A flowering artistic genius dropped to the ground even before it could bear fruit. Vempati Ravishankar — more known as the legendary Vempati Chinna Satyam’s younger son — succumbed to his long lasting illness creating a vacuum in the Kuchipudi dance fraternity. “Yes, it is an emptiness that cannot be filled by any artiste/guru of the present day, such was his calibre — a multi-faceted super craftsman who was an adept at composing music, singing, writing the song, a vaggeyakara in short and above all an excellent dancer, teacher and choreographer. While he trained himself to carry on the mantle of his illustrious father, his genes he inherited from his uncle (guru Pedda Satyam). Spontaneous creativity made him hold his own forte while continuing his father’s legacy. He was like a sculptor of dance with 85 choreographies and 200 musical compositions. He was a child prodigy; at a very young age, he got 12 out of perhaps 16 nritya roopakam s of his father by rote! He always strove to retain classicality and would consult me whenever in doubt about the ragam and other technicalities as he composed his songs. As recently as last week, we both were working on a tillana composed by him. His most brilliant work was the ‘Nava Durga’ ballet where he had nine dancers execute the nine roles. He did not get the recognition he deserved, partly due to his failing health which however was never a deterrent to his work. The Kala Ratna award recently conferred by the State government was the only crowning glory. Such an artiste extraordinaire is like a rare gem that is produced only once in a lifetime,” laments his close associate and relative, musician DSV Sastry.
“In our families, all of us are born to dance and of course impart the same to the next generation to keep our tradition going. But Ravi was a cut above the rest. He was a born vaggeyakara. He was trained by none other than Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna. He composed so many tillanas for dance. After Master garu (Vempati Chinna Satyam), we thought Ravi was an able captain of the Academy in Chennai which he steered with aplomb. His ill health was his downfall. His life should show the younger generation that negligent lifestyle will end in ruin and health is most vital to artistic pursuit,” Vedantam Ramalinga Sastri, principal of Kuchipudi Siddhendra Kalashetram voices his anguish.
Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee, Bala Kondala Rao gets emotional as she narrates her close association with Ravi in more than one capacity. “ My mind is like a void. Scenes of my Chennai days are reeling like a cinema in front of me! He was born the year after I joined the Academy as a young girl. I saw him grow into a handsome lad, difficult not to admire! Unlike other students, I lived those days in Master garu’s house — something of a gurukula — along with his daughters and sons. I used to carry this bundle of joy called Ravi and pamper him to a fault. He loved dance but his father, my guru was not at all keen that his sons or daughters learn the art form. He wanted them to do well in academics and settle into good jobs. So I used to teach him his early steps in secrecy holding his hands and directing his feet literally. We girls smuggled him into a dance drama of ours impersonating him as a little girl, yet my guru couldn’t find it out. But when he did, he wasn’t very happy and often yelled at me. To Ravi, I was his akka (elder sister), his teacher and his confidante. He would churn out his own poetry in Telugu spontaneously but couldn’t write it as he was not an adept in the Telugu alphabet. I began teaching him Telugu too! So naturally when I moved over to Visakhapatnam after my marriage, he was distraught which was not the case when his own sisters went to set up their homes. It was then that I had to sermonise and extract a promise from him that he would serve Master garu as a guru more than his father. Like in all things, he followed my counsel to a T. Though he was ill for a long time, the fact that he is no more is not easy to digest,” she breaks off with a lump in her throat.
“Vempati Ravishankar, son of my guru was a brilliant performer, choreographer par excellence, a committed teacher, proficient lyricist, melodious singer-in short a versatile genius and treasure trove of knowledge –a bahumukha pragnyashali. I can never forget him in his roles as Ardhanareeswara and Shiva. What energy and what lines! I have fond memories of him doing nattuvangam for me. A great loss to Kuchipudi!” says dancer-guru Deepika Reddy.
It is most unfortunate that a genius who could create so much in so little time is nipped in the bud. Ravishankar’s life was unjustifiably short-lived, but weird are the ways of life!