My Guru, Smt. Mythilli Raghavan, turned 70 this year. (She doesn’t look anything like it). She is a direct disciple of Rukmini Devi Arundale and has toured with her and independently to several countries. Here is something I wrote for my guru, which was published in a book titled ‘Guru’, to mark her 70th birthday. Now that the book has been published, I can post it here on my blog –
Coming from a typical conservative TamBrahm family, I did not have much of an option and was enrolled for dance classes at the age of 4. Although I started with Tanjore style, I only joined Academy of Indian Dances at the age of 10 in 2003. I think it took me forever to adapt to the Kalakshetra style, but Mami, as we all lovingly call her, was incredibly patient with me.
I’ve learnt life’s biggest life lessons from her – patience and perseverance. When Mami would teach us something new, she would make us repeat it about 10 times in class. Many of us would stand a little away from the front rows, because if we were to stand in front of her, we would have to put our thighs through the torture of sitting in impeccable aramandi throughout the entirety of the two hour class! “I have eyes like an eagle”, Mami would say. And it was true! No matter where we stood or how we hid ourselves, nothing would go unseen beneath her nose!
Mami’s style of teaching changed my perception in life. She believed in positive reinforcement. She would never say “Your hands are crooked” or “Your Aramandi is not what it needs to be”. Instead, she would say things like, “Keep your hands straight”, “Sit down more.” She would emphasize on things we should do instead of the negative aspects.
Dance class was always filled with laughter, because Mami has a great sense of humour, her comedy perfectly timed! “Okay, 26th January flag hoisting is over, you may bring down your hands now”, she would say at a particularly bad Natyarambham. “Aramandi looks like 3/4th Mandi, sit down more!”, she would say to a lazy student. She is downright HILARIOUS.
“Bhaavam, Raagam, Thaalam” she said, “make you a complete dancer”. For those who don’t know, Mami is a trained singer and Veena player. Mami made it a point to teach us all not only the Chollu Kattu, but also made sure that we are able to sing all the songs we dance to. I was the only one in class to have learnt Carnatic Music formally and Mami supported my music and would give me special attention and compulsorily make me sing. Musician or not, Mami would encourage everybody in class to learn. “Except Aishwarya, everybody has to tell me what raagam this is”, she would say every time she taught us a new item. Mami was not only my dance teacher, she was also my Paattu (singing) teacher, and would make me sing for juniors’ exams, rehearsals and for small programs too!
Mami has been nothing but supportive. I consider myself lucky and honoured to have been under her tutelage. Thank you Mami, for everything that you have done for us. I miss your angry, yet concerned voice-“Helmet potuko! Badhrama Ottu!” (wear a helmet, drive safely), your Vijayadashami day Sundal, your jokes. Thank you for some of my best memories ever!