Women behind the scene

The Asian Age Staff  | anupama sumramanian

Entertainment, Music

With each passing year, we salute women on International Women’s Day. We appreciate their role, their growth and their place in society.

With each passing year, we salute women on International Women’s Day. We appreciate their role, their growth and their place in society. When I think over it, it is an interesting subject how women make their way in music and dance. Not all of them are trailblazers, revolutionary fighters who exchange cross fire with social systems. Some also remain within the system but carve their paths, slowly but surely. And this contribution is as vital as the other for the upkeep of the arts.

Kalanidhi Narayanan passed away recently. Her work in abhinaya knows few parallels and she has left behind an enviable legacy that will continue to enrich the soil of dance. Her mother wanted her to learn dance as a child which she dutifully did to please her parents.

She learnt from gurus with solid knowledge, went about with the sincerity of early learning.

Then life took over, family responsibilities took precedence. Not at anyone's biding but just the way the flow of life went. Kalandhi Narayanan obeyed the flow, not ignited by any particularly strong motivating force for dance. She was not a rebel as she has herself reiterated several times. Personally once, she told me how she had remained severed from the world of dance for over thirty years. She had never even watched performances nor maintained any sustained connection with this world of dance. When she was forty-six, an opportunity to teach abhinaya arose and that marked the beginning of this second and illustrious career as an abhinaya guru and exponent which eventually led her to become Padmabhushan Kalanidhi Narayanan. This story is known and has been narrated by her in many an interview.

For me, art once imbibed in your younger days lives in the treasure closet of knowledge, waiting to be nurtured to life once again. And women play such a pivotal role in this process! Mothers are usually the quiet decision makers in many families in matters of their children's learning. They coax their children to learn dance and music usually with the support of their husbands in art-loving families. Many South Indian families can vouch for this. Like in my case of learning and am sure in many other examples such as Kalanidhi Narayanan. The quiet stream of art keeps running, waiting for a channel of expression.

My maternal grand mother Komalam led a life that had little opportunity outside the tedious monotony of household chores. She has recounted to me how she would bring out the harmonium and play on it while singing during her rare free moments along with her sister-in-law. Still it was her decision that only found the full support of my grandfather in having my mother learn music. This learning was never denied but even upheld with pride. My mother put her home responsibilities on the forefront and much like Kalanidhi Narayanan went back to her music when she felt the time was right. She bade me learn music and dance that she could not learn with the whole-hearted support from the staunch music aficionado, my father.

My paternal grand mother Alamelu, whom I have only remember having seen inside the kitchen and swamped in household responsibilities, encouraged her daughter to learn music. Thus my aunt Baby sang beautifully and still remains passionate about Carnatic music. I have been constantly encouraging her to return to her music, even if just for the pleasure of rekindling an old passion.

If Vageesh and Vignesh my neighbour's children are encouraged to learn music, their grand mother is the constant votary for this. Always with her music books, ever eager to exchange notes on music with me, she is the quiet encouragement for music learning in her house, a decision that fortunately goes with no opposition but only support from other family members. A generation is thus cultivated that will surely appreciate music and make good rasikas. Each time I see the calm role played by these homemakers who keep their art close to their heart, who play a key role in encouraging learning of music and dance.

Because they are convinced this is an indispensable element in the arsenal of all knowledge. Today women have it far easier than in the bygone days, with awareness, media talk and changing mindsets. It is easier today to say - I want to be a singer and do just and find support in doing so. It was not the case in the past. And my salute goes to those women who encourage, continue to coax music and dance as integral forms of learning within their families. The service often goes unnoticed, it is unpretentious, but let us recognise it, is priceless.

Dr Vasumathi Badrinathan is an eminent Carnatic vocalist based in Mumbai. She can be contacted on vasu@vasumathi.net