Pearls of Wisdom

Pearls of Wisdom

In the era when western influences dominate, a degree in Indian classical dance is no mean feat indeed. But a post-graduate degree is considered to be an even greater achievement. No wonder Pune-based Nritya Visharad and Nritya Alankar, Asawari Rahalkar was invited to Thane on December 3, to share tips on learning classical dance and also to guide students who are taking dance exams. The session was organised by Shree Ganesh Nritya Kala Mandir, which is the official centre for the examination in Thane, for the benefit of students who are due for their exams in the next week.

During the session, Asawari, who is also a Sangeet Visharad, narrated some fascinating anecdotes from her life, like the time when she was troubled by her mother’s ruthless discipline in her childhood. Rahalkar began her informal dance training at a tender age of six, when mother Alaka Rahalkar, herself an accomplished Kathak dancer and trainer, began teaching her. So strict was her mother that nothing could sway her to excuse Asawari from the daily practice. At the time, Asawari used to fret, wondering why her mother wasn’t like other moms.

Many years later, Asawari was recovering from a bad bout of Yellow fever and was scheduled to give a stage performance in a week’s time. Not only did she go ahead with the performance in spite of the weakness, but it was one of her best performances. She could do it because, due to her mother’s early lessons in discipline, she had learned early in life that, with determination, she is capable of triumphing over any obstacle.

From the age of nine, Asawari found her first guru in Rohini Bhate, with whom she trained for eight years. She was the youngest in her batch and was also among the most cherished students of her Guru. Once, on the day of Guru Pournima, Bhate gave her students an assignment in which they were to choreograph their own steps on a tune of their choice. Asawari chose a tune composed by the Pt Ravi Shankar and her performance evoked the most unexpected response from her proud Guru who walked up to her to congratulate her. Then, as a mark of extreme joy, Bhate went out to a sweet shop, bought heaps of sweets and distributed them among the other
students.

Asawari’s current Guru is Rajendra Gangani, who hails from the famous Jaipur gharana of Kathak. When a student asked her how she manages to interact with a Guru in Delhi when she herself is based in Pune, she replied, "My guru has taught me one thing. To be a good student, we have to be like a sponge, absorb everything and retain it for later use."

For the 50-odd students from various dance institutes in Thane, her tips were invaluable. For example, as an examiner, she often asks students to define a concept of dance and the students simply reply with a theoretical definition, straight from the book. According to her, a performance oriented art form like dance cannot be learned from books alone. She emphasised the importance of internalising the dance techniques rather than learning definitions from the book. To those who are born talented, she advised them to not let their good fortune get into their head and make them arrogant. Students should never take their talents for granted and never underestimate the importance of regular riyaz (practice), because there is always scope for growth and improvisation – even after they acquire degrees and achieve recognition.

The pearls of wisdom that Asawari shared with the anxious students acted like tonic. After the two-hour session, all those present in the audience felt not only wiser but also determined to succeed in the examination they will soon take.

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