Raja-Radha Reddy and Kaushalya tell Anjana Rajan about their plans for the upcoming Parampara festival and dabble a bit on the way in memories

Live in the present, the wise advise us — neither the past nor the future. But classical artistes can afford neither to forget the past nor keep the future too much at bay. So it is with Radha and Raja Reddy and Kaushalya Reddy of the now famous and bustling Natya Tarangini Institute of Kuchipudi dance. Memory plays an important part in any stage artiste’s scheme of things. Whether it is lines or lyrics, or steps and choreographic patterns ranging from the deceptively simple to the overtly complex, or recalling the wisdom imbibed from their gurus, and in turn inherited from an age-old civilisation, performers are not merely on stage, they are in many times zones at once.

Could that be the reason for an illustrious dancer like Radha Reddy to say with love and simplicity, “I never knew any guru to be as dedicated to the purity of his teaching as our guruji (Vedantam Prahlada Sarma). Even after we had received the Padma Shri (1984), he threw the lakdi (wooden stick for keeping rhythm used by teachers while conducting dance class), that too in a public programme, because we did not bend enough in a particular place.” (wooden stick for keeping rhythm used by teachers while conducting dance class), that too in a public programme, because we did not bend enough in a particular place.”

Such a statement is startling in an era where individual self esteem is considered as important in academic education as in art training. But Radha continues, “We told Guruji we are always ready to follow your instructions, please always guide us.”

That was a long time ago. In 2000, the Kuchipudi duo of Radha-Raja Reddy received the Padma Bhushan. In between, and ever since, the activity has never stopped. As they prepare for their annual Parampara festival along with Kaushalya, whose skills as dancer, nattuvanar, teacher and organiser are an important part of Natya Tarangini work, they are also approaching another landmark in their career: the inauguration of Natya Tarangini’s own premises in Saket, South Delhi.

“As soon as it is inaugurated we will move there,” says Raja Reddy. One of the biggest advantages for him is the possibility of taking in residential students. “People keep calling us up from places like America, asking if we have hostel facilities for their daughters,” he explains. “There will be four-five rooms for students, and about four or five girls can share each.” The new premises has made provision for male students too, he remarks, “but the safety of girl students is very important.”

The building, located between Saket’s Amity School and Delhi International Public School, also accommodates an art gallery and classrooms, “and a mini auditorium,” he relates with a smile.

“Twice the inauguration has been postponed,” notes the veteran, but they are determined to shift by October. “Until you get the fire safety certificate and other documents you can’t get a completion certificate, and our friends advised us not to do anything until we got that,” he confides, and sighs that it has been a long uphill task to get the building constructed, over a period of five-six years. “I’m happy now but it has been a big struggle. The contribution is mainly Kaushalya’s and Radha’s,” he states, adding the cement dust and other hassles give him headache.

Once they move to Saket, will they give up their present residence? “Yes, yes,” he replies. Even though some students would find it difficult to commute to Saket, the classes in their house in Kaka Nagar, allotted to them under the government’s quota for eminent artists, look set to be wound up. “Lots of students are asking us to continue a class here, but we will see,” he says quietly, seeming a bit overwhelmed with the myriad possibilities. (There are classes at the Media Centre in Gurgaon too.)

On this muggy monsoon evening the family is also a bit overwrought as their first grandchild, born to daughter Yamini, is a somewhat under the weather. It has certainly been a long road since those early days in 1966 when Raja and Radha came as young dancers from their native Andhra Pradesh on a scholarship to train under Guru Maya Rao in choreography and other stage arts.

“I must have been 15-16 at the time,” recalls Radha. “Maya didi used to teach at Natya Ballet Centre. So she asked Kamla Lal (founder of Natya Ballet Centre), ‘these kids are new to Delhi, so can you let them have a room?’ So Kamlaji gave us a room.”

Later, says Radha, they located a cousin who was an MP and began to share a residence with him in Vithalbhai Patel House. “So we had no problem of rent, and we lived on our scholarship and life was all about practice, practice,” she continues.

As life went on and the hardworking Raja and Radha were noticed, along with the art they had brought to Delhi, late classical dancer Indrani Rehman asked them to perform with her. Thus a few years went by. “Durgalal ji and Madhaviji (Madhavi Mudgal) also danced in those programmes,” she remembers.

When the scholarship was over it was eminent scholar Dr Karan Singh who saw them perform and persuaded them to stay on in Delhi. But as employment opportunities were eventually outweighed by the expenses of living in the Capital, they were ready to leave. Along came another dance programme where they performed on Jawaharlal Nehru’s birth anniversary, with Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister, in the audience. “She came to see us and said, ‘I heard from Dr Karan Singh that you are leaving.’ I didn’t know English properly, but I just said, we don’t have a place to live,” recounts Radha.

The year was 1976, and from then on things moved, so that at first they were allotted a house on Pandara Road, and later moved to the bigger, current residence.

Today the Reddys can be proud of having moulded a number of enthusiastic dancers, including Payal Ramchandani whose arangetram they organised when she was a bright nine-year-old, besides Rashmi Vaidyalingam, her daughter Shloka and Shallu Jindal to name a few — not to mention their own daughters Yamini and Bhavana Reddy. Radha, though, says she started teaching children early in her career because she loved it. “I used to love the idea of picking up a lakdi and taking class. I would catch hold of four-five girls and teach them. Among them was Kaushalya. We sometimes performed together too.” These early classes didn’t last long though, since the Reddys’ performing career began taking them all over the world, and also because not all children stick to dance.