- Madhu Nataraj Kiran
May 1, 2015
May 2, 1928: The Hattangady family lovingly welcomed into their fold, their first daughter and named her after the Devi- Maha Maya, endearingly known as ‘Baabli’ at home.
“Maya means, one born in May,” her Russian family would say, fondly calling her Mayichkaa, during her Moscow days.
Maya didi, was probably her universal identity.
Maya ji, Maya didi, Mayichkaa, Ma, Dr Rao... Maya Rao’s name became synonymous with dance. Pioneering Kathak dancer, path breaking choreographer, ubiquitous mentor, founder of India’s first college of choreography, revivalist, curator, Guru....she donned all these and several other hats. Her passion for dance and her career trajectory are chronicled for over 7 decades in books, journals, documentaries and more recently in her autobiography and DVDs produced by us at the Kampni and so I will not go into those details.
Very little is known of how she spent time with her precious circle of family and friends which I will share in the near future, but today is about the 2nd of May, her birthday.
Here’s a short, staccato retelling of those memories which flow and collide in my mind, congealing into a body of experiences, of remembrance
May 2nd was always
- Marked by intimate yet boisterous dinners where our small, close knit family would be regaled by Ma, a wonderful orator and raconteur.
- In an unbroken ritual spanning almost 3 decades, I would take Ma to pick up her Birthday Kanjeevaram. We were like little girls in a candy store. She would choose a favourite and promptly remark, “Mehengaa hai to math lena”- don't buy it if it’s expensive. Even as a struggling, young dancer, I would save up for this day.
- The doorbell would compete with the landline for attention, ringing incessantly from 5am onwards when family, friends and students from across the globe and time zones would telephone or call on her to wish her.
- A day Ma had begun to almost dread in the last decade of her life. “Take me away... somewhere,” she would say sadly, unhappy about some self styled organisers putting up extravagant shows to celebrate her birthday. She hated money being spent on her or being collected in her name. I took her to Singapore one year and we hid in my aunt’s place the next! Eventually she told people not to mount shows with suspect standards of presentation in her name. She would always say, “Help the institute instead.”
- Koshy's, the veritable Bangalore institution was a constant for every birthday of hers. “Mulle ki daud masjid tak,” she would say each time I asked her if she wanted to go elsewhere for a change!
- Her birthdays soon returned to being a small gathering of family and a close circle of students over cups of filter coffee and maddur vadas and much bonhomie. There was always laughter... lots of it and inevitably, she would recount anecdotes (Incidentally, she was also a great mimic) from her very eventful life.
Apart from the family, no one knew about the crevices she fell into and climbed out of with zero aggression, time and again, re-emerging with greater grace and dignity each time. But she would never complain.
Last year, the Kampni and I organized a surprise high tea at our studio for her birthday. ‘100 years, Maya didi’ wished one of her senior students excitedly while handing her a bouquet. My mother gently raised her hand and said very softly, “Ab bus...enough,” no more birthdays. Most of us were shocked as one never heard her complain or even acknowledge mortality. “Saale budhaape se nahin bach saktein,” she quoted her Guru Shambhu Maharaj promptly, to lighten the now heavy mood amongst her best loved. Little did we know that less than 4 months later she would breathe her last.
May 2, 2015
Tomorrow, the family plans to stick together and support each other as we collectively battle and embrace this void. We plan on doing things she enjoyed most. We begin with rehearsals in her living room tomorrow and end the day by going to her favourite Koshy’s to celebrate her Dance of Life.
Photos courtesy: Natya Institute
Maya Rao: Lifetime in choreography (1940 - 2014)
Kathak / Contemporary dancer Madhu Nataraj Kiran is the daughter of Guru Maya Rao and the Artistic Director of STEM Dance Kampni in Bangalore.
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