- Madhu Nataraj, Bangalore
April 11, 2012
It is indeed a daunting task to write about how one ‘perceives’ their guru and if the guru happens to be your mother, it gets even tougher!
Dr. Maya Rao’s name is synonymous with dance. Internationally renowned Kathak exponent, recognized for her path breaking choreographies and for her pioneering work in the field of dance education, she personifies grace and dignity and lives her life by example.
From my childhood days of falling asleep on her lap to the sound of ghungroos and the tabla, memories of her supervising my homework and walking me to school, cajoling my school authorities to grant me leave so I could travel with her on her international tours to teaching and guiding me through my initial years in dance to today, where she is my strongest consultant, critic and proud mentor. Every single day of our lives we traverse from our equation as mother and daughter to Guru and Shishya ...effortlessly.
A recipient of several prestigious awards such as the President of India award, Shantala prashasti, the Emeritus fellowship , honorary doctorate, to mention a few, this year she adds 2 more awards to her awards kitty. I speak to her about her life, her dance…
Madhu: The Central Sangeet Natak Akademi’s ‘Tagore Ratna’ and the ‘Purandara’ award within a span of a month…how do you feel?
Maya: Tagore is my favourite writer and philosopher and to get my 2nd central Sangeet Natak Akademi award attributed to him is an honour. The ‘Purandara’ is special because it is instituted by a cultural organisation. Private organisations such as the Indiranagar sabha create a fecund space for the nurturing of our arts. Also, my mother Subhadra loved Purandara Dasa’s songs, so you can imagine how poignant this moment is for me.
Madhu: A dance career spanning 7 decades where you have taught, choreographed, created institutions and projects, written articles, syllabi, textbooks, DVDs and have documented dance…. Any unfulfilled project or wish?
Maya: Considering the time when I started dancing when dance was taboo and to the progress we see in the dance scenario today, I feel proud to be part of this evolution where dance is seen as an important component of modern India and has percolated down to every household. My dream is to see a campus for the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography (India’s only degree college of choreography) … a space where dancers and dance enthusiasts converge to pursue their passion. I am sure this dream too shall come true.
Madhu: You always say Natya is your first child and I am your second born…
Maya: (Laughs) That’s true, but then I haven’t given you any step-motherly treatment either!
Madhu: What do you prefer…me as a daughter or student?
Maya: (smiles) That’s a difficult question to answer! Where affection is concerned, I like the daughter in you. Your perseverance as a student mirrors my ambition to create more projects and therefore I see the future of my dance in you.
Madhu: Did I make a difficult student?
Maya: Yes, of course….as a child you wanted to learn Maharaj Bindadin’s compositions without going through the drill of “Ta thei thei tat.” You were always independent minded. The day you realised the vast extent of dance you became an ardent student.
Madhu: At 83 you still work between 8 to 10 hours every day….
Maya: I don’t feel my 80’s! I involve myself in creative activities, am surrounded by young, spirited people which keeps me going like an 18 year old. You see, dance continues to excite me endlessly!
Madhu: I feel so overwhelmed that whether we’re at a 5 star hotel in Europe or at a hastily erected green room in Hampi, we always encounter a student of yours or someone whose life you have touched and enriched.
Maya: I love teaching and I believe that my students are my legacy. I have always extended support to talented and sincere individuals. Their affection and zeal in turn fuels my passion for dance.
Madhu: You have toured and performed in over 40 countries apart from every interior of India. Any place you wish to visit?
Maya: Japan and Morocco.
Madhu: Our shared passions apart from dance…
Maya: Our love for art history and architecture. Silks… our Kanjeevaram sari shopping sprees and trying out food and chais at various cafes the world over and of course our weekly dinner at Koshy’s in Bangalore.
Madhu: At this point in life, who are the people you remember as having influenced and shaped your dance and your life?
Maya: My first inspiration was the iconic dancer Uday Shankar way back in the 1940s. My gurus, especially Shambhu Maharaj, who opened my eyes to the subtle nuances of Kathak. He was an ocean of knowledge. He shaped me as a good dancer… His smile, his demeanour, his wit, his inimitable genius and fatherly affection are unforgettable.
My family, especially my elder brother Manohar, who was like a rock and supported me in all my endeavours. Anil da.. The celebrated music director, Anil Biswas who supported and lent his beautiful music to all my important choreographic pursuits. My husband Nataraj, whose multifaceted artistry and encyclopedic knowledge of the arts often partnered my artistic nature.
Many others come to mind - my friend and consultant on numerous projects Govind Vidyarthi, the Dagar brothers who gave me an insight into the world of Dhrupad for dance, my guru from the Jaipur gharana Sunder Prasad ji, Kamala Lal of the Natya Ballet Centre where I was the resident choreographer and the great Kamala Devi Chattopadhyaya, a guiding spirit in my life.
…And now you and my dear students who help to take my dance out into the world.
Madhu Nataraj is the Artistic Director of Natya STEM Dance Company, Bangalore.
That was a great Q & A session between Madhu Nataraj and Dr.Maya Rao. When the passion lives in you, the dreams come true. For Madhu, the journey begins once again. She is tireless, passionate and ardent in the pursuit of her profession and I am sure Maya Rao's ambition of setting up her dream project will be completed by her dedicated daughter and disciple. The family wishes them good luck.
- Venugopal (April 17, 2012)
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