Rarely does one come across a person who strikes a perfect balance between the passion and the profession and excels in both. Guwahati-based Sattriya dancer and doctor Lima Das is one among these few. Daughter of an eminent doctor-father and a popular singer-mother, she was expected to excel both in academics and the arts. She not only lived up to the expectations of her family as a successful doctor-dancer-singer – and later as a doting wife and a mother - but also proved that study, job and family can’t contain the growth of an artiste. The gifted dancer was conferred the India International Dance Festival (IIDF) Award for Sattriya in Bhubaneswar recently. Excerpts from an interview:
Your mother and mentor being a popular singer, were you not drawn towards music more than dance as a child?
No. From my childhood I was rather more inclined towards dance than singing. My mother (Mridula Das) wanted me to pursue singing because she thought I would be able to continue with it more than dance. However I learnt music first from her and later completed the course of Hindustani music from Bhatkhande Sangeet Vidyapeeth just to fulfil my mother’s desire. But, today I am really indebted to her for introducing me to music, that helps a dancer a lot. To understand dance, especially abhinaya, one has to understand to emote along with the music. Music and dance have to blend together to complement a choreographic piece. I am learning Borgeet , the songs on which Sattriya dance is performed. So, I am still a student of music though my heart is in dance.
As a student, there must have been high expectation from your family to excel in academics. Dance and music must have been secondary as healthy hobbies. But today, you are better known as a dancer than a doctor. When did you decide that you would be a dancer first and the doctor next?
Y es, my family was more into academics than arts. So when it came to choosing my profession, I decided to follow my father’s footsteps and I studied to be a doctor. I finished my masters in conservative dentistry and endodontics and later joined as a lecturer in the Regional Dental College, Guwahati. I concentrated mostly on academics till then. But dance was always there and I continued with Odissi but took a break from Sattriya for various reasons. The turning point of my life came when I met my guru Padma Sri awardee Jatin Goswami on his 80th birthday celebration. He insisted that I make a comeback to Sattriya. And since then, Sattriya has been my identity.
You started with Odissi but switched over to Sattriya when you had established yourself as an Odissi dancer. Why?
I started with Odissi in 1986 under Sangeeta Hazarika. A beautiful person, she taught me how to dance with grace and dignity. However, I could identify better with Sattriya probably because I am an Assamese. I could relate to the rhythms of the khol and music more than the Odissi mardal and music since I grew up listening to the music of my homeland. Moreover, I thought that Sattriya has more scope in Assam to develop myself as a dancer. I also felt I have some responsibility towards this art form which was my very own. However, I must admit that my training in Odissi helped me to pick this art form faster.
You have pursued both the dance styles seriously and over several years. Are there any striking similarities between Odissi and Sattriya?
There are striking similarities and striking differences as well. But the essence and element of bhakti is the same in both. I can never compare or put one above the another. Both are close to my heart.
When you grow up learning a particular art form, it becomes a part of you.
How difficult has been your journey as an Indian classical dancer over the past 20 years?
All of us are aware of the many challenges of being an Indian classical dancer. Challenges are even more for a dancer from the North East where opportunities are far less. Yet, I feel the scenario is much better today than it was a decade ago. We are much more connected through internet and social media now that helps a lot. We have a more liberal society today that accepts and appreciates women as dancers. Besides, funding for classical dance and dancers has also gone up.
Today people love and respect an artiste as much as they would respect a person from any other profession. I love to be known as a dancer as much a doctor.