INTERVIEW Maya Rao, the Kathak legend, has been a witness to the evolution of dance. From times when it was a social taboo to now when it's a matter of pride to have a dancer at home. This graceful and affable danseuse has been conferred the Purandara award and the Tagore Ratna award MADHU NATARAJ
It is indeed a daunting task to write about how one ‘perceives' their Guru and if the Guru happens to be your mother, it gets even tougher! Maya Rao's name is synonymous with dance. Internationally renowned Kathak exponent, recognised for her pathbreaking choreographies and for her pioneering work in the field of dance education, she personifies grace and dignity and lives her life by example.
From my childhood days -- of falling asleep on her lap to the sound of ghungroos and the tabla, memories of her supervising my homework and walking me to school, cajoling my school authorities to grant me leave so I could travel with her on her tours, to teaching and guiding me through my initial years in dance to today -- she is my strongest consultant, critic and proud mentor. Every single day of our lives we traverse from our equation as mother and daughter to guru and shishya...effortlessly.
A recipient of several prestigious awards such as the President of India award, Shantala Award, the Emeritus Fellowship, and many more, she adds two more awards to her kitty.
We get into a conversation about her life and dance....
Madhu: You've been conferred the Kendra Sangeet Natak Akademi's ‘Tagore Ratna' and the ‘Purandara' award. How do you feel?
Maya: Tagore is my favourite writer and philosopher and to get my second Kendra Sangeet Natak Akademi award attributed to him is an honour. ThePurandara award us also special because it was given by Indiranagar Sangeet Sabha, a fecund space for the nurturing of our arts. Also, my mother Subhadra loved Purandara Dasa's songs. So you can imagine how poignant this moment is for me...
Madhu: A dance career spanning seven decades where you have taught, choreographed, created institutions and projects, written articles, textbooks, and have worked extensively on documentation... any unfulfilled project or wish?
Maya: Considering that when I started dancing it was taboo and to the progress we see today, I feel proud to be part of this evolution. Dance has become an important component of modern India and has percolated down to every household.
My dream is to see a campus for the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography… a space where dancers and dance enthusiasts converge to pursue their passion. I am sure this dream too shall come true
Madhu: You always say Natya is your first child and I am your second born...
Maya: That's true, but then I haven't given you any step motherly treatment either!
Madhu: At 83 you still work between eight to ten hours everyday….
Maya: I don't feel my age! I involve myself in creative activities, am surrounded by young, spirited people which keeps me going like an 18 year old. Dance continues to excite me endlessly.
Madhu: Whichever corner we are in, we always run into a student of yours. You've enriched so many lives.
Maya: I love teaching and I believe that my students are my legacy. I have always extended support to talented and sincere individuals. Their affection and zeal in turn fuels my passion for dance.
Madhu: At this point in life, who are the people you remember as having influenced and shaped your dance and your life?
Maya: My first inspiration was the iconic dancer, Uday Shankar, way back in the 1940s. My Gurus, especially Shambhu Maharaj who opened my eyes to the subtle nuances of Kathak . He was an ocean of knowledge. He shaped me as a good dancer… His smile, his demeanour, his wit, his inimitable genius and fatherly affection are unforgettable.
My family, especially my elder brother Manohar, who stood by me like a rock and supported me in all my endeavours. The celebrated music director, Anil Biswas who supported and lent his beautiful music to all my important choreographic pursuits. My husband, Nataraj whose multifaceted artistry and encyclopaedic knowledge of the arts often partnered my artistic nature. Many others come to mind -- my friend and consultant on numerous projects -- Govind Vidyarthi, the Dagar Brothers who gave me an insight into the world of Dhrupad for dance, my Guru from the Jaipur gharana Sunder Prasad ji, Kamala Lal of the Natya Ballet centre where I was the resident choreographer and the great Kamala Devi Chattopadhyaya – a guiding spirit in my life. You and my dear students who help to take my dance out into the world.
(The writer is Maya Rao's daughter – a dancer, choreographer and arts entrepreneur)