Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Dance Teacher

His name was Sarbeswar.
The clearest memory I have of him  is  him wheeling his black cycle up the hill  into our driveway in Digboi.
The winding lanes  had been made for  cars or hardy walkers and was not cycle friendly at all.
Which meant that Sarbeswar sir, as we called him,  had to really put in a lot of effort on that long climb uphill.

Sir would lean his cycle against the wall and walk up.
Maa would shout out- Sir is here.
Her loud voice  streamed through the walls and doorways into our room, where I would usually be buried in my favourite book.
I wasn't happy. Sir used to come on Friday afternoons, which meant I missed my swimming in summer and playing with my friends in winter.

But Maa wouldn't ever take no from me.
She was convinced that I had to be an all rounder.
And classical dance ticked the right box.
Both from talent as well as performance opportunities.

So I had to drop my book, wear my ghungroos and jingle my way into the guest room where Sarbeswar Sir would be gulping down a glass of water.
He had long hair, which fell in locks upto his shoulders.
One nail , the ring finger one , was exceptionally long.
He usually wore the same off white half sleeve shirt and a pair of black well worn trousers.

Sir stayed in the Naamghar ( Assamese place of community worship) in Shantipara, Digboi.
He was  trained in one of the Satras of Assam. The Vaishnavite monastries that are the centre of dharma and culture. As a Satriya dancer. The traditional Assamese classical dance.

His lodging and meals were taken care of by the Naamghar committee. But these lessons earned him his livelihood. He charged three hundred rupees for  coming home and teaching me how to dance.

And I danced.
Sir would teach me the steps- difficult ones- the hallmark of all classical dances where hand gestures, eye movements, the body and legs move in unison to paint a story.
Then he would sit on a chair and play the "khol"- a dholak, singing  along as I swayed and moved and turned and stopped, breathless.
After the class, he would gratefully sip the cup of tea and bite into the sandwich or biscuits served to him on a tray.

And I performed.
Maa ensured I was there on every stage that was set up in the oil town.
Always to a loud applause.

Sir would be in the wings, playing his khol in front of a microphone.
And his melodious voice would move my legs and my soul.

I learnt the power of expression.
The art of connecting with the audience.
Never to worry even if I missed a step.
To let go of all my fears.
To love what I did.
And to say a prayer of thanks before  the curtains went up.

We moved.
Lost touch with Sir.
Heard later that he had given up his Naamghar responsibilities and taken up a job as a clerk in the oil refinery.
Gave up dance classes.
It was not enough to give him his daily bread.

I realise today how much I owe what I am to Sarbeswar Sir.
He taught me that the spotlight and stage was never to be taken for granted.
It was a blessing. And I had to respect it.

I still do.
For Life is just a stage with spotlight moments.