Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Artist's Soul Series: In Conversation with Nartaki Nataraj

I had watched Nartaki Nataraj perform a few years ago at Kalakshetra. It was a mesmerizing performance. That memory stayed with me and I hoped to meet the artist in person another day. How was I to know I will be meeting her in person soon in the next couple of years. As part of the Artist's Soul series, curated by AVIS Vishwanathan, it featured Nartaki Nataraj, the superstar among the third-gender. 

Apart from her grace and humility, she speaks candidly about the atrocities and hardships she faced way back in the 80s when such gender issues were repressed and considered abominable. Both Nartaki and her friend, Sakthi who has been with her through thick and thin come from extremely influential families, but were rendered penniless when they came out of the closet. While the morning woke them up to the harshness of life, ironically, the nightfall gave them freedom to escape to the fields and dance away their sorrows. Their village had one shack where the films were played. So they grew up watching stalwarts in dance like the Travancore Sisters and Vyjayanthimala Bali. Who would have thought that destiny had greater plans for both these outcasts? We forget life pretty much has the last laugh.

Both friends decided to pursue dance and found out that the great dancers of those time learnt under Guru Kittapa Pillai. Not knowing his greatness, these naive, but sincere seekers found themselves at the Guru's refuge to learn dance. The Siddhapurusha as Nartaki refers to her teacher, made them wait for an year to determine their seriousness and finally accepted them not just as his students, but into his household. He was well aware of the stigma and insensitivity his two students will continue to face and even put away a small portion of money towards their future. Such was his grace, kindness and humanity. During her dark days, Nartaki plunged into Tamizh literature. Her command over the language and expression completely bowled me over. Most of all, her kindness and devotion to her art reigns supreme. She has also started a Trust to give back to her community through the very art that saved her life and changed her destiny forever.

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