Jhelum has created a space for herself in dance with her graceful moves and sensitive attitude towards the art form.

We were absolute strangers as we crossed each other at the breakfast buffet but that's only momentary, or so it seemed, as we sat together at the same table with our respective plates.

The couple are made-for-each-other-— Jhelum and Paranjpe. She a poignantly turned out Odissi dancer-guru and he, her admirer, critic, organiser all rolled into one. No sooner had we smiled at each other, we found ourselves chatting like long last friends— Jhelum is as rippling as a river, full of life!

The first thing that strikes one is her name; so different and unlike a Maharashtrian name.

“My name has a history to it,” she says with a twinkle in the eye and pauses to watch your reaction. Agog with curiosity, you look at her and she goes on, “My mother Sudha Varde was an active social worker and a Bharatanatyam dancer. To her dance was more than a passion. The Partition gave birth to lots of national poetry. There was one poem penned by poet Vasanth Bapat called Jhelum chey ashroo(river Jhelum's tears). The socio-nationalist movement, in which my mother was actively involved, wanted to stage a ballet on the poem. So my mother took the lead role of Jhelum. This ballet was a runaway hit and was staged so often that she was identified with the lead character, the river. Her dance career peaked with it and when I came into this world, she naturally named me after the river and the ballet.”

Jhelum too was an active participant in group dances at school, college level and also in some cultural shows. “My mother tried to push me into learning one classical dance form or the other but I found no interest. So I went ahead to finish my post-graduation. Smita Patil (late film star) was my best pal, my mentor.

Her heart was in dance and she too insisted I learn dance as I had an inherent grace. Smita took me to Protima Bedi in 1979, who examined my dancing abilities and then recommended Shankar Behera, a Mumbai-based guru to me, just in case I wished to pursue Odissi. Somehow, this dance form appealed to me like nothing else did. I not only took to it like fish to water, but was insistent and keen to go to Cuttack and learn from my guru's guru, the mighty Kelucharan Mohapatra. I would spend my entire summer vacation learning from him.

The training was arduous but wonderful and I learnt it in the Gurukul system - as disciples, we lived with him and the family,” she takes a deep breath and glances out of the window as if she is seeing a picture of her past there.

Under her guru's unique tutelage, Jhelum turned out to be a chiselled dancer, a decisive woman and a sensitive artiste. “Guruji hated tears. He would hit us with the taal stick if we made a mistake or scream at us. Later, out of the class, he would assuage our hurt by empathising with us. Odissi is a sensuous kind of dance but to his greatness and purity it should be said, he never let any slip occur either in his character or in ours!”

When she went back a matured dancer, Smita was the happiest; by then she had settled down to doing films, says Jhelum. Smita Patil's unforeseen death in 1986 shattered Jhelum as both had planned to run a dance school. She wanted to fulfil her friend's dream and opened an Odissi dance school, ‘Smithalay' in 1989. The institution is known today for its innovative approach within the framework of traditional Odissi nritya.

“I am surprised to see myself grow into a veteran teacher from a girl who shied away from the rigidity of classical dance medium and refused to learn! Here I am, actually performing and contributing to my pupils' performances. Life is so mysterious. Man proposes and God…..” she shrugs leaving you to fill in the gap.

Keywords: Jhelum