July 27, 2009
I want to congratulate Narthaki.com and Ashish Khokar for starting the Dance History column. This is such a valuable addition to Narthaki. I thank Mr. Khokar for digging into his archives, and for taking the time to share these stories which not only give an insight into the career of these pioneers but also into their dream and determination.
I was especially thrilled to see Nala Najan appear on the web-pages of Narthaki. He was such a remarkable man.
However, in response to Mr. Khokar’s article, I do wish to share two differing stories about Nala, both about his origin and his "Indian" name. These are based on my face to face conversation with him in 2001 during which for some unknown reason I decided to take notes. Little did I know that my hurried scribbles would become valuable just a year later. When Nala passed away in 2002, Sruti Pattabhiraman asked me to write about him for the Sruti special on Nala. At that time I dug up my notes and also compared them with Uttara Coorlawala's recollections, for she had been both his student and a close friend – especially in his later years of debilitating health.
I share these additional points with Narthaki readers. May they add to the mystery and drama of this mysteriously dramatic man. Maybe artists who merge so completely with their art become characters in their own life – and then they have the privilege of reinventing themselves as often as they would the characters that they play. At least we know how a myth is born! Are you smiling Nala?
FROM MY SRUTI ARTICLE
About his heritage:
Roberto Theodore Rivero, for that was Nala's original name, hailed from the State of Pennsylvania, USA. His father, Ulpiyano Palermo De Burgosey Rivero, (ahh... what a name! Almost as dramatic as Nala himself!), was of Spanish heritage. The immigration officers, who found this name too long and cumbersome for their taste (and talent), promptly abbreviated it to Roberto Rivero! His mother belonged to a wealthy family of Russian heritage. (Like a classic tale from an Indian epic, her father had, over a game of cards and lots of vodka - Nala insisted that the vodka not be left out - won half the coalmines in Pennsylvania from another wealthy Russian, thus becoming a rich man overnight). It was of this exotic union that Roberto Rivero Jr. was born. "You have now become one of those few rare ones with whom I have shared this story about my parents," he told me with contentment as I laughed heartily at this most improbable rags-to-riches story that seemed to jump straight out of a movie script.
About his Indian name:
His new incarnation needed a new name. It was the episode of the swan acting as a love messenger that first drew his attention to the story of Nala and Damayanti, and he took on the name of the hero of that tale. The second name Najan happened to be the surname of a close friend.
July 26, 2009
Really enjoyed Ashish Khokar's article on Nala Najan... he captures the spirit of this amazing man.
In response to what Ashish Khokar has written about Nala Uncle's origins, I do want to share something that Nala Uncle spoke of in his last days at his home, about his real origins. I think he wanted us to know.
We would talk on the phone, and during more than one conversation (and I noted it down) he told me that his mother had been a Russian aristocrat and that his "father changed his family name from Upiano Palermo de Burgos to Rivera because of litigation." (Uncle Nala dictated the spelling of the name) When I pushed him to explain further, he said it had to do with the way that the family immigrated from Russia into the USA from Cuba. The name was changed in order to immigrate. I am not sure what the politics of immigration at that time were for Russians or Italians. Ashish says one parent was Spanish and certainly the name Rivera is Hispanic...) Anyway, Nala Uncle said he had not spoken of all this earlier as it might have upset people in his family, but he seemed to believe it was important to speak of it. He also had similar conversations at the same time with Ramaa Bharadvaj.
I am fascinated with the way that travellers at that time carried or hid or mystified or morphed their life stories...
Uttara Coorlawala, NY