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Then, she moved to the Vazhuvoor bani, where she trained under guru Ramaiah Pillai's son Samraj. She learnt here that what mattered in dance was not the artiste's figure, but how lightly she carried herself on stage. She learnt about expression. Her dance gained depth. “It was great being part of the Vazhuvoor household. Guru Ramaiah Pillai was a great inspiration and we were treated as family.”
“Dance consumed me even as a child. I never missed class. May be, it was initially because of all that dressing up and popularity, but slowly dance came to mean something deeper. I promised myself I would travel abroad only for a dance performance — I ended up visiting Singapore when I was 19!”
Along with dancing she was also fascinated with textiles. She visited looms and mixed and matched threads to come up with gorgeous saris for personal use. Sometime later, her father gave her seed money of Rs. 5,000 and fine-as-silk Suvin yarn woven in 200 counts. The result was a stunning range of Seshraj saris that everyone loved. Jayanthi the designer had arrived.
She performed extensively in Chennai and elsewhere before moving back to Coimbatore to get married. There was a brief break in dance, when kids — Amrutha and Anutham — became her priority. “I sang for them, danced and choreographed in my heart — I engaged with the art differently,” recalls Jayanthi. “I never performed then. I believe the guidance of a guru is very essential.”
On the office front, she started helping out with Seshraj Apparels before she took over human resources management, designing and optimal utilisation of resources in VTX Industries, which markets home textiles in the U.S., U.K., Europe and Australia. As the business grew, Jayanthi took on a more active role, creating bed linen in soft, textured fabrics and subtle colours. “I'm all for pastels and earthy shades. I love embroidery. I love a hint of grey in all my creations — bed linen should merge with the rest of the décor,” she says.
Soon, dance beckoned, and Jayanthi who had been teaching her daughter Amrutha, took on her first formal student, Priya. “Samraj master insisted I pass on the skills I had learnt.” She started Shreecharan Academy of Fine Arts in 2002 and Samraj master's son Palaniappan moved here to be part of the institution. Today, about 65 children learn from her. “I hope to revive the guru-shishya parampara and train students to dance with depth. Teaching gives me great satisfaction. When stressed out, I spend some time with the children and feel alive again.”
Nothing must come in the way of passion for the arts, she says, recalling how, as a student, she would travel with her gurus to perform at temple festivals. “We would dance on uneven sidewalks to a largely rustic audience. Nothing mattered, neither the second class compartments, nor the dirt.”
Jayanthi believes that dance has helped her handle her HR duties better. “The number of people you meet enhances your world view. When dancing in interior regions, our audience comprised thathas and paatis who would chew pugai ilai and spit it out! But they kept perfect beat. When they applauded you, it meant the world.”
Recently, Jayanthi danced in a function, to some pasurams . An old friend who saw her after years, was moved. “‘I felt I was in a Perumal kovil', she told me. That's the greatest tribute to my gurus,” says Jayanthi.
PHOTOS (COVER & CENTRESPREAD): K. ANANTHAN
Nothing must come in the way of passion for the arts. Nothing mattered to us, neither the second-class train compartments, nor the dirt