Syed Sallauddin Pasha's work is based on trust — immense, inherent and unspoken. Without unwavering trust his art could have never taken shape. His disciples at Ability Unlimited are young dancers who have been taught to forget their disabilities. Wheelchair bound, the artistes have astonished audiences at home and abroad, with their agility and grace even when strapped to a wheelchair.
“The message is to give positive energy to people. With these children, trust is important. I trust them and they trust me. I create a lot of trust oriented exercises, make them understand the value of life and also to be a complete artiste. Becoming a dancer is easy, but being an artiste in all aspects is difficult,” says Pasha, gearing up for lunch at Dhaba, The Claridges.
The Bharatanatyam dancer who set aside his life to make the disabled dance, reminds disability is merely a state of mind. Coming from a family of healers, his organisation values the therapeutic value of art. However, the quality of healing has a say in Pasha's food choices too.
“I grew up in a village (in Karnataka) where even food had healing properties. It was just not about stuffing your stomach. I believe the virginal essence of food should not be lost,” he says as sweet and sour fresh lime, roasted papad, onion rings and masalas are brought to the table.
Pasha has a fetish for seafood, so the order is a paean to the sea. Tawa fry sole fish, prawn curry and steamed rice is the dancer's lunch for the day. Even in the midst of five star luxury, Pasha nurtures the memory of food at its purest.
“At 5 o'clock, the milk came straight from the cow. I can still smell the aroma of mud in the food we had,” he says about his childhood. Memories and cuisine are entwined inextricably for Pasha. From the staple of upma and tamarind rice, each dish tweaked a memory. “For me, paya and dosa always means my grandfather.”
His mother's recipes
The “good cook” that he is, Pasha finds the sole fish a tad salty and instead settles for the signature tandoori fish. The preparation pleases him and takes him towards his culinary experiences. Pasha considers himself a “wonderful cook” who is the happiest when he is abroad and left unbridled in the kitchen.
“I make coconut chicken and hariyali chicken, some my mother's recipes.”
Succulent prawns and plain rice make an exciting tango and Pasha goes back to his dance and dancers. Dance for the disabled, he says, is about giving them dignity and equality. Even as a child, he was aware of the taunts reserved for the disabled in villages. Yet to be one among them and teach them was fraught with challenges. Firstly, he had to forget his abilities.
“I must have fallen off the wheelchair more than a 100 times. Since I am not disabled, I would always have the tendency to get up. Often, I would tie myself down.”
Meanwhile, he has made Ability Unlimited a self-sufficient community. “Everybody must know everything — makeup, dancing, cooking. There are no volunteers to support backstage and we have to be independent,” says Pasha.
After a recent performance in Bangalore, the group also took a trip to Italy performing at Milan, Rome and other cities. This month will see shows from Ability Unlimited in Chennai too.
Pasha's journey with the wheelchair has extended to Ramayana and Bharatanatyam on wheels among others. About his productions, he says, “I am a professional, there are no compromises. I believe in the grandeur of performances.”
However, he has never deterred from the purpose of his art. “It has to give a message and it should change the society,” he says.
Giving the fruit of the season, mangoes, its due, the dancer opts for mango kulfi. Savouring the dessert, he says about his years at work, “When I go to sleep there is no tension. My soul is at peace.”