Kshetrayya was mami’s favourite poet. She wrote in Aspects of Abinaya ‘ The greatness of these [Kshetrayya] padams lies in evoking pleasure, while elevating the soul’.
So here is a Kshetrayya remix from me to mami……
Kō͘di kūse nayyayyō, mami you were gone when the Rooster crowed Monday morning..cakkani mi Muvvagōpālasāmitō galasé, you were united with your beautiful Muvvagōpala…guttagānu muvvagōpālu cébat̟t̟i kūd̟unat̟e, in a permanent liaison with Him……Enta cakkani vād̟é ni sāmi, what a handsome fellow he is, your Muvvagōpāla…molaka navvulu, muddu māt̟alu, merugu cāmanacāya ménamaru vād̟é, ni sami……tender smiles, sweet words, glowing dusky body, your Lord……
”Ninnu jūci nālu gaidu nelalāye Muvvagōpala ….it has been four five months since I saw you Muvvagōpala – mami!…….vinnāvo vinalédō vinarā ī vinta .. had you heard or not, I don’t know, but listen to this strange thing…. Ninnu gūdinadé modalu nī tōd̟ide lōkamai yunnā ninté véré manasai yunt̟inā, Muvvagōpala, from the time I have been with you, mami, you have been my world”
………Rama rama… Alas,
I met mami last in September 2015, four months before she passed away. She has been a world to me, and sometimes ‘the’ world as I begin to realise the importance of Sattvika abinaya in life as a whole. I can still hear her singing all these Kshetrayya songs in Sowrashtram, Sahana, Abhogi, Punnagavarali and Bhairavi and I am lost in them…..
From 1987 to 2000, we (my sister and I, students at Abinayasudha, mami’s dance school) were at mami’s place every week. For us, Bharatanatyam is seen through Sattvika abinaya because of mami, who was our guru and mentor in all things dance. Be it yoga class at Abinaya sudha, be it kalaripayattu class, or theory class, or music or nattuvangham or odissi or nrittha, mami would come and observe us learn and comment. I am glad I have her comments etched in my mind, for I can now chew the cud! As kids, we were attentive to her because we didn’t know where the axe would fall next!
We were the kutties – the junior most batch of mami’s students, and in a way invisible. We were always there, and we absorbed. We silently watched and idolised. We were always hanging about, for all the programmes that mami did, we sat, we diligently hand wrote post cards and inland letters, and took them in our scooters and cycles to all the great and good in the vicinity, and Adyar had a lot of them! It was hilarious, year after year, we would endeavour to update mami’s address book, but year after year, we would still have a pile of returns!
We were the keepers of mami’s library, we catalogued her books, covered them with brown paper, xeroxed her lecture-dems, we loved hanging about No. 2, 12th cross street! We were the quiet ones. We were even chastised by our seniors (a garrulous bunch) for being too quiet, mistaken for being unenquiring!
One thing I still don’t understand, what did mami see in those soaps she watched on TV? Maybe in another life I will! We saw mami go on tour and come back from exotic places, she would always bring us back little presents, chinnadhu singaram (small is cute) goes the Tamil saying ..oh the exoticism of faraway places brought back by mami! (It was only Paris) Abinayasudha was in a leafy part of the city, and our classes were often beautifully interjected by the kooing of the Indian koel …and mami’s class room – a door open to the breeze….from outside..
When Priya akka (Priyadarshini Govind) did our first abinaya session, mami was there. The chosen padam was …enna naan seidhu vit-ten edarkhu nee muraikhirai? – the Gopis are totally disarmed by the boy Krishna, who with his wide open baby eyes and pouting lips says ‘ What did I do, why are you staring anger at me? (after having stolen their butter, broken their water pots and thrown mud on their new skirts!)
Ah, the cheek – He says Aanai pirandha yennai, adi nee izhukalaamo? Me, being a man, can you, as a woman, lay your hand on me? … We were propelled out of our childhood in our first padam.
Not too soon, mami would say, yet her instincts prepared us for the outside world.
Then came the sweet padam Mathura nagarilo salla lamma ponu, that to me is the quintessential Priya akka, I discovered her then…
My first recollection of being bodily absorbed in Mami’s mesmerising abinaya was when she taught us Velavare, ummai thedi oru madandhai.. Oh Muruga, she has been waiting for you all night. Go to her. Don’t you want her youth, those piercing eyes, those arched eye brows, her chiselled figure, slender hips, sinuous body….. Aaah.. if only you can hear what I hear in my mind as I pen this – mami’s mellifluous shringara filled voice singing this song of tender love…Must have been my age!
Then came the golden period, indhendu, dhari joochu, netrandhi, theruvil, all beautiful padams.
The first Kshetrayya padam I learnt was Etu vanti vade vadu. What kind of a person is he, oh lady? He is dark, I believe, and charms his way about? He speaks cool, dalliance is his wealth, I believe. Tell me it is the untruth that he knows all about pleasure points.
Choodare, another Kshetrayya padam showed mami as a brilliant choreographer. In exquisite abinaya, mami choreographed for a group of three.
My abinaya training started to show in my performances. In the varnam Ela nan- ne chevu e ra bro che ra, which we performed at Avvai Home in Madras, Bragha miss (Bragha Bessell) complimented me on my abinaya. Now that was something!
A highlight was when I was asked to do aduvum solluval at our summer camp in one of mami’s evening abinaya sessions. There I was, sitting next to mami, in the outdoors, an Indian summer’s dusk, under a tree, with lush green tropical shrubs enclosing our little space. Mami singing aduvum solluval… Mami the queen-mother of Abinaya, and me the queen of Aduvum Solluval! And then we both went back into our shells afterwards. Mami has often mused, I don’t know what it is that I have done that is great – but people often say so…!
She had shown me a path.
Years later, in 2011 when I went back to mami to do intensive sessions, she picked a Kshetrayya padam ‘Rama rama prana sakhi’. I had come a full circle, from starting with young Krishna in Enna naan sheidu vit-ten to Rama rama where an adult Krishna pines for his gopi while wondering how Rama was able to bear the separation from Sita.
Mami, I wonder what this separation from you is going to be like for me. Should I seek solace in yenneramum undan sannidhi ile naan? After all, that was what you were seeking. Or should it be adi yokka yugamu vere janmamipudu?