Interview with a child dansuese
The classical odyssey begins with this sacred invocation. Upon calling the various gods, the Guruvarya is approached for obeisance and finally, blessing is sought from the benevolent audience.
There comes that first Mudra, clearly outlined against the backdrop, frozen into a sculpted silhouette. The feet start responding to the weaving melody as ankles clad in tiny bells shower their reverberation. Soon it is a swirling display of movement and grace, the expressions blazing from passionate to sympathetic, sucking into its sentiment the entire atmosphere. Only after the final bow do you realize that you had been totally mesmerised by the beauty of the moment. That you had been a part of pure creation.
An accomplished dansseuse always delivers through her performance a measure of this sublime art. It is a tribute to her talent moulded by long training. Conventionally, something that demands a whole lifetime of dedication. But then, art is known to defy convention and produce miracles.
Upasana Upadhyay is one such prodigy, a gift of art presented to our times a little early. All of nine years, this mischievous tiny bundle transforms into an amazing dansseuse the instant she steps onto stage. Her exhaustive repertoire of Bharatanatyam stuns one and all on limbs so young. Today, she is an exponent with over 200 performances and as many accolades wrapped under her belt. She has been conferred upon as the National Child Award by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India. It is but a reflection of her phenomenal affinity to dance without which it is difficult to conceive one so young adept at something as classical a dance form as Bharathanatyam.
In our continuing series, Torchbearers of Art, we present an interview with this nine year old wonder, a danseusse par excellence -- Upasana!
Q. Tell me your favourite place in the world.
Answer : (Rolling her impossibly large eyes towards one corner she tries to analyze the question) "Uncle, my favorite place is Balanandam."
Remember the Sunday afternoon radio programme on Chitraseema, the one about kids? It is this much renowned child cultural centre near Narayanaguda where Upasana first sought her inspiration to learn Classical dance after seeing a young boy dance on Skates.
Answer : Balanandam is a nice place to play and dance. You know Karthik, Uncle? (The young boy on skates) I wanted to dance like him.
Q. Upu, do you remember anything about Bhutan? (She spent her infant years there.)
Answer : Very little, but I can recollect the mountains and the snow and Asparagus!
Q. Asparagus? (perplexed!)
Answer : Ha ha! Lot of asparagus in Bhutan, Uncle. We used to even have its soup!
Q. Tell us Upu, you were only 5 years old when you joined .......(Dance School). Tell us about your first experience.
Answer : You know Uncle, what Masterji first told when he saw me? He said, "I’m not running a nursery!"
Q. Then what happened? (By now I was incredibly engrossed!)
Answer : I pulled my mother’s hand and told her that I wanted to recite Igiri Nandini, so that he would know that I’m very much interested in Classical dance.
Answer : I recited all the twenty stanzas of the Durga Stotram and he was convinced!
Q. Wow! Can you recite them even now?
Answer : Of Course! (And she launched sincerely into the elaborate sanskrit verse where I sensed an uncanny spiritual concentration that this child possessed that becomes again very much apparent whenever she dances, as if she enters into a trance.)
Q. Upasana, how would you describe your Guruji? (Renowned Guru Rammoorthy runs the dance school Sri Rama Nataka Niketan.... in Secunderabad)
Answer : (Very tongue tied, she struggles through her awesome reverence, and says she cannot put it in words.)
Q. Will you write it down then and give?
Answer : Yes, Uncle! (Later she did go far lengths to express what she feels for her Guru.) “Whatever I’m today, it is because of him. I have a lot of respect and love for him. (The child displays amazing candour, "I respect him so much that I can’t express my feelings, Uncle." I was left nodding in wonder.)
Q. You have another Guru also, you were telling...?
Answer : Manju teacher! She is Masterji’s daughter. I love her. She is like mother to all of us. And she makes the best Sambar in the world. I love Tamil food, Uncle! (You can’t help falling into fits of laughter as again and again you are reminded that she is but a child. But when she dances...)
Q. Tell us, how does it feel when you dance?
Answer : (Unhesitatingly...) I get completely involved. I love to become Krishna, Rama, Ganapathi, Shiva... You know Uncle, masterji tells us atleast four or five stories about each character.
Q. So that you can easily become that character when you dance?
Answer : Yes, Uncle!
Q. What is your favourite dance item?
Answer : Ummm, Ananda Nartana Ganapathi!
Q. Because you like Ganapathi and that he is naughty?
Answer : No! Because for every beginning of a dance one must remember Ganapathi, only then can the rest be successful. I try to please him, uncle! (Then she performed the invocation dance. Most remarkable aspects of her dance are, I feel, her instantaneous transition from a saucer eyed kid into a brilliant dancer, and two, her boundless energy. She never tires!
Q. Tell us about your trip to Mongolia.
Answer : We were 15 of us who got selected for the international cultural exchange and I was the youngest. And the only South Indian. Since they were a little unaware of our traditions, for the first time, I applied make-up myself, of course with a little help from ...Bhaiyya and ....Didi. The whole trip was great and we had lots of fun... (Upasana jotted down all her memoirs in a small diary while in Mongolia and I had the pleasure and honour to go through her little book. It made up some fascinating reading. She describes, “ It was a great day and a disappointing day” -- the caption, “ The Prime Minister of Bhutan was delayed and we had to begin our programme and just when I finished a nice piece, we received the news that he would not be coming here after all. It seems he had just resigned from his job! I was so disappointed!” Another one, "Here the milk was very different. You felt like not walking or running but jump up and down, so much of energy. Then we were told we are all drinking horse’s milk!"
Uncle, I want you to underline (this she insisted thrice!) Ajit Singh uncle’s name. My special thanks to Ajay Singh Uncle for having selected me for Mongolia. (Mr. Ajay Singh is the Chairman, National Balbhavan, who was impressed to no end upon seeing Upasana perform Ananda Nartana Ganapati, her favourite dance item at Balanandam that he recommended her for the international cultural exchange, National Children’s Camp, Bhutan, 1999.)
Q. Upu, what do you want to become in the future?
Answer : A Cardiologist.
Q. But what about your dance?
Answer : (She gives a very patient smile) Abha! I’ll be a doctor in the morning and dancer in the evening. (And then she very shyly reveals) I’ll sell tickets of my performances and buy medicines for the poor patients.
Q. How much each ticket Upu?
Answer : (She raises all five fingers) Five rupees -- one ticket!