Odissi dancer Daksha Mashruwala recalls the invaluable lessons she imbibed under the late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra

From “Darpana”, Ahmedabad to Mumbai and then to Bhubaneswar, Daksha Mashruwala’s passion for dance took her to the legendary Odissi guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. She emerged an Odissi dancer of high calibre with sensitive abhinaya skills, propagating and giving a new dimension to the classical art without sacrificing tradition, style, involvement and her own deep respect for her guru’s training and principles. Through her institution Kaishiki in Mumbai, the senior dancer has been effective in spreading Odissi with contents relevant to the present times, while remaining within the classical vocabulary. With a lot of respect and reverence, the dancer remembers her guru in this interview....

After 15 years of Bharatanatyam what drew you to why Odissi?

I did 15 years of Bharatanatyam at Darpana with Mrinalini Sarabhai but moved to Bombay after my marriage. In around 1982-83, I was really looking for a Bharatanatyam school or guru but nothing was gelling. So I went to Kanak Rele’s Nalanda which was close to my house but she said “No — Darpana’s style is different. We are starting Odissi, why don’t you join us?” Somehow I was tired of not being able to find a proper place and thought let me at least start. In those days Ravindra Atibuddhi was teaching Odissi, so I finally joined Nalanda and happened to start with Odissi although my heart was in Bharatanatyam. Once he brought us to the festival at the Konark Natya Mandap and at that time there was a Bharat Bandh and we were staying at the Odissi Research Centre. The whole day Kumkum Mohantyji used to show us the videos of Guruji (Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra). We were glued to it, mesmerised. I decided I shall put my heart and body into Odissi. And this is the guru! I was totally taken up. So in ’87 when Guruji came to Bombay for the NCPA workshop, I started Odissi with him. I couldn’t pursue both styles because I had a family. Then I gave my full self to Odissi. Guruji used to come to Bombay once or twice a year but definitely once. Then I used to follow up by visits in Orissa and in Bombay with his senior disciple Devi Basu. Three weeks’ workshop was not enough. Since I started late, I needed to do a

lot more. Devi used to encourage me to go to Bhubaneswar so I used to go definitely once a year and stay with Guruji for 3-4 weeks,

and then it went on.

Did you find your body ready for the new style?

Yes! In fact it was much better than most. When I joined the workshop in Bombay, everybody kept saying “Iska chauk bahut achha hai”. That was fine but in the flexibility of the torso and other things the straight and angular movements of Bharatanatyam used to come. But since I was doing this transition at a late age, I decided to do one style and really worked very hard to get the Odissi fluidity. Sometimes in earlier programmes, people did say that your torso is not as flexible. From the Bharatanatyam slightly ‘stiff’ body it was not such an easy transition but I worked very hard — but it was easier than a fresher.

What have you imbibed from Guruji?

Guruji wasn’t just our dance Guru. It was a proper Guru-shishya training I would say, particularly when we came to Bhubaneswar and lived for months in his house with Guruma and him from 6 in the morning till 2 in the night, be a part of the culture. It’s a kind of getting institutionalised. It was exactly the way you imbibe your family culture. I did not know or understand Odia and would look at Guruma’s face and try to imbibe, understand what she was trying to convey, but all this developed into such a strong bond that we keep on running to Odisha and her even today! In the spare time we would be sitting around Guruma, watch her artistic mannerisms, and she used to love it as she needed that companionship. She was a part of our dance. Guruji actually used to ask Guruma to sit and show some of the nuances when he felt that it was required in the abhinaya. Even today we say this is so typical of Guruma. Yesterday we were discussing Guruji’s perfection, his obsessions like if he came from outside and found the sink dirty he would first clean it and water the plants if they were dry. He worked like a mason when the house was getting constructed and how he dabbled in each and every aspect of life and dance was part of it — dance was not a separate compartment for him. He never appreciated those of us who would rather give dance priority than their families instead of striking a balance. Dance was life, not just one part of life. Even when he lifted a glass of water to drink, it was so very stylised.

Is there sSomething special about Guruji which you realise now which you didn’t earlier?

Yes this is really very, very relevant. When Guruji was there we did not take things that much into a very conscious registering mind but now when we teach, it automatically comes the way he wanted things to be, absolutely in proportion and to an aesthetic picturisation. He was a true sculptor. He worked with his students in a very different way. He did not mass produce. To him each body is different and like clay. Whichever dancer stood in front of him he would choreograph accordingly, seeing their potential. Not that he would compromise with his choreography for the sake of it but it would vary. We feel it was not a carbon copy. Even in group choreographies, each dancer had a very distinct identity —which has changed drastically in today’s choreographies because a lot of incorporation of geometry, symmetry and lines. But it’s the requirement of the time and I think that’s also fair enough that choreographers change that perspective. But Guruji had a super-genius quality where he gave the dancers an identity in his choreography and yet they would all be blending.

What is the effort on your part to secure Guruji’s legacy?

I feel everybody, the senior disciples, in their own way have been working very hard to keep Guruji’s items intact and keep themselves rooted in what he taught us and yet do many things. Especially the way Shibu (son Ratikant) is doing his choreography — frankly it’s a surprise and big pleasure to see his work. May be we had underestimated Shibu when Guruji was there (laughs) and he suddenly burst open to the fact that he had to do something and very consciously has Guruji’s training in mind but every time he has his own self in the choreography. Odissi has grown immensely, all over the world and wherever we go, even to the remotest places, for programmes somebody would come up and say that they had seen Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. It’s amazing to see where all Guruji had taken Odissi.