Artist’s artist

D.S. Aiyyalu Photo: R. Shivaji Rao  

This is the inspiring story of a ‘kaaja’ boy, who ended up as an ace dress maker for dancers. D.S. Aiyyalu (DSA), 80, known for his dedication, perfection and never-say-no attitude, is already a legend. Averse to publicity, Aiyyalu has been doing yeoman service to the art of Natyam enriching the aharya aspect.

Born on October 1, 1930, at Vayaaamur, next to Melulakoor near Vandavasi, 12-year old Aiyyalu, accompanied by his uncle Narayanaswamy, joined the Gemini Studios as assistant kaaja boy to costume master Ambedkar Ramamoorthy. Retrenchment forced them out in 1946 and DSA found employment in Ambedkar’s own costume shop. Between 1950 and 1969 he became the personal costumer of Vyjayantimala and accompanied her wherever performances took her.

Once Vyjayantimala settled down at Madras, Aiyyalu set up shop on Kavignar Bharathidasan Road for 40 years, from 1970 to 2010. The place has been visited by eminent dancers seeking DSA’s services. They have absolute faith in his designs and patterns and were extremely happy to share their experiences.

“He was a member of our family; he adored my grandmother,” says Vyjayantimala. “He was my dressmaker for my films too. His customers are spread across the world but he has not forgotten old friends. That shows his humility and calibre. I remember the outstanding costume he had made to synchronise with the background design when I presented Navasandi Kavuthuvam of the Thanjavur Quartet. He was creative and innovative even five decades ago.”

Veteran Adyar K. Lakshmanan recalls DSA stitching with hands over night, a dress material that Vyjayantimala wanted to wear in the programme the next day. Lakshmanan stays in touch with Aiyyalu, whose humility he mentions as a special quality.

Chithra Visweswaran calls him the “Grand Old Man of Dance Costumes,” dedicated and committed.

V.P. Dhananjayan’s association dates back to 1968, with DSA making costume for all the dance-dramas. “He is very good at execution and coming up with new designs. Bharatakalanjali honoured him with ‘Sangeethagnya,’ conferred by the then Governor of Tamil Nadu S.L. Kurana (1978-79).” Aahariyacharya is another title the maestro has in mind for him.

Shantha Dhanajayan makes special mention of DSA’s flexibility. “He is open to new ideas and improves on them. Nothing is difficult or impossible for him. Never a haggler, he gives priority to customer happiness.”

DSA has been the costume artist for Krishnakumari Narendran for over 30 years. “His work has never needed correction. He doesn’t turn away customers and works overtime to complete the costume and deliver it on time. He is like a sthapati, who quietly works, away from the scene of action. A man of great dignity, it is the dancer who has to go to him with the right measurement. Never does he make house visits. When Sudharani Ragupathi’s School conferred an award on DSA, I asked akka in surprise how she managed to bring him to the spot. So shy and self-effacing is our Aiyyalu.”

‘King of Costume designers’ – this is how M.V. Narasimhachari describes Aiyyalu. He works round the clock. His planning, scheduling, execution and delivery are meticulous. With all the air and train timings on his finger tips you can’t fool him with false dates. He has dedicated his life to creating outfits that would enhance a dancer’s appearance and performance.”

An emotional Narasimhachari compares it with the holy water distributed in temples. “It is no ordinary water. Likewise the dancer’s costume, stitched by Aiyyalu, gets a special status.” The maestro’s regret is that Kalaimamani has not come DSA’s way although he was on the committee for seven years.

Rhadha holds Aiyyalu, her walking companion, in high esteem. “We both maintain the 3.30 a.m. schedule. Money has never been his goal,” she says. “He is yet to wear the Anjaneya gold pendant I presented him long ago. The hill plantain I give him of course he accepts. Although belated for DSA, both of us received the Sangita Nataka Akademi award in the same year. Even at the age of 81, he is able to stitch without wearing spectacles. My American friends have been bowled over by his Bharathanatyam, Kathak and peacock dresses. A dignified and wonderful man, he can be counted upon for anything.”

A disciple of Balasaraswati, Nandini Ramani has seen her guru interact with Ayyalu. I was on the committee of the Sangita Nataka Akademi (2004-2009), and am happy he received the prestigious award during that time. I was overcome with emotion seeing him on stage.”

“He manages to bring alive whatever I visualise,” says Padmini Dorairajan, whose guru Pandanallur Chockalingam Pillai and son Subbaraya Pillai were DSA’s customers too. With Padmini’s daughter also getting her costume done by Aiyyalu, it has been a family association. “He would take measurements but the amazing thing is the allowance he makes for changes so that no alteration is needed later.”

With practically the entire dance community forming a massive client base, how does DSA meet deadlines? “Delays are unavoidable, but he delivers,” they say in one voice. He is known to take completed costumes to the hall minutes before the performance, sometimes during the break and several times to the airport and train stations. “Why should we worry? It will be perfect. There is no need for trial,” say the performers.

The dancers are unanimous in their opinion that Aiyyalu has to be honoured fittingly. What better occasion than his completing 80 years. It is distressing that this incomparable artist has no permanent place to work from. He had to vacate the shop on Bharatidasan Road, Alwarpet, his business spot for 40 years, because the Tamil Nadu Housing Board wanted to demolish it and raise a new complex. Aiyyalu has no children and is now with his nephew, sharing space and continuing the good work.

The dancers are willing to come together to help him but how? “I don’t want encomiums and titles; but I need a place to work from and safely store the material given to me. Don’t I?” There is no bitterness as Aiyyalu says this but one is moved that a man of such stature should be virtually on the street after nearly 70 years of service.

Long association

It has been an association spanning 55 years for Dr. Padma Subrahmaniam. “Nobody can beat him in cutting. For ‘Jaya Jaya Sankara,’ he made a superbly subtle sanyasi attire. For Natya Sastra he stitched about 11 costumes with 10 karanas in one costume with different colours. Now he is making costumes for my grand niece. I’d rather wait for him to do my outfits, even if it takes months.”

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 4:49:30 AM |

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