, great people are great because they are simple," says Ashish, a lesson he remembers and advocates.