Gracious Guru Jayalakshmi Alva
- Ashish Mohan Khokar
July 24, 2015
In the passing away of Guru Jayalakshmi Alva on July 21, 2015, the era of gracious gurus comes to an end, almost. In her persona, the very quintessence of what a real guru ought to be, rested. Never one for limelight or attention, she carried on teaching Bharatanatyam till her end.
In mid 1940s, she was in Madras, learning from vidwan Dandayudhapani Pillai, who shared his barsati room with two other dance talents - Adyar Lakshman and Mohan Khokar - both then learning dance at Kalakshetra. From Madras to Mumbai was a long journey but she bore it with dignity that was her hallmark. She taught many city-educated girls of Mumbai like Maya Kulkarni (now Chaddha), Sonal Pakvasa (now Mansingh), Sujata Shah (now Jain) among others.
In 1974 she started her own institution Sridevi Nrithya Kendra in Mangalore where she was based with family and since then she has taught scores and scores, selflessly. Not one to even ask for fee, she just taught. Among her third generation of students in Mangalore are Araty Shetty, Purnima Gururaj and Srikala.
Waheeda Rehman, in Farooq Sheikh's popular show 'Rubaru' on TV which featured Jaya amma, said, "I wouldn't have loved dance so much had it not been for my teacher-cum-friend, Jayama."
No national awards or titles came her way and this shows she never lobbied or asked for anything. She was truly honest and away from shenanigans of the dance world. The dance fraternity of Bangalore gave her a standing ovation when she was bestowed the attendance Lifetime Achievement Award by the Dance History Society of India in 2013.
Driving her off to the station after the award event, she said in chaste, unaffected Hindi, "Tumne mujhe yaad rakha aur izzat di, buss yahi kaafi hai." (You remembered me and honoured me - with this honour - that alone is enough). The documentary made on her for the occasion remains a good last record of this genial, smiling and gracious guru. Mangalore will be a lot less empty and the dance world poorer, without her benign presence.
Her daughter Dr. Araty Shetty looked after her much despite her own ill health and her children brought Jaya Amma joy, as did scores of devoted students, worldwide. All students could get together and pen her biography as a lasting tribute to this dance devotee.
Ashish Mohan Khokar is a reputed dance historian, biographer, critic and author of many published articles and over 40 books on Indian arts and culture. He served govt. bodies in many capacities and also teaches Indian dance history and aesthetics for university faculties. He is the curator of the Mohan Khokar Dance Collection and chairs the Dance History Society which hosts an annual convention and dance discourses that afford many talents a platform. He has mentored many and instituted five awards through attendance, the dance yearbook he edits and publishes.
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