Essay by Dr.Swathi V, Bangalore on occasion of 48th Baithak
The thala that resonates with the music of soul, the abhinaya that narrates the story of divine, the mudras that can express every element in the world, the adavus which are the stepping stones of the discipline, and the Drishti bhedas, that may belong to an era centuries ago, but have the power to gaze at centuries beyond…these are some of the few things that have enticed me to the world of classical dance.
A few years of formal training in Bharatanatyam during childhood, taught me the power of discipline, gave me the strength to focus, the endurance to withstand some very stressful times during the medical school, gave me an identity, and the power to have a sense of calm in the face of chaos. The mystical power of this practice, which I took for a small duration, had not dawned on me till the effect started to fade. As the years passed, studies got tougher, schedules got busier, work hours seemed unending, and life in general became tedious, the very little art I preciously preserved began to drift away. Retrospectively thinking, I feel it was the latter that made the effect of everything seem so heavy.
The love for classical dance though, never subsided. The music of classical dance, the videos of performances, and the colourful attire of danseuse never failed to give me goosebumps. There always was the dream to restart the learning. Not a day would pass without feeling that I was giving up on something, which had given me so much.
The pandemic has had different effects on people world over. Anxiety, panic, loss, trauma, depression…each of these words found a profound meaning in people’s lives after COVID happened. Being a medico, the impact was several times amplified, as with all the other fears that waged a war against our hopes, we had the responsibility to care for the patients who trusted us. When life and death dwindled by a thread in front of our eyes, most of the doctors I know, including me realised with much clarity, what we would regret not doing in life. And for me it was the love of classical dance, a teeny-tiny fire that I had managed to keep under the ashes. This led me to search for dance classes, and especially for a Guru who would understand my hectic schedules, and be stoical about my shortcomings, as I was no kid who bounced with energy and grasped with the speed of light. I found this gem of a person, Dr. Sangeeta Pethkar, who as a doctor herself, was everything and more in a Guru that I sought for. And to this, I should thank the pandemic again, which has brought teachers hundreds of miles away to the homes of students through Internet.
My life, after I have started to take baby steps into the world of Bharatanatyam, is more pleasing than I hoped would be. I now have a way to disburse my nervous energy which has become a sad part of my work. The magical power of Namaskaram and the prayers have brought a sense of serenity in life. The arduous task of balancing each part of the body in a precise position to every beat has become an ongoing but fruitful challenge. Each session of class has taken me further towards better health.
Learning classical dance at this age definitely has been challenging. Overcoming physical obstacles, fear of being judged and making time for the practice are surely hard.
But I have slowly come to realise that there are many upsides to it. The nuances of the Bharatanatyam, I feel, I perceive better now than I would have when I was a child, and most importantly, I now appreciate more than ever, how precious this practice is for me.
This first-hand experience of what an art can do makes me ponder upon the beliefs in our education system. The very belief that I and my love for classical dance fell prey to. The belief that to excel in any field, we have to give up on the field of art. Whereas evidently, historically and logically, it is the opposite that is true. Leonardo DaVinci often used art as a way to underpin his imagination and abstract thoughts to reality. It has now been realised that many of his drawings resulted in practical inventions. Albert Einstein taught himself to play violin. And these are just a few among many, many examples of how art and excellence go hand in hand. Healthcare providers and frontline workers have turned to art to maintain sanity in a world of uncertainty. It has become the need of the hour to acknowledge the healing power, our art forms have on deteriorating mental health.
A yearning to achieve a milestone in classical dance has brought me to this institute, and the aspiration and passion has grown only stronger after I started this journey. The practice has taken my confidence up, given more meaning to my routine and has had a very positive impact on my work-life too. With sincere hopes of continuing the practise, I feel that cherishing the love for classical dance has been one of the best decisions of my life.
-Dr. Swathi V, Bangalore