My routine would be - wake-up, cook lunch, pack lunch, clean the house, do the dishes. And then what? No TV, no computer, and no phone. Of course no office. So, I would walk 2 miles to the nearest county library. Initially, I used to pick novels, but soon novels of my taste was running out and I really was never inclined to romanic works - they were all so mushy. I slowly altered my reading habit and started picking up biographies of great personality. That is how I got baptised to renaissance art - Botticelli, Raphael, Michelangelo, Giovanni Bellini. Among them, Leonardo da Vinci won me completely even before Dan Brown popularised him. What all know of him is the Mona Lisa, but I liked the Madonna of Rock, Virgin of the Rocks, Last Supper, Annunciation, The Battle of Anghiari, Adoration of Magi as much and each one were a work of art to observe and study. And then Louvre became a dream destination that I wanted to visit. I knew I will before I died, just didn’t know when.
Present… May 2016
Looking out of the window as the flight took off…. I pinched myself, it was no dream. I was traveling with the visual artist A. V. Ilango for a tour of UK and France. A sigh of relief… and I dozed off.
8 Months Ago… Aug 2015
I was invited by Mr. Viswam, a visual artist to the new opening of Ilango’s Art Space. The opening had an evening of dance. Ha ha ha... co-incidentally Mohiniyattam. Anyway, I met Mr. Ilango, wished him well and left. Two days later, Mr. Ilango called me.
In my first conversation itself, I could sense he is a gentleman and that I am going to enjoy working with him in the future. If you are wondering how I concluded in that way about him? Well, for two reasons actually. First, he was a name to reckon in the art world especially in South India, but he introduced himself as a simple person. And second, he didn’t beat around the bush, he stated that he has worked with dancers like Priyadarshini Govind and Ramli Ibrahim and has been wanting to understand Mohiniyattam. He also stated that although he and Gopika Varma were very good friends, it never went anywhere concretely. Of course, I wanted to know why he takes interest in performing arts and why Mohiniyattam? I didn’t mean to interview him but it was more like a conversation that we had that lead to the questions and I genuinely wanted to know. He also never took offensive of my questions and explained very patiently.
He said, “Every artist have a style of their own and the lines of the artist are defined by the brush strokes. From my experience, I first started observing folk dances as part of understanding movements, and then I moved to Bharatanatyam. But my longest association has been with Odissi and that form has largely influenced my lines. But Mohiniyattam has always fascinated me because it has cyclic energies. And I think that will be the next level of mastery.”
Now, how can I not admire this person - at 68, I meet a man who is willing and wanting to learn and change. WOW! Now - that is enough motivation for me. However, I still wanted to be sure if he was really keen on working with me. So the subsequent month I invited him to my performance for ICCR- Heritage series at BVB, Mylapore. And to my surprise he came for my performance. I am not Priyadarshini Govind or Ramli Ibrahim, but he came for my performance and he stayed through the entire recital. I was thrilled about it and more than convinced now that this rendezvous meant more and destiny was playing its usual hand!
Mohiniyattam dance itself is never taken seriously, now, how much opportunities will an upcoming Mohiniyattam dancer get? So, I decided that I might as well do something worthy with my art rather than wait or beg for a performance opportunity. Besides, dance and sculptural tradition has always walked hand in hand in Indian artistic traditions. Every heritage sites of Chola and Vijayanagar dynasties sealing as evidences of the artistic exchanges made. Besides, I have always liked to experience a process... being able to get into the head of a visual artist will be my next level of understanding of visual arts and aesthetics.
During the course of next two months, I cherished my mornings. At home, there would always be space constraint for me. Whereas, at his Artspace I could free my arms and legs. Truth is - I am a struggling performing artist, coming from a modest family having no musical or dance background to flaunt and my husband is no IAS officer too. Art has been taught as living even though I was allowed to learn Bharatanatyam. So, how can I even afford a studio space for practicing dance? And yet, when somebody was willing to offer a place which I could visit religiously for practicing my trade, what do you think I should do? I took the offer without bating my eyelids.
The sessions I enjoyed! Everyday was an amazing experience. For nearly a month, I never played any music while dancing. In fact, the first two weeks, I just practiced my adavu-s with the syllables ringing in my head. Whenever something interested him, he would pause me and ask me to hold. Initially I had to hold for more than 3 mins on a certain pose, but as sessions progressed his lines began to flow and he interrupted me lesser and lesser. His lines was like reading a cankam poetry, listening to Mozart, watching a swan move. Beautiful! Initially there would be only 3-4 good sketches coming out of a session. But within a month, his progress was amazing to watch. There have been as many as 12 sketches coming out of as session.
After one and half hours, on most occasions he would be more exhausted than I would be. There never was time for chit-chats and even if we did, it would be over a morning cup of coffee or tea. Art undoubtedly was on the table on those occasions. From Picasso, Ruben, Rembrandt, da VInci to Indian temple and sculptural tradition, not to forget Raja Ravi Varma. We would even discuss philosophy, cosmology, nature and mathematics. Himself having done illustrations for the translations of Kalki’s Ponniyan Selvan and Ilango Adigal’s Silapathikaram and Manimekalai, he shared how he had always taken keen interest in Gita Govindam. Upon that request I danced the ashtapadi and he painted a few paintings on a Gita Govindam. Again, I enjoyed the process more than the end result. I took the Gita Govindam translation and read it out to him, and then he repeatedly watched me dance it. After I danced it 4-5 times, he made me sit and watch him at work. Now - on those occasions I have felt transported back in time.
I had yearned for such a company with whom I could share a meaningful conversation relating to art. So when one day after a session when he asked if I would like to go with him to France, I had no sound coming out of me. He said, “Hey, I will be traveling to France and UK in May, would you like to come?” I said, “You are not kidding are you?” He said he was serious. I was like, “Yeah right! Don’t play with my emotions, Paris is a big thing for me and I will cry if it didn't happen.” Then he explained how he would like to sponsor my trip as a scholarship. I believe his trust has always offered help to upcoming artists, and he felt I was no different, no less eligible to avail it. Also at a personal level he felt that it would a token of appreciation for my willingness to help him take his artistic style to the next level. Phew! I never thought of it like that and all. Personally, it was a dream come true. For me, Paris is a pilgrimage and Musee de Louvre was a temple in that yatra. And I thought who better to visit the place than a well informed visual artist himself.
People imagine of Paris differently - Champs Elysees, Liberty Statue, Eiffel Tower - wine and cheese. But for me Paris was all about Art. I felt the spirit of da Vinci and Van Gogh walking by my side. And, his presence and company while visiting Musee d'Orsay as well as the Louvre completed that dream of Paris. La Fin!