Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Yes sir. It has been a long time. Before my moisture-laden ferric blog is reduced to a pile of rust, I thought it best to write maybe one last post before I close it down.

I’m kidding.

Today’s post is about Chutki … my beloved cat. Well, at least at one point of time, she was mine. I’d been wanting to blog about both my ex-pets for a while now … what I did not imagine was that I’d be writing an obituary for one of them. Anyway …

Some background….moving to B’lore from the USA is by far the smoothest transition that I’d expect compared to any other city of the country. And after the initial dance tour, and the subsequent setting up of the house, what I was left with was a lot of time, and a generous helping of boredom to go with it.

Cut to flashback. I’ve always had cats. Grown up with them, in fact. They’ve been the best of friends; have brought joy, fleas, friendship, laughter and fur (in no particular order) into the house in no measurable quantities. Of course, these guys and gals were all strays who adopted our house to deliver future generations of strong, broad-minded (enough to accept humans as fellow earthlings) and reproductively active felines.

Cut to the present. I wanted that experience again. Partly to cut open the enmeshed and unbridled boredom and idleness that was threatening to eat my brain cells alive, and well … because I’m a cat person. Or so I thought. Hmmm … well … let me reserve judgement on that for later. And so the hunt began. I scoured websites in B’lore looking for homeless kittens to adopt, to nurture and to neuter. Yes, I had decided I’d do that because that’s what all responsible animal owners do. Every thread I’d pick up would more of less result in a loose end though. No cats at the end of that leash, I was told. I almost gave up when I called this lady who’d three new-born kittens, but whose mother had died(assumption)/abandoned her young (also, assumption). Either way, without a mother’s protective paw around young kittens, they were very susceptible to all kinds of infections. I had mothered 2 such newborns once, and I knew what a big responsibility that was. So that was kept on the back burner while I looked for some that were of the mother-ful variety.

As luck would have it … umm … I had none. So back I went again to this lady asking if her kittens were still around. Yes, they were and they were waiting to be picked up, I was told. So N and I went looking for her house. The nice part was they were also animal-lovers. As soon as we get seated, out comes this little shoe-box lined with linen, and sprinkled with 3 tiny tiny kittens. Two of them were yet to open their eyes fully, but one was staring at us with such wide-eyed naïveté, that it was hard for me to ignore her.

Mostly ginger, she was the color of the typical Indian cat with those tiger-like stripes that would blossom later. She hardly mewed or cried. In fact, Chutki never did, even later. All along the journey home, she’d either be up and staring at us, or she’d be sleeping. She hardly even measured my palm, and my palm is very small.

My days after that were a blur, taking her to a vet, getting her the right food. And as she grew to fit my whole hand (!), her energy-levels grew to a point of no-endurance. Even in those days, when I did not have a “job”, if I’d go out for a couple of hours in the afternoon, she’d be hyper when I’d return. Quite a handful, that one, literally!

For my own sake, let me document her most cherished memories.

1. Yes, it can get messy. And I had read up on various potty-training manuals before I brought Chutki in. Ours was a second floor house with a balcony that is a sheer drop down to mother-earth. No escape route there. So while figuring out on what might be my best option, as a meanwhile thingy, I just placed newspaper on the little balcony, and plugged the drain pipe hole that led out of it. (I seriously did worry about her tiny head getting stuck in there, what with cats being the curious lot and all that.)

So we put her on the floor and let her take a sniff/look around. We go into the kitchen for a glass of water, and when we come back, she’s nowhere to be seen. Nonplussed, I look around in the hall before stealing a look in the balcony. And there she was, doing her business in a quiet, private corner making optimal usage of our daily newspaper. Awww, we went.

2. One fine day, we got home our new couch. A minute later, she was all over it, all 450 gms of her, lolling, rolling and clawing at our handsome furniture. Out came the fibre, and down came she. That was when I decided that I’d get another cat (Natwar deserves another post of his own, such are his kaands.)

When Natwar came in, he was instantly all over the place, sniffing the floor and Chutki, if she got in his way. Chutki, bless her soul was a typical home-cat. She was born in a house, lost her mother, came to our house straight away … I don’t think she’d even seen another cat prior to Natwar. So before friendships were forged in the fires of Mt. Fate, she hated him. She hated his presence near her, always yowling, growling at him for stepping into her private space and she hated his guts to pester her, while she, the Queen Feline, reclined peacefully.

Her tail would start swooshing ominously whenever he’d so much as think of approaching her for a good wrestle. The idiot that Natwar is, he never did latch on to her subtle hints. But as I said, more on Nattu later. There was the day when I brought Nattu home. I was sitting on the floor, back against the couch, and feet stretched out. Promptly he made a spot for himself on my legs. Not wanting to give dear Chutkuli an opportunity to sulk about this attention-grabber a.k.a Nats, I placed her also on my legs but a safe distance away from the grey-white tabby. It so happened that the tip of Nat’s tail touched Chutki from behind. Out came a yowl, guttural and bloody loud. So much for my thinking Chutki didn’t have a voice. Chuckles.

3. She was never a needy cat. Pleasant-natured and very playful. But the few times that she did want to nuzzle into me, and if I were to be sitting on the couch, she claw her way up the arm (too small to make it in one jump), then trot along the arm-length, rappel her way to the tip of the couch, do a brisk walk again till she reached my neck, dig her claws into my flesh, get on to my neck, and put her wet nose against my cheek.

I do miss that.

4. One night, I stepped out for a drink of water before I turned in and found only Natwar on the couch. Chutki was nowhere to be seen. Puzzled yet again, I called out to her, and she answered with a short but very sharp mew, as was her usual custom. I looked out of the little window connecting the hall and the balcony, and there she was. She had stepped out, ‘coz she had to go, but was too small to jump back in. I opened the verandah door, and in she came, looking a gazillion times more adorable to me.

(Natwar of course had no intention of making my life this awww-some. He had pooped already in front of the main door. **Derisive laughter**.)

5. Speaking of curling up on the couch … we had already made the bedroom out-of-bounds for the cats, and planned on going down the same route for the couch. Whenever either or both of them would get on, I’d whip out an old dusting-cloth, the orange ones you get … and whip it a centimeter away from where they were. In the beginning the whoosh of the air used to startle them into getting down, but sooner than later, they realized that these guys weren’t really going to hit them. With a meh! expression on their faces, they, and Chutki especially, would just curl her body even tighter and smaller.

I miss that too.

Hmmm … I guess these are her top-five memories.

The reason I betrayed them and put them up for adoption was because I simply couldn’t neuter them. Yes, it makes them less aggressive, and more homely. Yes, it makes them less-prone to infections and what-not. Yes, it’s the thing to do if you are a pet-owner. But, I chickened out. I wasn’t convinced that I had that right to do that to a fellow-being. I’m probably stretching it too far, but I simply didn’t think it was right. Initially I was all gung-ho about it, but the more I thought of it … all in all … they were up for adoption. The day I dropped them at the foster-home (they loved it there, what with three other cats for company) was a bleak evening.

A month later, they were adopted by a nice guy A and importantly, they were adopted together. They were happy at their new place with a new owner who cared for them, and they had each other for company. A few weeks ago, a street-dog mauled Chutkuli. She was severely injured, and died in her sleep. I had planned on visiting them the weekend before, but I put it off as something else came up. If only I had ……

Anyway, Natwar is ok, so is A. Both of them are a little low but life goes on.

Rest in peace Chutkuli. You will always be remembered most fondly. Love you!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Total recall : Natyanjali 2011 :)


So the last time I attended the NAtyAnjali festivals, I had made up my mind that I would document the whole experience in vivid detail. That of course, did not quite happen. This time, I’ve decided against deciding anything. I will simply write. And hopefully the product will make sense. So here goes.

The reasons that caused me to first apply for the Natyanjalis in 2008 are admittedly rather vague at the moment. I suppose I was looking for opportunities to dance ... to prove something to myself. I also wanted to visit the temples of Tamil Nadu … temples which have withstood the winds of change and have stood, silent spectators through the sands of time. And what better way to do both than through dance? And so I had set about applying to the Chidambaram, Kumbakonam and Thanjavur '08 Natyanjalis. Fortunately I got through the last two.

Performing at those two kshetras bolstered my confidence,(and my resume) to no less extent :). But lets move on to the Natyanjalis 2011 - Chidambaram, Kumbakonam and Thanjavur; 4th, 5th and 6th of March, respectively.

So we left Hyderabad on the 3rd of March, the day after MahaSivarAtri. The onward journey was pretty uneventful. We reached Chidambaram at around 1:30 PM on the 4th, and after having a sumptuous lunch, we retired to our rooms and conked out for a while dutifully. :) Soon it was show time. My dance slot was at 6:45 PM in the evening, though we actually got onto the stage at 7:15 PM.

Chidambaram …was wonderful, the majestic gopuram looming in the audience, being the audience… perfect. My performance I thought was far from it though. I’ve a lousy habit you see … if I’m not personally satisfied with my own efforts, no matter what anyone says, I will still think rather mean of me. The reverse also holds though, if I think I’ve done my best, and I’ve reached that personal bar that I’ve set for myself, no matter what anyone else says, I will like myself and will give myself credit at the time.

And so, though my orchestra rather dutifully praised me, I knew that that was not my best. A chance at redemption came on the morning of the 5th, when I danced in front of the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Nataraja. And I had found what I was looking for the previous evening. Salutations O Nataraja… One who dances to keep the Universe intact… and dances also for its dissolution.

Next stop. Kumbakonam. Train at 12:55 PM from Chidambaram. Train late. 75 minutes. That pretty much sums up any adventure we had on our way to the kshetra of Adi Kumbeswara. :) The AC bogies pretty much saved our lives I’d say. We reached at 4ish I think. Imagine my surprise when I’m told my slot’s in the night at 11:30 PM. After some kind, but futile attempts to get it bumped up to 9:50 PM by Mr. Subhash (manager – Aathithya hotel, where we were put up), we finally got onto the stage at 12:15. AM. :)

There is a lovely little idiom/phrase in telugu ‘ArdharAtri ankamma sivaalu ee nAtyAlenti?’ (Why are you dancing in the middle of the night, as if one possessed by Siva and Sakti?): It was exactly in that situation that I found myself that night. And I danced like one crazed. Not caring that it was way past twelve, begging the organizers for those last five minutes so I can complete what I intended to … aah … good times!

Yes sir, Kumbakonam was most satisfying. :)

Then … Thanjavur. Something about that place is just magical. I cannot quite explain it. I’m most certainly humbled and awed by the aakaaras at Chidambaram and Kumbakonam, but Thanjavur … it is something else altogether. What grandeur! What enormity! The sheer size of the gopurams, the vastness of the lawns, the temple grounds, they all seem to smilingly engulf you. And you are only too glad to be prey.

You enter the sanctum sanctorum already feeling really really overwhelmed, and then you behold Brihadeeswara.

:) In dance, there is the Adhbhuta rasa, the emotion of barefaced, blatant and brazen wonder. Glancing at Brihadeeswara brings forth that particular emotion in spades. :) The gracious Lord, stands encompassing the earth, it would seem. But wait till you see the Mother … the Goddess Brihannayaki … a gracious six (or is that seven?)-footer who looks at you with the utmost love, beckoning you to dance like only She’s watching. She’s a clever one, I tell you!

I danced on the Nandi mantapam. And I think They enjoyed it too. :)

My Natyanjalis thus came to a satisfactory end. But my trip was far from over. We left for Rameswaram the following day. A racking 8-hr bus journey. Not something I’d recommend. Next time I’m taking a train.

Bus journey, fever, cold and cough (yes, I’d developed all these en route) aside, Rameswaram was special too. To walk through the streets and think ‘Could Lord Rama have stood on this very spot where I am right now?’ was stimulating, to put it mildly.

We also visited the various teerthas in the town before boarding the train to Chennai on the 8th evening. A word of advice : If you are planning to take the Chennai Express, from Rameswaram to Chennai Egmore, departing at 5:00 PM, I suggest you pack a sumptuous dinner for yourself. Because there is nothing, I repeat Nothing that you can find along the way. Our group of four (the orchestra had left by then) slept empty-stomached that night. :'(

In Chennai, we rested at a family friend’s house. Both uncle and aunty have great respect for my parents and went to great lengths to see that we were well taken care of. A most sumptuous lunch (I think I should specifically mention this … it had been ages since I ate the way I ate at their place :P) was provided … quintessentially telugu in all aspects … there was the banana leaf which served as the plate, the tomato and gongura pachchallu, the gongura pappu, appadalu, boorelu, annam, vankaya koora, capsicum-potato fry, teeya pulusu, kammati perugu … the works! I even did that which I haven’t dared to do since I-don’t-know-how-many-years … I filled my boorelu with neyyi and gulped down four of them :D!!! Guess all the weight that I think I’ve lost over the Natyanjalis will come bounding and galloping back home like a faithful pet :D.

Sigh! Anyway … this morning … I/we reached Hyderabad well, happy and satisfied.:) There are many I need to thank for the successful conclusion of this trip.

* I bow to Rama first and foremost – Thyagaraja’s ishta daivam, and mine too. :)

* Sri Narendra Kapreji – our family's guru, Rigveda GhanApAti, scholar and human-being extraordinaire, for agreeing to accompany us, for a particular request of mine.

* Smt. Vijayavalli Priya Yeleswarapu - My dance teacher. I bow to her, for she has taught me much more than just dance.

* My family and friends – my pillars of support.

* My orchestra team - Smt. Srivalli Sarma (vocals), Sri Sarma (nattuvangam), Sri SridharAcharya (mridangam), and Sri Anil Kumar (violin).

Here's to dance and the joy that is inherent to it. Namaskaaram!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The leaf, the martyr and 26/11

I walked through the grass
I walked through the mire
I walked o'er tree and bough high
I walked to get to you.

I looked up at the clouds
Seeking direction as they dispersed
I let the wind whisper in my vein
As I walked to get to you.

For many I wander without aim
My gait meanders without goal
But there is solace in this journey of mine
For I know I walk to get to you.

I see many in my trudge
Some touch with me with tenderness
Caressing my aged skin they ask me fondly
Who it is that I walk to.

I smile and gently ease out
knowing my day is not done
I trust myself to the breeze
As it walks me to my destination.

Upon the ashes of a fallen soldier I
rest my wrinkled self I let the gray
shroud me I embrace the life that once was
I have finally walked to you.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A tribute.

It seems the yearning to write hits me only after 12:00. AM that is. Eyes droopy. Eyelids weighing a ton ... sleep beckoneth, crooneth, and wooeth. This post though, is not about me. And it is that, that is keeping the nidraadhineta* at bay.

Sometime in September or late August, I had spoken with Padmasree Guru Gangadhar Pradhan - the legend amongst Odissi exponents, and Guru par excellence. Wanting to be part of the 2011 Konark Dance festival, I had called, written to them asking for details, email-IDs, whatever it was that they could give me, about the fest.

When I dialed for the first time, an old voice answered the phone. Old yes, but I could tell that it hadn't lost all of its vigour. There was still that timbre of energy in there. I rattled off statements and questions - where I was calling from, who I was, and what it was that I was calling for. The Voice heard all my queries, and said that he'd have to ask his son to get back to me.

I would not say that time stopped, or that I was awash with the feeling of being hit head-on by a truck of magnanimous proportions, no I wouldn't say that. But I did pause. It had sunk in that this was no clerical persona I was talking to, no sir. It was THE Man himself. The Founder, ladies and gentlemen of the Konark Dance Festival.

There are times in life when you feel about as small as the Qutub Minar, and as gigantic as a fire-ant, all in the space of one tiny moment. That moment, was then.

Awed, humbled, 'acutely-aware-that-my-eyebrows-had-left-my-face-and-were-in-my-hair' and the realization that if I did not say something other than 'Oh', and 'OOOOh' soon, I would pity myself very much indeed - all of this was happening in that teeny-tiny time frame.

I offered my respectful namaskaaras to him as best as I could over the cellphone (- sometimes all the technology in the world is not enough eh?). When I told him about myself, Guruji explained how solo dancers might not work on the huge stage of the Konark Dance Festival ... explained how applications had to be received well in advance ... and somewhere down the line he went into a 'Yes, ... Gangadhar Pradhan is a dreamer ... he is a doer ... that is why he started this festival .... that is why he has put his life into it ... but I'm old now ... others are managing it well ... '; and I quote verbatim. Our conversation lasted for probably 7-10 minutes.

When I put the phone down .... it was with mixed feelings. I knew I couldn't apply as a solo artist for the KDF, but on the other hand, I had spoken to an artist ... and not just any artist ... one of the best there ever was. And somehow in this gargantuan expanse of space that we all occupy, intertwined with consciousness that is both universal and personal - I heard a fistful of heartfelt sentences spoken by a great master.

Today I read that he had passed away recently.
A twinge of sadness tempered with a keen sense of 'of the many many people that he met and spoke with, I was there too ... if only was a couple of minutes' - these permeate my thoughts right now.

The Mahabharata says that an individual stays in heaven as long as someone on earth remembers them and their good deeds. Once, the memory of that person's deeds fades away, the said individual takes birth again, and another cycle begins.

What can I say Guruji - you are going to be in heaven for a VERY long time.

To dream and to do. You've taught me this. May dance always be with you.

*Nidraadhineta - The deity who presides over sleep. A reference to this may be found in the Chandi Saptasati - a treatise dedicated to the Goddess Durga, which praises Her as the Cause of all activities in the universe, including NidrA or sleep.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A birthday, a niece, dance, and a trip.

Its 12:25 AM. I really want to sleep. Somehow, I've picked this ungodly hour to do a blog post. Its been long. Really really long since I blogged last. But why now? What can I say, we artists are whimsical. We do what we want to do, when we want to do. I have heard people complain that artists can be difficult to handle. I wonder why.

A lot of things have been happening to me, I'm happy to say. Dance, cooking, veena, SPICMACAY at UVA - its keeping me busy to say the least. There was a time when the non-availability of tasks to do (when I'd just arrived in the USA) used to create borderline depression. Now, the jam-packed schedule has begun to shoulder that responsibility.

But between the chaos of an having hundred different things to do, all wrestling to get to the top of your mental priority list; and the deafening quiet of cerebral cells dwindling away in the night of idleness, I'd prefer the former. So yes, I'm enjoying my time with all the attempts at tearing at my hair. :D If you've read my blog posts before, you will realize that I tend to put a verbose spin to many of my stories. I assure you that it is exactly that, that I'm doing right now. So do not waver O brave one. Read on.

I recently returned from my trip to Philadelphia for a performance at the Norristown Dance Fest. It was most satisfying. :) The event was organized well, and I got to catch up with a million friends and relatives. I spent my birthday there (29th Aug - now now, no years will be mentioned :D), with my darling niece Sriya, and her parents (my cousin Sridhar and his wife Srividya). Of course, the availability of two people within the same four walls bearing the same name became cause for a lot of leg-pulling. And my husband who possesses the nose of a bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out any potential for poor jokes, pounced on the situation like a hungry Jack Russel on a bowl of kibble. :D

I feel I've to say a few words about my little niece - mere aankhon ka taara :D. You might think that that is a bit of an exaggeration considering that we stayed at their place only for a couple of days. But she is such a cutie, such a little ray of joy that I feel completely justified in giving the whole taara comment. At this point, I wish her and her family the best of everything, all the time:). (I'm in a very aaseesulu*-giving mood right now- as PG Wodehouse would say, the milk of human kindness floweth in my veins at the moment :D).

I visited my Veena teacher in NJ (she had come visiting) and brought back a veena. The whole trip was a testament to that popular greeting ' kshemanga velli laabhanga randi' **. Good times, to sum it all up. And so it is with hope and happiness that I step into a new year. Tomorrow I might be in the thick of a mid-life crisis, but today, I'm good. Yep.

Post script for the non-telugus
* good wishes
** Go safely and come back profitably (my translation is not as poetic as the original. But it'll have to do.)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at srividyaangara.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Out of titles. Just read on, will ya?

Happy new year to that meagre section of the world's populous who happen to read my blog. May the year bring everyone happiness, peace, prosperity yadda yadda yadda ... and now to the main point of my blog.

These days a lot of philosophical, vedantic, bordering_on_mid_life_crisis questions have been arising in my mind. And so I turn, as usual, to books for the required solace. I present to you now a passage from the book that has captivated me currently.

"...And all the bridges over rivers were destroyed and boats forbidden to ply, and the trenches (around the city) were spiked with poles at the bottom. And the land around the city for full two miles were rendered uneven, and holes and pits were dug thereon and combustibles were secreted below the surface. Our fort, O sinless one, is naturally strong and well-defended and filled with all kinds of weapons! And in consequence of the preparations made, our city was more prepared than ever to meet the foe..."

The city that's being talked about here : Dwaravati or Dwaraka
Speaker of the words : Sri Krishna
Speaking to : King Yudhishtira, the Just
The Book : Mahabharata

If I'm not mistaken, that emboldened line in the passage I think refers to a landmine. A bloody l.a.n.d.m.i.n.e. Mentioned in a book that dates as far back as 3100 B.C. Wow. WOW. If you thought Jules Verne writing about the submarine a good god-knows-how-many-years-before-the-thing-actually-got-invented was fascinating, what would you think of this? And the fortifications mentioned in the book are amazing down to the very last detail. Trenches dug, well stocked food and water supplies for the soldiers, cannons, bullets (yes, bullets), and get this - every soldier paid in gold and no soldier or his family left unpaid or dissatisfied. The Indian government would do well to take a leaf out of this book and increase the paychecks of the its defense forces eh?

To summarize :
3100 B.C.
Sense of security? Check.
Good governance? Check.
Prosperity and happiness all around? Check.
People's faith in their rulers? Check.

2010 A.D - An advanced world.
Check's bounced.


A second observation. Sri Krishna who many believe to be the incarnation of Sri Maha Vishnu, was Himself the head of that city. All He had to do was just think that Dwaraka was to be safe, and it would have been. But no, even He with all His Almighty-ness had to work to keep that city safe. He did not, and neither did His citizens think that just 'coz the mighty Krishna a.k.a MahaVishnu was their protector, they could just sit and do nothing and leave it all to Him. They defended their city with all the necessary safety mechanisms in place. This despite knowing very well that the ruler of that city was none other than the Lord Supreme Himself! Great lesson to be learnt eh? No matter who you are, you still got to work.

While reading the M, a thought crossed my mind about that other epic, my personal fav - the Ramayana. So this is my theory.

In the Kali yuga, the Srimad Ramayana, in my humble opinion, works better for every individual than the Mahabharatha.The Sri R was in fact, probably written more for the Kali yuga than any other. Think about it. The Mahabharata introduces the concept of gray in human nature, while the Ramayana is mostly black or white. When gray comes in, it takes a person of extremely clear vision (the likes of which include Sri Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa Himself) to do the morally right thing.

The Ramayana one the other hand, is quite straightforward in its morals, no confusion there at all. Be a good son, be a good wife, a good brother, father, basically be a good person, but when something bad happens, don't chicken out saying 'All is god's will' but get off your b*** and do the thing that you need to do to make it right. The Mahabharata also gets that point across but well, as I said, in the splashes of black, white and gray thrown at you, one takes time. That's my take at least.

Another point is that the Mahabharata raises a lot of questions. Too many questions. And sometimes, those that aren't very comfortable in nature either. If you keep up the reading, you'll find your answers, but if you give up, those bugging questions will just take root and colour your opinion of the epic. And your thoughts of everything else too.

At the end of the day though, I really do think that the ancient epics of India are the most gyaan-giving books that one can ever find. In the guise of millions of characters, in the garb of wonderful stories, they teach you to be what you need to be, to get to where one eventually wants to go. They let you question, and they will provide you with the answers. Just don't stop mulling over what you've read and just keep reading.

In an India that is fast developing/westernizing/rapidly-marching-ahead-and-in-the-process--perhaps-loosing-its-core-traditions-and-value-systems(?), these ancient beacons of light I think provide a sense of grounding. And sanity.

All in all, here's to my reading many many more books this year. Not to mention blogging about them. :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My first choreography

For the Deepawali 2009 celebrations hosted and organized by the Indian Association, Charlottesville; this is what I presented. Its a lovely composition by sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar. May this be the first step on a long, wonderful journey of Kuchipudi choreography!