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To Mother, with love
- Srinidhi Chidambaram

March 26, 2017

Behind every successful Bharatanatyam dancer, is her mother. This is something I can swear by. Of course, fathers, husbands and in-laws do play a hugely supportive role, but the role of the mother of a dancer is something else entirely! She performs the combined roles of a guru, companion, confidante, aesthetic guide, stage designer, make-up artiste, program consultant, costumer, nutritionist, fitness coach, and much more…

In my own case, I have been lucky to have had two such strong and nurturing women, my maternal grandmother and my mother, by my side throughout my dance career. My life as a dancer began at the age of three, when I started my training with Kamala. For the next ten years, it was really my grandmother who steered me through classes, school, homework, performances and travel. Until this day, most old timers from the Chennai Bharatanatyam scenario, remember her with affection. Following that, my mother has been the one nurturing and supporting me, for the last 45 plus years of my career as a Bharatanatyam performer.

My mother, Dr. Vasanthi Rangarajan, was a keen student of Bharatanatyam and studied under Pandanallur Chokkalingam Pillai. A beauty with long, thick, black hair, and a glowing complexion, is how her classmates from the Madras Medical College remember her even today. Sadly, in her case, medicine took precedence over dancing and she went on to study Obstetrics and Gynecology. She and my father then worked very hard to set up their own hospital in Chennai, and all I remember about my student years is their passionate commitment towards building their profession, and their dedication towards every patient. I can never forget how personalized their approach to medical practice was, how humane, how compassionate. It was a medical practice that spanned generations of families, who treated us as one of their own, and looked up to my parents as if they were gods. In spite of their busy schedules and intense commitment as extremely successful medical practitioners, my parents ensured that my dance and schooling went on and always encouraged me to do my best.

When I entered my early teenage years, my first guru Kamala moved to the USA, and I started training with Guru Vazhuvoor Samraj for a year, and then went on to train with Guru Swamimalai Rajarathnam Pillai. This was also the time when my mother came into her own. By then it was clear that I would certainly pursue Bharatanatyam, and she started playing a major role in choosing songs for me to perform, encouraged me to practice a lot more, ensured that I learnt the allied arts of music and nattuvangam, and designed every part of my costume, jewellery and makeup. She still does.

The auchitya or the subtle traditional look that I am known for, and the South Indian hues of mustard and red, the simple hair décor, the understated jewellery and the light makeup that are usually associated with me, are all ideas that emerge from her. She is also the one who designs the stage and lighting for my performances. Over the years, she observed and learnt how the music should complement and enhance the dance. Watching other performances helped her gain insights into what worked and what did not. Her sharp eye missed nothing.

For all her belief in tradition, she was the one who encouraged me to go ahead and dance on contemporary themes like modern working mothers and on poetry on the river Cooum, and the environment. When I decided to take up medicine, it was my father who helped me with my medical studies, while my mother was always honing my dance skills! My mother, despite her professional commitments, imbibed so much knowledge about Bharatanatyam for my sake, and one can only marvel at how beautifully she managed this despite her hectic career.

Even today, at 80, I know that if there is one person I can count on for genuine feedback, intelligent suggestions, and great ideas, it is my mother. She still watches each rehearsal keenly and intensely, with a note book and pen to write down suggestions, modifications and criticism. I still don't perform any piece without her approval. She braves the pitch dark of the stage and auditorium to move along with the lighting team to direct them, and rushes backstage half way to help with my costume change. She still closely supervises the costume designer and the make-up artiste with a great eye for detail. And I hope she will, forever…

Chennai based Bharatanatyam dancer Dr. Srinidhi Chidambaram is a doctor with post graduation in Public Health and Preventive Medicine. She has received the Kalaimamani award of the Tamil Nadu government, Nadanamamani from Kartik Fine Arts, Balasaraswathi Memorial Award and Nrithya Choodamani from Krishna Gana Sabha.

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